Some of my favorites from July, August, and September, like Styles P’s brutal, hipster-baiting The Diamond Life Project, or 100s’ evil pimp rap for the Tumblr generation Ice Cold Perm, and great stuff we’ve premiered (7evenThirty’s Heaven’s Computer, 8Ball’s Life’s Quest, Antwon’s End Of Earth, and Labtekwon’s HARDCORE: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation/Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar), all deserve to get some additional attention, but I won’t go on about those again. This time around, I’m highlighting some albums and mixtapes that I also missed out on.
Chinx Drugz, Cocaine Riot 2
Highlights: “Early in the Game,” “Holla at a Nigga,” “Coke Boy Wave”
RIYL: Harry Fraud, Max B, Pastor Troy
Queens’ Chinx Drugz has got one of those names that, in an earlier era, invoked a gruff-voiced third-stringer on a Pete Rock compilation. Now, it may conjure up the image of a groaning trapper from somewhere or another in the South. Turns out, Chinx Drugz is something of a hybrid of those character-actor rapper types. There’s a disheveled Dipset approach to his expressive lyrics, and a Waka Flocka direct-ness to his hooks. He’s armed with beats from both ethereal boom-bappers like Harry Fraud and treble-happy post-Luger producers, and the guests include Internet guys like Action Bronson and Chevy Woods, radio dudes French Montana and Wale, and even a label castaway like Grafh. It’s as if he’s taken NYC and ATL and hammered those cities’ sounds into one menacing locale. The end result is the final twisted mutation of 2004, the year crunk broke, and the last gasp for the late-’90s Tunnel banger.
Gene the Southern Child & Parallel Thought, A Ride With The Southern Child
Highlights: “Punch it to the Flo’,” “The Police Pulled Me Over,” “Rap Language”
RIYL: Big Sant, G-Side, John Carpenter
Regular, even for a regular-guy rapper, raised not all that far from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Gene the Southern Child is “a lower-class rebel who sees material resources and homespun smarts as the answer to everything.” I stole those lines from Stanley Crouch’s description of Bigger Thomas in his reconsideration of the Native Son film adaptation, in this month’s Film Comment. But what Crouch says there also works as a critical, though not dismissive description of the MC as street-scholar tradition. Gene’s a scrapper, wise enough to call the copper searching his car “sir,” but not savvy enough to not get pulled over in the first place. His voice is distinctive: a laid-back drawl that finds him packing syllables in his jaw like dip, and spitting them out musically, making his hooks sound like verses and his verses sound like hooks. Plus his relative obscurity, coupled with underground producers Parallel Thought being out of their comfort zone, leads to a mixtape that retains a Southern bounce, but has its origins in old exploitation-movie soundtracks and the thudding simplicity of Ice-T and Schoolly D.
Jay Ant & Iamsu!, Stoopid
Highlights: “Broccoli and Cheese,” “On My Mind,” “Keep Talking”
RIYL: DJ Mustard, Minimalism, Syd the Kyd & Matt Martian
Creative worker-bee rap has been the hallmark of the Bay Area. But in the wake of “Rack City,” ratchet music, and a Lex Luger maximalist overload, spare hypnotic production underneath rubbery, expressive rhymes are receiving a little more attention, and running straight into Los Angeles post-jerk throb. Iamsu! and Jay Ant’s collaborative mixtape, almost entirely produced by one or the other, adds a weed cloud of warmth to the steely, simple Bay and L.A. beats we’ve come to expect lately. The kush-drone intro to “Broccoli and Cheese,” or the backwards swirl samples and robot cough on “What’s Hatnin'” suggest an ear for ambitiously adjusting a proudly unambitious style of beatmaking. Hooks are soulful yet repetitive and the raps are fun-infused blasts of wordplay (“No Benedict Arnold, for your benefit”), anchored by an understanding that there are an infinite number of ways to tweak radio-friendly rap and bullshit bells and whistles. It’s as if Kid Cudi and Drake dropped in on a session with E-40 and L.A. crew the Ranger$.
Jeremiah Jae, Raw Money Raps
Highlights: “Guns Go Off,” “One Herb,” “Hercules Versus the Commune”
RIYL: Carl Crack, Odd Future, Willis Earl Beal
A youngster from Chicago not named Chief Keef, Jeremiah Jae has even got his own “Bang” in “Guns Go Off,” a rap-rant over what sounds like a Silver Apples instrumental at twice the speed. He’s hooked up with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder crew, but if you dive through the headnodding digital murk, you’ll discover a worldly-wise rapper and pissed-off idealist pondering community and spirituality. “Hercules vs the Commune” speaks out against heroic egotism in favor of some nebulous greater good whose details can be figured out later; but for now, hey Herc, fall the fuck back. “Money and Food” makes fun of mainstream rap values, but the beat could appear on a Weezy mixtape quite easily. It isn’t clear if Jae’s aware of this, and it doesn’t matter. He’s figuring it out as he goes along, and that’s compelling enough. Raw Money Raps feels like the first piece in some outsider-art project that will open up eventually and reveal the key to all mythologies.
Trinidad James, Don’t Be S.A.F.E (Safe As Fuck Everyday)
Highlights: “Females Welcomed,” “All Gold Everything,” “Madden On GameCube”
RIYL: A$AP Ferg, Rudy Ray Moore, Slim Calhoun
Gifted with a smoker’s squawk of voice — like he hopped in the booth after a night of screaming at his friends during a marathon Madden NFL 13 session — Trinidad James shifts from sensitive spoken word-style raps to post-crunk chants (“High as fuck, turned up / Nigga, givin’ no fucks!”) like it ain’t no thing. The most inspired moments of Don’t Be S.A.F.E. tend to be random, even gratuitous: the rambling meta-commentary running through and between the rhymes, heady dubstep experiments, New Age soundscapes. There are 10 tracks here, and one of them is just Trinidad telling a folksy ’70s party record-style joke. In the video for “Gold on My MacBook” — that title itself, a perfect distillation of the Atlanta rapper’s very now fusion of nerdiness, curatorial taste, and big dumb southern-rap indulgence — we see James strap on his winged Adidas, delicately put on his jewelry ritual-like, and fit a glistening, crooked-toothed grill onto his charmingly crooked teeth. He is fully in the tradition of aggressively rakish hood dandies like Andre 3000 and Danny Brown.