The Rap Round-up, August 2018: Is Nicki Minaj actually having any fun?
Every month columnists Lorena Cupcake and Torry Threadcraft compile a list of the most noteworthy rap releases for The Rap Round-up. Up this month is a veritable who’s who of the new school, including Trippie Redd and OMB Peezy, plus Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj release two of the most talked about albums of 2018.
Some of this month’s most intriguing projects came not from the mainstream but from artists traveling from left field, secure in their own lanes. The Midwest’s Chris Crack and Trapo both released downtempo, artistic projects built on jazz and soul samples. Those looking for breezy, melodic projects with a playful appreciation of ’90s hip-hop might have caught Aminé’s ONEPOINTFIVE but not enough of them found Tobi Lou’s excellent tobi lou and the juice.
That wasn’t the only slept on project, as new releases from YNW Melly and Q Da Fool flying under the radar, an injustice we’ve rectified here.
A once untouchable Queen’s kingdom has begun to crumble around her, but there’s no shortage of successors to the throne. Stefflon Don, who’s oft endured comparisons to Nicki, showed us her individuality and vision on a new full-length.
While Iggy Azalea’s new attempt to manufacture relevancy was predictably cringe-worthy, Sacramento’s OMB Peezy and Detroit upstart FMB DZ delivered street rap hard enough to sharpen knives on, and rapper-turned-actor-turned-rapper Bre-Z showed us what true authenticity looks like.
Calesha Murray got her big break when Lee Daniels tapped her to portray rapper Freda Gatz on the television show Empire even though she wasn’t an actor. On her debut EP, Murray proves her place as a musician first and foremost.
“A poetically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint,” film critic Laura Mulvey, who coined the term “male gaze”, observed in 1975. Bre-Z’s openness about her attraction to women reflects but does not deconstruct the gaze, particularly on tracks like ‘Commona’, a dancehall slow-burner that wears its Drake influence on its sleeve. LC
Before the release of Danny Womack, Houston’s Don Toliver made a splash with his uncredited appearance on the Travis Scott track ‘CAN’T SAY’ despite the fact, or perhaps because, Toliver was a relative unknown. Unearthing his project just days changed all that — and proved the hype was worth something.
Toliver’s voice is a knotty, textured creature gliding through melodies with the compelling grace of a danseur, a difficult balance previously exemplified best by the underrated Rich Homie Quan. His powerful flow is intense and taut as he shouts his way through ‘Issues’ and ‘Holdin’ Steel’, yet deceptively gentle on buttery R&B tracks like ‘Video Girl’ where he serves up freaky couplets like silken love sonnets. LC
Nicki Minaj did, in fact, release an album this month, although your news feed might be so filled with transcriptions of her Beats 1 ranting and volatile Twitter antics that, perhaps, you forgot.
Or maybe you forgot because there is so little on Minaj’s fourth full-length, Queen, that is worth remembering. There are no deliciously wounding takedowns like ‘Itty Bitty Piggy’ or ‘Did It On ’Em’; no arresting collabs like ‘Feeling Myself’ or ‘Beez in the Trap’; none of the maniacally unhinged magic found on ‘I Am Your Leader’ or ‘Come on a Cone’. Queen is devoid of the personality that made Minaj royalty: both the ravenous flow-eater and, like it or not, the drama club kid who makes pop spectacle. Queen is overstuffed with stream-bait, be it the trend-gazing ‘Chun Swae’ or her bizarre remake of The Notorious B.I.G.’s R&B singer spank-bank jest ‘Just Playing (Dream)’.
Lil Kim, of course, had her own version of ‘Dreams’ on her 1996 debut Hard Core, where she fantasized about the Harlem Boys Choir and ’90s crooners like Tevin Campbell and Case in equal measure. Minaj’s rendition shirks soul-singer fantasy for messing with her rapper friends with lines like, “Drake worth a hundred milli, always buying me shit / But I don’t know if the pussy wet or if he crying and shit” and “Used to fuck with Young Thug, I ain’t addressing this shit / Caught him in my dressing room stealing dresses and shit”. Instead of hoeing from fertile ground (Ty Dolla $ign! Jeremih! PARTYNEXTDOOR! Hello!!!), Minaj rejects what makes the ‘Dreams’ fun in the first place for name-dropping and erasure of her forebears. But a rejection of fun is the crux of what’s wrong with Queen, and its exhausting rollout, in the first place. CL
Loyalty Over Love
OMB Peezy’s Loyalty Over Love falls directly in line with his Gulf Coast lineage, despite his relocation to the Bay Area and his chemistry with names like Nef the Pharoah and 03 Greedo.
