Second Quarter Report 2018: Rap

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By Maxwell Cavaseno

With yet another chapter of 2018 seemingly resolved, we’ve seen numerous developments in rap continue to unfold. Whether from the various pockets of the West Coast, mini-scenes of the once-destitute NYC, parts of the country with little national rap history, or even ‘across the pond,’ changes are still underway. Once again we have a number of selections here at Tone Glow to provide you with just a brief hint at the endless possibilities that rap has to offer, and a showcase for why this year has been endlessly intriguing. With only half the year concluded after all, one must wonder just what will stand out among the pack and will continue to linger in our memories for years to come. But for now, here’s just a few choice cuts to illustrate the infinite supply of gems.

 

Trippie Redd - I Kill People (feat. Tadoe & Chief Keef)

 
 

Perhaps no potential pop crossover remains more beguiling than the effort the industry is putting behind Trippie Redd. A young man from Canton, Ohio barely out of his teens who claims sets while also pairing up with Top 40 songwriters and crooning over acoustic guitars. This would be paradoxical were it not for the overtly melodic sensibilities dictating his musical output, making any other career path seem foolish. The sweet & sour clash of energies more often than not allows for an enticing mix, as demonstrated by his Chief Keef collaboration “I Kill People.” Trippie remains on hook duty, while Keef’s cousin and affiliate Tadoe (you know, the guy he spent the majority of his debut mentioning doing molly) turns in a blunt and leaden verse to counteract Keef’s more melodic approach. It’s fairly interesting both as a more conventional outing from Trippie and as another example of Keef, once a radical figure from the general scene, slowly meeting his progeny halfway under more commercial terms.

 

Playboi Carti - Fell In Luv (feat. Bryson Tiller)

 
 

Note: The above video is not an official upload. You can stream the song on Spotify here.

Carti’s official album Die Lit was met with a fair amount of positive reception, thanks in no short amount to Carti’s development as a rapper and of course the capitalization of the chemistry between he and producer Pi’erre Bourne for the majority of a full-length project. The only point of contention for many listeners with positive expectations were the numerous features, a dearth of individuals who were put to the daunting test of trying to adapt to the smeary sonic warps of Bourne. This drastic demand for adaptation to the extremity of existence that Carti’s rap universe seemed to require led to some very fascinating occurrences, including that of rapper/singer Bryson Tiller on Carti’s “Fell In Luv.” There, Carti’s straightforward approach over the phantasmal vocal snippets is the usual levels of amusing stream-of-consciousness nonsensicals, but listening to Tiller effortlessly switch between rapping and crooning within the production feels practically transcendental.

 

YoungBoy Never Broke Again - Traumatized

 
 

With his debut album Until Death Call My Name released, YoungBoy Never Broke Again effectively assured his place in the greater rap scene. The record is an impressive outing from the Baton Rouge-based MC that showcases his considerable talents in the melodic, lyrical, and technical dimensions with no signs of commercial tampering. “Traumatized,” however, works as a standout record thanks to the effortlessness of his dark imagery and emotional content, projecting not merely your typical rap game pariah complex but genuinely morbid obsessions with death that seem startling for someone still barely out from their teenage years. The viciously morose energy that pervades the album is incredibly grandiose and tragic in a way few of his peers—of all ages13appear to be permitted to achieve, and should not necessarily be the strict domain of so young a talent; still, the general rap game appears to be digressing further and further away from these emotive and darkly romantic albums in favor of trite sentimentality and vapid narcissism, only making YoungBoy’s talents feel more estranged and exotic.

 

Nef the Pharaoh & 03 Greedo - Ballout (feat. ALLBLACK)

 
 

By the time this article is printed, LA-based rapper 03 Greedo will be imprisoned for charges that could result in him serving up to 20 years in jail. The past year has seen Greedo’s profile rise from shenanigans in the media, but there has also been the building of a rabid fanbase who are captivated by his songwriting capabilities and considerable rap talents. Both in stylistic approaches and prolific nature (and unfortunate circumstances), one could easily draw parallels between Greedo and the still-incarcerated Max B, a comparison now abetted by the manifestation of such a large cult audience. That said, the last half a year has been the full capitalization of Greedo’s hype and talents with several figures of the West Coast eagerly collaborating with him to reap from his infamy. “Ballout” features Nef the Pharaoh and rising artist ALLBLACK (who’s material bears a notable similarity to frequent Greedo collaborator DrakeO The Ruler), and places all three of the MCs in straightforward rap mode with each doing their best to overpower the other at a breakneck pace. While perhaps this posse cut is not the greatest showcase for Greedo’s versatility, it feels strange that his natural rap talents have been overlooked in favor of his more melodic and pop-oriented works, even amongst rap fans.

