Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
If you were worried that 2016 was missing some heavyweight rap records, this week should sort you right out. Not only do we have a contender for album of the year with Kamaiyah’s phenomenal debut A Good Night In The Ghetto, but we’ve got hard-hitting offerings from FACT faves Denzel Curry and Sasha Go Hard, another tape from iLoveMakonnen, the debut of divisive Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty and a surprising full-length from Love and Hip-Hop‘s Cardi B.
Originally conceived to shine a light on the wealth of free music that crops up daily on SoundCloud, Datpiff, Livemixtapes and beyond, FACT’s Mixtape Round-up has seen its share of tweaks and changes over the last few years.
The Rap Round-up drops every other Thursday (the week’s best free mixes will be posted every Friday). Along with mixtapes, we feature the albums (free and otherwise) that need to be a part of the rap conversation but might not be covered otherwise.
A Good Night In The Ghetto
Kamaiyah broke through last year with ‘How Does It Feel’, a breezy come-up anthem that asked not just “How does it feel to be rich?” but “How does it feel to just live?” The Oakland rapper answers those questions and more on A Good Night In The Ghetto, the year’s first candidate for Soundtrack of the Summer (and probably the best mixtape thus far).
As with any West Coast rap record, DJ Mustard’s hitmaking looms large. But while there are a few sparse, Bay Area slappers, A Good Night is at its best when laying down funky worms and melodies that draw from the R&B, funk and soul from days past; the tape opens with ‘I’m On’, which samples Bernard Wright’s 80s hit ‘Who Do You Love’, and there are shimmering, silky synths throughout.
Kamaiyah is an exciting presence on the mic, drinking out of the bottle and bringing melody to her lyrics in a way that recalls Nelly of all people, and she skews the perspective on well-worn tales of romance, breakups and casual sex. She also takes a moment to reflect, closing the tape with ‘For My Dawg’, a song about a friend with cancer. “It fucked me up / I feel like I got a problem getting drunk too much / I drink out the bottle still not drunk enough,” she raps, pondering death with the same youthful innocence that she questions life.
For all of Lil Yachty’s viral success in the last few months, he’s a polarizing presence in rap. There’s something about his awkward fusion of Future-lite ATL moans and the free-associating weirdness of iLoveMakonnen or Lil B that never fails to irk a certain subset of listeners, but there’s more to Yachty than mere pastiche. The young rapper has more passion than he lets on – he’s a nerd in G’s clothing, draping his love of video games in hedonism and boastful rhymes.
Just listen to the truly inspired ‘Run:Running’, which flips a Mario 64 loop and slowly transforms it into a floor-killing sub-heavy banger. Or the the comparatively dark ‘Up Next 2’ which sounds like O.G. Maco might if he traded meninism for youthful naivety. Sure, Lil Boat is far from perfect, but it’s not supposed to be – it’s jam packed with off-kilter ideas and steered by a personality that – love it or hate it – drips from the record’s every crevice. All aboard!
Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1
Cardi B. is a self-proclaimed “regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx” and swiftly went from being an Instagram sage-thot to one of the most popular features on VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop. Truth be told, one’s expectations for the musical output cast members of that show should be low, but here, like with everything else, Cardi B is an exception to the rule. Her debut tape Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 traipses a number of rap landscapes, from the Auto-tuned and drill-imbued to distinctly New York menace.
But where Cardi especially stands out is with her punchlines. On ‘With That’, she raps: “He want to dab in this pussy but / I don’t think he get the picture / He ask me what I want / I tell him make me look like sub-zero sister.” It’s the perfect illustration of the kind of sex-positive feminism she is bringing to the table — in touch with her own body and demanding to be taken care of (as you can see from the spat between her and ‘Déja Vu’ rapper Peter Gunz). And while women have been shunning misogynist double standards in rap since its inception, Cardi takes it the next level.
‘Sauce Boyz’ starts with a spoken interlude: “I hate when I’m using a guy and shit and they start catching feelings. And no matter what I tell them, they don’t stop liking me. Listen, I’m a hoe. I don’t cook, I don’t clean, you don’t want me to be the mother of your kids, I don’t like mothers-in-law. And they’re like, ‘So, you don’t have to meet my mom’ and I’m like, ‘You don’t get it, though.’” In under 15 seconds, she’s inverted the tired trope that women are always craving monogamy and can’t be equally — and proudly — as savage.
