Some rappers, who are content to turn their lives into superhero-gone-Tarantino tales of being down and out, then find success and enact hater retribution. And some rappers, it seems, couldn’t pull off hip-hop tall tale-telling if their lives depended on it. Young Scooter, part of Auto-Tune diarist Future’s Freebandz Entertainment is one of those can’t-tell-a-lie guys. Somebody who always allows a little too much reality to leak into even the most rote drug-rap boasts. The quasi-official video for Scooter’s minor hit “Colombia” — kind of a mix of Rick Ross’ “Hustlin’” ridiculousness (“I just left Colombia / Always making bricks, me and Hector”) and Future in charmingly moronic “Tony Montana” mode — consists of hastily edited footage from a TV documentary about the work-a-day details of the cocaine trade for Colombians. It’s hardly glamorous stuff that undercuts Scooter’s cocaine comic-book lyrics. This is the rare but significant street-dude truth-telling impulse that allows, say, Maria Full of Grace to enter the “hood cinema” canon along with operatic pulp like Scarface and straight-to-DVD verite like Shottas.
Consider the title of Scooter’s mixtape: Street Lottery. It’s just another way of saying he made a lot of money from selling drugs, but it also removes a bit of the self-made agency from his story and acknowledges hustling as, in part, a game of chance. Scooter hit the street lottery. Not everyone is fortunate enough to do that, which Scooter understands. Appropriately, the song “Street Lottery” features always sober old-head Bun B of straight-talk legends UGK. You hear Scooter’s hesitant triumph on “Made It Threw the Struggle”, when he reminds listeners that he “never had a fuckin’ father,” or notes that he’s not doing street shit anymore and he isn’t in jail either. Except when he is doing that shit again — in songs, at least, on ATL thug-rap auto-pilot — he still raps a delirious mix of head-down detail drip and joyful melodic goofiness. Imagine Gucci Mane’s dead-eyed rubbery lyricism on one shoulder, and Future’s sing-song hyper-sincerity on the other.
Rinky-dink circular synths from Pluto producers like Nard N’ B and Mike Will Made It build a menacing end-of-Scarface intensity to Street Lottery. At key moments on the tape, unexpected trap-rap adjustments are made, keeping the hour-plus running time interesting: Kate Bush “Cloudbursting”-like strings of “On It”; how “Street Lottery” sounds a bit like Lupe Fiasco’s “Daydreamin'”; a Slick Rick sample on “Run Ya Bands Up.” When Future is the figurehead for your rap crew, though, the emotional expectations are high. A Z-Ro-like ability to drop borderline TMI exhortations about how bad this life can get are a given. The ideal is to filter all that emotion through cathartic configurations of catchy melodies and vocal idiosyncrasies. Pluto’s “You Deserve It,” a pure-of-heart happy celebration of making it, free of hater talk or meta-narrative anti-hater talk, is the blueprint. Scooter gets there more than you’d expect.