 

Allblack - 07 Lynch (feat. Daboii) / Daboii - Onna Gang / SOB x RBE - All Facts Not 1 Opinion

Personally, I tend to frequently propose that one of the best rappers in America today is Daboii of SOB x RBE. The other members are all considerable talents of respect, and the group as a whole is one of the hottest rising acts this year. However, as demonstrated by last year's Y.W.N, Daboii is rapidly becoming an aggressive proponent of wordplay while also opting for more unconventional production choices compared to his teammates. The former is easily showcased on spots such as “07 Lynch” or “All Facts Not One Opinion,” but “Onna Gang” stands out in Daboii’s growing solo catalogue for continuing the ‘throwback’ trend in the group’s output, but instead leaning closer to 90s Bay Area Rap rather than 80s roller-rink soundtracks. Idealistically, a new project may yet emerge from Daboii, which can grant us insight as to how much more confident he’s become with the growing success meeting his dares.

 

Glokknine - Rickey Fowler

 
 

One of the considerable frustrations of the more recent years of rap is that audiences are much more intolerant of artists who too closely resemble talents they’ve only just started to tolerate. Whereas a decade age, Southern Rappers could easily mirror Mystikal, Pastor Troy, Gucci Mane, or Jeezy rather shamelessly and reap a brief period of success, fans are now quick to bemoan the merest hint of similarity (See: Desiigner). Glokknine has been a similar case of beneficiary/victim due to his vocal similarities to fellow Florida native Kodak Black. Granted, initial efforts have seen the drawl adapted to similar enough singles that the perpetual comparison made a certain amount of sense. However, more recent efforts such as “Rock N Roll” and “Rickey Fowler” appear to be taking some of those vocal characteristics and attaching them to post-Detroit style thumpers at a higher tempo. Impressively, this perhaps suggests that Glokknine is going to rapidly distinguish himself from any presumptions of redundancy.

 

Sada Baby - Cheat Code

 
 

One of the more ‘mercurial’ artists out of the still burgeoning Detroit scene, Sada Baby feels like the rare artist from the scene whose personality transcends the regional style’s oppressive qualities. A malignant showboater akin to Sauce Walka or Peewee Longway, there is a logical future where Sada Baby overwhelms his rapping with his personality and takes the Meme Fodder approach that has served Plies or Blac Youngsta very well in these last few years to glance over the shoddiness of their actual musical output. Instead, there’s a constant oscillation between those excessive amounts of personality and the rap craft, which the latter is demonstrated on “Cheat Code.” Solid, straight ahead versions of the Detroit rap scene, but unquestionably colored by his zany and vivid imagination and characterisation. “Cheat Code” is impressive because it demonstrates Sada at his most pared down and least eccentric, which is still somehow a rather frenetic sort of personality who jumps out in contrast to the withdrawn and sulky nature of his scene.

 

Sheck Wes - Chippi Chippi

 
 

In an unlikely turn of events, Soundcloud appears to be providing a creative rebirth and restoration for New York City’s rap scene despite the city’s inability to truly thrive as time and time again promised. It’s hard to determine why or how, but the city’s resurgence has led to a rapidly developing and expanding scene with various differning takes on the more ‘culturally flattened’ rap landscape. A clear example is Harlem’s Sheck Wes, current protégé of Travis Scott, who’s “Mo Bamba” appears to be a rising cult hit and relies on a contrast of boisterousness and effervescence with a distinctly East Coast energy to contradictorily fit in and stand out all at once. Interesting in its own right from Sheck is his follow up “Chippi Chippi,” which relies on post-Raider dread and imagery that echoes “Bringing the Phonk”-era SGP. With no amassed project in sight, Sheck’s career still remains gestative, but offers plenty of potential to indicate where a good number may head towards.

