Blue Chips: April 2020 in New Hip-Hop
Our monthly report on new hip hop
Blue Chips is a monthly rap column that doubles as a scouting report. Each month, SPIN selects a new starting five, a group of rappers who could be Rookie of the Year candidates turned Hall-of-Famers or forgettable flashes in the pan. Only the passing seasons (and the number of streams) will tell. To read previous columns, click here.
BlueBucksClan - “Walkin’ In”
There’s a depressing void in L.A. rap. Drakeo the Ruler, South Central’s pint-pouring foremost stylist and slang maven, has been in judicial purgatory for over a year. (He beat the murder charge for which he was initially arrested, but prejudiced prosecutors have declared his group The Stinc Team a “gang” and are retrying him using draconian gang enhancement charges.)
Since Drakeo has been inside, BlueBucksClan (BBC) have emerged as promising members of the second wave of L.A. street rap in the city’s accepted rap renaissance. South Central natives, BBC members DJ and Jeezy excel at delivering one glowering flex after another. On their two 2020 projects, Clan Way 2 and the EP Clan Virus, they’re donning designer from neck to shoelace on the way to a club where they are exempt from security pat-downs. Between studio sessions, they’re answering DMs from callipygian dimes. They sound both impudent and bored. Yeah, they’re leaving the club with someone’s girlfriend, but it’s regular.
“Walkin’ In” is one of the standouts on Clan Way 2, an accelerated stunt 101 course. The beat from LowTheGREAT is in keeping with the gloomy but trunk-rattling production that’s scored L.A. rap for the last several years. Like they are on other BBC tracks, DJ’s intonation and cadence are indebted to Drakeo. It’s not a wholesale imitation, but you’d never believe DJ if he said he doesn’t listen to Drakeo. Stepping out in Dior and Prada, DJ rolls dice at the casino, pops bottles in the back of the club with women at his side. Jeezy is there too, draped in his preferred high fashion garments with a harem of his own. The song distills all that BBC finds fun, even if they don’t always sound like they’re enjoying themselves.
FT HopOut – “Gang Shit”
Claiming your set is an assertion of individual identity that speaks for a community. The words “I’m from [insert set]” are fraught with meaning for the initiated and affiliated. They encapsulate decades-long wars of attrition and the list of casualties, the internecine feuds as fatal as those against the opposition. That simple declaration acknowledges the bonds forged at cookouts and on corners, at funerals and from either side of bulletproof glass.
In 2016, Compton native FT HopOut released “I’m From Fruits”, an impassioned avowal of his affiliation. The Fruit Town Pirus have undoubtedly received shoutouts elsewhere, but HopOut made the definitive anthem. Backed by a minimal but thundering post-Mustard bounce and funereal piano, HopOut outlines the code of silence and retaliation by which respected members abide. Over the last four years, the video has accrued over 7 million views. Unfortunately, many of those views likely came while HopOut was in prison.
Delayed but not deterred, HopOut returned this year with his debut project, Voice of the Town. It’s as uneven as you’d expect for a record likely pieced together over several years with minimal funds, but several songs augur well for HopOut’s future. “Gang Shit” ranks among the best (see also “In Too Deep” with Almighty Suspect). HopOut raps with greater polish than he did four years ago, bouncing between dreary keys and in-the-red bass with swagger, menace, and honesty. He’ll slide on enemies in a fresh fit if necessary, and he might ejaculate prematurely “if it’s too wet.” Digressive sexual asides notwithstanding, “Gang Shit”, like “I’m From Fruits”, is another record about riding for your section. The unspoken hope is that HopOut gets out, that he makes enough rap money to bring his people with him.
Jackboy – “Pressure”
Kodak Black is Florida’s Boosie. Though his delivery is more sedate, his introspective street narratives resonated with hustlers in Pompano Beach like Boosie’s did for those in Baton Rouge. At present, he remains in prison indefinitely on gun charges.
Like Kodak, Jackboy has Haitian roots and grew up in Pompano Beach. He too has been subject to the unjust machinations of the U.S. judicial system. Fortunately, he’s out of prison and thriving. A longtime friend of Kodak’s, Jackboy signed to Sniper Gang (Kodak’s label) and EMPIRE. He’s the Webbie to Kodak’s Boosie in the sense that he’s lesser-known than his compatriot, but that’s where the comparison ends. Listen to last year’s auspicious Lost In My Head. You’ll hear shades of the admitted influence of Gucci Mane. On “Not a Clone,” the beat of which is indebted to “The Truth,” he borrows Gucci’s bounce and intonation.
