During his brief stay on earth, Lucas Foster forged a reputation as one of the best young music journalists of his generation. While his tragic death deprives us of countless unwritten gonzo masterpieces, he nonetheless leaves behind an impressive body of work — especially considering everything collected here was written before the age of 26. He’ll be eternally missed, but his legacy lives on through his words on everything from the kings of the modern Soundcloud underground to ’90s Memphis cassette tapes, from Drake to Drakeo. You can find his full collection of POW work here. If you come across any more of his work — be it Google doc, letter, essay, or manuscript –please email passionweiss at gmail dot com. Long Live Lucas. -Jeff Weiss
I. Notes from the Underground
In his first article for POW, Lucas introduced the wider world to Philadelphia’s Working on Dying collective and tread music, years before they would become some of the industry’s most sought after producers for their collaborations with Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti
“Tread isn’t Lil Uzi Vert croaking falsetto in a choker about jewelry, this is Chxpo, all sinuses and mushmouth, in a dark corner of a boarded-up Cleveland vacant or Kane Groceries and Warhol.ss masked up trying to get rich. Instead of turnin’ up at Magic City, they took molly and are snowed in at home.
The Tread sound and aesthetic is reflective of the ennui of the grey Philly landscapes where it was born and of the increasingly atomized nature of music scenes and humans in the digital age. While the similarly uptempo New Orleans Bounce takes you into a 5th Ward strip club—a weekend night of gaudy chains and overpriced bottles—Tread takes the listener to Loosie Mane’s North Philly block, drinking Jim Beam out the bottle at 10 in the morning on a block of deteriorating row houses.
The sound, while dark, is refreshing and danceable; it has the potential to get asses shaking in every club from LA to London if Diplo or Drake get their hands on it. Some say all WOD producers music is tread, or all recent GMR releases are tread, or any dark and moody cloud trap released since 2015 is tread, but it’s a spectrum; hip-hop fans never seem to pain themselves with genre hyper-specification. A simple rule of thumb is that any darker trap song within a BPM over 140 released in the past year or so could be called tread.” — From Hit the Gym: On the Proliferation of Tread Music, Sept. 2017
The heavily influential piece that first codified the scam-rap sub-genre
“Among the most obviously untrue myths that Americans believe about ourselves is that we value hard work.
America is a country controlled by a vampire class of financiers, lobbyists, venture capitalists, and weapons manufacturers, many of whom are undoubtedly pedophiles blackmailed by foreign intelligence agencies. These robber barons in Audemars watches run elaborate, intentionally confusing money-making schemes that victimize normal people while discussing themselves and their business in the sunny language of Californian New Age psychobabble and humanitarian liberalism. Wall Street and K Street and Palo Alto success stories are deified as exemplary specimens who “worked hard” to achieve the near mythical American dream of hedonistic consumption. In this fantastical simulation, “elbow grease” stains the thousand dollar shirts of intergenerational wealth, artificial intelligence is being developed for the benefit of all rather than dystopian corporate surveillance schemes, and Raytheon champions diversity and inclusion while manufacturing Space Age weapons to incinerate the black and brown people who defy American imperialism internationally.
In reality the defense contractors, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, Silicon Valley technocrats and options traders who hold all the cards are scammers: these vultures perpetuate endless myths about their own competence and intelligence so they can gut the remaining functional limbs of our economy for parts and laugh at the cereal-eating proles from their private apocalypse bunkers.
It follows that Scam Rap is having its moment in the sun. A new cohort of outlaw proletarian folk heroes are storming rap with cowboy bravado and cyberpunk drip, gleefully and stylishly exposing cracks in the cybersecurity of the banking industry’s opaque, “foolproof” consumer end payment apps and becoming the card-swiping, bank account-spoofing, app-cracking heroes we didn’t know we deserved.
The North and South Poles of 2019 Scam Rap are Guapdad 4000 and Teejayx6. Guapdad is a silk-tongued LA-by-way-of-West Oakland socialite decked out in designer du-rags who spits an endless supply of ridiculous anecdotes and high level pimp game with California Cool. Teejay is a 17-year-old Detroit street rapper with an ear for simplicity and a pen tuned to efficient, 2 bar story-telling. Guap hangs out with (and scams) Drake to an audience of two hundred thousand adoring instagram followers, while Teejay is laser focused on the transient lifestyle of a teenaged Michigan cyber criminal. Together they offer opposing views of how to hold a middle finger to “respectable” work and how to look great doing it.” — From “Cracked Pin Numbers: The Rise of Scam Rap,” July 2019
A gonzo saga involving a stolen pair of Versace loafers from the Nordstrom Outlet
“It’s 60 degrees in San Francisco and I’m on my way to Empire studios to interview Lil Pete for a second time. Arriving in the area on the train with two hours to kill and that sense of nagging dread that I’m going to interview a rapper that has absolutely no interest in talking to a white music writer who is poorly dressed, I make a decision, I NEED DRIP. So I grabbed a Corona and slyly stole a pair of designer shoes without so much as a glance from [redacted] security.
This was, it felt like, a liberating act and a “glow up.” And it was neither. I was still arriving on time to a major label studio while the photographer was late, the rapper was late, I was half-drunk and I was about to talk to someone who did not want to talk to me. As I sat in the lobby an intense and animated tall man screamed across a hallway and said to a receptionist:
“Can you not keep that door open unless absolutely necessary?“
“Just so people –“
“No so no one walks in with a fucking pistol, a lot of things are happening.”
Those lots of things are a Nef the Pharaoh listening party and whatever else happens at Empire HQ in San Francisco on a Friday evening.
It was, I think, a perfect introduction to the big leagues, with AAA prospect Lil Pete soon arriving in his Friday best, shaking my hand and watching me watch him.
Pete is, if you don’t know him, a rapper and singer from the Fillmore district in San Francisco. A man who has a first person perspective on the realities of our dystopian hellscape. His neighborhood has been gutted through gentrification and his city has become unrecognizable. At 15, his house was raided and his parents were arrested for crimes that they are still fighting in the courts six years later.
His options were related to sports, and when he failed to grow beyond a 5’8” frame or receive scholarship offers, the point guard became a rapper. And two projects later he has an artist-friendly deal with Empire, sitting in their studio wearing a massive Hardaway chain, a Louis belt, Balenciaga shoes, Audemars watch. and the impassive expression that rappers wear after the budgets for proper designer have been secured.
His chain and watch and belt were earned. Pete can rap, he can sing, he can choose a beat, and he does it all, seemingly, in a vacuum. Pete is not a Bay rapper, he is not an underground rapper, he is not a mainstream rapper and he is not a trap rapper. He is a product of a postmodern milieu that is acontextual to any scene, coming into a sound uniquely his own that blends guitar samples, R&B textures and rhythms, trap pop percussion, and his undeniable ability to craft a chorus, hook, and verse. A sound which he speaks of relationships and street life in vague, undefined and depersonalized phrasing so as not to expose the inner life of a man who has witnessed the fragmentation of family and community to a city and a nation that has decided to tear itself apart.” — From “Rap or Go to the League: An Interview with Lil Pete,” October, 2019
A odyssey in Skid Row with the underground linchpin, Marcy Mane
Downtown LA and Skid Row are absurd, abject, ridiculous and horrifying. The “concrete totalization” of postmodernity. While Santa Monica was once the Frankfurt School’s “most advanced point of observation” of capitalism, now DTLA has integrated the teachings of 4 generations of deconstruction into the design of its steel and concrete and the schizophrenic social organization which moves between the dim metal meadows and shimmering glass glaciers. The $5000 lofts overlooking $3000 crack corners; the one-eyed beggars peeking at pointy-toed stilettos; the faux-designer shades hiding red eyes above chapped lips asking for bus tokens and Venmo ID’s; the house-free owners of $100 Bluetooth speakers and $200 Jordans.
I think if you want to write about culture seriously, you need to spend some time here, and not just holed away on your laptop in a bar booth or Starbucks outlet. You need to party in the penthouses and pick up on the corners. You need to ask strangers to exchange Apple Pay for cash, you need to boost at the outlets and barter with the dope boys for dimes; you need to sniff and smell and breathe this place in all its heavenly hedonism and sickening abjection. Maybe you’ll get roughed up, or robbed, or strung out in the process, but you won’t be separated from the city and culture and present and future that you’re supposed to be capturing. You won’t be pontificating on the globe’s cultural capital from a coffee shop and office space, encased in the bubbles designed to keep the culture industry’s managerial class at a distance from an open air drug market and homeless encampment without a toilet and a hundred blocks of restaurants without a power outlet.
So I come here many days, between Bunker Hill and Gallery Row, and find myself mumbling into my keyboard, doing laps amongst the sights and smells with a bookbag on my back and a hundred bugged out thoughts going nowhere for every idea worth something.
The one idea worth something tonight is wandering down 7th street until I pull up to the gate of the Super Chief gallery, where resident multidisciplinary artist Marcy Mane has agreed to let me interview him. Walking up to the iron gate I peer into a collection of a half dozen people on laptops and spot my subject’s sparkling smile and yelp:
There’s a pause. No one recognizes me, though I met a few at concert Marcy headlined last weekend; though it was 7 pm at Super Chief gallery, our agreed time and place of meeting; though we had an Instagram correspondence.
Still more pinched eyebrows and sideways looks exchanged.
“Lucas, from Instagram, for the interview.”
My momentary nightmare has dissolved into Marcy’s eager hospitality. The rapper, producer, filmmaker, painter, and scene architect opens the iron gate and invites me into his space, then into his Impala (a car also known as the “Underground Railroad” for it’s importance to the Los Angeles chapters of many SoundCloud rapper’s stories) to Peruvian food with reggaeton experimentalist TECHGRL, where we exchange reference points and reflect on the closing months of a decade in which the Goth Money aesthetic Marcy helped discover and harness became a global phenomenon.
While they eat ceviche and I drink water, I find the 30-something mogul genuine, kind, forthcoming, armed with a breezy sense of humor and a disarming smile. Yet I meet sweet and likeable characters on the bus. What strikes me is that the Screwboss is, like few people I have ever met, incredibly intelligent. Naturally, his brain is the product of a family with deep roots in art and music, his uncle is the painter and visual artist Hampton Olfus, who did artwork for Bad Brains, and his grandfather was a saxophonist in Ike Turner’s band.