 

Dee Aura - System (feat. Lite Fortunato) / Jay Critch - Thousand Ways

 
 

Note: Dee Aura's "System" was featured on his #FreePromo tape but has subsequently been removed

Unlikely as it seems, one of the bigger potential influencers of the aforementioned NYC Soundcloud Scene is former Atlanta-rapper Rich the Kid. The QC affiliated talent did well enough in recognizing the talents of Chicago’s Famous Dex early on, but more recently he’s been grooming two talents emerging out of NYC: Jay Critch and Lite Fortunato. Both rappers are interesting in that they have a basic understanding of the rootless trends of the present rap game, but are slowly starting to work in ways to allow themselves to keep one foot in and one foot out of NYC traditions while doing so. Critch’s “Thousand Ways” is produced by long-standing New York veteran producer Harry Fraud, whose ethereal sampling chops reflect his work for French Montana and Chinx Drugs as well as numerous others, while Critch feels like a ‘safer’ more traditional version of Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N***a” as he provides playful swag raps and boasts. Meanwhile, on Queens-based Rapper Dee Aura’s “The System,” Lite Fortunato attempts to use rapid-fire speed raps akin to Uzi or XXXTentacion yet affects a voice that sounds almost parodically like early Jay-Z while ducking and weaving in producer Cash Cobain’s neon pinball machine cluttering. How profound that these two and their various attempts to remodel this classic style of rap is at the behest of someone so seemingly antithetical to that approach.

 

MIKE - Time Ain’t Enough

 
 

While more commercial rap lanes have benefitted from a hyper-aggressive attitude towards prolific releases (perhaps occasionally to their detriment), so-called ‘underground’ rap generally seems to have deferred to fairly traditional methods of output. Working against that this year, however, is rising star MIKE who’s managed to release multiple projects within the last half-year to fairly rapturous reception. His smeared, tidal foam approach to rap (both in production and performance) gets plenty of comparison to later-day Earl Sweatshirt but lacks any of the surges of hypermasculine insecurity that plague his works. While the video of “Time Ain’t Enough” off of his Black Soap looks like a warped VHS rip of an 80s Black Indie Comedy, the accompanying production provided from the Standing On The Corner crew he’s affiliated with makes MIKE sound like a drunken attempt at scoring, poetry superimposed beside. There’s a pained resignation and solemnity that’s surprisingly inscrutable when you remember how young the artist in question is and that he can offer so much maturity in his works. 2018 is only halfway done, but there’s more than a fair argument that it’s been an impressive year for MIKE that demonstrates his vitality in the current rap climate and one hopes he will become a blueprint for many others.

 

Lucki - Facts Only

 
 

Chicago’s Lucki currently has himself marketed as ‘alternative trap,’ a self-applied label that is more about branding than any substantial genre-direction. True, his efforts reflect that of the more outré Chicago rappers influenced by street rap such as Valee or Adamnkilla than anything from the more straightforward street rappers nor the pleasant ‘tips of the hat’ to the styles provided by the more conservative Savemoney collective. And yet, his efforts find himself less middle of the road with broader appeals to differing fanbases... and more drifting off into a ditch. “Facts Only” is a hyper-distorted attempt at snippet rap by someone who clearly aspires more to structure and injecting content than a majority of the field. At the same time, the brevity and the terseness feel at odds with this approach, which gives a fragmented and half-formed feel to the track. Aided by a ghostly flute loop, “Facts Only” truly encapsulates the temporality of snippet rap by making the song (barely clocking in over 90 seconds) so momentary and ephemeral that it points to the feelings of impatience and restlessness among this current generation of rap.

 

Snowprah - Yank Riddim

 
 

New England is an area of the United States that’s historically remained fairly obscure as far as impressing the general rap climate, and even then it’s mostly been upheld by the city of Boston as sole representer. Interestingly, there’s been an effort made by certain media circles this year to go outward and establish the Northeast beyond New York. It has yet to result in any footholds established for newer artists, but it is most certainly an interesting step. Of the few records being circulated, Snowprah’s “Yank Riddim” is one of the most fascinating in reflecting an East Coast sensibility that isn’t hard-headed ‘true-school’ rap. Even with the casual dips in and out of the Busta Rhymes sample, the danceable groove is the kind of rap that even the Tri-State has had trouble releasing beyond itself without internal policing. No telling if this is a brief media aberration or the beginning of a potential new arena for rap, but it’s still a welcome change.

