Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
We’ve already told you how important the West Coast has been for rap in 2016. Probably multiple times. But hear us out: G Perico’s Shit Don’t Stop is yet another example of old-meets-new gangsta rap that you absolutely can’t miss. Want something a bit smoother? Ty Dolla $ign is back with the enjoyable-if-not-mind-blowing Campaign. Prefer punk-ish neo-soul? South Central-raised newcomer DUCKWRTH has you covered.
Outside of the Golden State, Archibald SLIM and Ethereal drop jaws with Awful Records’ latest full-length Slum Beautiful, Mick Jenkins offers some important reflection on his debut album proper The Healing Component, and Princess Nokia remembers her adolescence on 1992.
Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.
Shit Don’t Stop
Just last month we were extolling West Coast rap’s domination this year, and now there’s another exciting new voice from the best coast scene. LA’s G Perico has drawn comparisons to Too $hort, DJ Quik and Eazy-E, and his latest mixtape is a flawless, old-meets-new take on gangsta rap.
Shit Don’t Stop finds Perico explaining “how to survive in LA” with a crystal clear nasal sneer. It’s all hitting licks and getting paid with realistic grit and sly humor – often in the same breath. “Got homies doing fed and state time,” he confesses, before bragging, “I got a bitch that do taxes, she bought me Air Maxes and hand me rubber bands with ten thousand, I’m flashing.” Production-wise, the tape is full of the requisite funky worms and sparse, bass-heavy beats, but it isn’t one-note. Paranoia plays out in the spaced-out crew-love anthem ‘Nothin But Love’ and the air raid-ridden ‘Bout It’; the scintillating beat and titular ad-lib connects ‘Hah’ with down South rap, while ‘Craccin’ rides an organ, a hook by newcomer Shir’e and a P-Funk interpolation to G-funk heaven.
Like Kamaiyah’s A Good Night In The Ghetto, the finest moment of Shit Don’t Stop is melancholy and mournful. “Death in the air, and I don’t wanna die before I get rich, ‘cause ‘em niggas ain’t getting life, they’re getting killed,” Perico cries out on the soulful ‘Streets Don’t Love Us’. But despite the danger and death that surrounds him, Perico perseveres: “Time flying by, I don’t know when I’m gonna see you for the last time, let’s get drunk, have fun, celebrate life.” Shit don’t stop, but life goes on.
Archibald SLIM and Ethereal
Last year’s Don’t Call The Cops, a collaboration between Awful Records’ Archibald SLIM and Dexter Dukarus, was one of the low-key highlights of the year, fusing Slim’s patient lyricism with Dukaris’s smokey productions. This time around Slim teams with Awful mainstay Ethereal and the result is equally enthralling.
Slim is one of Awful’s most confident, dare I say traditional, rappers and his assured rhymes are satisfyingly three-dimensional against Ethereal’s ominous backdrop. The tape kicks off with the slithering ‘ICU (Give It Up)’, where the beat is engagingly off-time, welding familiar stripped-down percussion with bass, strings and synths that could have been snipped from an Italian giallo movie.
The duo are on similar form when they’re joined by Awful crew member Alexandria on ‘Forgot’. “Is it too nostalgic or too eclectic / I gather smack in the middle,” Slim wonders as he ponders his acclaim in a city that he doesn’t come from but “represents on the mic”. Ethereal conjures a similarly knowing backdrop, juxtaposing Alexandria’s Aaliyah-influenced tones with woozy electric piano chimes.
Slim’s right. His tracks hit a nostalgic spot, but he doesn’t rely on overused tropes or classic hallmarks; rather, with strong rhymes and an unmistakable tone he strikes a balance between self-awareness and storytelling. Twinned with Ethereal’s beats – which over the last few years have come on in leaps and bounds – Slum Beautiful sounds like the Timbaland cloud rap album the world never knew it needed. JT
Ty Dolla Sign
Don’t be confused by Campaign’s title, cover art or smattering of skits on the topic: Ty Dolla’s latest effort isn’t about the election. For the most part, the Cali crooner hasn’t gotten political: he still has only one obsession, and it isn’t the ballot box. Instead, Campaign is his latest collection of songs about thugging, fucking, loving and leaving women. As always, Ty is a master of melody and harmony, even when his lyrics are lacking (like on the repetitive ‘$’), but his songwriting and ear for production make Campaign an enjoyable hour-long endeavor.
The record continues Ty’s exploration of the meeting point between Atlanta trap and Mustard-esque R&B-rap, and there are enough new developments to keep things sonically interesting. He brings out the vocoder on ‘Hello’ and – like he did on Free TC’s Babyface-featuring ‘Solid’ – picks up a guitar for the low-key ‘Stealing’. His collaborators are on point, too: DJ Spinz lays down a razor-sharp synthline on ‘??? (Where)’, Zaytoven plays some ‘773 Love’-reminiscent keys on ‘R&B’, and ‘Pu$$y’ demonstrates how fruitful Ty’s pairing with DJ Mustard continues to be.