His intellect was nurtured through earning a degree from distinguished HBCU Howard University, and his artistic impulses and business skills were sharpened through 10 years of navigating the nexus of the experimental music industry and the avant art world as a multidisciplinary artist whose work, through every medium, works to realize his singular vision. A world, Flexico, that is represented in world-building paintings and hinted at in slang and installations and rap songs. An aesthetic of black punk rock and goth money embellished beyond aesthetic signifiers through a half decade of work as the primary puppetmaster of Goth Money Records (and now as the manager of the ascendant and hyper chic Reptillian Club Boyz). A thematic motif of all of his work is a complex and multifaceted investigation into the African diaspora and its influence on both global culture and the black experience globally.
Marcy’s art is more ambitious, and by now more accomplished than most any of the navel gazing high art world’s pedantic chicken scratch and has no interest in engaging with a self-aware discussion of its place in art history. It’s a world entirely self-contained and a body of work that reflects a singular vision. And today, a year after an amicable break Goth Money Records and probably a decade away from being discussed in assigned readings for art students, he is poised to continue to ascend at an age most rappers are five years past relevance.
Acquainting oneself to Marcy Mane is to be equally endeared to and enamored with him. As he brings me into his dimly lit and Christmas-hued living space and art studio in the back of the Super Chief gallery; as I sink into the disorganized collection of mixers and canvasses and turntables and ephemera that has grown in the crevasses and cracks of his Los Angeles home, I flip my Canoga Park Pharmacy snapback into my best “real journalist hat.” I tell myself I am here to document and dissect. And we begin talking about all that I had ever dreamed of discussing with one of the SoundCloud Underground’s chief architects and one of Los Angeles’ most interesting working artists.” — From “An Interview with Marcy Mane,” Oct. 2019
This was supposed to be a song premiere. Instead it was a weird, harrowing dispatch from exile. Read the whole thing.
“The first time I met Eric North was October 26th, 2019: a crisp fall morning in Los Angeles. Laser white sun beams peaked between blinders to poke me awake. Not yet 10 AM, the first sensible sleeping arrangement I’d come across in a few weeks was disintegrating to sweaty black leather and crinkled red eyes. I stumbled to the kitchen and poured Evan Williams into a glass and prepared to embark on another day of life and death in Downtown LA.
You descend from a hill in Lincoln Heights where four bedroom stucco one stories are utilized as chicken farms and suburbia begins in nighttime silence. Where one house is occupied by participants in indie rock gentrification and the rest are participants in post-Vietnam immigration and assimilation. When you get to the bottom of that hill you are back to the realities of bus stops and park bathrooms and syringes and menthols and tents and sleeping bags. But none of those are on your back so you descend further towards the skyline, those rough edged corners and precisely angled pieces of glass in the sky up above. Those masses of people between each metal-doored garage shutter that calls itself a business and the bulletproof glass that displays hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry.
Here we are, between the thieves and crooks, amongst the drifters and grifters. It’s the Gallery District and there’s as many crack dealers out as there are shoppers and some of those shoppers pay 5 thousand dollars a month to live here, to descend into this chaos each day. There’s so much art here, it’s not just abjection and absurdity, it’s the art subsidized by the Gallery Class. There is no grand narrative to these public installations, no communication of ideology, no sense of public stewardship nor intent to be places of communal worship and congregation.
This is sheer abstraction. Rough metal sculptures shooting into the air for no rhyme or reason but the singular expression of shiny, obtuse, clean protrusion. Bunker Hill to wherever I’m going.
I’m in the midst of the crowd I love, drunk on a half liter of cheap whiskey, smiling and looking for friends amongst the madness who maybe will wink back.
So I run into a woman, a white woman, with Hello Kitty headphones on, she winks back, she knows. There’s something playfully knowing about her, about both of us, she’s a model now, a model for my ancient iPhone. She’s maybe impoverished and maybe lying and maybe me 7 years and a few genders in the future.
“I’m going to West Africa tomorrow”
“What are you doing there?”
“It’s lawless over there, I can do whatever I want. I’m selling spiders.” — From POW Premiere, Eric North’s Terminal 4 EP.
After Def Jam banned me from covering the show (seriously), Lucas stepped into the arena.
In the fifteen minute intermission before the beginning of Kanye’s movie, I speak with a few people sitting around me. Two groups of people stand out. Kendra, Kim, Erica, and Tiffany are an engaging group of twenty-something women who tell me they’re “here for the culture” and that they came specifically to see if Kanye was alright. They give me their impression of Kanye, the man: troubled and surrounded by yes-me. I also speak with two teenagers: one named Ryan and one named Gage, who went to the same church as Kanye, led by Pastor Adam Tyson. Gage claims to have once “held Kanye’s phone” and both say Kanye was “laid-back.” When I ask them if they would have voted for Trump if they they were 18, they both enthusiastically endorse him.
The Jesus Is King film plays on a faux-IMAX projector. The film takes the form of a five-song gospel music video. Five years ago, everyone would have a dozen reasons why this was undoubtedly the work of genius. I don’t think I would watch it again, but it serves its purpose on this night: a surreal film that captures songs of praise, both tragic and beautiful, setting the tone for an album with similar ambitions.” — Originally published at Complex, Oct. 2019
The eclectic slate of albums that helped form Lucas’ taste during his teenage years.
“My interest in hip-hop was birthed in 2007, when after I heard Young Jeezy and Jay-Z’s “Go Crazy” I looked up the video on YouTube and ended up exploring many more snapping and clapping mid-aughts hits. A few months later I discovered 36 Chambers and Illmatic through the relentless flood of backpackers in the comment section and immediately purchased them as CDs at Best Buy. This was to be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with hip-hop and life long relationship with the video sharing platform as my source for discovering good music. As I grew into adulthood, YouTube’s music content and community grew with me. While I only had a few friends that were as interested in me in finding obscure Southern rap tapes, or as invested in discovering more “indie rock” than fucking Tame Impala, on YouTube I found plenty of suggestions and kindred spirits.
When I was 15, European tape collectors introduced me to the previously completely obscure world of the ’90s Memphis rap. Soon after, taste curators as young as me showed me the emerging Phonk of Smokey, Purrp, Xavier Wulf. Middle aged vinyl collectors introduced me to 80s electro funk as I partied my way out of college. Aging English indie rockers revealed to me the blissful world of ’80s and ’90s shoegaze and dream pop. It was not a local music scene, not an older sibling, not a blog but Youtube’s complex auto play and suggestion algorithms that ultimately shaped my music taste, an experience shared by many in my generation. This phenomenon should be better documented and understood.” — From “Gifts of Gods of YouTube Algorithms,” Originally written in Fall 2017.
II. The Temple of Wifigawd
Lucas writing about Washington D.C. underground king, Wifigawd, was like Lester Bangs on The Troggs. Here’s a collection of his work on his pick for the Soundcloud Generation GOAT.
“For Soundcloud veteran and “rap villain,” WIFIGAWD his voice is more percussive. Every syllable, every crack of consonant, every punch of a vowel is on-beat. In terms of vocal range he hangs closer to bass and baritone than to the tenor and falsetto of those trumpets and cornets. His percussive flows contain lyrics ruminating upon the familiar: hitting licks and spending them on jewelry on a “TREAD-HOT” setting or washing down his coke drip with purple lean on a “ICY SHIT- COLD” setting.” — The Rap Up, Nov. 2017.
“The first thing you notice about Wifigawd is the name. It’s a relic of a different era of Soundcloud rap—before xxxtentacion and Lil Uzi Vert attracted a legion of white teens and record labels—a time in 2012 and 2013 when being an internet dude was still weird and everyone in Basedworld was christened with a God name.
The name can seem strange to people who weren’t there, but it shouldn’t distract from his decidedly non-trivial music. I’m sure that Wifi is forever based, but his musical output this year has been anything but ballads about flip phone Nokia shawty’s or fucking a million girls. Instead, he’s released a series of serious street raps over forward thinking tread beats and ultra-modern Plug canvases that blend the more esoteric corners of post-Goth Money Soundcloud rap with straight up trap music.
His impressive body of work has gone clinically underappreciated on year end lists. He’s primarily stayed slept-on because his style has the unfortunate tendency to always be a few months ahead of Soundcloud trends and very subtle in expression in a way that takes some adjustment to fully appreciate. Every time I listen to him it takes a few days to hear exactly how and why the new thing he’s doing is hitting my ear. His most obvious redeeming feature, though, is that he can rap his ass off.
What Wifigawd proved this year is that he is a tread technician—his rhymes matching seamlessly with the Soundcloud zeitgeist thanks to his use of a new flow on every song that melts effortlessly into whatever beat he made or chose to use. He was right on time to the Working on Dying party with peers like Black Kray and Five Finger Posse, having begun working with Oogie Mane and company in earnest last year after the release of his excellent 2016 mixtape Fubu 05. The work he put in immediately following dropping that tape of sing song flows and velvety melodies was a violent turn down the darkest and most aggressive lanes of the chic high bpm subgenre of tread music. Those bedroom sessions eventually became my 2017 album of the year, Wifi Season.” — From “The Rapid Rise of Wifigawd,” Jan. 2018
“I have been raving about WifiGawd’s music to any one who will listen for more than two years. He is a singular artist, a rapper who applies the values and traditions of hip-hop’s Golden Age to making music that pushes rap into the future. Since 2016 he has remained committed to a radical project: releasing proper albums that display a single sound from an underground scene that is more tuned to disorganized and chaotic loosies. Return of Da Big Dawg is no exception.
Often his albums have projected trends months or years ahead of time, but recently he has been intrigued by the sounds and styles of the last millennium. It’s probably not what one would expect from a rapper with the name “WifiGawd,” who released full length projects with Oogie Mane, Tony Seltzer, and Hi-C recently. Yet getting to know him has taught me that his roots in rap run deeper than most. He grew up in the D.C. Rasta community, where his family raised him on Rakim, KRS-One, De La Soul, and today he prefers Kid Cudi to most of his peers’ music.
On Return of Da Big Dawg, he has found a sound that marries the sounds of Rap’s first Golden Age with the wave of futuristic internet rap that he helped define. To make this happen he has enlisted a unique and nearly unrivaled group of producers. Underground legend Genshin, the culturally dominant Plug collective, and Virginia’s Trip Dixon all made gorgeous, melodic beats that Wifi compliments with immaculate and sparkling flows that borrow a little from Cudi, maybe a little from Max B, and maybe even Young Bleed, but are uniquely his own. Wifi’s technical mastery and beautiful rap voice makes it sound effortless, belying a work ethic and a perfectionist approach to the studio process that separates MC’s from pretenders. — From a review of Wifigawd’s Return of Da Big Dawg, Sept. 2019
“Cincinnati, Ohio is never quite beautiful. It’s a Rust Belt city that sunk, shrunk, and withered in the same way that most all of those constantly smog-ridden, silver and rust-colored crevasses of those pockmarked Appalachian hills now are. The decay in the air rises from the slick, sickly brown Ohio River and covers once elegant 19th century brownstones and midrises with both air pollution and a sense of decay a bit more profound than one may find above the clouds or on the coasts. A feeling not of impending doom but a crushing, historiographically profound peak into an empire aging ungracefully.
