Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
You might not believe it seeing the headlines, but Chance The Rapper’s God-bothering Coloring Book wasn’t the only rap record released in the last two weeks.
We’ve been treated to a grip of full-lengths from some of the country’s most exciting young talent, from Doughboyz Cashout’s Payroll Giovanni and LA’s RJ to Atlanta’s Young Dro and Dae Dae.
Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.
Payroll Giovanni & Cardo
Big Bossin Vol. 1
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ve no doubt stumbled across Doughboyz Cashout. Massive in their native Detroit, the group’s crucial run of We Run the City tapes brought their urgent blend of No Limit nostalgia and gruesome Midwestern reflection to a wave of fans outside of the 313. Now Payroll Giovanni (whose solo tape Stack Season was a 2015 highlight) steps out with ascendant Minnesota producer Cardo Got Wings, who was recently spotted with FACT fave Nef The Pharoah on January’s unbeatable Neffy Got Wings.
Cardo’s focus here isn’t a million miles away from his work with Nef – he retains that same sun-drenched Californian air, but blends the G-funk Moog bass and familiar claps with cuts that could have been dropped on Bad Boy in the mid-90s, diva vocals and all. It’s a good look for Giovanni, who brings a hoarse, street-savvy honesty, stopping the tape from drifting into simple nostalgia, or even worse, pastiche.
‘Sucka Free’ reminds of classic Biggie, ‘Sell Something’ could be an E-40 deep cut, ‘Big Bossing’ is closer to Pac than most of his posthumous drops and ‘Real Plug’ sounds as if it might have been produced by The Hitmen. The era Giovanni and Cardo are aiming for is refreshingly uncool right now – there’s no golden age nostalgia, no scratched choruses or dusty 12-bit snares. On Big Bossin Vol. 1 the duo set their sights on 20-year-old pop music, and somehow it sounds more urgent than anything else this month. Go figure.
To Live For
Even if you don’t know who Bobby Brackins is, you know some of his songs: the 27-year-old Oakland native was a songwriter on Tinashe’s ‘2 On’ and Chris Brown’s ‘Loyal’. He’s also had a few shoulda-been-hits of his own in ‘Hot Box’ and ‘My Jam’, two 100BPM West Coast jams with ear-worming melodies and metallic basslines that serve as prototypes of his style.
Both are included on To Live For, his first full-length effort (unfortunately, it doesn’t include the ‘Hot Box’ remix that replaces G-Eazy with IamSu! and Too Short). Also included is his Ty Dolla-assisted single ‘Faithful’, which confirms what we thought about Brackins: he’s a hell of a songwriter, and his boyish rasp has its charms, but he’s better when paired with vocalists with more range and star power.
With that in mind, the many guests of To Live For have a lot on their shoulders: the songs succeed or suffer because of them. Blue-eyed soul singers Austin Mahone and Marc E Bassy are a bit generic; veteran hookman Eric Bellinger and newcomer Mina are more promising. And when Brackins goes it alone, he breaks up the tape with pop-rock dashboard confessionals ‘My Bride’ and ‘Indigo’ – songs that prove he isn’t a one-trick pony.
LA rapper RJ surprised us last year with the excellent Rich Off Mackin (with Choice) – a DJ Mustard-adjacent ratchet record that worked as a far better follow-up to YG’s seminal My Krazy Life than Mustard’s own uneven 10 Summers. Now RJ’s back on his own with Ommio 3, the sequel to 2013’s O.M.M.I.O. and last year’s O.M.M.I.O. 2.
You should know what to expect by now, and Ommio 3 doesn’t exactly stray to far from the template: RJ waxes lyrical about familiar West Coast themes over a slew of urgent, trunk-rattling beats from local mainstay Larry Jayy, frequent collaborator Authentic and others. His real strength doesn’t lie in his choice of beats though – it’s RJ’s lyrical dexterity and charisma that carries this beyond his peers.
