How Chris Crack Made the Best Drake Album Ever

On his latest, Chris Crack offers a reimagination of steppers music for the modern generation, conveyed through a futuristic recontextualization of Drake.
By    February 12, 2023

Image via Chris Crack/Bandcamp

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Long before Drake went right foot up, Chris Crack’s mom was out somewhere on the west side of Chicago, left foot sliding. Drake has spared no geographical victim in his pursuit of global cannibalization, and it was only a matter of time before he came for Chris Crack’s hometown. The release of “Toosie Slide” in conjunction with “Chicago Freestyle” was no coincidence (I think… I have no idea what that dance looks like). For some, the greatest collective trauma of 2020 was Aubrey requesting that we meet him by The Bean, just down Michigan Ave. from The Drake Hotel. With his latest EP Mom, Can You Pick Me Up (New Age Chicago Steppers Set Anthems), Chris Crack flips Drake’s music back at him. He croons like Aubrey and raps better than him. Alludes to Drake in some form on all eight tracks. It’s the best Drake album ever. 

Like 2021’s No Sample Snitching and 2022’s Let Her Hold It While You Pee, Mom, Can You Pick Me Up is a Bandcamp/Soundcloud exclusive. Whether it was Chris Crack, RXKNephew, Boldy James or someone else for you, rappers in recent years have been recalibrating their fans’ expectations. Chris Crack might put out a new album at any moment, and it might not be available on your preferred DSP. A half-decade ago, his output was unorthodox. It’s reductive to use “prolific”—the adjective most often applied to him back then—to describe Chris Crack at this point. He and his longtime producer Cutta seem to live together in the studio. He’s one of those artists that just seems to breathe music. Releases it into the ether, for us to inhale. On Twitter, Chris Crack will occasionally remind the void to stop holding onto their art. To put it out to the world before it’s too late. This ethos could be criticized for sacrificing quality in favor of quantity. When the quality is as consistent as Chris Crack makes it, there cannot be enough quantity. The fans will take what they can get, even if it requires an extra bit of effort to get to the best.

One half of the concept behind Mom, Can You Pick Me Up is in the parenthetical: (New Age Chicago Steppers Set Anthems). The official album copy reads: “Calling Mom to pick you up from your cousin’s house, but she out dancing to New Age Chicago Steppers Set Anthems.” Although his Bandcamp location is set to Grand Junction, Colorado, Chris Crack’s music has always been a futuristic rendition of the musical traditions from Chicago’s west side. Long before R. Kelly became persona non grata, long before the excellent South Side season 1 episode about a stepping competition, long before Steve Harvey showcased his moves on Family Feud, a young Chris Crack absorbed the city’s specific tradition as the music blared and elders danced all around him. The album is a re-imagination of steppers music for the modern generation, conveyed through a futuristic re-contextualization of Drake. It sounds high-concept, until you realize both sides of the concept are all about feeling. Smooth music with a simple and effective purpose. A Drake fan might say it’s a vibe.

While Drake isn’t the first peer that comes to mind when listening to his music, Chris Crack’s cadence has a natural melodic quality. In simple pronunciations of individual words, his voice jumps tones. Listen to how he says “important” 49 seconds into “Joan of Arc Wasn’t Noah’s Wife.” Without intending to be sing-songy like Aubrey, he squeezes three fitting notes into a half second. That’s his regular way of rapping. Although he has sung on previous songs, the melodic nature of his music isn’t usually so intentional. The fuller musical sound tends to come from his straightforward rap vocals—often layered and effected—slotted in and around more soulful samples. On Mom, Can You Pick Me Up, Chris Crack goes full Drake. 

“Sex Bots Showing More Love Than People,” which has a beat formed around the “Sweeterman” remix, would be a funny bit if it wasn’t a great new song. Mitch Hedberg said “I remixed a remix, it was back to normal,” but this track is the opposite of that. Chris Crack does his best Ramriddlz impression like Drizzy, but his two verses and general deconstruction results in something completely new. “She Stole My Sza Shirt” could have been another remix like Drake did—this time of “Best I Ever Had”—but again Chris Crack transforms the source material rather than straight karaoke-ing it. This might be reading too much into it, or looking for references that aren’t there, but the song has a similar drum beat. At least one lyrical reference. An inspired flow sandwiched around a nice melodic hook.

With all of the Drizzy drizzled over every song, the EP contains a clash of sounds that shouldn’t be so smooth smashed together the way they are. Like opposing magnetic forces are colliding, but not canceling each other out. Chris Crack goes as far as rapping over Drake rapping. On “Second Hand Crack Smoke,” a vocal line from “Wants and Needs” anchors the beat. The drums are slow and stretched across the sample. If you zone out, it sounds like he and Aubrey’s voices are melding in time together. Like a syncopation effect, it could be off-putting. But somehow works. It’s hard to choose whether to allot your focus to either Chris Crack’s vocals or Drake alongside them. In the end, that just means the song demands repeated listens. 

Whether seeking out the latest project that’s not on DSPs or re-listening and re-listening to catch the best references, appreciating Chris Crack’s music requires this kind of active participation. Even if the mood and feel are apparent, the layers of the concepts might not all click together on one play. The threads weaving Mom Can You Pick Me Up together might be obvious or deep depending on your knowledge of Drake’s discography or exposure to Chicago stepping, but they stand alone in their greatness regardless. I am not intelligent enough, for instance, to know which standup comedian is speaking on “People Aren’t Getting Smarter.” But I like that interlude. I actively avoid every Drake album, then find myself sing-yelling along with every word when the hits come on the radio, so there’s way more that I’ve missed while listening to this album. It doesn’t matter because now I’m sing-yelling along to something else, something better, something new.  

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