Philadelphia-born, Fool's Gold-signed rapper GrandeMarshall's new mixtape Mugga Man nods to a number of still-effective, though well-worn rap styles, without narrowcasting, pandering, or just sitting there getting all fat and comfortable on immediate nostalgia. If all of the Internet rap that seemed so vital just a couple years ago has diminished, or just lost the support system it was building, well then GrandeMarshall reminds you of the rewards of a regular-ass dude with a fun cohesive project.
The title track is a swirl of quotidian details delivered in an "NBD" tone that invokes Curren$y or maybe the idea of Dom Kennedy before you actually heard some Dom Kennedy and realized he was a snoozefest: "Money machine, count me / I'm a dog on the hunt, unleash and bring back the bounty / Can't put anything in front me, I need something with a taste / If you looking for hustlers, darling, this is the birthplace." That thought ends, and GrandeMarshall punches in the next bunch of lines, Elvis Costello-in-the-'70s-style, because he's just got too many hot bars in his head to even slow-up the syllables for a second or two: "All my bitches basic / Cotton T's, tights made in the States / Foreign, only thing domestic is the license plate / Bumping Young Dro / 'Rubberband Banks,' Best Thang Smokin' / Got that gas in the tank, Ain't gonna tell me about this shit right here / Foldin' up my ones while you're all in my ear."
See what he did there? With the most rudimentary elements of hip-hop shit-talk (I am awesome, I am grinding, I have a lot of girls), Grande makes his hustling ambition visceral, nods to his city's hard-assed reputation, then flips the word "basic" into a boast, and shouts out perpetually underrated ATL rap hero Young Dro (who come to think of it, is a father to Grande's style, along with late-2000s Wiz Khalifa and Gucci Mane). The next track, "Boathouse Row," adds a bit of gravity, nodding to the dangers of the streets with an autdidact's poetic style that recalls Roc-A-Fella back when it was overrun with hyper-literate d-boys like Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Peedi Crakk, and the Young Guns. The beat, which is Burt Bacharach-lush, takes a breather before a guest verse from Asaad (best known for the controversial, totally amazing artwork of Tupac fucking Biggie), simmering down to a bed of orchestrated horns and the sounds of a brook bubbling. Though maybe that's just a bong?
As on so much of this very good, though very long (way too long, really) mixtape, there's that breezy, fly-shit-kickin' feeling of, well, all kinds of dusted street rap from the golden era of dusted street rap. Even when the tape nods to more recent styles (trap on "PMS"; beyond-stoned cloud rap on "& Still"; some very Fool's Gold-friendly fusion on "Pretty Girls"), it feels more comfortable than the compartmentalized curating that's so hot right now. It's the result of a young, talented rapper with his ears open to everything around him.