Wifi recently said on his Instagram Live that if you smoke mid your thoughts drift into the worst recesses of your mind, because when you are buying mid you are down bad. You drift into that haze of economic insecurity and swirling emotional abysses in a way that is both schizoid and deeply reflective. I was working, or whatever you call affiliate marketing work, at a Buffalo Wild Wings when Trump, on a windswept, sheet grey day in D.C., told a thin crowd of our American carnage. He described “land of abandoned factories, economic angst,” which, as I chewed on hormone-injected, factory-raised, and corn syrup-coated chicken wings, and sat amongst those abandoned factories, I could not quite disagree with. He spelt out a tortured and incoherent vision for a White Nationalist, Hyper Capitalist future, and as that mid pack hit my soul, time slowed to half speed, and I saw a man, likely on high doses of powerful stimulants, preparing to just free ball it. And then the horror sunk in.
I couldn’t stare down the abyss of greyhat screens and numbers and clickbait holes. I had to go to the only therapy I knew at that time, travelling the post-industrial urban wasteland with my Sennheisers blasting FUBU 05. You probably haven’t heard FUBU 05, because like all of Wifi’s music it was too ahead of it’s time to pop for most of you fucking cornballs, too lo-fi for the A&R’s to be fucking with it, and too raw for all but the rarest. That song I played as I pondered Donald Trump and the apocalypse was “JUGGPACKS,” where Wifi describes how he is moving around Uptown DC with a stick, making plays like a quarterback, and smoking on weed he ran pockets for, on top of the craziest, most complex array of synth and whistle melodies I had ever heard on a hip-hop song.
I don’t know why his music was so therapeutic for me. I have never pulled up to a stash spot with an automatic shotty. Nor have I ever gone to a party with the intention of robbing plugs. You often hear critics like to smugly deride SoundCloud Rap as “rap for a white and suburban audience,” which is generally the sort of thing someone who would have never been into music discovery to the point where they would have tapped in to WifiGawd music in 2016 would say. And they are dead wrong. WifiGawd got all these beats from Cryjng (a 16-year-old San Diego producer who was in juvenile detention right after this dropped) got off the block and recorded the entire tape in one studio session, then got back to pushing. WifiGawd is not an a self-appointed aesthetic affectation, but a street name appointed to him when, after being kicked out of the house at 16, he had to quarterback those jugg moves off public Wifi, and to this day, bro does not pay a phone bill (POW fact checking and research department has confirmed this).
And as I looked around a city at the last gasps of History’s End, I heard something that captured the moment in the way the pop charts never could. – From “Wifigawd Got Me Hip” — May 2020
III. Memphis Beat
“As early as 1990, Memphis’ sound was distinguished by hi-hat and 808-driven beats which showcased MC’s like Lord Infamous, Skinny Pimp, Tom Skeemask, Princess Loko, and a prepubescent Yo Gotti (as Lil Yo) using double time and triplet (“Migos”) flows. Instead of the polished, digital crispness of modern trap, producers in Memphis were mostly working with a very lo-fi sound and using a lot of samples. The sound and subject matter is often very dark and haunting, with menacing vocal samples, organs, violins, Eastern and Arabic zitars, harpsichords, and keyboards being used to add an appropriately dark soundtrack to the bleak post-industrial economic reality of Memphis in this time period. Memphis rappers weren’t just rapping about banging, pimpin’ and murder, they added a horrorcore and even Satanic element to their subject matter which sometimes felt more than just performance.
Though it is now largely associated with it’s darkest and grimiest lo-fi sound fetishized by internet kids from 4chan to Soundcloud, it also had some more conventional gangsta rappers and producers that fell within the Memphis sound like 8Ball And MJG, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, Shawty Pimp, Indo G & Lil Blunt, and Tela.
The sound (and arguably much of modern Southern hip-hop’s sound) has largely been credited to being initially developed by DJ Spanish Fly, although the history of the scene is not thoroughly publicly documented. By the late ’80s he had really crystallized Memphis’ signature production techniques. Clubs where he had worked since he was 16 weren’t interested in his more explicit mixes which centered largely around banging, armed robbery, and pimping, so he released tapes of them independently. Other local producers/ DJs such as Dj Zirk, DJ Sound, DJ Squeeky, Tommy Wright, DJ Paul, Juicy J, Shawty Pimp, and 8Ball & MJG started building off his formula and by 92 the sound was solidified.” — Circa 2015, first published on Reddit, now live at POW.
“DJ Squeeky’s obscurity in Southern hip-hop history is criminal. To most trap-a-holics, the name DJ Squeeky barely registers in the ever-expanding landscape of producers. Maybe you know him for his countless Young Dolph collaborations, or you somehow recall his production credit on Jeezy’s “Welcome Back“, (and subsequent theft of said beat by Rick Ross), or maybe you were lucky enough to stumble upon his endless 90s underground tapes with the magic of youtube algorithms and this decade’s resurgence of interest in 90s Memphis rap.
His contribution to the genre of trap, however, was its literal creation. Working in his bedroom in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis with neighborhood friends like 8ball & MJG, DJ Zirk, and Tom Skeemask, Squeeky was the first to combine machine-gun-quick hi-hats, trunk-rattling 808 kicks, and rangey sub-bass with lyrics about hittin’ licks, slangin’ rocks, and ridin’ dirty.
The first time I heard a DJ Squeeky song I was sitting in my friend Davis’ weed and tobacco clouded bedroom in 10th grade. The second I heard the rattling hi-hats and 808 kicks introduce Tom Skeemask and friends using double time and triplet flows about plottin’ murders and dragging bodies to ditches, I had to completely reassess my understanding of what trap is, where it came from, and learn who the fuck was producing this shit in 94. In 11th grade we spent many school days exploring the 90s Memphis underground on obscure youtube channels, German blogspots, and whatever else our school’s library computers gave us access to. Eventually, it became clear that DJ Squeeky and DJ Spanish Fly were the true originators of the 90s Memphis sound and that Squeeky was, in our eyes, the original “trap” producer.” — From “An Interview with DJ Squeaky,” Sept. 2017.
“Lil Sko’s 1998 album U Know Tha Sko is a brilliant time capsule into the much emulated and still under appreciated five years of Memphis hip-hop that preceded its original release date. Throughout this decade, rap made in Memphis in the 1990s has been increasingly recognized for being ahead of its time and for being just inaccessible enough to make a Tommy Wright cassette collection or Koopsta Knicca T-Shirt a sort of cool rap nerd signifier. It’s a bittersweet phenomenon: While the music on its own is incredible, too often fans lose themselves in the novelty of Memphis rap’s aesthetics, seeing only a series of Southern horrorcore B-Movies without appreciating innovations made by artists working with very limiting equipment and close to no music industry infrastructure.
No matter its status as an aesthetic accessory and Sko’s current place as a face in the crowd of pen & pixel album covers, this album is important. Every track was originally released on an earlier mixtape of another artist, and every track can be seen as a glimpse into different iterations of the sound that makes Memphis’ mid ’90s hip-hop scene something more than just cool.” — From “An Interview with Lil Sko” October 2017
IV. Smack DVD
Lucas in the cut, that’s a scary site
On late period Eminem:
- “The only Eminem Vevo youtube channel that matters to most kids my age is the one that uploaded a stockphoto music video for a Soundcloud song about gay incest and Migos nightcore. And if any old man wants to fight me about it meet me in Temecula.” — The Rap Up, Nov. 2017
- “Initially, I didn’t want to obnoxiously alley oop on the new critical consensus around Eminem, mainly because I’m not tall enough. I just wanted to contrast this absolute abomination of a remix with five much better songs to demonstrate why there has been a retroactive reassessment of his entire career. But once I heard this, I could barely help myself. The beat sounds like what a Republican think tank would make if tasked with creating a “trap hit” to beat Oprah in 2020. We all groaned through the entire terrible album. The verdict was deliberated upon, and we swiftly sentenced Em to career death because he want to still “smack whores” while acting as a surrogate for the oppressed. No one wants him to be Macklemore (at one point he was more obnoxious than Em), we just want him to go away. Go softly into that good night, tour the midwest for a legion of fans with Cheeto fingers and faint goatees while leaving the rest of us alone. – The Rap Up, Jan. 2018
On Lil Skies
Does anyone know where Lil Skies came from? Am I allowed to pose this loaded question in a rap column aiming to be Good Criticism? Was the “Lonely should be the national anthem” Twitter meme brainstormed in a conference room over kombucha and Macbook Airs? I want to reserve my right to speculate but readers really don’t want to know the answers to these questions. Piercing the shroud of an artist’s image in a masturbatory flexing of pseudo-conspiracy Spidey senses and knowledge of recording contracts ruins the part where you actually listen to music. The internet ruined a lot of things. For media savvy rap fans it kind of ruined emerging rappers.
He made the auto-tune soundtrack to a million Snapchat stories and entered the iPhone galleries of a hundred thousand adolescent girls. He’ll never lose sleep over his face tattoos. None of these wins make his music original or interesting. Lil Skies appropriation of wonky synths and post-Chief Keef autotune is tasty bubblegum pop and the album’s flavor doesn’t get stale through forty minutes of chewing; but if you follow the scene he was groomed to cannibalize, it has a gross aftertaste. — Trapped in the Abyss, Feb. 2018
On Lil Xan
Lil Xan is the most inexplicably popular and aesthetically offensive pop rapper of the decade. His closing verse is an indecipherable 45 seconds of what sounds like the rhyming of “xan” with “xan” and “ooo” with “ooo” in a strange and nonsensical sort of Cargo Cult recreation of 2014 Atlanta trap rap. To be fair, there’s not much more you can do on Sonny Digital beats, but the kid is barely on beat and his lyrics are so abysmal as to be a joke. It’s okay to use simple lyrics in rap, it’s not okay to glorify popping xans after claiming you were an “anti-xan movement.” It’s especially not okay to have terrible lyrics if your delivery, flow, and rap voice are all less than mediocre.