Just look at her album art: A faceless buffoon eating her pussy while she chugs Colt 45, highlighted by the glow of the television, just how Lil Kim has been telling us to do it since 1996. Gangsta Bitch Music may not have the most finesse, but Cardi’s proven herself beyond capable with her first effort. No doubt Vol. 2 will continue that shine.
Drink More Water 6
Drink More Water 6 is iLoveMakonnen’s fifth release under Drake’s OVO umbrella, as association that proves to be more and more confounding. Ever since OVO/Warner Bros. cut weirdo ballads like ‘Too Much’ and ‘Sarah’ from the re-release of his self-titled EP, Makonnen’s music has been mishandled: would-be hits like ‘Whip It’ and ‘No Ma’am’ and DJ Mustard-produced crossover attempts like ‘Why’d you Call’ and ‘Second Chance’ weren’t given proper support, and his releases have bounded between skewed trap rap and new-wavey heartbreak ballads.
That difference-splitting continues on Drink More Water 6, with Makonnen sounding bored while ‘Sellin’ and ‘Pushin’ but shining on more introspective songs like ‘Back Again’, ‘Want You’ and the Neptunish ‘Turn Off The Lies’. On the latter, he inverts Future’s ‘Turn On The Lights’ in both sound and message, opting for bitter and inward rather than wondrous and wide-eyed.
With the first quarter of 2016 in the bag, Makonnen seems to be doing well (he looks as healthy as we’ve ever seen him) but the outer reaches of his sound have been co-opted by the Lil Yachtys of the world and the powers that be don’t seem interested in letting Makonnen be Makonnen – not that he’s stopped trying. “Some people don’t fuck with you no more, that’s fine,” he raps on ‘UWONTEVA’. “You won’t ever stop doin’ what I do.”
While last year’s 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms portioned out Denzel Curry’s anxieties and acid trips onto separate sides of a record, Imperial brings both together as a cohesive whole. As always, Curry’s syllables tumble forth like shells out of a Gatling gun, but this time, there’s more political commentary about society, the media and the police-industrial complex amid his boastful braggadocio (and it turns out he’s also quite good at singing his hooks).
Over beats mostly by Ronny J & FNZ that fuse ominous 80s horror soundtracks with rat-a-tat trap attacks, Curry embraces everything from his outsider status to his knotty hair, telling life-of-crime fantasies about gun-toting and fight-starting with a world-weary resignation; even the relationship tales of ‘Pure Enough’ are heavy with nihilism.
Curry takes his foot off the gas towards the end of the tape, finally taking a breath on ‘This Life’. “Didn’t notice, but as of late, I think I’ve changed / Not the same since my younger days, so far I came,” he muses. Enjoy the youthful aggression of Imperial but don’t write it off: Denzel Curry is a 21-year-old rapper with a much older soul.
Sasha Go Hard
The Realest I Know
The cabal of girls rapping their fucking asses off in Chicago is deep and Sasha Go Hard has always been one of the slickest. While she attached herself to Auto-tuned sing-song flow for a tick, she came back with firebreath on 2014’s ‘Bricks’. And although tracks like ‘Glory Girl’ still have their own value, Sasha is best when she’s tearing everything apart. The Realest I Know has her at her most fine-tuned and fearless.
With only minimal guest appearances, she’s given room to stretch her legs and keep it thunderous on her own. But sometimes being given a hand leads Sasha to the tape’s strongest moments, particularly on the posse cut ‘Set it Off’ featuring fellow Chicagoan Dreezy and the oft-lambasted Lil Debbie — who, frankly, proved some of her criticism invalid on last year’s Bricc Baby Shitro tape Nasty Dealer.
‘Set it Off’ has the cadence of a military drill and the camaraderie on the track is equally as war-ready. It’s another bit of proof that women in rap should not be pitted against each other, or perhaps just a marker that everyone else is scared of their collective awesome power. If anything, Realest proves they should be.