Producers Dubba-AA and DrumDummie have perfected a gloomy, pulsing soundscape for names like NBA Youngboy and Kodak Black and Peezy taps into the same almost-spiritual brand of spite and misanthropy, pioneered by regional demigods like B.G. and Lil’ Boosie. Peezy raps with the conviction of someone with a completely justified grudge, directing his vitriol not only at those who wronged him but at himself for daring to believe in them. TT
Q Da Fool
Zaytoven’s stainglass-tinted style most recently meshed with Future’s cathartic confessionals for Beast Mode 2, but his newest work, 100 Keys with Roc Nation’s Q Da Fool, is a soundtrack for the sinners who haven’t quite reached the point of absolution. Q is, for lack of a better term, a damn menace. Future’s harmonies melt perfectly into Zay’s emblematic organs while Q’s reckless nature in and out of the booth goes hand-in-hand with his chaotic bass.
Over the course of 24 frenetic minutes, the 21-year old Largo, Maryland native cruises through instrumentals like a kid joyriding a car he knows he shouldn’t be driving. No features come along for this ride, it’s strictly a two-man breeze through PG County and DC, two urreas home to just as much glitz as grime. TT
Scott has delivered an accessible pop culture masterpiece: sacrosanct artwork packaged to move units with teenagers who wear box logo tees and keep up with the Kardashians.
Dense with unlisted features and allusions to his tabloid-fodder personal life, ASTROWORLD is celestial cruising music for an otherworldly space coupe, an immersive exploration of a sprawling atmosphere lit with neon vapor. It’s a soundtrack to the cinematics of psychedelics, providing backing beats for both the queasy, suspenseful climb to the top of the roller coaster and the tumble from the heavens into the topsy-turvy abyss below. LC
Life’s A Trip
The age of SoundCloud rap can largely be traced back to an amorphous realm of vocalists with varying levels of “traditional” bars, from T-Pain and Cudi to Future and Keef. Over a decade later, this generation’s kids just can’t quit bellyaching. The logical endpoint of an eternally young genre’s progression and a maturing generation of critics leaves us with a familiar conundrum: covering enjoyable, emotional music, often made by toxic and violent individuals.
Trippie Redd’s another name in a long line of troubled artists and his work is not free of cringeworthy moments. A few on Life’s a Trip (‘How You Feel’, ‘BANG!’, ‘Bird Shit’) have the energy of a teen doing smarmy punk rock karaoke, others (‘Missing My Idols’) like ill-advised dorm room freestyles in the months after So Far Gone dropped. The gems, like ‘Taking A Walk’ and ‘UKA UKA’, find a happy medium: sad boy tunes, this time, with more teeth. TT
I Am You
Speaking of T-Pain, can you believe it’s been 13 years since Rapper Ternt Sanga? Amazing. In the meantime, Florida’s still churning out artists who can make an ode to aggravated assault sound soulful. YNW Melly’s I Am You is an hour-long journey through tropical and menacing soundscapes, the songs as goofy — ‘Drop Top’ in particular is hysterical — and violent as they are mournful. Standouts like ‘Blue Balenciagas’ and ‘Wine For Me’ lull you into a trance, while cuts like ‘Mama Cry’ jolt you back to reality in a hurry. Towards the end of the tape, Melly flexes his songcraft with ‘Murder on my Mind’, told through the eyes of the gunman, and ‘Mind on my Murder’, told through the eyes of the victim.
One of Teddy Pain’s early street classics came as a member of Nappy Headz on a ‘My Neck, My Back’ parody. In that same lane, I Am You’s clear standout is ‘Slang That Iron’, a flawless flip of Chris Brown’s ‘Say Goodbye’. Florida’s music scene has always thrived in its own right, but it’s a great time for all types of artists right now: from crooners like Melly and Yungeen Ace to more traditional rhymers like Denzel Curry and Ski Mask the Slump God. Yungeen Ace’s Life of Betrayal tape is another rewarding listen from the Sunshine State but Melly gets the nod, for now, by a slight margin. TT
Young Thug & Young Stoner Life Records
Young Thug’s genuine love for his collaborators, which include his sisters and longtime partner Jerrika Karlae, helps create a cohesive vision for this compilation album from YSL artists, friends and family.
Thugger, who often uses his voice like vivid watercolors to paint blurry, impressionistic soundscapes, is more staccato and abbreviated than ever here, adapting a pointillist technique.
It’s deliberate restraint, a willingness to step out of the spotlight to let his loved ones their own melodic raptures and fantasies, and it’s surprisingly effective; Gunna, the YSL protege behind the popular Drip Season series, shines on a quarter of the tracks, and Thug’s relationship with Lil Uzi Vert is as every bit as adorable on ‘It’s a Slime’ as it is on Instagram. LC
Lorena Cupcake writes about every facet of culture. Find their insightful coverage on music, food and more at lorenacupcake.com.
Torry Threadcraft is a Brooklyn-based breakfast food enthusiast, moonlighting as a freelance writer from South Georgia.
Claire Lobenfeld is FACT’s managing editor.