A rapper who’s entire aesthetic is being a high school xan addict should at least be a decent songwriter, singer, or rapper. Lil Xan is none of these things. He’s a mumbling clown, a walking meme, an entirely unoriginal artist, and a really, really bad rapper. Rap is in a good place right now, but if our gatekeepers are weak enough to ever let this happen, I fear for our future. Cole Bennet, use your star making powers more wisely next time, unless they are paying you to promote this dumbass, then keep doing you, king. – The Rap Up, March 2018
“Were you close with your high school’s quarterback? Given that you’re currently browsing one of the more esoteric quarters of the respectable rap writing internet, the answer is probably no. But really, is anyone?
Quarterbacks, generally, are not that interesting, or accessible. Their emotionality is opaque by design and nature – their inner life must be hid in a Nietzschean commitment to the material trappings of victory over all else. When a quarterback so much as displays glee at a completed pass or touchdown, coaches and media begin to excavate character flaws; when he lives a full life publicly off the field, his career is as good as dead. He is subjected to a life of playbooks, film sessions, motivational speeches, weight rooms and heady intellectual analysis of all four.
In the neo-liberal mode of American sports culture, when every move a kid makes from age 13 on is painstakingly dissected in media, when every half-decent pigskin slinger has a throwing coach before then, when a child’s game can be understood to be the only ticket to college and a respectable middle class existence, anything less than that is considered insufficient.
Blueface is the sort of personality that the quarterback position chose, and not the other way around. He walks in a room, or on a field, and people want to be around him. This is because he’s stunningly handsome, confident and self-possessed. He does not have an artist’s temperament, nor does he have an artist’s instincts. He approaches rapping like a quarterback may approach a playbook: he took Suga Free’s absurdist pimp persona, Drakeo’s flow, Shoreline Mafia’s beat selection and found the perfect package in which to deliver his undeniable bars.” — From a review of Blueface’s Dirtbag EP, Aug. 2019
The typical pop superstar’s late career is marked by grandiosity, hijinks, and distraction. Jumping the shark after ten years or six album cycles on top is just a natural order of things. Eventually, the glitz, the excess, and the yes men cause artists to start doing ridiculous things. We just saw this happen with Kanye, who went off the deep end into Trumpism and Mega Church Christianity and now drives a fleet of Ford Raptors around rural Wyoming with his crew. Kanye is an eccentric perfectionist who spent half a lifetime seeking artistic immortality; the only way he was going out was with some extremely loud and messy antics such as these.
Drake has always been a consensus superstar. A politician who built a broad tent coalition through wheeling, dealing, appeasing, shaking hands and kissing babies. His last album rollout featured a music video where he filmed himself paying for people’s groceries. There’s never been a rapper who has been so obsessive about his public image. This is why, ten years into a near unparalleled pop rap mega star run, he’s still so much a part of our lives. Take this weekend’s “surprise” loosie drop…
This weekend’s drop is obviously Drake dropping feelers for what his rainbow coalition base is hungry for in the next election cycle. While we’ll pay attention to anything he does, it would be a lot more interesting if he works with Pierre or anyone else with fresh sounds and original ideas. But with Drake it’s never been about what’s interesting, it’s always been about electability.” — From “Song of the Day,” March 2020
V. The Lucas Foster Hall of Game
No one was more emphatic, passionate, or critically incisive at championing the art of their favorite rappers.
On Chief Keef
“If Chief Keef was a legend at 16 and a cautionary tale at 20, then he’s “just” a rapper at 22. Albeit a highly influential legendary one. Far removed from the heights of his initial success and controversy, he is now mostly evaluated for his musical output rather than vague analysis of his personal life or star potential. Never once during his label troubles, rehab stints, or purported gang beefs did Keith Cozart lose focus on music. He has continued exploring the outer limits of drill and trap with little regard for genre conventions or industry expectations; his commitment to this was never lauded in the media or hyped up by fans, but projects like 2014’s fully self-produced Back From the Dead 2 and this year’s Thot Breaker are all the evidence needed for his work ethic and artistic evolution.” – The Rap Up, Dec. 2017
On Lil Uzi Vert
“This is everything wonderful about Lil Uzi Vert. It’s an expertly put together emo trap ballad that distinguishes him enough from his peers to make him an instantly recognizable super star. The usual excellence of producers, TM88, Southside, and Supah Mario is instantly apparent with an all-too-careful arrangement of strings pulled by aortas and bleep-bloops more well thought out than any other trap song released this year (all 12 days of it). It is also a protest song released by the man who put it together, TM88, to spit in the face of Atlantic Records after his claim that they’re grossly underpaying him.
I get it: Lil Pump acting like a cartoon caricature of a teen superstar, with lean in one hand and iCarly the other is sexier than shutting youtself indoors for months perfecting the art of creating hit singles. That doesn’t excuse critics and media from framing the discussion about the creation of pop music appropriately. Fans needn’t be forced to overanalyze things, but they should be kept abreast of the creative process. Lil Uzi Vert can be a talented vocalist and his all-star producers be just as responsible for crafting his sound as he is. Both thoughts can be true.” — The Rap Up, Jan. 2018
On Fredo Santana
“Fredo Santana has not been eulogized as much as beatified. While properly canonizing his legend requires understanding his complexities, and coming eye to eye with them is deeply uncomfortable, the discomfort reveals someone greater than a tragic antihero. On either side of a tattoo no one outside of Englewood can understand, a thousand yard stare reflected his enormous personal struggle, eventual triumph, and all of the crumbling institutions that he outmaneuvered. Understanding him as a product of failing societal mechanisms alone is still inappropriate. He did more for his family and his city than we will ever know, and happened to create powerful, historically significant music along the way.
It was always ridiculous to see moral panic about his music when, from the start, he looked at you with that sort of pain. Now it’s maddening to see anti-drug PSA’s attached to his death. Drugs aren’t a hip hop problem, they don’t appear as an outgrowth of the cultural malfeasance of those dang rappers with face tattoos. Fredo told us explicitly that he was off drugs to cope with the sort of acute PTSD most addicts know through Hurt Locker. Ask the 30-year old white guy in South Ohio who just had his sixth fentanyl OD why he’s doing dope; it isn’t because he saw a double cup in a music video. We’re all getting high because it’s the best way to fill the void that the collapsing social order tears open a little further every day that capitalism gets a little later.
Every time another self-righteous dilettante uses the death of a man like Fredo to start posturing behind a twitter pulpit, we’re that much further away from understanding why hip-hop is enamored with drugs in 2018. Hip-hop has always reflected and magnified reality, and Fredo put his 10x magnifying glass on realities and revealed more (while saying little) than a thinkpiece ever could.” — The Rap Up, Feb. 2018
On Waka Flocka’s Flockaveli
It’s a cloudy, dreary Christmas Day here in Los Angeles. Like all God-fearing, ham-eating Americans I’m wrapped up in a knit sweater, draped in a freshly-unwrapped scarf (thanks Crystal!) and crowded around the television to watch twelve hours of NBA basketball. Giannis is prancing between baskets with those unbelievably long steps and Embiid is getting the better of him when he bumps and jumps with our cherubic reigning MVP. Kyle Korver is sprinting in those scientifically precise semi-circles between off ball screens and drilling long balls every twelve or so rotations. Doris Burke is injecting poetry and drama into every little movement of every player with that brassy, million dollar voice that can make any hungover day game into Shakespearean drama.
Suddenly, there is silence. No polemics from the booth, no squeak of Jordans on wood, no “gimme dat!” from under the basket. All ABC’s courtside mics can pick up is the Wells Fargo Center’s DJ playing a sound familiar to any self-respecting rap fan: a swirling fingerful of synths, flipped backwards and ascending as it echoes from one side of the mix to the other. It’s a sound first heard as Lex Luger’s de facto DJ tag on Flockaveli that is so resonant, so visceral in its evocation of energy that it has echoed across clubs, arenas, house parties and city streets for the entire decade.
That hypnotic spin of electronic soundwaves is just a tiny footnote in the legacy of Waka Flocka flame’s debut album. Flockaveli is certainly one of the most important and influential records of rap’s most creatively fruitful and diverse decades. Now nearing ten years old, the record is feeling its age: it is the product of a much different era of rap and was created by a much different Waka Flocka than the limp sonic parsley to bad EDM that Juaquin James Malphurs became.
Deep in an era where critics lavish praise on any face and voice that the industry chooses for coronation, awash in starry-eyed poptimism and drunk on the fumes of so many years of great music from rap’s stars, young and old, it’s easy to forget the time rom which Flockaveli emerged. At the last decade’s turn Los Angeles and New York City, rap’s traditional dueling capitals, were both mired in creative nadirs and the wider rap industry was lacking direction. False messiahs and apocalypse cults were mythologized, propped up by blogs and 360 deals, and impoloding as soon as they appeared. While there was plenty of good music being recorded in the five boroughs and city of angels, there was just as much confusion.
The South, and specifically Atlanta, was a much different story. Atlanta’s biggest stars were still selling records and selling out arenas, and its regional street and club rappers were pumping new blood, fresh faces, and new ideas into the water. The king of Atlanta’s trap underground was Gucci Mane, and even though major labels bungled his albums and the courts were determined to keep him locked up, he was on an unparalleled mixtape run. The salon of talent around him was elevated by his inventiveness and work ethic.
Outside of his time in the studio Gucci was beginning to realize a vision for Atlanta. Under the industry’s nose he was laying the groundwork for a sort of bloodless coup. His nascent plan was for the emerging talent he was aware of, cultivating, or yet to discover in Atlanta to take over not just the South’s street rap scene, but the entire music industry. The plan was never power pointed or business-planned, it’s chief and sole executive was an erratic, drug dependent gangster accurately described as “the boogey man of rap,” and most of the talent he was eyeing was married to the transport hub’s lucrative drug trade, but over the next ten years Gucci’s vision became reality. It just happened in a way that even Gucci could never have predicted.
Sometime in 2007, Gucci’s manager, the legendary Debra Atney, dropped off her son Juaquin at Gucci’s studio and told Gucci that he had to deal with him from now on. The kid was out of control, out of order, filled with energy and anger and getting in trouble everywhere from Queens to Atlanta. Its hard to imagine a better place for an aspiring goon than Gucci Mane’s entourage in the late 2000s. Gucci had foiled an attempt on his life by Young Jeezy’s goons and bucked an industry blacklist by taking to the streets, selling CDs out of a car trunk in Lennox Mall’s parking lot. When the details of the murder case became public knowledge he entered the pantheon of American outlaw folk heroes. By winning the hearts and minds of the streets, and following through on his legend with a seemingly endless amount of great mixtapes, Gucci became the bleeding heart of trap music. Flocka was then in the center of it all, soaking in the energy of Atlanta’s streets and the thriving street rap scene in clubs across the South.
