Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
One of the year’s most anticipated records finally dropped, and it was worth the hype. Gucci Mane’s Everybody Looking is a paranoid, unsettlingly sober document from one of rap’s most influential statesmen. And while the game undoubtedly took a step forward in his absence, his presence still feels crucial.
This week’s most exciting drop, however, comes from Southern rap trio The Outfit, TX. Fusing the bass-heavy rattle of Atlanta’s trap sound with the syrupy grind of Texas, Green Lights: Everythang Goin stands out simply because it creates an atmosphere so well: the production is on point, the delivery memorable and the general mood pitch-black throughout.
Elsewhere, Rome Fortune recaptures the energy of Beautiful Pimp with VVORLDVVIDE PIMPSATION, Lil Uzi Vert confirms why he’s on top with Perfect Luv, Chance collaborator Noname recaptures the spirit of Lauryn Hill with Telefone and Lil Durk shows he’s still got something to prove on 2x.
Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.
The Outfit, TX
Green Lights: Everythang Goin
Last fall, The Outfit, TX released Down By The Trinity, a black-as-fuck-we’re-all-goths effort that found the Dallas trio exploring political nightmares and Southern hip-hop memories with equal aplomb. Since then, they’ve been cashing in chits – “getting to the money, living real fast, just having to go get it,” as group member Mel told Noisey.
That new lifestyle is reflected on Green Lights: Everythan Going, a mixtape that forgoes the UGK-meets-Three 6 Mafia aesthetic of Trinity in favor of a Texas-flavored take on contemporary trap rap. Mel, Jayhawk, and Dorian stay focused on the money-women-power triumverate over sinister, syrupy growlers, many of which are produced by Stunt N Dozier, a Dallas duo behind underground hits by the likes of Dorrough and Gangsta Boo.
The result is a collection of tracks that put The Outfit at an oblique angle from their trap contemporaries: familiar sounds and lyrical tropes are muddied, slowed-down or distorted enough to stand out from the rest. ‘Look Into My Eyes’ has the type of melody Travis Scott wishes he could write; ‘Get Dough’ is a percolating strip club anthem; ‘Visions of Grandeur’ unspools its titular subject over a hypnotic piano melody; and so on. Mel says The Outfit is all about “shifting paradigms”, and in a rap world where artists are often afraid to explore new styles, we’re here for the “new wave” from these Dallas groundbreakers. CK
Atlanta rapper Rome Fortune’s 2013 mixtape Beautiful Pimp hit on something rare and important – a fusion of sizzling ATL sounds and experimental electronic tropes that hinted at a desire to explore the outskirts of rap rather than cling to overdone templates. His follow-up proved that point further – Beautiful Pimp 2 was even more exploratory, a single-producer album with a distinct theme, tied together by glorious vibraphone interludes from Rome’s grandfather, jazz musician Richard Adderley.
After hitting a wider audience with his Fools Gold debut Jerome Raheem Fortune earlier this year, he’s back to doing exactly what he does best with VVORLDVVIDE PIMPSATION, a collection that reminds fondly of the Beautiful Pimp without having to recycle old ideas. The production is on point throughout, handled by BloodPop (fka Blood Diamonds), DJ Spinz, DunDeal, Toro Y Moi, C4, iLoveMakonnen and others. It’s a similar list to Beautiful Pimp, sure, but the sound’s surprisingly coherent, bound together by Rome’s warm, charismatic performance.
He sounds refreshed somehow: thirsty and invigorated as he blasts through the smooth ‘Trouble’ (featuring regular collaborator Candice Mims); charged on the stripped-to-the-bone ‘My First 00,000’; and completely effortless on the album highlight ‘Balloons’, which just happens to be produced by FACT-fave and Awful Records mainstay Ethereal. JT
Lil Uzi Vert
Luv him or hate him, you can’t deny that Philadelphia’s Lil Uzi Vert has a vice-like grip on rap right now. His formula is sort of genius – a blend of frazzled EDM electronics, emo-lite boy band melodies, Future’s Auto-Tuned warbling and the kind of brittle trap you’d expect to hear bellowing from an Atlanta strip club. It’s a scorched skeleton of ‘00s pop music wrapped in the flesh of modern rap, and is deliriously infectious as a result.
When Vert’s on point, it’s futile to resist. Just flip to ‘Of Course We Ghetto Flowers’, a brittle banger led by wormy synth leads and boasting guest appearances from Migos’ Offset and Awful Records’ Playboi Carti. The track’s frothy, youthful exuberance is almost exhausting; the three rappers breathlessly trade ad libs and verses as if they’re pogoing while spitting.
