Kari Faux, "House of Avalon"
Little Rock, Arkansas' Kari Faux discovered a way to merge cloud rap and hip-house on this go-for-it rap — over and out in just two minutes, with a diversified flow that finds room for the varied styles of La Chat, Kimya Dawson, and Queen Latifah. It moves from swaggering shit-talk to fall-apart not-really-even-rapping rapping to impeccably on-point and metered-out spitting: "Because when you told them you had a dream, no one wanted to believe / I know how that can be / But I keep the jams coming like a factory / Now they watch my every move like a gallery / With the low fixed-income salary / Me? I'm trying to ball like a debutante / Fix my lipstick after I hit the blunt / Can't stop until I have everything I want."
Raka Rich, Shark Sinatra, Sin Que, and D.A. Go, "Pound Cake"
In which Raka Rich of Panamanian Bay Area hip-hop duo Los Rakas answers Jay Z's slumming verse from this Drake track (Jay: "El Gran Santo on the mantle / 'Case y'all didn't know, I speak Spanish too") with an ambitious, head-spinning verse that locates the maudlin pocket of this excellent but glossy production. Rich is followed up by a series of Bay Area MCs, who add a relaxed, friendly energy to this surprisingly artful freestyle. The original "Pound Cake" had a pair of too-big-to-succeed figures rapping past one another; this lyrical remix is a cipher-like conversation between MCs actually listening to one another.
Tree, "Probably Nu It"
Chicago's rap game Tom Waits keeps splaying soul beats and ripping trap rap into tiny pieces, moving even further into his own odd world with no one around to make sure he hasn't totally lost the map. For a moment there, after 2012's Sunday School and 2013's Sunday School 2, it seemed safe to lump Tree in with Ka and Roc Marciano, those other outsider-art-like whispering MCs deconstructing soul-rap. But on "Probably Nu It," from the new The @MCTree EP, he managed to incorporate the gulping simplicity of ratchet (all big, dumb bass booms and dollar-store woodblock bleeps) and isn't really rapping so much as he is chanting and burping out his lyrics. Previously, Tree branded his style "soul-trap," but this is something different. Soul-slap, perhaps?
YG feat. Lil Wayne, Rich Homie Quan, Meek Mill, and Nicki Minaj, "My Nigga (Remix)"
Lil Wayne's appearance is necessary on this YG hit, fueled as it is by a hook swiped from Lil Wayne's "The Sky's the Limit" (itself an epic freestyle set to Mike Jones' "Mr. Jones"), but on this version it's all about Nicki Minaj, who knocks everybody else out of the way. This isn't one of her busy, big-eyed verses, but rather a confident pulse full of dude-trolling basketball references ("Like an injured Chris Paul, you ain't go no point") that also shouts out Sergio Rossi heels and further bolsters Nicki's refusal to be one of the boys or leave the girls behind. It ends with a nice dose of dozens-y nonsense: "I done preheated my oven to 350 degrees, bitch, and when it come out, it's gonna burn you bitches, like, you better get your motherfuckin' oven mitt, bitch!"
Young Thug & Bloody Jay, "Movin"
Young Thug and Bloody Jay, with some Iggy Pop-circa-"Some Weird Sin"-type distortion on their vocals — probably the result of just being too close and braying with no regard for pops and static — are an indirect reminder of the punk-informed, knock-it-out mania that makes this collaborative mixtape Black Portland (and Thug's Osterberg-ian appeal, in general) so energizing. Thug is on another level here, yammering and yelping over a beat that's one part soothing sounds for baby music and the other part trap boom, while Bloody Jay is sort of like Gunplay without the insight, which is just fine, especially when he raps, "I guess that's why you get goosebumps when you see me / No R.L. Stine / In the club throwing up gang signs."