The lone political song on the album, ‘No Justice’, is also one of its highlights. Featuring his still-incarcerated brother, Big TC, ‘No Justice’ bemoans police brutality and violence in the black community and maintains that “somebody’s gotta take a stand.” Judging by the rest of Campaign (and its half-hearted, tacked-on endorsements of Hillary Clinton) it probably won’t be Ty Dolla Sign, and that’s fine: sometimes you have to forgo elections for… well, you get the idea. CK
The Healing Component
On his debut album proper, Chicago’s Mick Jenkins is quick to distance himself from his peers. “Why is praising mediocrity such a skill / It bothers me,” he raps on the title track of the The Healing Component, casting a critical eye to the sidelines. He doesn’t just criticize other rappers, though, and there’s more to the album’s title than you might think. Jenkins’ first tape, Trees & Truths, was fixated on weed, and while The Healing Component‘s acronym might hint at a similar theme, there’s more beneath the surface if you’re willing to look. “I’m not always talking marijuana when I’m referencing these trees,” he proposes, asking us to read between the lines. The healing component for Jenkins is love, and sometimes drugs just get in the way – whether that love it romantic or spiritual.
Even with these heavy themes at the fore, the album isn’t bogged down by the weight of its message. Like Tribe, Common or more recently Kendrick, Jenkins is able to balance his home truths with self-awareness, a skill that seems to be getting rarer. He grew up listening to a wide variety of music, focusing on the neo-soul of Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and D’Angelo, and their influence seeps through The Healing Component. It’s a rap album, tangentially, but unlike many of his more issue-driven peers he doesn’t concern himself with technical grandstanding. Jenkins dips between singing and rapping fluidly, but not like the typical rapper-turnt-sanga; you sometimes hardly notice he’s singing, sometimes hardly notice he’s rapping. Similarly, as the production flips from Badbadnotgood’s Blaxploitation minimalism to Kaytranada’s disco-influenced bounce there’s a surprising coherence.
The Healing Component is not a perfect record by any means. Jenkins can skate too close to the fire sometimes, coming across as preachy and bitter; at other times his evangelism can feel overwrought. But his fallibility is important – in a world overflowing with recycled studio rap peppered with the same tired stories, the honesty of Jenkins’ reflection is fascinating. The fact that it’s often musically on-point feels like a bonus. JT
Destiny Frasqueri contains multitudes. The founder of urban feminist collective Smart Girl Club, Frasqueri has experimented with a variety of styles and sounds since debuting in 2010, from her early Wavy Spice experiments to the club-ready Metallic Butterfly which she released under her Princess Nokia alter ego in 2014. On 1992, Frasqueri bounds between two more expressions of herself: New York rap nostalgist and feminist trap rapper.
On tracks like ‘Bart Simpson’ and ‘Saggy Demin’, she details scenes from a ‘90s adolescence, “writing on [her] sneakers” and “smoking weed under the bleachers” while dropping names that encapsulate the decade’s fashion (Tommy, Calvin, Ralph) and music (Sublime, Selena). The nostalgia on display is particularly New Yorkish: ‘Green Line’ sees her in J. Lo-on-the-6 mode, visiting Harlem landmarks like Hajji’s and Rao’s.
While that type of nostalgia is common, Frasqueri’s unique voice separates her from the pack. That’s even more apparent on trap anthems like ‘Kitana’ and ‘Mine’, which combine metallic and minimalist beats with body positive messages (her “with my little titties and my phat belly” mantra on ‘Tomboy’) and diasporic shoutouts (the witchy ‘Brujas’). As Nokia, Frasqueri continues to follow her own muse, agnostic about where that might take her. “I step in this bitch and I do what I want,” she raps on ‘Kitana’. “I don’t give a damn and I don’t give a fuck.”
Raised in South Central LA, DUCKWRTH has a wider outlook than many of his West Coast peers. Like Chicago’s Mick Jenkins, he straddles the line between rap and neo-soul masterfully, flipping from Kendrick-inspired bars to hooks without resorting to overdone studio trickery. The production is fresh and pleasingly eclectic, sitting somewhere between Kaytranada’s dusty 4/4 and Flying Lotus’s patented Brainfeeder sound but painting outside the lines, dipping into bizarre minimalism (‘Look At The Time’) and EDM-flecked maximalism (‘BLAKK RAGER’).
DUCKWRTH is indicative of an interesting contemporary wave in rap – a post-Odd Future, post-Chance set of artists who pay no mind to genre or location, who are aware of but not beholden to social issues. I’M UUGLY is smart but measured, punkish but polished – there’s a sense that the young rapper knows his history but is desperate to experiment and does so by re-imagining sounds – jazz, soul, trap, funk, house – in his unique way.
I’M UUGLY is a proof of concept in many ways – DUCKWRTH is feeling out his strengths, trading bars with neo-soul goddess Georgia Anne Muldrow on ‘GET UUGLY’, with Hodgy Beats on ‘Look At The Time’; toying with jazzier sounds on ‘LOWRIDR’; singing with effortless cool on ‘BEACH HOUSE’. It’s a confident, honest start from an artist who seems to be capable of whatever he puts his mind to. JT