Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
If ever you needed proof that rap was sliding further and further left of center, the latest tape from Philly’s Lil Uzi Vert should provide pretty conclusive proof. Influenced by Marilyn Manson and sounding like a pop-punk singer, Vert is a singular rap force and his latest tape is based on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Elsewhere this week, BeatKing takes on Super Mario Bros., West Coast OG DJ Quick takes on, er, Super Mario Bros. and 808 Mafia’s Southside steps up to the mic once more.
Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.
DJ Quik & Problem
Nobody does G-funk like DJ Quik – he just celebrated 25 years in the game – and Rosecrans is exactly what you’d expect: a lowrider cruise through Compton (though at six tracks and 30 minutes, it might be a short ride) with the charismatic Quik, underrated Problem and a handful of guests on the mic.
It goes without saying, but Quik’s production is lush, alive and a welcome change of pace from the more sparse creations of the Mustardverse. The tracks all bang, but there’s a sense of play: ‘A New Nite’ gives way to the six-minute, Super Mario-referencing ‘Rosecrans Grove’, which has the looseness of a late night funk jam.
Quik gets the best out of the guest vocalists throughout, but perhaps nowhere better than on the title track, a collaboration that resembles Kendrick’s ‘Compton’ and Ty Dolla’s ‘LA’ thanks to orchestral ambitions and a pass-the-mic vibe. The Game shines, naturally, but so does singer Candace Boyd, who sings “When I’m riding down Rosecrans / You never know what you can see.” She’s right: a ride down Rosecrans might be full of uncertainty, but with a DJ Quik soundtrack, you’ll be just fine.
Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi vs. The World
Sounding not unlike a pop-punk singer piped through a cracked copy of Antares Auto-Tune, Lil Uzi Vert is the next young artist dominating Atlanta who seems primed for countrywide domination. Vert actually hails from Philly, but ATL were quick to roll out the red carpet – Lil Uzi vs. The World is only his second mixtape and boasts a suite of beats from current man-of-the-moment Metro Boomin, Don Cannon, Canadian prodigy Wondagurl and others. It’s also, completely bizarrely, a concept record based around Scott Pilgrim vs. the World… seriously.
It’s not the production that’s the focus though, Vert’s polished croons are a few steps from your usual rapper turnt sanga hooks. He sings with conviction and genuine charisma, cribbing from Kid Cudi more than, say, Future or Young Thug, and in the current rap climate that’s both bold and refreshing. The fact that he’s warbling about Pokemon (‘Team Rocket’) and Scott Pilgrim just adds to its unusual appeal.
Vert fits snugly alongside Lil Yachty, iLoveMakonnen and some of Awful’s sprawling roster – a savvy young artist aware of the power of the internet and not constrained by old genre rules. When he talked to XXL, he revealed a love for glam-goth caricature Marilyn Manson, and it shows – Vert’s gonna be a rock star.
Club God 5
If you’ve been following this column for a while you’ll already know how much we adore Houston’s Club God, BeatKing. The rapper/producer has a special place in our hearts, and we can’t help but rep his latest tape – which is incidentally his finest in a while.
BeatKing is undoubtedly hotter than he has been before – last year saw the release of not only his debut album proper (3 Weeks), but the club dominating single ‘Stopped’, which in a perfect world would have been bigger than ‘Panda’ by now. It’s not a fact that’s gone unnoticed by the rapper, who positions himself on the album’s excellent cover art as being so hot he’s firing from an active volcano.
Thankfully, the tracks match up to BeatKing’s ambition – he sounds better than ever on the tape’s opener ‘Savage’, resorting to classic tropes but tightening things up with a new-found layer of confidence. Elsewhere, he reconnects with Gangsta Boo on molasses-slow highlight ‘So High’, grapples with home truths on ‘Real Life’ and chances on a genuine club destroyer on ‘Bussibak’.
The glue that holds together Club God 5 though is BeatKing’s obsession with videogames – the tape is peppered with skits based around samples from Super Mario Bros. (something the rapper has referenced before) and peaks with the truly inspired ‘Bowser’ – a track that was the high point of his recent SXSW sets. Built around crunchy NES samples, it’s a perfect blend of Houston rap and nods to a nostalgia that plenty of us can relate to. “Like Bowser, I’ll take your ho” has to be a contender for lyric of the year, too.
London-based artist GAIKA makes his Mixpak debut with SECURITY, a mixtape that feels entirely singular and totally uncontrived. A vocalist and producer, GAIKA’s music is a natural synthesis of UK rap, grime and Caribbean dance, with lyrics that bound from sex-and-violence braggadocio (with a hint of satire) to existential dread.
GAIKA sets the tone with a spoken-word title track that reads like a London Underground map, and offers a motto on ‘GKZ’: “Born a thug and I’m proud of it / In the club and I’m out of it.” This dour mood is captured by the tape’s heaviest tracks: claustrophobic, pneumatic dirges that diffuse turn-up trap into something darker than the Atlanta rap that it references.
But SECURITY isn’t all sonic doom-and-gloom: the touching ‘Last Dance At The Baby Grand’ turns despair into beauty, and on the skittering ‘In Between’, GAIKA and an uncredited female vocalist harmonize, finding beauty in lyrics about death, sacrifice and hope: “Nobody wants to die alone / Nobody is built from stone / This body is everything I own, so I give it for free.” A more overtly political message follows on the nuance-free ‘White Picket Fences’, but SECURITY is best when things aren’t spelled out so clearly.
Rich The Kid
Tireless Atlanta upstart Rich the Kid returns, and if you need a new cache of Quality Control Music, Trap Talk should do the trick. Expect plenty of trap tropes, fashion name-drops, grin-worthy boasts (“crib has more TVs than Wal-Mart”) and cringeworthy hooks (“I just might just cum on her face / I just might just go buy the Wraith”).
Trap Talk hits its stride about halfway through, when OG Parker flips Mint Condition’s ‘Caught My Eye’ into a buoyant sex jam (‘Just For You’) without killing the mood, while Rich The Kid’s youthful energy animates tracks like ‘Running Threw It’. Ironically, he’s better served when not rapping over straight-ahead trap beats; see Harry Fraud’s spaced-out ‘Outro’ for proof.
Unfortunately for Rich The Kid (but fortunately, for listeners), he’s often overshadowed by his guests, whether Ty Dolla on ‘911’ or rappers-to-watch Kodak Black and Cash/Playboi Carti on ‘Plug’ (a track that was released on his last mixtape but got lost in the end of the year shuffle). And despite sharing a few tapes with them, he’s outclassed by Migos on ‘Real Deal’, a song where Quavo (“Two guns, Sonic, Tails / And we ain’t shootin’ at your legs / And we ain’t shootin’ at the pancreas”) and Offset (“I’m whippin’ still, I cook up gefilte fish”) are the real Trap Talkers.
Hardcore N Hi-Tech
Still better known for his genre-defining production work, 808 Mafia-founder member Southside has been making steady progress as a rapper in recent years, and this latest tape is his most convincing to date. As Sizzle, Southside has been building up his profile with a series of enjoyable drops, and Hardcore N Hi-Tech positions him alongside long-time collaborator Waka Flocka Flame and pop sensation The Weeknd – he’s clearly got his sights set on world domination.
Those familiar with his club-dominant production tics should know basically what to expect – thick, overdriven 808 kits blessed with Sizzle’s progressively more confident street rhymes. He still hasn’t built up a suite of ad-libs to pose significant threat to Thugger, Future or the rest of the upper tier, but if you’re looking for bullshit-free Atlanta street rap, Sizzle has you covered.