Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
Sure, Russia might be making moves to infiltrate the US government at every level, but we’ve always got rap music to help drown out the sound of Western liberal democracy burning.
This week it’s another jam packed round-up, with Gucci-approved Atlanta rapper Ralo leading the charge with his excellent Famerican Gangster 2 tape.
Elsewhere, ATL collective Two-9 impress with their debut album, West Coast mainstay Iamsu! continues to knock it out of the park (while being ignored by the mainstream), Money Makin Nique offers a love letter to hip-hop and Lil Tracy show that emo and rap share a bed together.
Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.
Famerican Gangster 2
The first thing you’ll notice about Ralo on Famerican Gangster 2 is his voice, a high-pitched drawl reminiscent of Boosie and Young Thug that cuts through bass-heavy trap bangers and makes his lyrics that much clearer. “I gave the world my story / they act like it was fiction / they talked about my voice / but all the gangsters listened,” he raps. The second thing you’ll notice is the emotional weight with which he imbues those lyrics. On ‘Traded’, he bemoans a betrayal by his baby mama by crying, “I shoulda left that bitch when she broke my heart the first time,” while on the heartbroken ‘How Could You’ he asks a lover, “how could you think that I really want to see you cry?”
The 26-year-old rapper’s pathos is legit: he was reportedly incarcerated 34 times between the ages of 12 and 19. He turns those experiences into boasts (“you bought your jewelry off records and shows / I bought my jewelry off robbing and dope”) but also poignancy: “I stood on that corner just selling dope in the cold weather / I promise nobody ain’t gotta tell them, they know better / Raised a lot of daughters and lost a lot of my partners / Been playing with them choppers since toddlers.”
Ralo has been affilliated with every major name in Southern hip-hop, and his co-signers all show up on the tape to provide some heft. But while Gucci, Future and Birdman are featured, the best songs are the ones that highlight his fellow up-and-comers. The metallic ‘Young Nigga’ adds Young Thug, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert to the mix, and ‘I Hope It Don’t Jam’ teams Ralo with 21 Savage and Jefe (aka Shy Glizzy). The latter finds Ralo holding his own (“I’m the lil nigga that always stood up to the bullies”) while Savage lives up to his name. “Wish my granny was alive, I know that she’d feel me, abusing all these drugs, that’s the only thing that heal me,” Savage raps on the hook, adding on his verse, “Remember middle school, man they told me crack kills / Nigga fuck that, nigga crack pay bills.”
In rap, it never hurts to have friends in high places, and Ralo has more friends than most. Just earlier this month he inked a deal with Gucci Mane’s new label 1017Eskimo Records. Thankfully, Famerican Gangster 2 is more than just the sum of its co-signs. CK
When sprawling Atlanta collective Two-9 were snapped up by Mike Will’s Eardrummers imprint in 2014 it wasn’t immediately clear how the relationship would work. By that time, the group had been active for half a decade, perfecting a woozy, narcotic alternative to ATL’s popular strip club aesthetic. They weren’t young, impressionable potential-protégé like Rae Sremmurd, they had a fully-formed sound, and it’s refreshing to hear that sound completely unblemished on the collective’s debut album FRVR.
Mike Will in fact keeps his distance – the album is mostly handled by Two-9’s own Su$h! Ceej, who maintains a memorable, synth-led lilt throughout. His work on opener ‘None of These’ and the club-ready ‘This Way’ is particularly impressive, backing up Key!, Jace and FatKidsBrotha’s tongue-twisting rhymes with a similar disregard for the mainstream.
When Two-9 take their sound into the outer reaches is when they truly excel: the two Franchise-produced tracks, ‘Nick Cannon’ and ‘Don’t Try Me’ are clear standouts, pushing the collective’s spiky creativity into an oozing, euphoric template that sounds like a fusion of Drake and Kanye’s mainstream melancholia (something Jace has explored on solo tapes), Migos chilly trap anthems and the dissociated melodicism of grime.
Slick, well engineered and admirably well edited (the album weighs in at a modest 44 minutes), FRVR is an impressive, coherent statement from Two-9 and illustrates yet again the creativity of Atlanta and the plurality of contemporary rap. Don’t sleep. JT
Last year, Davey Boy Smith and Rob Pursey wrote that Iamsu! “doesn’t get nearly enough credit for crafting and informing the new sound of the West Coast.” We agree: the Bay Area rapper-producer-singer-songwriter has been a reliable figure in hip-hop for years but isn’t always in the conversation about the West Coast revival that has dominated the decade.
