2Eleven, feat. Freddie Gibbs "Listen"
Atlanta producer Tony Gardner is usually mentioned along with Compton Brick Squadder Ice Burgandy. The majority of Ice's Rhythm & Burgandy tape from last year was helmed by Gardner, who takes oft-flipped samples and rediscovers their animal-brain appeal. He exploits the cheap thrill of familiarity, and thrives on the precarious balance between know-your-history homage and straight-up derivative. In that sense, Gardner is the opposite of Tree, the Chicago producer who renders classic soul samples unrecognizable like an even more obsessive Dilla. On "Listen," Gardner molds Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" into a half-chopped, half-hobble with each percussive element crashing down like a RZA snare. A bass line, delicately pulled in and out of the mix, guides 2Eleven's wheeze and anchors Freddie Gibbs' bullying rhymes.
Asaad "Burn Tha Church/Family"
Asaad is a rapper who doesn't know how to get the hell out of his own way. The cover art for his single "Boss Status" was a '90s alt-comix-esque drawing of Tupac and Biggie having sex with each other in a bummy apartment; striking as an image, but irrelevant to the song it was supposed to promote. It was a good example of pageview-savvy, controversy-grabbing rap gone wrong. Asaad also has some kind of pointless beef with Pusha T? All of this is a shame because it distracts from the fact that he is a severely slept-on Philadelphia rapper (like Meek Mill and Grande Marshall all in one), who also knows his way around Auto-Tuned sad-sack warbling. Here, he navigates his froggy, hard-spitting rumble through two beats in one: "Burn Tha Church," a focused attack of all-over-the-place drums and wordless vocals, like 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" if it didn't take its meds; and an 8-bit fizz-and-splat coda titled, "Family."
DJ Mustard, feat. Cocc Pistol Cree "LadyKilla"
Over a hip-swinging synth-beep, Cocc Pistol Cree talks a ton of shit, mostly about stealing your man and telling his girl to STFU, which at this point, is far more interesting than YG or Joe Moses talking about how awesome they are or how they're gonna fuck your girl, because enough already, guys, all right? "LadyKilla" is also a low-key asshole male rapper revenge track: Cocc Pistol Cree describes putting molly in a dude's drink and then convincing the now-rolling-and-he-don't-even-know-it goof to pay for her drinks. She also boasts that she's dating some old-ass guy with a lot of money and is just counting down the days until he croaks: "Got a millionaire with some salt and pepper hair/ Just waiting on him to die so I can get my share." Damn! Yeah yeah yeah, this isn't exactly "equality," but who cares; there's something brilliantly vicious and chickens-home-to-roost satisfying about Cocc's vengeful verbiage on this one.
Gz Bro "I Am Angry Rap"
Just when you thought trap had completely exhausted its resources, there's Trappin' in Russia, a mixtape of Russian rappers going off over self-produced boilerplate trap beats. Not really sure how this hasn't become, well, a talking point, at least on the novelty tip. Also, a bunch of guys grunting and yelling in Russian over skittering trap is pretty damned horrifying and ridiculous. Produced by Gz Bro himself and Frame Beats, evil strings swirl and march to 808s that sound like radar pings. Arguably, these Ruskies got the trap style "wrong" in some ways (they're trying to do too much, adding a lot of Shostakovich-esque drama), but that ends up being a plus. Who knows what Gz Bro is saying, but raised on '80s Cold War entertainment like G.I. Joe and Rocky IV, Russians all sound scary and badass to me. Plus, he knows how to ride this beat at least as well as every Rozay-aping doofus here in the U.S.
Iamsu!, feat. Jay Ant & CJ "Key Of Life"
Let's get it over with: Kilt II is a bit of disappointment. Partially, because Iamsu has raised the bar over and over for his sensitive ratchet-bro music and he just didn't drop another little masterpiece; but it's also because Kilt II feels like the tracks were lopped off Kilt and $uzy 6 $peed and all stuck together in a .zip file. The highlight is this baroque ratchet Stevie Wonder shout-out: '80s R&B atmospherics, zombie-movie soundtrack synths, Auto-Tune, a delicate almost-emo hook, and maybe an opera sample? If Sade made hip-hop beats, it would sound something like this: smoothed-out, fragile, but full of menace. "Key Of Life" suggests Su could reach Kanye West levels one day. He's got the ear to balance disparate sounds and ideas and the talent to coherently pick and pull pieces from everywhere and anywhere to create something truly singular. And he doesn't forget to make that shit catchy! That's something Kanye actually forgot about a few albums ago.