His time in Gucci’s entourage as muscle and weed-carrier-in-chief was as wild and chaotic as anyone could imagine. Still, despite being surrounded by the South’s best rappers, young Juaquin was still not involved in the music part of the music industry. He was part of the day-to-day operations, the interactions, business, violence, realities that consume the time of street rappers outside of the studio. He was learning the business side of the industry from the inside, picking up any thing he may have missed by his Mom’s side.
Then, in 2009, at the height of Gucci’s first peak, Wop went to jail. Sometime during his incarceration, his protégé and number one shooter Juaquin Malphurs hopped on a beat and became Waka Flocka Flame. It was a wonky, boxy little beat, paper thin with a silly synthesized horn melody that’s all right angles. The L-Don Beats production is the sort of half-baked thing that is sent to rapper’s emails or handed off in a USB and immediately skipped over to languish in an MP3 graveyard. But Flocka, the mad scientist, reanimates this creature, breathed life into it’s mouth and brought it back to the realm of the living.
The result was “Oh Let’s Do It,” which is not so much a song, more exhortation, every bar capped with an exclamation point, Flocka’s booming baritone consuming all the empty space left by the tinny, cheap beat.
“I fucked my money up!
Now I can’t Re-UP!
Ran up in his spot!
Just to get my stats up!”
So began the career of one of rap’s inimitable voices. “O Let’s Do it” was a sensation. His voice, deeper than an ocean and strong enough to consume an entire mix. His energy, set to 10 and so infectious that it could turn anyone within earshot to violence. His emotionality, that indescribable ability to imbue meaning into the simplest terms by pulling from the bottom of his chest, the deepest pits of menace, despair, fury, righteousness transmitted through soundwaves. No matter that the beat lacked the sort of languid rhythm and ecstatic energy that trap anthems normally require, Flocka carried this on his own.
The legend, that “O Let’s Do it” was Flocka’s first original song, that Flocka found himself in Gucci’s entourage spontaneously, still seems more logical than apocryphal. His delivery on “O Let’s Do It” was entirely original, the sort of accidental innovation that amateurs happen into when they are unrestricted by the well-worn grooves of conventions and subconscious rules. He transformed trap rap, then and there, into a war cry. The single made the rounds in strip clubs, car speakers, block parties in and around Atlanta, and off the strength of just that and a 1017 Bricksquad/ Mizay Entertainment/ Asylum Records album deal, Flocka was quickly one of the hottest rappers South of the Mason-Dixon Line.He began recording in earnest. Between his mother’s Mizay Entertainment and his mentor’s 1017 Bricksquad he had a formidable network, and he took advantage of it. He was recording in Atlanta, in New York City, in Los Angeles, and everywhere he went he seemed to pick up any street rapper that happened to be in the general area of the studio, pointing at the mic and saying “go.”
He began recording in earnest. Between his mother’s Mizay Entertainment and his mentor’s 1017 Bricksquad he had a formidable network, and he took advantage of it. He was recording in Atlanta, in New York City, in Los Angeles, and everywhere he went he seemed to pick up any street rapper that happened to be in the general area of the studio, pointing at the mic and saying “go.”
The result of these myriad sessions was a record that was as much a time capsule of 2000s Southern club music as it was unlike anything that preceded it. Flocka entered a creative frenzy, a manic work flow, that could chew up any Lex Luger beat and spit out a frantic and intense hook and verse that matched the wide sound and intensity of his production. Flocka and Luger’s dynamism, their unmatched chemistry and the energy that their work inspired and evoked was enough to squeeze the most out of the twenty seven features across the album.
Luger did great work on this record, every serious rap listener knows Flockaveli would not be Flockaveli without him. But the album’s magic is not just found in those rising, swelling groups of synthesizers and orchestral strings, those booming basslines that hum across statelines, those staccato hi-hats and snares, no, the magic was made when Flocka’s vocals took Luger’s production to an even higher plane of nerve-wrecking, muscle-tightened, violent energy. You can point to so many moments on the album where Waka urges on all the worst impulses of the listener and best traits of Lex as a producer.
The layered ad-lib track right under Waka’s hook on “Karma” that somehow all works in concert next to 3 different Luger melodies. That anthemic, brutally simple chorus of “Hard in Da Paint” matching the brute-force, stripped-down horns and kick drums Luger laid down working to bang that ear worm into heads with a hammer. The two phrase hook on “Bricksquad” locking in step with the stutter-step percussion. It was a two man game they played to perfection, and every time the haphazard assortment of goons, affiliates, club rappers and street legends that played supporting cast popped up, they were allowed to play themselves in the clearly defined template set by the album’s bones and flesh, engine and transmission, Lex Luger and Waka Flocka.
Those years spent in the streets of Riverdale, that time he spent next to Gucci holding heat in every strip club between DC and Miami all poured out of Flocka and onto wax. While the club songs are all bravado, blistering masculinity and aggression, there are quiet and introspective moments at the album’s end. “For My Dawgs” explores themes of brotherhood and loyalty, invokes the pain of regret and makes the losses Flocka has experienced acutely real. “Fuck This Industry” is an in-depth discussion of the crimes of record labels, ironic given how many of the backpackers who claimed Flocka was a horseman of hip-hop apocalypse rap about the about exact same thing (also because of the lawsuit brought against Flocka’s mom by Gucci a few years later). And the Lil Jon-produced “Smoke, Drank” is great as far as change of pace tracks go.
Really, there’s a lot of this album that still holds up. While casuals and clubgoers will never forget the Roscoe Dash chorus on “No Hands,” and the streets remember the intensity of “Hard in Da Paint,” some of the best songs on this album begin to blur the line between rap music and something else entirely. B-sides like “Bang,” “G-Check,” and “Karma,” if they were released today would receive endless EDM comparisons. Inveterate rap nerds will never forget those traps because they seemed to be a jumping off point, a place where Southern club music, trap became psychedelic and futuristic.
Today, it’s somewhat fashionable to dismiss Flockaveli as dated or downplay its influence. In short, it has become less cool to reference in the years since every white kid with a twitter account has also referenced it as influential. But that’s exactly the point. You can point out whatever you want to counter the narrative that this album is in fact important, and you’ll be wrong every time.
Yes, Shawty Lo did something similar to the effect of the record on a few mixtape cuts at the end of the 2000s. Lex Luger’s production was influenced by Shawty Redd and Drumma Boy. Lil Jon, in fact, does produce a track on the album. The difference is that Flockaveli brought the energy of Magic City at 2 am to every corner of the country, spread the gospel of trap to people besides ATLiens, Trap-a-Holics and those very plugged in to Southern rap. Music is always responsive to and shaped by the context from which it springs, Flockaveli helped make that context a global phenomenon.
Besides all the more obvious notes of influence still sounding off to this day, the sound I heard on an NBA broadcast, those rappers whose career was no doubt indebted to Flocka’s innovations here, the broadening of trap’s well of influence, there’s a subtext that people who don’t produce rap music probably aren’t aware of. Most every young producer to emerge in the last 8 years remembers this video and has in fact watched it thousands of time. And most any young producer built their own drum kit in FL by starting with Lex’s. It’s not an open secret but a well-established fact.
And debates about context, influence (with subtext about what is and what is not cool to listen to) will rage on forever. What won’t change is that Flockaveli is an excellent piece of art that speaks to the heart without ever wasting breath. — previously unpublished
On Spaceghost Purrp’s Blackland Radio 66.6
SpaceGhostPurrp has always maintained a dialogue, an intertextual relationship, with the contexts that inform him. Naked homages to the 1990s in Memphis, the turn of the millennium in Houston, the snap music of mid-aughts Atlanta; sounds that turned the atmosphere in sleazy Southern strip clubs to ozone. This marks him as unique among artists in his subg-enre, who loathe comparison and make dubious claims of vacuum-sealed originality. It is also his original sin: a brazen transgression of industry norms that foreshadowed a rap sheet lengthy enough to be rendered industry homo sacer.
Before the Twitter chaos magician and livestream performance artist was screaming into the abyss, before rap beefs, fistfight, twitter meltdowns, and homelessness, SGP was a musician. He began rapping at age seven, and outclassed all but the sharpest MC’s soon after. At school he learned to play the snare drum in band and displayed a precocious ear for drum patters later manifested in some of the most intricately constructed percussion production in rap music. As the millennium turned he received a rigorous education in Southern rap from men who hustled cassette tapes and CDs from car trunks. He navigated the realities of being Black in the South and sharpened his tongue in sherm-stick-and-blunt-clouded freestyle cyphers before middle school. When he discovered FruityLoops his instincts and experiences naturally led him to discover a creative plane all his own. And this wealthy musical education occurred entirely in Miami.
SGP was reared in Carol City: one of the sprawling, low lit slums that Didion described as an inky, impenetrable Third World growing at the feet of the neon-lit cocaine capitalist skyline shooting up in the 1980s. The Miami known and described by Joan and blasted on the Technicolor television sets of Reagan’s America was a hovering phantagram teasing and tricking Purrp’s parents in the Miami or Carol City. Where the excess and sleaze of the financier gangsters, real estate war lords, cartel regional sales representatives, and pony-tailed party promoters was at once flamboyant and decidedly white collar, the working class and lumpenproletariat of Carol City were left to claw and scratch in the low-slung houses, apartment blocks, and stucco Section 8 housing developments. So, the starry-eyed optimism that dreamed a gilded future of Pepsi-Cola space capitalism in vogue on the eve of Purrp’s 1991 birth was always laid bare as a dark and hideous sort of fascist futurism to SGP.
It follows that Purrp’s early work is best understood as a precursor of and analog to the vaporwave projects bubbling up across the wheezing carcass of Pax Americana as the 10s begun. Immediately preceding the release of Blackland Radio 66.6 he finally scraped enough money together for a bit of studio time and put together a series of ideas and sketches as his first release NASA Gang (the Mixtape). This is where Purrp began a conversation with the ghosts and signifiers of the waning years of the American Century. Take a moment to listen to “Friday Strip Club” to understand exactly how he flipped 20 years of the R&B charts into a nightmare. The track interpolates the 1985 Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal single “Saturday Love” into a crinkling, downtempo celebration of hedonism. Slowing and reorganizing its melodies into a syrupy and tilted soundscape was a trick that Macintosh Plus and friends discovered a few years later. Purrp took it a step further using the crawling, unconventional canvas he created and spitting on top of it. His verse and chorus conjure a scene that would appear on all of his later albums; 3 AM, the back of a dim, cheap strip club, intoxicated enough to see double. A state of mind as much as a scene.
