Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.

It’s always good to see one of your favorite rappers get the shine they deserve, and it’s been incredible to see Baton Rouge’s Kevin Gates go from strength to strength this year, even on the back of arguably his least gripping full-length in a while. This month he’s back on top with Murder For Hire 2, which finds him re-connecting with the menace that underpins his finest tapes.

Elsewhere, Sauce Twin Sauce Walka takes aim at Drake, Future and others with the excellent Holy Sauce, a tape that drags the charismatic Houston rapper through a cacophony of sounds (including Joy Orbison’s 2009 smash ‘Hyph Mngo’, really).

With solid showings from Savemoney’s Joey Purp, Chicago hopeful Montana of 300, Atlanta’s Key! and Memphis kingpin Young Dolph, it’s safe to say there’s enough to keep you busy for the next couple of weeks.

Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.


Sauce Walka
Holy Sauce

Houston’s Sauce Walka is better known for firing off shots at Drake with the infamous ‘Wack 2 Wack’ than for his run of crucial tapes, and he manages to ratchet up the beef with Holy Sauce, taking aim at Future, Houston’s Trill Sammy and Chicago’s Famous Dex. Just a quick look at the cover makes Sauce Walka’s intentions very clear – he’s presented as Christ on the cross, lean dripping from his wounds, while Drake and friends toast his demise. This group of rappers are accused of stealing Walka’s sauce, and he has a point – his innovative, original flow and characteristic slang has certainly pinged the radars of a number of more prominent rappers over the last few years.

Thankfully, Sauce Walka appears to be energized by beef, and Holy Sauce finds him at his angriest and best. He sounds invigorated and ready to take on the world outside of Houston, and with tracks as memorable as opener ‘Seasoning’ and the raucous ‘Serve’, he’s on the right track. It’s not all impassioned turn-up anthems either, Walka gets introspective on the downbeat ‘Still Ain’t Rich’ which questions the usual rap narrative and offers a welcome breather.

The real standout is the quirky, brilliant ‘Progression’, which finds Sauce Walka rapping over sampled elements from Joy Orbison’s 2009 classic ‘Hyph Mngo’. It might sound like a bizarre mix, but those euphoric chords (including that all-important vocal squeal) twin perfectly with Walka’s rubbery flow, making us wonder what Brit underground gem might find its way to regional US rap next (maybe Nef The Pharaoh over Floating Points’ ‘K&G Beat’? It could happen!).


Kevin Gates
Murder For Hire 2

In January, Kevin Gates released his proper debut album, Islah, and while it hit #2 on the Billboard charts and scored a couple of radio hits (‘Really Really’, ‘2 Phones’), it didn’t balance Gates’ melancholy with enough menace. Perhaps with that in mind, Gates returns with Murder For Hire 2, an eight-track effort that feels like it was built to feed the streets.

The EP kicks off with a freestyle over OT Genasis hit ‘Cut It’, turning a great beat (one that Genasis doesn’t deserve) into something memorable. There are also a handful of standard issue bangers (‘Click House’ ‘Great Example’, ‘Lil Nigga’) that should satisfy fans that thought Islah was too soft, but the best songs on Murder For Hire 2 find Gates mastering his balancing act.

On ‘Believe In Me’, he yearns for love in the hook but proves his gangsta bona fides in the verses; similarly, the breathless ‘Showin Up’ is ostensibly a song about getting laid but quickly devolves into gunplay. Gates does sacred and profane on ‘The Prayer’, where he both chants an Islamic prayer in Arabic and boasts that “Rihanna wanna suck a real nigga dick / Really going down, not in no DM.” And on standout ‘Off Da Meter’, he suffers from success, rapping “Hard to deal with this depression, lately I’ve been throwin’ up,” shouting out local hoods and evoking fan favorites ‘Satellites’ and ‘4:30 AM’. If Islah got Gates paid, then Murder For Hire 2 is him paying back his day-ones.


Key!
Before I Scream

It’s hard to keep up with Atlanta’s Key!. He’s still best known for dropping a verse on Father’s unfuckwithable ‘Look At Wrist’, but since then has dropped a slew of convincing tapes, including February’s amusingly-titled Keyonce. Now he’s back with his most convincing full-length to date – Before I Scream feels a little more substantial than his usual fare, and contains a handful of pretty respectable guest appearances. The most interesting of these is grime OG Skepta, who spits a verse on the hard-as-nails ‘See No Evil’, batting off rap beef with a smart reference to his mostly-vegan diet. Elsewhere, the divisive Lil Yachty croons his way through ‘Yo Bad’, sounding like a broken Teddy Ruxpin syphoning the last remaining juice from a grip of off-brand C batteries.

