I sifted through the past two months of rap releases, and it turned that the album I liked the most and the album I liked the least were the two biggest sellers of the lot. Guess you can fool all of the rap fans some of the time but you can’t fool all of the rap fans all of the time. I think it was KRS-One who said that first, right?
21 Savage – I Am > I Was
Even before targeting by government thugs and the threat of indefinite detention revealed that this Atlanta MC had an even more interesting backstory than it may ever be legally advisable for him to fully tell, 21’s tough guy stance felt more nuanced than most. His cold drawl gives him the guarded air of a man who chooses his words wisely rather than just spewing belligerent cliché to keep you at a distance, and if turns of phrase like “she tighter than a grill plier” (uh, ouch?) don’t do it for you, the masterful ease with which he switches up flows gives his rhymes the stickiness of pop with none of its gloss. Maybe he’s not immune to romanticizing the life he left behind but he sounds genuinely grateful for what, at the time of this recording, seemed like his happy ending: “ I get paid to rap on beats.” GO
Dreezy – Big Dreez
The careerists in the rap press are concerned that this Chicago MC still refuses to choose between street and pop on her 10-track, half-hour EP (bad for the “brand”) but really, why shouldn’t she diversify her portfolio? Her main lyrical theme (she spends money much less thoughtfully than you) is mostly an excuse for a sharp mix of full and half-rhymes: “Pull in Neiman Marcus right before I spark it/Let the valet park it then I hit Chanel (Foreigns)/LA regardless, all my haters garbage/ And they shop at Target or they findin' sales (Bums).” Adding flavor are guest turns from Kash Doll, who slurps your man like he’s lo mein, and Jeremih, whose flow Dreezy shares as many elements with as any MC’s—but whose presence also reminds me that their past collab,“Body,” was great because she refused to choose between street and pop on the same track. SLOW
Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken
Aesop Rock hasn’t always rhymed playfully enough to justify the opacity that his 7,879-word vocabulary makes likely if not inevitable. But collaborations do coax the comic out of him (the Lice EPs with Homeboy Sandman are high points of his recent output) and the other half of Malibu Ken, producer Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow, keeps the electro effects light and colorful enough. I can’t quite follow how Ace gets from “I’m the World Weekly News bat child” to “Someday we’ll find a way to make these billionaires obey us” on the same track, but he’s coherent on a line by line basis, and his skewed flow, once disorienting, now reassuringly familiar even as he’s adding word #7,880 to the lexicon with “Sometimes a bird’ll eat a cat like it’s a fuckin’ churro.” SLOW
Czarface – Czarface Meets Ghostface
This sorta satisfying Wu-style dad-rap joint is less comfort food than gametime rec room snacks and beer, complete with slightly dated pop culture references, “jag-u-ar”/”what a jag you are”-style rhymes, and good-natured trash talk about “your girl.” If an uncharacteristically laggard Ghostface proves less a catalyst than M.F. Doom did was on last year’s Czarface Meets Metalface, I’m still happy that Inspectah Deck, always the Wu’s sleeper rhyme technician, has found his bestest bros in 7L & Esoteric, and it’s hard to hate on three middle-aged guys who’ve mastered their craft woodshedding this unpretentiously. Pass the chips, Deck. SLOW
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie –Hoodie SZN
So much of the misogyny that buzzes through rap is practically ambient, but there’s nothing careless, casual, or generic about the many instances of “bitch” this charmless Bronx whiner mewls here. Each sounds deeply felt, and yet none seems directed at a particular individual—“you’re just like all the other bitches I know” says more about him than whoever he’s berating at the time. Professional victim Juice WRLD and incarcerated dipshit 6ix9ine drop by the add extra dollops of rancidity, the catchiest hook here is an infantile “She let me touch it in Miami,” and “Need a Best Friend” is about wanting to meet that very special woman A Boogie won’t call a bitch until she exhibits the tiniest semblance of free will. I’d take more satisfaction from the fact that this album had not just the lowest sales week of any #1 album in the history of the Billboard 200 but the second lowest-selling week as well if that factoid indicated a limited cultural reach; instead it just means kids are streaming this shrill petulance directly into their earholes. He’s right about one thing—“bitches” probably are only fucking him because he’s rich and famous, as he complains nonstop. What else has he got going for him? His winning personality? NO
Go Slow No is a weekly survey of new, newish, and overlooked album releases. The rating system is pretty self-explanatory: GO means listen to this now, SLOW means check it out when you get a chance, and NO means run screaming from the room if you hear so much as a note of it.