Erry fuckin day, erry fuckin day
Erry fuckin day is a fuckin Friday
The mostly boug and mostly suburban Vaporwave artists could imagine the promises of Reaganomics, could see the reactionary cocaine capitalism of the 1980s as an American Golden Age, would see vapid consumption and pop cultural propaganda through neon-colored glasses. Purrp’s knowledge of the 1980s was the stories and realities of Miami’s Carol City, the collective memory of a mostly black, mostly impoverished neighborhood of squat low rises and single story houses, trees lining irregularly maintained asphalt streets, streets that were barely lit by the City of Miami at night. The Miami of financiers, arms dealers, exiled Cuban plantation owners, cocaine cartel distributors, Southern aristocrats, and New Money yuppies was a capitalist class who lived in armed and fortified gated communities, who did business in highrises where more than half the available floor space was vacant, who partied in neon technicolor on South Beach. In the dark, and “horrible” corners of Purrp’s Miami, the African-American, the Bahamian, Haitian, Jamaican, Dominican, Cuban immigrant communities, and some smattering of poor whites lived in the abject and horrifying darkness of “Blackland.”
In the years surrounding Purrp’s birth, hip-hop was mostly drained of it’s explicitly political strain. While the 90s’ first 18 months had been filled with the music of post-Panther militants, Chuck D and Spike Lee’s tempered but equally radical quasi-Nationalism, and the more bohemian Pan-Africanism of De La Soul, ATCQ, and other New York City “Bohos” (read Nelson George’s 1992 collection of Village Voice columns Buppies, B-Boys, BAPs, & BOHOs for some perspective on this phenomenom), by the end of 1992, after the moments of rage in South Central, moments of revelation in Queens, the revolutionary rhetoric which had been a sustained tradition amongst rap’s stars and unknowns began slipping out of fashion until, by the end of the 90s, it was mostly relegated to an underground niche. Though rap still explores many political themes, the explicitly conscious, revolutionary tradition that traced back to Bambaata and Flash has not been represented at the same scale since the early 1990s. After the USSR collapsed and history ended, explicitly political, especially explicitly leftist art, became passé. In its stead, rap, like many genres and mediums resigned to the inevitability of capitalism, has often become bleak, fatalistic, focusing on tragic individual narratives that illustrate the impossibilities of surviving America (with your sanity) as a poor, black or brown, man.
Coming of age completely resigned to capitalism’s acceleration, Purrp began the process of rap openly embracing hedonism and nihilism in the face of helplessness and apocalypse. His first tape was sort of accidentally brilliant; he was still learning the limits of his equipment, searching to express the musical language that he could already articulate in his head. It would be reckless and ahistorical for me to speculate what happened during the winter of 2010 and 2011. Finding your musical voice is an intensely personal experience; tapping into your genius and envisioning the architecture of a global musical movement on an aesthetic, sonic, and thematic level is likely the sort of thing a two dimensional arrangement of letters can never capture.
Describe the new arrangements or moods or technical flourishes happened upon during the process. Set a scene, the environment and larger context in which that process happened. Through conjecture or journalistic grit, approximate the emotional range of such an artist when they came into what sensation would immortalize them. This toolbox is still largely insufficient for capturing the communication SpaceGhostPurrp developed between his FL Studios interface, an obscure moment in Memphis’ 1990s rap scene, a tradition of gothic aesthetics and horrorcore themes in hip-hop, and a nonverbal manifesto for the Internet Underground scene which would work to capture the same sense of hedonism and despair for another 9 years.
With the discovery of this subdimensional communication vector, Purrp was able to pull these related strains of abjection and Hell into focused transmissions that crackled, warbled, and shook every which way. The low fidelity MP3’s hid hypnotic black magic sigils, sinful and chaotic chants transforming the angst and despair and emptiness of a million souls into catchy strip club anthems powered with dark psychic energy. The sounds of a scene that would continue to tap into these exact channels to communicate how lonely, Godless, and accursed they found their lives.
Blackland Radio 6.66 was immediately recognized for it’s “mood” and “aesthetics,” which translates roughly that critics in the know wanted to recognize its novelty but did not want to take the music seriously. The music, which range between absolutely demonic takes on his Atlanta contemporaries’ trap music, to smooth trips down the George Washington Bridge on a sunny day in 1996, to downtempo and R&B inflected strip club anthems, to flips of extremely rare 1990s Memphis B-Sides. All the different eras which he references and styles he displays are still uniquely his own; the desiccated mixes, which make wonky, high-pitched samples sound both conventional and cartoonish, and a flow that seems to require no effort, just his relaxed observations, delivered in a soft-edged voice in single time.
It’s easy to deride the record as a simple statement of taste, yet even this dismissive manages to compliment BLR66.6’s strengths. Purrp’s taste was so distinctive and imitable that it was immediately replicated across the country. Most tastemakers cast surface-level impressions of scenes and sounds as a fashionable signifier, Purrp dove into the depths and searched for deep cuts with grooves that locked together as a seamless whole.
From the top, Muney is explicitly imagining the future of a scene which he had yet to establish. The bass clipping, tinny and metallic melody mix, and percussion of “Possessed” anticipates the Trap Metal stylings of X, Syringe, Ghostie, Eric North and their hundreds of carbon copies, the difference being that the Lex Luger drum kit was 4 years away from evolving into a primary color palette.
The first song is the only song to openly incant demons and dark spirits, yet their obvious presence on a dozen more tracks is due to a connections more synchromystically haunting than invitation. “Mac Named Purp” is a twinkle of a few strings and flute notes slowed and arranged on alternating bars of a crawling and stripped down group of drums and snares. It’s a strange change of pace, awkwardly composed in the same way many of NASA Gang’s tracks were. Yet between catchy, tightly-written blasts of energy, phonky ambiance, and to conjure the spirit and essence of late Memphis sample chopper and liver splitter DJ Livewire.
With no reference points for what exact Barry White sample this was, SGP simply looped a tape rip of “Tru Playa,” a deep posse cut on Memphis liver-splitter and hyper-prolific producer DJ Livewire’s 1996 Vol. 5 Butcher Shop Mix. Unable to figure out the source of the original flute and string sample (Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”) it sounds like he simply MP3-ripped it and slowed it down to fit with the pace of the rest of the record.
This level of rap nerdery and obscurantism permeates the record. It is a postmodern collage of sounds and ideas that fit together like a puzzle piece to create a singular album that imagined an indie rap scene no one else could have brought into being. Whether he’s in Houston in 1998 (“1991 Thowed”), East New York in 1995 (“Rath of a Raider”), Atlanta at the heyday of ringtone rap (“Like a Stripper”), every track is undeniably SpaceGhostPurrp track. And even the song which is not a SpaceGhostPurrp track (Lil Ugly Mane’s “My Head”) and the song which blatantly rips off an obscure Memphis tape deep cut (“Mac Named Purrp”) contribute towards realizing the album’s vision.
These transmissions from the Blackland continue for 90 minutes without ever wavering from the decidedly dark and nihilistic atmosphere; an atmosphere Purrp creates and maintains with lo-fidelity recording techniques, organs, harpsichords, porn and Microsoft pinball samples, and a slow, menacing flow that transmits evil and desolation no matter his lyrical content.
It’s aesthetic and taste making qualities should be well-known to anyone who even pretends to know about rap music; BLR 66.6 was so original and undeniable that when Yams slapped a pretty face and studio quality production on its basic ideas he was able to secure ASAP Rocky a multi-album major label deal that led to a few multi-platinum records. But at its core, this record was defined by a brilliant, and undeniable sound, and flashed the talent of a producer capable of remaking rap. And no matter how many problematic tweets he sends, how little money he sees from his innovations, how many jeers and laughs his name can inspires and how little credit he gets, he most definitely did. — previously unpublished
On Playboi Carti
“At his best Carti brings you to an ethereal plane of suggested melancholy and shimmering visions of flexing with an icy cool distance separating Jordan Terrel Carter, the man, and Playboicarti, the disaffected, terminally cool mirage he can conjure and contort at will in his music. His work is completely deterritorialized, scrubbed clean of context, its tunnel vision is focused on imputing a sentimental melodrama into five word sentences that mean the world without saying much of anything. This has been true since “Broke Boi” declared his arrival, and in 4 years nothing has changed. It follows that to consume his music avidly is to navigate through a constant stream of leaks that open up that portal he has discovered in random and disorganized Soundcloud streams and .mp3 files. Amongst all those hundreds of loose files, this is perhaps the finest Carti leak that has ever seen the light.” — From Song of the Day, Aug. 2019
On Young Thug
“From Atlanta’s notorious Jonesboro South housing projects, to Weezy’s presumptive heir, to generation-molding innovator, to commercially frustrated critical darling, Young Thug’s evolution is now complete. With So Much Fun, he has finally realized his long-promised potential to dominate the charts by integrating his innovations and ideas into a joyous, near errorless, and unapologetically conventional pop-trap. So Much Fun is the number one album in the country right now because it manages to capture and define this moment in Atlanta and radio rap with 19 straight anthemic pop trap bangers that pulls the very best out of an ensemble cast of rap’s A-Listers and a sonic identity crafted by the cresting waves of two super-producers at the peak of their powers.
To be a Young Thug stan during this album cycle is akin to stanning self-actualization. The triumphant victory lap of an artist that spent this entire decade grinding, evolving, and experimenting to get to this point. Myles and I have been riding with Thugger for nearly the entire journey, entranced by his mystique, seduced by his promise to recreate trap music in his image, watching from front row seats when he did it 3 times, and spreading his Gospel at every opportunity. Today we will try to contextualize what So Much Fun means, where this platinum capstone ranks in Thug’s celebrated and extensive catalog, the implications of Thug’s triumph for the broader culture which he defines, and how Thug took a long, winding and unconventional route to become the face and voice of an era…
I think when I was able to accept Thug’s premise that his goal on this record was to celebrate (with his friends) is when I accepted that So Much Fun is his fourth artistic peak. His first peak was Tha Tour, which isn’t a Thug project, but is the place where Thug truly realized his vision as an artist through a full project. He carried the greatest mixtape of all time with hyper-technical rappin’ rappin’ tracks, street bangers, beautiful and hypnotic club music, anthemic choruses, it’s everything he flashed in spurts for the first half of the decade. It was also a commercial and plateau, at the time the tape dropped “Lifestyle” had recently topped the R&B charts, “Stoner” was nearly Gold, and he really controlled rap’s meta-narrative in a way most artists with a chart-topping single do not.