Twice As Nice-produced highlight ‘Kill Shot’ shows RJ at his best, fusing West Coast swagger with Young Thug’s ATL slither. RJ’s not content simply barking ad-libs, he smartly verbalizes familiar tales of sexual prowess with an unusual cynicism that sounds even more sinister over the cloudy, bass-heavy beat.
It might not have the staying power of Rich Off Mackin but Ommio 3 is another reliable offering from one of LA’s best – let’s hope it pushes RJ to the next level.
If you haven’t heard Dae Dae’s ‘Wat U Mean’ yet, you will soon. Released late last year, the track has become a hit in Atlanta clubs and on Instagram, and it’ll probably crossover for good thanks to this viral video (Dae Dae’s deal with 300 won’t hurt, either). But with its “got a family to feed / they dependin’ on me” hook, ‘Wat U Mean’ is more like Tate Kobang’s ‘Bank Rolls’ than Silento’s ‘Watch Me’.
On 4 Reasons, that poignancy separates Dae Dae from a host of rappers who have been inspired by Future and Young Thug but have aped their sound without any of their soul. He’s “filled with anger” about his options on ‘One Way I Can’t Go’, and songs like ‘Been Broke Before’ and ‘Take Control’ prove that he has a compelling story to share.
The tape also has some old school Atlanta bounce and swagger thanks to executive producer Nitti Beatz. The veteran producer has closed the distance between hits – it’s only been a year since he helmed Rich Homie Quan’s ‘Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)’, which came a decade after his last hit, Yung Joc’s ‘It’s Goin Down’ – and he brings some weight to songs like ‘Dej Loaf’, which uses the Detroit rapper’s name as a hook. It should be a hit, too.
One of the most disheartening things in music is when a unique artist doesn’t necessarily get the overwhelming attention he deserves and subsequently bogs himself down in the status quo. That is the main problem with Young Dro’s new Zaytoven-produced tape Boot Up. You know what we really don’t need? Auto-Tuned Dro.
The T.I.-affiliate’s finest quality is precision. You hear it on tracks like ‘Shoulder Lean’ and ‘Clean Wit It’ — he enunciates everything, particularly his punchlines and lyrics professing his love of seafood (seriously, does any rapper love tilapia more than Young Dro?). But on Boot Up, Dro gets lost in his own voice.
A track like ‘Hibachi’ is ripe for his brand: he adores rapping about food, especially eating at Benihana, but here he marble-mouths his way through his lyrics instead of punching them out as he usually does. The tape is not wholesale singsong-y (the title track and ‘Keep Em Down’ feature him rapping, sort of), but it’s missing the straightforward charm that makes Dro one of the most dependable artists.
Like, come on, guy — you’re one of the only people who has gotten on a track with Young Thug and opted not to participate in Thugger pantomime. We mentioned ‘Peanut Butter Jelly’ last time in this column as a marker for how Thug brings out the best in later-years T.I., but what we didn’t mention was how Young Dro’s contribution to that track was a banner for that he’s not only still kicking, he’s as on-it as ever. “My whip / That’s strawberry Yoplait” is exactly the kind of illustration we’ve come to adore from Dro, it’d just be nice to actually hear him spit those bars.
The Holy Kit
I’m Not Here
When we first started covering the Holy Kit, he was based in Chicago and his dark-hued tracks were produced by hometown heroes Supreme Cuts and Jeremiah Meece. A move to Los Angeles hasn’t affected his productivity, but it has morphed his sound: on I’m Not Here, he sounds like a distillation of equal parts Future and Chief Keef.
As its title suggests, I’m Not Here has a streak of nihilism throughout. In his lyrics, Kit has replaced friends with doses of lean, weed, Xans and Percs; like Future, he chose the dirty over you. But like Future, nihilism doesn’t have to sound unpleasant: Kit’s half-sung, half-rapped vocals bring melancholy to melodies crafted by producers from both Chicago and Atlanta. And it’s not all dour: ‘Diamond Rings’ is a break from the menace, with PoloboyShawty’s video game synth melody and the closest Kit comes to a love song.