Image via MIKE/YouTube
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Harley Geffner doesn’t know what a Twitter File even is.
BigXthaPlug – “Texas”
Country western aesthetics have become so ingrained in the popular imagination that they’re worn to the point of abstraction. YSL made those big ass belt buckles cool for East Coast fashion kids in 2015 and the culture coalesced around the aesthetics to the point of no return. For many producers in the past five or so years, it felt like they could slap a banjo or steel slide guitar on a beat and whomever rapped over it would start referring to themselves as genre-less.
But for BigXthaPlug, it’s real. Hailing from Dallas, his deep, syrupy voice doesn’t need any chopping and screwing to feel hypnotic. The video for “Texas” features all the iconic imagery – the big cowboy hats, the horses, the syrup, the whole “Don’t mess with Texas” themes, and even the outline of the state itself on a green screen. The comments are full of people calling it an anthem for the state, and it feels exactly like that. It’s historically grounded, as Big calls back to the time when he felt Pimp C was a God in the city. He shouts out Devin The Dude and Z-Ro, and even gets modern talking about how Sauce Walka had the whole state dripping. It just feels authentic in a way that’s become rare with anything that has to do with all the country imagery. Even with modern country music itself, it often feels like it’s trying too hard to play into its own tropes. But when Big says not to fuck with Texas, it’s more than a political slogan gone too far or a rallying cry for frat boys at a football game – it’s a legitimate warning.
Sauce Walka – “Ghetto Gospel 3”
There’s a reason Sauce Walka gets so much respect from his peers, and it’s not just the playful songs about dripping around town and having sauce to spare. That stuff is fun and all, but the beating heart of Sauce Walka’s music is in the poignancy of his cultural critiques. He’s not afraid to call out his own community, and in the third installment of his Ghetto Gospel series, he goes deep into the hole. He tells the story of a self-made man, presumably a friend of his, who started a trucking business and was very successful until his auntie scammed him out of almost a million dollars. Aside from the misplaced critique of the Kanye backlash, he crits the glamorization of drug dealers over engineers, how Black crime harms Black-owned businesses, a woman who paid for lip fillers instead of for her son to join an AAU basketball team, and the culture that allows for a grandma to have to sell off her family heirlooms to make rent. Other rappers touch on these subjects, but the intensity of Sauce Walka’s tone and gravitational pull of his voice add this layer of realism to his sermons that feels mostly unmatched in the modern era.
Lil Bean – “Therapy Session”
The image of Lil Bean sneaking to the bathroom so his girl doesn’t see him cry is one that’s stuck with me from this song. It’s a small detail and not in the hook or anything that emphasizes it in an intentional way, but it feels emblematic of a lot of the issues he vents about in his “Therapy Session.” Over angelic whispers and thundering bass hits, Bean spills things that have been plaguing him. There’s the emptiness of success and questions of motivation that come with losing so many people along the way; there’s the lack of affection to his partner that he attributes to his mother not hugging him, his uncle’s cancer diagnosis, his childhood best friend who’s now in prison, and more about how he feels the need to hide his depression.
Rap music has always been a way for artists to self-therapize, but it’s become more explicit in true-to-form vent sessions in recent years. There’s something to be said for a whole generation of Black kids turning to the mic to let these feelings out. As far as we’ve come with regards to the mainstreaming of mental health, Bean even says it on the song that he feels like he has to hide his depression. He, like so many others, feel the only way they can talk about these things is on wax, and that’s a problem. But from a listener standpoint, these songs are important – they can really help contextualize where someone is coming from and what they’ve dealt with or are dealing with and it helps us understand their music better. And them getting the validation from comments, and fans singing it back to them on stage is a mutually beneficial cycle.
Daboii x R3 Da Chilliman x Stoneda5th – “No Manners”
True to the title, all three collaborators on this song are very rude. DaBoii does a great job alternating between his more serious undertone to match the energy of the stone cold flows of S5 and R3 and his more typical high-octane squeal, while rapping about his opps’ bad haircuts and messing with other guys’ girls with a disrespectful “So what!” R3 follows it up with more casual bars about spanking his competitors, “handling” witnesses, and smashing the safe following a burglary, and S5 finishes the job with a menacing and disrespectful verse of his own. It’s not just that they’re mean, it’s that these guys have no remorse after the fact.
448 Trell x OTM Frenchy – “Off That”
This song has the feel of a fast-paced drug deal. A little handoff then a dash out the way. The pitter patter piano intensifies that vibe as 448 Trell and OTM Frenchy out of Florida speed through their verses leaving just a little room for that Florida drawl. The raps are basically just these guys puffing out their chests, but it’s the delivery and beat that makes this song feel so fun.
Emptying The Chamber