His second peak was Barter 6. This is where he realized his potential as an explorer and pioneer of new soundscapes. It’s a little wonky, minimalist, experimental and ethereal. It paved the way for a lot of sort of cloudy and light post-trap experiments, and every song was him displaying his ungodly vocal range and ability to impute feeling and emotion.
His third peak, and for a moment it felt like his post-peak (think ‘13 Kobe) was Beautiful Thugger Girls. Here SEX seemed to give up on the radio or pleasing the proles. A country-inspired pop experiment where he’s dedicated his boundless energy to singing and moaning and mumbling over all else in an epic and expansive landscape of organic melodies and inspired choruses and bridges. Even Thugger Girls’ most wistful and downtempo moment, “Daddy’s Birthday,” has an epic, operatic quality. This is a prescient artistic vision that can be understood as Thug’s 808’s & Heartbreak, a singular project that projected the sounds of the future with little interest in conventions and little relation to Thug’s artistic trajectory in the years preceding and following its release. The difference being Thug did something that was uniquely his, where Kanye flipped T-Pain’s music into his own.
Now, So Much Fun is his fourth artistic peak. Thug took ideas and tricks from all of his previous efforts, isolates what exactly works in a pop album and puts them all in one place. His three prior artistic heights, while they have some higher highs than any moments on So Much Fun, seem like a build up to this expansive, coherent collection of joyous pop songs that sees Thug capture the sound of this summer and the waning days of this decade and re-rock it into music that is undeniably his own. The erratic experimentation of the previous 10 years offered blissful, unequaled highs (“Givenchy,” “Family Don’t Matter,” “Constantly Hating,” “Best Friend,”) but even his peak albums had a degree of inconsistency, erratic moments, misplaced filler. He does not truly miss once here, and the album communicates exactly how it wants to sound and what it wants to say at every moment. Thug won, he holds the Greatest Rapper Alive title belt with an album that is going to be platinum before the winter, and in bringing out the best out of most of rap’s current A-listers, and defines and encapsulates this era’s pop-trap sound.” — From the So Much Fun Summit, Aug. 2019
“2Pac the rapper and Tupac the man were separate entities. His brilliance was in simultaneously opening a window to his inner life and sublimating the shared experiences, stories, and attitudes of the black youth of his generation.
For 2Pac, it was never about all that bullshit. For all his technical skill, it was always about speaking from the soul and forever feelings over facts. Me Against the World’s opening track, “If I Die 2nite,” is beyond technical, an impossibly precise alliterative assault of poetically percussive p-sounds. It’s a rap track so perfectly written and masterfully delivered that the beat slinks between the trumpet-like flow and becomes a footnote. Still, what you remember is not that display of skill, but how his voice pulls from the bottom of his chest, breathing in between bars and welling upwards with anguish at every annunciation and inflection. It is a vocal performance that peaks when 2Pac pleads with you not to shed a tear for his death because he’s not happy on Earth, and imagines the headlines that will accompany his burial. The 66-minute album has not even reached the 300-second mark.
There’s more than a dozen more moments like that on the record, where 2Pac spits from the bottom of his soul and into the center of your field of vision. On “Lord Knows,” he captures that hourly cycle of self-inflicted wounds that defines the inner life of addicts. On “Fuck The World,” he manages to fit his rape conviction into a larger narrative of black men victimized by the prison industrial complex without sounding ridiculous. Between so much crushing despair, there’s “Old School,” an account of his adolescence in 1980s New York City that establishes a shared series of reference points with the audience he was always speaking directly to, pays homage to the greats before him, and establishes an intertextual relationship between his career-defining project and the genre’s canonized classics.
Chief among these moments was “Dear Mama,” a song that is probably as important to understanding Tupac as it is to understanding sons and mothers in America at the end of history. It is a tribute to Afeni Shakur, the entire woman: the Black Panther, the drug addict and the revolutionary, the prisoner and the mother. On top of a soulful guitar lick and handful of keyboard keys, 2Pac poured his soul out of his chest, telling the story of a woman who fought every day to provide her children with dignity and spiritual sustenance no matter the odds stacked against them. The brutal honesty of his narrative made “Dear Mama” a cultural touchstone and speaks to the bonds people form through adversity and illustrates all of the beauty in imperfection.” — From 2Pac’s “Me Against the World Turns 25,” published at Spin, March 2020
“Two years removed from what ended up being the crest of LA’s Gangsta Rap Revival our Gods are incarcerated but not yet defeated. In this latest permutation of Hellworld, Drakeo and 03 Greedo, two artists who updated a universally acclaimed and globally popular sound for our Brave New World, have been banished to cramped cells smaller than the booths they should be recording in.
Drakeo’s impending second trial seems like a fever dream. A miscarriage of justice so blatantly racist, so antithetical to concepts of human rights and equal protection under the law, so out of sync with the high-minded ideals our leaders claim to uphold, that it splashes cold water in your face. This double jeopardy justice occurred to a world famous artist with high powered lawyers and media mouthpieces behind him. One does not need to guess what happens to black men with public defenders and five other structural disadvantages every day. “Flu Flamming” is probably the Song of the Decade, certainly the best LA Rap Song of the last 20 years [ed. note: who am I to argue?], but this is not the only reason to #FreeDrakeo. The facts of his case, facts reported by our fearless leader, and my spiritual father, Jeff Weiss, in great and damning detail, document a miscarriage of justice out of step with anything you would think happens in a democracy.
But surely this is not a democracy. That prison reform and private prisons as the New Jim Crow disappeared from the discourse of establishment democrat candidates is proof enough of this. After Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Ferguson and all else that happened in the middle part of this decade, the Democratic party is spending billions of dollars to sabotage Bernie Sanders and re-elect Joe Biden. The same Joe Biden who championed the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. That same Joe Biden who worked “across the aisle” with segregationists.
These craven corporate drones wish today to pop the wind out of the sails of a multiracial, working class, democratic socialist movement. Ostensibly because Bernie Sanders and those damn Bernie Bros are “so angry.” They wish to uphold “Our Democratic Norms,” “Our Republic,” “Our Institutions.” Those same norms and institutions that are allowing Drakeo to be tried twice for the same fabricated crime. The same institutions I navigated Monday morning, when I was told I couldn’t be seen for therapy until I started taking experimental antipsychotics. The same institutions which have kept my mother from psychiatric treatment for the last 10 months. The same institutions which leave 100,000 Angelenos sleeping on the streets.
Free Drakeo is a project that is as much a piece of music as a rallying point. It’s not just because the songs are great. We’re behind this album and this movement because we are sick of a county that spends more on county jails than county mental health treatment. We are fed up with a DA whose husband has put a gun to black lives matter protestors. We are sick with a criminal justice system that would do this to an artist who means more to a city than any politician.
Drakeo will beat this case, and be free soon enough. Greedo may languish in a brutal Texas prison system for another two decades. The entire system needs to be burned down.” – From Crimestoppers Made Me Famous, March 2020
VI. The Soundcloud Abyss
The only candidate for poet laureate of the Soundcloud Generation
On Bby Goyard
“BBY GOYARD is an artist who explores the outermost limits of what’s possible with SoundCloud rap. “U WHAT?!” sees him drowning in the sea of drugged out melodies in which he swims. He hops right into the beat and jumps around, his bars seemingly just excuses to emphasize his favorite vocal tics and autotune ad-libs. The song doesn’t make much sense, but it doesn’t need to. The few images and coherent thoughts he manages to put together are strong, almost striking. He throws hundreds in a pool to watch strippers swim after them and trips over an oversized white tee. It’s a celebration of the excess, an exploration of his weird and wonderful inclinations, the sort of inclinations that caused him to choose the moniker BBY GOYARD.” — The Rap Up, Jan. 2018
On Warhol S.S.
“I’m not like other girls, I hate the term “art rap.” Mainly ’cause I don’t know what the fuck it means. Is Young Thug not artsy? Is Lil Peep not artsy? (I promise, I’m more obtuse and less fun at parties). But “art trap,” yes, that, THAT nomenclature makes my ears perk up.
As his name suggests, Warhol.SS is the coolest indie rapper currently working to fuse his “weird” and quirky tendencies with the same snares and 808s that bring you to a kitchen filled with baking soda and black iron. He tours with a live guitarist, who compliments his jet sets with rhythmic melodies and Paige-esque solos. His records are always a bit different from what his Soundcloud peers are doing—just off kilter, just off in left field, just a little weirder than rap weirdos, and always in the future.” — The Rap Up, Jan. 2018
On Kirb La Goop
Kirb La Goop’s oddball voice and flow may be an acquired taste, but once it is acquired the sound of his falsetto yelps about serving dog food and hitting licks is undoubtedly addicting. Since emerging five years ago, Kirb has been continuously derided as a one trick pony and a novelty act while he continues to command one of the most impressive arrays of collaborators on production and vocals on the internet. Fresh off a year of evolving his sound and strengthening his position with Lil Peep, Chxpo, Yung Lean, Working on Dying, as well as induction into Spaceghost Purrp’s Black Money Boys, Kirb La Goop is continuing to put in work for the underground. — The Rap Up, Dec. 2017
On Reptilian God Mana
Unstoppable Demon Shyt is a colorful pastiche of Deltron 3030, Da Devil’s Playground, David Icke conspiracies, and alien mysticism. The project sees rapper-producer Reptilian God Mana assuming several different characters, hopping through holes in the metaverse, selling sweaters to himself through the fabric of time, becoming a dimension shifting Archon overlord, and creating planets as a Five-Percent Nation villain, all without any awkwardness in transition. It’s the sort of conceptually coherent body of work that can only be filled out by someone in control of both rapping and production. Every song seems to fit between what plays before and after as he explores a well-defined palate of Halloween synths, piano keys, and heavy kick drums percolating around those thematically ambitious raps.
The sound is analogous to the Memphis retrofuturism of Ghostemane, $uicideboy$, and Pouya. The spooky melodrama of these artists is always kind of draining through entire projects, and listeners with the agency to explore Memphis tapes (being aware of who Tommy Wright is does not count as exploring Memphis tapes) would inevitably just want the real dope without the FL Studios cut. Mana’s use of the sound is a little more self-aware, to the point where he probably finds the inevitable comparisons nauseating.
