“It should be impossible to consider the Keefs and Flockas and Gunplays of the world completely outside of moralized critique.” That’s a quote from a ThinkProgress piece titled “White People and Hiphop (sic): Tourists, Expats, or Colonists?” Writer Alan Pyke’s essay attempts to wrestle with this ongoing debate about whether or not Chief Keef should be allowed to rap about things. “Rappers should be somewhat responsible for their words” isn’t a controversial statement and it’s probably necessary given how many people reviewing rap music for a living suddenly think they’re Walter Pater and start pontificating on art’s transgressive qualities beyond good and evil. “How do we wrestle with music that makes us or others feel weird?” could be an interesting starting point for a debate if the participants involved weren’t so factionalized from the get-go. Maybe we’ll get there one day.
For now, what’s more interesting is the game that author Pyke plays in which a certain type of rap music is considered more unsavory for knotty insular reasons, then dismissed because, well, those reasons are self-evident. So, a rapper like Gunplay, who is doing something quite different — not better or worse, just different — than Chief Keef or Waka Flocka, is categorized in that “culture killers” category because, um, you know. Only we don’t know. Because he scans as “hood”? Because he’s from Miami? Because he’s been arrested? He’s an inarguably great rapper. And he’s one of the more emotionally vulnerable dudes out there right now, wisely keyed into his self-destructive impulses. One gets the sense that if Wu-Tang Clan arrived this year via WorldStar, they would be bemoaned as snarling, PCP-smoking maniacs who are systematically tearing apart the culture, too.
Gunplay’s such a fun affront to hip-hop’s party-line proponents because he’s actually a fairly traditionalist, rapping-ass rapper. Plus, he isn’t looking for converts. His latest mixtape, Cops & Robbers, is the weakest of his recent releases, but it remains the most fascinating explosion of rap this year — sloppy sequencing, too many heard-it-already tracks and all. His raps come from the brute-force poetry of the street-rap greats (on “I’m a Shooter,” Gunplay grunts out “stick a motherfucker for a chain,” leaning hard on all those “K” sounds, drawling the word “chain” out just right) and his hooks are, generally, mealy-mouthed mean-mugging threats or boasts featuring the ad nauseam energy of both Black Moon and Three 6 Mafia.
Cops & Robbers is like a slapped-together, backyard wrestling-style obstacle course Gunplay has built to purposefully trip him up and knock him on his ass. But he never slips. Whether it’s “No Church,” which squats in and then properly occupies DMX’s “What’s My Name,” a one-two punch of Miami booty rap like “Ball (Remix)” and the Trina-assisted “Daddy,” or the post-Jeezy sort of EDM on “Definition of a Plug.” Gunplay shines when he’s at the center of a swirl of chaos — a beyond-messy mixtape he’s supposed to helm, in a sea of shirtless dudes in the “Hold Me Back” video, or trying to navigate confounding musique concrete trap beats. He has no time for bells and whistles. Or coherence. He makes net-free hip-hop. We don’t get a lot of that anymore.