“Pressure”, the second single from his self-titled album, is a stylistic departure from his previous releases. If “Pressure” and “Freedom of Speech” (the album’s first single) are any indication, Jackboy now has a singular style. He and Kodak still have similar accents, but comparisons to him or Gucci are unfounded. At times on “Pressure,” Jackboy spits in an aggressive staccato, his words halting before he moves to a melodic run. It’s the rap equivalent of a brilliant stutter step. Throughout, he sings choice words and lines, imbuing them with greater emotion (e.g., “Might never buy a watch cause I’m traumatized from doing time”). “Pressure” covers everything from Jackboy’s time inside to past crimes. At its core, though, it’s about whether he can abandon the survival tactics he developed in Florida’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Given the time and support, he might be able to do that and step out of Kodak’s shadow.
Shordie Shordie – “Fucc Friends”
If Baltimore has an 03 Greedo, it’s Shordie Shordie. You hear it in the rawness of the emotion and the vulnerability therein, the unhinged and off-key crooning in songs that revolve around drug-addled trysts. Both have a predilection for beats with sentimental keys punctuated by drums that hit like a battering-ram. There’s also the similarity of their cadences. Speedy and rhythmic runs crescendo in pained howls.
Highlighting these similarities isn’t a knock. If you had a dollar for every Young Thug clone, you could Postmates all meals until the pandemic ends. Some of them are successful and talented, sanding down Thug’s idiosyncrasies until their fit for polished radio hits. Fortunately, Shordie is as eccentric as Greedo without sounding like him entirely. Greedo has more bass in his voice and pushes the auto-tune like Wayne circa Tha Carter III. Shordie’s voice is smoky and higher pitched. Sometimes, like on “Voice Mail,” he sounds like he’s trying to whisper his words down the length of a Black & Mild. Also, given Greedo’s prolificacy, some of his releases can be uneven. Thus far, Shordie hasn’t dropped a dud.
The former frontman of disbanded rap trio Peso Da Mafia, Shordie released his first solo project in 2018, the tight nine-track Captain Hook. This year’s >Music is four songs longer but doesn’t sag under the weight of the extended runtime. “Fucc Friends,” one of the project’s singles, is arguably his best song since Captain Hook’s “Bitchuary.” Shordie rides the murky, emotionally turbulent waters of a friends-with-benefits situationship. He wants to be closer, but his feelings might not be reciprocated. Heart in hand, Shordie croons a catchy and honest hook over maudlin R&B keys and crushing 808s. Does it sound like Greedo? Definitely. Is it good? It’s great.
ZayBang – “In That Rain”
When grief hits, it lingers. If not immediately, then eventually and maybe indefinitely. Some say there are five stages (others say seven). Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (and the other two) come in waves, receding and washing together only to mount and crash again.
San Francisco’s ZayBang knows these emotional tides too well. The list of friends and family members he’s lost is long. “I’m from a real section. Really I done lost a lot of people. I done lost uncles, you feel me, cousins, you feel me, brothers. I done lost niggas bro,” he told Passion of the Weiss in March. You can feel the accretive weight of those deaths every time he raps. Though confident, his voice is somewhere between husky and hoarse, pained and weary. Syllables drop an octave or sound like they’ve been serrated. The imperfections become pronounced and more affecting when he croons. His latest project, The Streets Blame Me, is one of the best from the Bay Area in recent memory. He raps candidly but without a trace of corniness. Loyalty (or lack thereof), coping with death, exacting retribution, buying enough designer kicks to bury the pain—the themes are familiar, but ZayBang’s voice and directness make them resonate.
Every song on The Streets Blame Me is excellent, but “In That Rain” continues to hit months after ZayBang dropped it as a single. He captures the persistent resentment of being abandoned when it’s all bad. The verses add more nuance. ZayBang touches on the paranoia that never fades once you’ve watched friends switch up (“My brother watched his enemy but lost it to his friends”). Like ZayBang’s verse, the beat is somber yet buoyant. A slap for wet and gray Bay Area days. ZayBang knows them literally and figuratively. For now, he knows how to weather them.