Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
As we all know by now, The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West’s messy, sometimes brilliant new album dropped this week. You can read what we thought about T.L.O.P elsewhere, but there’s plenty of other rap that shouldn’t be ignored. In the last two weeks we’ve been treated to new full-lengths from ATL superstars Future and Young Thug, material from Awful Records’ LuiDiamonds, Rich Kid Skooly, Ethan Sacii and more.
Originally conceived to shine a light on the wealth of free music that crops up daily on SoundCloud, Datpiff, Livemixtapes and beyond, FACT’s Mixtape Round-up has seen its share of tweaks and changes over the last few years.
The Rap Round-up drops every other Thursday (the week’s best free mixes will be posted every Friday). Along with mixtapes, we feature the albums (free and otherwise) that need to be a part of the rap conversation but might not be covered otherwise.
Awful Records talent LuiDiamonds returns with KILLLEWIS, his latest full-length project. Self-produced (with an assist by Dexter Dukarus), the album distills his last few years into 12 low-key but intense blasts of Atlanta rap.
On the mic, Lui is a laidback trap lord, liable to wake-and-bake, maybe hit the strip club, the studio or the streets. As a producer, he brings a touch of Neptunes to contemporary ATL rap, and there even seem to be some nods to N.E.R.D. (albeit filtered through an Awful prism), whether on ‘Lapdance’ or ‘Rockstar’: “I’m trapped up, strapped up, I’m from Atlanta, so back up… I’m dodging cop cars, fucking hot broads like I’m a rockstar.” He may not be rhyming on the top of a cop car, but he’s a rebel of his own making.
When Thug dropped the first volume of Slime Season last year we declared he was “better than your fave” and we’re sticking with that. This month he goes head-to-head with current sparring partner Future, nixing the Slime Season title at the last possible minute (Slime Season 3 is still coming, folks) and naming this brief, tight collection I’m Up. Somehow it works too – it lacks Slime Season‘s lurching highlights (there’s no ‘Best Friend’ here), but makes up for that with economy, drive and personality.
This is a more somber, dare we say it, more sober Thug – ‘My Boys’ finds the rapper at his most introspective, allowing Trouble, Ralo and Lil Durk time to pledge their loyalty before weighing in on the final verse with what amounts to a verbal backslap. Durk’s shadow is heavy on I’m Up – he makes two guest appearances but his unmistakable sound feels like a guiding force as Thug strips back party anthems in favor of more personal themes. This is a record that starts with a track about New Orleans legend Lil Boosie beating cancer (‘F Cancer’) and ends on a downbeat cut about – and featuring – his sisters Dora and Dolly (‘Family’).
While GQ might prefer to concern themselves with the surface, there’s more to Young Thug than meets the eye – all you gotta do is listen.
EVOL is, unfortunately, not Future’s take on the Sonic Youth album of the same name. (But can you just imagine his breathless interpretation of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’? Sensational.) The project left hardly any breathing room for his other 2016 release Purple Reign, which is superior only in its volume re-playable tracks. And while there are no true disasters here, except for the nü-metal pantomime that leads off closer ‘Fly Shit Only’, EVOL is only just fine. It stays true to a formula we’ve come to expect: everything is formidable enough, it’s emotional, the trap 808s are a-plenty, but we could all do with some patience for another ‘March Madness’. (And considering the road there from Honest, we have seen his ability to reroute a ship.)
Still, EVOL has its moments. ‘Xanny Family’ is a muted bacchanal, its textures echoing the speed downer’s euphoria. ‘Lil’ Haiti Baby’ is a gutting meditation on heroin dealing and addiction, down to its misty-eyed reference to the late Cash Money rapper Magnolia Shorty, who was killed in 2010. Even Drake’s influence is a bright light on the tape, with Future taking a stab at some of Drizzy’s cadences on tape opener on ‘Ain’t No Time’. But, perhaps, instead of feverishly releasing swaths of new music, Future might be best served by dishing out loosies instead. He is acutely aware of the Hive’s unquenchable thirst, but every once in a while, it might be time for a drought.
Erstwhile Rich Kid Skooly is back on our radar. Just last month he was the highlight of Travis Porter’s 285 with his part on ‘Pray for the Boy’, and now comesTrench Gotti, a collaborative effort with Future hitmakers Nard & B and their associate XL (who contributed to Future’s ‘Inside the Mattress’) – so expect Pluto-ish beats and Skooly’s heart-on-sleeve R&B-rap melodies.
It’s that heart that sets Skooly apart: he makes trap tropes touching on songs like ‘Bankroll’, rapping “my brother died in a kitchen” and “tell [my momma] I’m really sorry about not going to college.” The trap-soul field is getting crowded, but listen to the first four songs of Trench Gotti for a reminder of what Skooly brings to the table.
Dirty Glove Sacii 2
Arriving hot on the heels of November’s Dirty Glove Sacii, this imaginatively titled sequel is further proof that Ethan Sacii is one of ATL’s most promising young rappers. He again teams with TM88 for most of the production, with 808 Mafia and others filling in the gaps, which should give you some idea of what to expect.
Bleak, grinding Atlanta strip club rap is the order of the day, with Sacii’s hoarse, neon-lit debauchery draped over atonal stabs, Kill Bill squeals and clipped 808s. It’s nothing new, but it doesn’t have to be – Dirty Glove Sacii 2 is purpose-built for trunks and 3AM at the club.
Haitian-born, Brooklyn/Atlanta-bred vocalist Jeff Chery (aka Haitian Mufasa) was the first rapper signed to Bromance. He debuted on the label with Cherubic6lues in December and just appeared on Brenmar’s latest single. What sets him apart is his smoky sing-song voice, a barely-there Caribbean lilt filtered through AutoTune.
Produced by Beat Mechanics member SM Tracks, Jungle Juice is a narcotic blend of moody melodies, lived-in lyrics and hypnotic, woozy beats. Chery takes on industry vultures (‘Wolf Season’), bougie women (‘Commercial’) and more as he tries to finds his own lane in Atlanta rap.