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New Music

Rap Release of the Week: Iamsu!’s ‘Kilt’

Iamsu!/ Photo by Arturo Torres

LoveRance’s “UP!” is currently number four on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart, with a rather curious “featuring” credit: “LoveRance featuring Iamsu! & Skipper or 50 Cent.” “UP!” was a minor hit last summer and began sneaking onto radio playlists in the fall. It seemed of a piece with Chris Brown’s similarly spare “Strip.” Then, Tyga’s “Rack City” arrived and brought with it a sudden, nationwide demand for minimalist hip-hop. DJs began mixing “UP!” with “Rack City,” “Strip,” Drake’s “The Motto,” and anything else that was the opposite of maximalist Lex Luger’s once-vital, now tedious slam-bam-glitch bangers.

In December, a 50 Cent remix of “UP!” arrived, giving the song the final push it needed to be absorbed by the mainstream. Once every urban radio playlist approved “UP!” featuring 50 Cent, DJs retreated back to the original or mixed in much more interesting remix verses from Young Jeezy and T.I. Consider that narrative: Buzzing local hit with a ton of potential becomes a real hit thanks to the zeitgeist of a regional rip-off from Tyga, then gets a 50 Cent remix even though no one cares about that guy anymore marking it as acceptable for urban radio approved playlists, which ultimately, allows radio to just play the original. Its Billboard credit? “UP!,” LoveRance featuring Iamu! & Skipper or 50 Cent. I love how it devalues 50’s contributions without even meaning to: “You know, these Bay Area dudes, or one of the most important rappers of all time, you decide.”

Twenty-two-year-old MC/beatmaker Iamsu!, who raps on “UP!” and co-produced the song with four-man crew the Invasion, seems thankful for this twisting-turning path to hit rap song. But he’s also well aware of its absurdity. Despite involvement in one of the biggest songs in the country right now, Iamsu’s new mixtape Kilt never makes reference to “UP!” and seems to regard mainstream success with suspicion. On “Wake Up + 2 Milli,” a two-parter about being relatively rap famous in your hometown, he addresses fame issues with delicacy, a complete lack of Drake-like smarm, and a new undergrounder’s skepticism of the major label deal: “Took a couple chances, steadily duckin’ advances”; “all I know is real, hundred dollar bills / Every show I kill, fuck a record deal.” When the beat switches up to a rolling funk-fart beat for “2 Milli,” Iamsu!’s hook laconically negotiates all of his future contracts: “Labels tryin’ to sign me, I need two mill for this shit.”

“Clothes, Shows, & Afros,” produced by Trackademicks, encourages the immediate rewards of live performance and contextualizes life on the road with non-glamorous details like, “charging [his] phone in the Apple store.” There’s a moral edge to this kind of anti-boasting, and I have to stress again that Iamsu! is doing it at the very moment when he’s supposed to be preemptively talking shit. On “Different,” he boasts “my money legal, no work on the curb / That trap shit for the birds / Just chill in the ‘burbs,” like the natural evolution of E-40’s sensible, crack-rap morality tales. The hook puts it even simpler: “I ain’t like you niggas, we different.”

The boldest move on Kilt then, is its mid-album switch from Bay Area bangers to R&B-inflected hip-hop. Melodic rapping is a big part of Iamsu!’s appeal, but right after “Get It In,” the loudest, stuttering track on Kilt, comes “Fly High,” a stoner R&B interlude that moves the mixtape into a more relaxed sound, without pandering. From here to the end, all the spare beats, most of them are produced by the same guys who made “UP!” and sculpted this mixtape’s raucous, slap-happy first half, are fleshed-out with crooned, amateurish backing vocals and warm, Roy Ayers-esque synths — like Rick Rock remixing Odd Future side project, the Internet.

Kilt is anything goes Bay Area rap lyricism with a canny though never cloying pop edge. Think: Wiz Khalifa when he channels Too $hort and actually kind of gives a shit about his music, or Young L whenever the weed smoke clears and he reverts back to the snapping sound of Domo Kun. Iamsu! is a grinding rapper with some fame and a lot of heart, who learned the right things from D.I.Y. fore-fathers like E-40, and hasn’t forgotten those values at the sight of his name towards the top of iTunes. He’s a regional rapper with an industry-approved arrival that is actually worth checking out.

Download Iamsu!’s Kilt