On his latest project, Suzy addresses that topic head-on. “I don’t know what I’m finna do with this rap game,” he raps on ‘The Way It Go’. “They thought I would act a fool when the cash came, but I’m investing, I need a new California, hoe, not a Mustang.” That New California sound is on full display throughout Boss Up: crystalline keys, buzzsaw bass and club-ready beats underscore Iamsu’s pristine melodies and hooks.
Almost all of these songs could be hits: ‘Confident’ and the remix of the title track have a familiar bounce and radio-ready hooks; ‘Stop Signs’ connects two generations of the Bay by interpolating ‘I Got 5 On It’; and ‘That’s Right’ embraces in vogue Caribbean grooves that fit hand in glove with Bay Area slap. ‘Prescription Plan’ finds Mansa musing about being depressed in the club; imagine if this was winning Rap Grammys instead of ‘Hotline Bling’. Su saves the best for last: he’s in full loverman mode on ‘By My Side’, which has one of his best hooks yet. “Time and time again, they told me, I would never win,” he raps elsewhere on the tape, “Copyright all my swag if you stole the shit.” Plenty of folks have stolen Su’s swag; here’s hoping he can really capitalize on it this year. CK
Money Makin Nique
Bring Money Witchu
You can hear Money Makin Nique’s rap fandom from a mile away. Nique, who grew up in Massachusetts before relocating to Atlanta, doesn’t have any interest in mimicking his peers’ trap facsimiles; instead his new mixtape Bring Money Witchu is a love letter to a genre he’s been involved with since as long as he can remember.
Nique’s been rapping since he was seven years old – his mother was a rapper, DJ and promoter – so it’s not hard to see how his outlook has developed. And when he kicks off the mixtape rhyming over The Neptunes’ ‘Clones intro’, it feels completely genuine. Similarly, spitting over Alchemist’s beat for Mobb Deep’s beloved Murda Muzik classic ‘The Realest’ would derail most contemporary rappers but Nique adds humor and levity, poking a finger at the scene’s litany of phonies. “I hear you rap about guns but you don’t own one,” he smirks, before dropping the immortal, “I didn’t do all this hustling to drive a fuckin’ Prius”.
The original tracks are even more arresting, with Nique navigating through the rap landscape like Kanye or Drake, cherry picking elements that work (the beat scene bump of ‘Cascade Skate, the slithering 2am trap of ‘Nails Done’) and kicking the rest to the curb. In this respect, Nique is not unlike fellow MA rapper Cousin Stizz. Both have managed to fuse legacy influences without ending up in an awkward throwback loop.
Bring Money Witchu is ambitious, vivid and honest, all the way down to its striking artwork. If you need any more convincing, just spin the unmissable Que collaboration ‘Onomatopoeia’. ‘Nuff said. JT
Lil Peep, a Los Angeles-via-Long Island outcast who mixes AutoTuned emo melodies with the beats (and aesthetic) of trap-rap, is the latest rap iconoclast to ride controversy to notoriety. Interestingly, some corners of the internet have been singing his praises, even if they previously panned Lil Yachty, an artist with whom Peep shares plenty of musical touchstones. Because Lil Peep is white, it’s difficult not to see the interest in his music through the prism of race (especially with the latest Grammys outrage fresh in our minds). That’s why we decided to skip over Lil Peep’s latest tape, a collaboration with Lil Tracy, in favor of Tracy’s recent solo mixtape.
Lil Tracy is a part of the same Goth Boi Clique of which Peep is a member, and he’s been making weird outsider rap for a few years now; he debuted in 2014 as Yung Bruh with e m o c e a n under the Thraxxhouse banner. His latest effort, Tracy’s Manga, streamlines the sound of his early experiments. The tape is heavy with saccharine, AutoTuned melodies, video game synths and youthful energy, and instead of, say, groaning over Brand New samples, Tracy integrates his emo influences organically.
If you enjoy Lil Yachty, Chief Keef’s later work, Sicko Mobb, Awful Records’ outer fringes or even Fetty Wap, you’ll find something to like on Tracy’s Manga. ‘Orange Chicken’ keeps it simple with its earworming “Orange chicken / I got the sauce dripping” hook; the woozy ‘Wait Hollup’ mixes romance and raunch; and the clattering ‘Minajatwa’ (sound it out) spells out his expectations: “Fuck the fame, boy, I want a hundred K / and a bitch with big titties look like anime.” Immature? Sure. But at least it’s honest, which is more than we can say about some of his collaborators. CK