 

Headie One - Broni

 
 

The Road Rapper of Choice for 2018 appears to be Headie One, as proven by his successful string of recent singles which have seen him stand head and shoulders above a majority of the scene in a surprisingly short time. His records boast a pained sort of foghorn melancholy via his sung hooks, making him feel like a UK Response to late-period Future, but with the post-East Coast sensibility of lyricism and wordplay deliberately embedded within instead of the “Absolute Minimum” attitude plaguing a greater deal of the Atlanta Commercial Rap scene. The beneficiary of the ghostly drum excesses of M1OnTheBeat, Headie One’s simplicity and precision create a spiderlike balancing act that makes his records seem fragile. Yet the potency of these songs—such as on recent single “Broni” to promote his newest project The One Two—is unmistakable. Here, Headie’s rhythmic sways and bops are punctuated with clear verbal trickery, demonstrating the absolute calculation and discipline at hand. From the way things are looking, the eventual breakthrough of Headie One might just be a defining moment for UK Rap as it continues to redefine itself.

 

Cadell - Roman

 
 

After considerable oversaturation and rampant commodification, grime in 2018 has been very close to an afterthought. More and more, the older generation flood the scene with middling attempts at career revivals while the youngest wave falters to release projects that demonstrate any characteristics to inspire real investment. One who has managed to defy this trend is, perhaps ironically or maybe fittingly, the younger half-brother of Grime’s Godfather Wiley: Cadell. Last year’s L.O.N.D.O.N. was by far one of the most impressive LPs in the history of the genre to date—not even regulated to his peer group—and his future releases do not lack any sort of punch. Arguably his greatest attribute is an innate ability to successfully modernize grime not by turning it into an odd replication of US Rap or simply chase after true-school orthodoxy to the genre’s best known tropes, but to synthesize it along styles such as jungle and drill into newer and more exciting variants. Recent single “Roman,” produced by Teeza, works hard to do as such. Cadell’s flow-switches swivel and spiral within the spaciousness punctuated by the drums, avoiding the post-garage half-step for a terse shuffle that feels much closer to the drums of a Carns Hill than a Skepta or Jammer. While grime itself feels incredibly uncertain, the career of Cadell feels like a guaranteed winner.

 

T Face - Hermione / Muller - Just One

As 2018 rolls along, UK Drill appears to be in a much more uncertain position than it was at the very beginning. Law officials have begun to block and restrict the audiovisual output of crews on suspicion of promoting crime, thereby setting an unseen precedent for Real World Consequences for lyrical content. Additionally, the scene’s flood has resulted in largesse among some of the larger crews who frequently add on newer members to infuse new life, often producing mixed results. Now more than ever, the individual approach appears to be the greatest argument for why and how artists should be gauged creatively for remembering and investing in, even if legal forces might easily argue otherwise. Yet who or what presents the greatest approach? T Face’s “Hermione” holds the usual affair from a writer’s perspective but instead relies on a tricky flow that pivots and slides on a whim, bringing a release to the stiffness plaguing the scene at large. Meanwhile, Muller’s “Just One” doesn’t reject the clichés, but instead enhances the lyrical detail to a jarring and stomach-turning specificity and brutality. It’s hard to say if any specific direction is ideal or if they’ll become fostered among the bulk of the younger artists populating the scene, but room for development and experimentation still appears to be ready for discovery.

 

Thiside - Bet

 
 

Given that Soundcloud Rap represents notions of borderlessness, it feels in many ways inevitable that more and more countries would attempt to fit themselves into this dialogue. After all, if regional characteristics are themselves being unrooted and placed into public consciousness, why shouldn’t they transcend national borders? London-based group Thiside certainly have plenty of hallmarks from popular US Soundcloud acts as well as more than a few UK tropes, which blend to a degree that can either be impressive or simply reflect what’s made impressions on the young rappers. Still, of all their singles, “Bet” is impressive as a showcase for their technical excellence and ability to demonstrate variation amongst the ranks, hinting that they too can become a national or maybe even international presence of note.