These high-profile feeatures are just the detailing though – the meat of Before I Scream is, as always, pure Key!. Stylistically, he fits somewhere between the Awful camp’s druggy weirdness and Gucci’s trap menace – ‘38 Hot’ is a great example of this, pairing a heaving synth-heavy beat with Key!’s warbling, confident rhymes. ‘New Money’, on the other hand, is relatively upbeat but balanced by Key!’s odd flip of “new phone, who dis” (“New money, who dis”).

Before I Scream doesn’t exactly add anything to the Key! canon, it just perfects something he’s been doing for a while now. It’s time to get caught up, or get left behind.


Joey Purp
iiiDrops

After emerging in 2012, Joey Purp was quickly eclipsed by Savemoney compatriots Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. But with Chance ascending to the top of the rap world, and Vic Mensa poised to make a big full-length statement, the time is right for Purp’s iiiDrops mixtape.

Like the rest of Savemoney, Purp is more inspired by classic New York and Chicago rap than any contemporary trends. Expect plenty of soul samples, gospel vocals, brassy horns and boom-bap beats throughout, especially on throwbacks like ‘Money & Bitches’ and ‘Cornerstore’, which feature Mick Jenkins and Saba, respectively.

If those are too reverent to the Golden Era, check out the Neptunesque ‘Girls @’ (featuring Chance’s scene-stealing Ta-Nehisi-and-OutKast verse) and ‘Say You Do’. The latter also has a touch of Kanye, like the 808s-meets-Yeezus ‘Kids’. No matter the style, Purp certainly has something to say – and right now is the time to say it.


Montana of 300
Fire In The Church

Chicago rap is at a crossroads. While the first half of the decade was ruled by drillers like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, King Louie and Katie Got Bandz, it seems as if the pendulum has swung back in the direction of Chance the Rapper and his Savemoney compatriots, rappers more influenced by early period Kanye than ‘I Don’t Like’.

Riding that pendulum is Montana of 300, a versatile talent who does street rap with a versatile, verbose style. Fire In The Church is Montana’s first project since turning local hits and viral smashes into meetings with Rick Rubin and an appearance on Empire, and he continues to do what he did on 2014’s Cursed With A Blessing: attacking listeners with a barrage of verbal bullets, rapping his ass off and delivering punchlines and metaphors like a battle rapper. Case in point? There’s even a six-minute cypher on the album.

Montana is possibly too wordy for his own good, and his bars-on-bars approach is sure to be divisive; lyrics like “been 300 so long even the Persians hate us” are aimed squarely at rap forum-dwellers. Still, his versatility makes him interesting. Fire In The Church has tracks that live at the convergence of drill and trap (‘Land of the Dark’, ‘Who I Am’), ones with the playful melodies of bop (‘MFs Mad Pt. 2’, ‘Bad As Hell’) and even slow jams (‘Wifin You’). On songs like ‘Daddy Used To Be The Plug’, ‘Here Now’ and ‘WTS Now’, Montana is triumphant – and after the last few years he’s had, he’s earned it.


Young Dolph, Jay Fizzle & Bino Brown
Bosses & Shooters

Young Dolph’s been on fire recently, not just thanks to his phenomenal full-length King Of Memphis (still one of 2016’s best tapes) either – his run prior to that was almost as essential. Now Bosses & Shooters finds Dolph sharing his platform with Paper Route Empire’s Jay Fizzle and Bino Brown. He’s long talked about elevating the Memphis scene, and that’s exactly what he does here – establishing names that don’t have the same appeal outside of Tennessee and giving them the benefit of his current hot streak.

Sadly, Brown and Fizzle lack the confidence, swagger and pure charisma of Dolph, but that doesn’t derail the tape too much. Dolph anchors things with his vivid hood reflections, and while his solo tracks (‘Attic’, ‘Taking Care of Business’) are the tape’s most gripping, Waka-featuring ‘Ball’ is a back-to-basics trap anthem that highlights Jay Fizzle’s strengths, balancing his breathless flow with Dolph’s lackadaisical lean-dipped hooks.

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