It’s easy to see why Vert’s such a commanding presence at the moment. Even at his least engaging (the dull as ditchwater ‘Alfa Romeo AW30 (I Can Drive)’ for example, which boasts the immortal lines, “I can drive / I’m driving fast now”) he’s still instantly recognizable and countless times more exciting than the majority of his peers. It feels as if he’s one big breakout away from world dominance – just wait. JT
When we first wrote about Noname (neé Gypsy) three years ago, her debut mixtape Telefone was expected “any day now”. But while she obviously didn’t deliver on that timeline, she has finally delivered on the promise of her Acid Rap appearance and long-gone SoundCloud loosies with a stunning debut effort.
The dream of neo-soul is alive on Telefone: lush, jazz-inflected beats and music box melodies underscore a buoyant sing-song flow, her poetry rich with imagery and wordplay. It’s no surprise that she cut her teeth in poetry slams and Louder Than a Bomb competitions when she raps: “I’m trying to reimagine abracadabra for poverty / Like poof I made it disappear, proof I’m made of happiness.” And like her most notable collaborator Chance the Rapper, her lyrics are heavy with childhood nostalgia, the loss of innocence (‘Yesterday’) and reflections about life before and during Chicago’s seemingly never-ending crime wave (‘Casket Pretty’, which is evocative from the title down to its “too many babies in suits” lyrics).
While Chance doesn’t appear here, Noname shares his collaborative spirit, sharing the mic with the likes of Raury, Saba, Eryn Allen Kane and TheMIND over beats by newcomers Cam O’bi and Phoelix. And when she’s namedropping influences (Nina Simone, Missy Elliott, Andre 3000), she’s referencing their works in her lyrics. Most poignant is a repeated use of Lauryn Hill’s “everything is everything” as a refrain heavy with hope and peace, but also resignation. It might have taken a little longer than expected, but Telefone feels right on time. CK
That Gucci Mane’s unimpeachable run in the late 2000s has been a key influence for so much rap in Atlanta and beyond is one of the rare things on which rap fans can agree. Gucci’s first post-prison album, Everybody Looking, is not only aware of but obsessed with that fact, as the title suggests. But it also finds the 36-year-old rapper in a precarious position: after being away from an ever-changing game for nearly three years, can Gucci still hang in the rap world that he helped create?
In a rush to find out, Everybody Looking was reportedly recorded in less than a week; as Gucci raps on the opening track, “I can’t even sleep, I got so much to say”. Perhaps because of the quick turnaround, though, there’s not much to distinguish the album from the countless tapes that were released when Gucci was behind bars. The beats by Mike Will Made-It and Zaytoven are vintage trap fodder, and Gucci – as talented and compelling as he still is – seems like he’s still warming up.
Still, he has plenty to say for his haters and imitators. He fires the first shot on ‘Out Do Ya’, counting the money he made while behind bars and wondering aloud, “How you let a nigga in the feds out do you?” And despite rapping, “Bitch stop the comparisons / I’m not these other artistes,” he actually has kind words for his rap progeny. On ‘All My Children’, he looks out at the “trap boys” he turned into rock stars like a proud father: “And if we never talk again, still got your back boy / This here is bigger than the game, deeper than rap, boy.” One of those rappers – Young Thug – delivers the album’s best feature (Kanye and Drake feel superfluous here), welcoming ‘Guwop Home’, but also showing his mentor how much his sound has mutated and moved on without him. CK
At this point, Chicago’s frenetic drill sound has been mostly absorbed into the trap scenery. Its producers have found homes elsewhere and its stars – Chief Keef, King Louie, Katie Got Bandz and of course Lil Durk – have either moved on or faded from view. Lil Durk, who was snapped up fairly early by Def Jam, has managed to stay in the spotlight somewhat, achieving success recently with Dej Loaf collaboration ‘My Beyonce’ and keeping the hardcore fans happy with the ear-bashing 300 Days 300 Nights mixtape.
2x is the rapper’s second attempt at a major label full-length, and it sounds as if he’s been given a little bit more room to flex. His major debut, last year’s Remember My Name, wasn’t a disaster by any means, but was awkwardly sequenced and lacked the raw punch of his earlier drops. Thankfully that’s remedied here – from the melancholy opener ‘Check’ there’s a sense that Durk’s been allowed a little more control. Features are well-timed and sparse, with the best coming from Future, Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign and of course Dej Loaf (‘My Beyonce’ is included).
Sadly there’s nothing here with the sheer power of 300 Days 300 Nights‘ ‘Waffle House’ (still one of the rapper’s finest tracks), but Durk appears to be using this tape to approach darker themes, and it’s hard to complain about that. JT