Matching the nostalgic reappropriation of those sounds with web 1.0 conspiracy theories makes a lot more sense than pretending like he’s ever held a gun before. The synthesis of the Heaven’s Gate website and E. 1999 Eternal creates something entirely new and distinct—something a lot more interesting than a voyeuristic gangster fetish. If the History Channel ever makes an Ancient Aliens-esque series on David Icke’s Archon reptilian overlords with Illuminati bloodlines, this is the only acceptable soundtrack. — Trapped in the Abyss, Feb. 2018
On P2 The Gold Mask
“Since 2013, San Antonio’s P2THEGOLDMASK has put his heart and soul into discovering every corner of the cloud rap house that Lil B built. He’s always pinned as an amalgamation of Based God and MF DOOM. Like DOOM, he is a 30-something late bloomer who wears a mask. Like B, he makes cloud rap—but that’s where the comparison collapses. He has his own sound, own clique, and own aesthetic; he’s an internet junkie by night and traps for his day job. No matter if he’s making R&B, cloud rap, or autotune trap, his music nods to his influences while always embracing the futuristic tilt and goofy humor that makes P2 a distinct artist.” — Trapped in the Abyss, Feb. 2018
“2015 was the last year that history paused. Obama was making way for eight years of Hillary. The neoliberal project was nearly complete. The Trump candidacy and the nascent Alt-Right was a bizarre content niche, the DSA was associated with spinsters and academics, Kendrick, the greatest rapper alive, created an unimpeachable album that seemed to advance discourse about America’s tortured race relations.
I was hopeful for a future where discourse, empathy, and decency was prioritized. Where the country’s future was imagined and discussed by a diverse proletarian coalition- democratically and outside of the traditionally shadowy marriage of big money, elite institutions, and intelligence agencies. I remember discussing as much online with people I was acquainted with through Based Facebook pages, ironic meme pages, and obscure music forums. I remember being online, being exposed to personalities and characters and artists from far outside my bubble of San Diegan surfers and skaters and teaching each other so much.
Perhaps I was naive. Perhaps I was corny. Perhaps I was lame. Perhaps I was male, middle class, and white. Perhaps the future I saw was a mirage. But it was the last time I remember feeling genuine hope.
I was attending community college, making memes, surfing infrequently, living at my grandmother’s 2-bedroom duplex in a retirement community that was entirely furnished with mid-century Herman Miller furniture from my grandfather’s 1950s stint with the company, and doing an unfathomable amount of prescription drugs with my FAFSA grant. I would sometimes link with my friend, rapper Drippin So Pretty, who kept me aware of the straight up incredible music he was making, and his collabs with Peddler Money Gang, a San Antonio-based music collective that was expanding and advancing on the cloud rap sounds that had begun in earnest in the beginning of the decade. The crew was ahead of the curve, so much so that it kind of had to implode and give the artists independence to carve their own lane. It would be irresponsible to name all of the rappers and producers who moved on from PMG, but if you follow emerging artists you’ve heard them.
PMG’s leader was P2 The Goldmask, a 30-something San Antonio trapper who wore a gold mask everywhere and somehow understood rap’s history and future better than any record industry executive. He was captivating, he had underground legitimacy and was street-certified in a way that subverted expectations for a scene that was then comprised of tiny and disorganized cells of internet weirdos….
As much as I want to sell [his masterpiece] Escape from Codeine Island to you with an easy pitch, the sound can’t be explained easily or as simply as “Clams Casino meets IDM.” or “cloud rap from a disintegrated future.” The keyboards and synthesizers on the first few tracks are sentimental in the same way the first few tracks of Die Lit are. The sound brings you to the penultimate moments of Shakespearean tragedy; to the cliche, melodramatic emotions that all great literature is able to impress on you. As insane melodies spin across and around you, P2 groans and moans and swaggers nonchalantly. He opens by saying “I’mma tell you niggas bout a nigga like me/ I got a bad bitch and I smoke a lot of weed” on top of a near ambient handful of synths, and as boring as that simple statement could be coming from a boring artist, P2 makes it an inspired mission statement.” — From “A Tribute to P2 The Goldmask,” September, 2019
“As more people fall into despair, psychosis, dissociation and addiction, there’s now a dizzying array of institutions, professionals and support groups here to help, provided you or the state can pay a fee. Their solutions to a generation raised in the crushing ennui of postmodernity and living with little hope for the future? Largely ineffectual and experimental drugs with stomach-turning side effects, “self-care” (bourgeoisie language for browsing Instagram in a spa), and more research funding.
It’s a dishonest, if not parasitic, industry, and our discourse about acceptance and sharing the suicide hotline’s number will never fill the void that an increasingly bleak and isolating social order has left.
Sybyr is acutely aware of this. He is a genius, in the traditional sense of the word. A timeless artist who spawned XXXtentacion and whoever else your niece listens to with his creation of Trap Metal in 2015. A relatively disorganized vision for a group of producers, rappers, and artists he met online led to the creation of Anti-World, one of the best experimental music groups of this decade in any genre.
A gift rarely, if ever, comes with no strings attached, and he’s relatively up front about the struggles with mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, that once led to his disappearance and probably contributed to the deletion of most of the experimental, heavily influential, and sometimes straight up bizarre music he released as “Syringe.” He re-released most of his 2015-16 Syringe projects this week, and if you care about rap this decade, where it’s going and where it’s been, or simply want to hear something authentically original and brilliantly different, these are all must-listens. Click play before they are gone again.” — From The Rap Up, Feb. 2019
“If you’re under 25 and have adopted the signifiers of an image-obsessed corner of the internet as a lifestyle, Bladee is probably your favorite rapper. He’s charmingly indifferent and aesthetically pristine; his music sounds like Balenciaga sneakers, like a selfie in a sculpture exhibit, like a day spent doused in iPhone blue light and cigarette smoke. It’s not important what it sounds like, it’s important that it’s fashionable. He mumbles, he drones, he plays with auto-tune presets, he scorns being on beat or much any ideas about rapping held by people over 25. As modern as Bladee sounds, he’s been relevant since his friend Yung Lean brought back the bucket hat, and when the Swede enlists fellow cloud rap veteran and Lil B collaborator Cartier’GOD to temper his esoteric impulses, magic happens.” — Song of the Day, Aug. 2019
On Nolan Be Rollin
Beanworld is blowing up because it is a half gram of a bygone era of cloud rap in one lightning quick key bump. The tape’s 12 minutes can seem like an hour. It’s nightmarish, really. For most rap fans, the idea of holding cold iron or plotting a robbery is so foreign as to be a cartoonish series of catchphrases and taunts, but Beanworld brings you right fucking there—to the back of that car, molly water in one hand, the disturbing reality of 30 nearby bullets. It sounds like hitting a quarter brick lick on too many research chemicals and mollies. As the seven mini-songs cut into each other, argue, and drag out into slackjawed, slowed down psychobabble, Nolan Be Rollin and friends usher you into a strange world of drugged out drill rap.
The light and ethereal synths surround the violence and paranoia with leering ominousness, pulling you ever deeper into the arctic cold streets of Virginia. The real trick here is that the production is more like the dreamy cloud nine of ’09 Lil B than the rage of Rondonumbanine. It’s a classic instance of cloaking dead serious subject matter in light sounding production, and maybe will be looked back on as a classic EP. — From Jan. 2018
“Ghostie is difficult. His music is dense and experimental, braiding together dozens, if not hundreds, of threads of influence into rough-edged, “disharmonic” compositions that challenge and discomfort listeners as a rule. Vocal production is often tonally flat and fuzzy, drowning or strangling lyrics about self-hatred, depression, frustration, and disassociation. Brittle synths bend and crack at the right and wrong times, sometimes an entire six-foot tall DAW seems to morph into a beautifully grotesque off-key orchestra. 808s become something more than a percussive backdrop or a plug-in, Ghostie’s re-interpretation of their possibilities is subtly brilliant, simultaneously left-field and restrained. As often as his music is brilliant, it is disorienting, and for normal rap fans, it can be hard to listen to.
His albums this year, Devour and Poltergeist Slim, are some of the finest experimental music released this millenium. Ghostie has created something like the post-hardcore to Trap Metal. The intensity is still there, but so are sojourns in melodic wonderlands, in indie pop and pop rap and IDM and Drum and Bass. There are fits and starts of something authentically original between abrasive basslines and disconsonant synth loops. It’s beautiful, ambitious music that doesn’t mean to be anything more than the ideas and realities of a 24-year-old father, worker, oddball and artist from West Baltimore. He sings and raps about pain and shitty jobs and days gone by because that is his reality, and like all of Ghostie’s work since 2016, it is music that stands out in its authenticity in a landscape dominated by those who feign sadness and suicidal ideation as a fashion statement.” — From “An Interview with Ghostie, Aug. 2019
On Duwap Kaine
“Duwap Kaine is 17, hasn’t dropped a project in more than a year, records all his music alone in his home studio, and is the hottest rapper doing it independently in August 2019. His music is psychedelic, sometimes nearly ambient, a drugged-out and lo-fi amalgamation of Atlanta street rap and cloud rap; where Die Lit walked, Duwap sprints. He translates a hallucinogenic and unique sound to a broad audience by manipulating his sing-song flow with a signature range of auto-tune presets and vocal mixing that transform simple two bar Instagram caption couplets into iconic earworms. When he croons “Man I can tell, I can tell/ Can you tell, that I’m chill?” as the melancholy and mystical synths fade out on this track, you forget he didn’t even need a hook to sink his claws into you.” — From Song of the Day, Aug. 2019
909Memphis has the middle part of a Miami Vice extra, the strong jaw-line and symmetrical nose of British nobility and fashion sense of a Ayami Kojima illustration. That’s partly because he knows what he’s doing, knows where culture is and where he is like at the end of the decade and an era. But his imminent come up is really indebted to his gifts as a singer and pop songwriter.
I had heard a lot of guitar samples mixed with autotune in the first days of February. On Mixed Feelings I heard way more than what I wanted from this micro-trend. It’s a cohesive album that serves as an exhaustive showcase of Memphy’s bag of tricks.
This is the natural conclusion of the waves of sounds and trends and moods and textures that have happened around Memphy in the circles he runs in on the internet and in the DMV. It’s not so much of the moment as a definitive portrait of 2019 underground music, and maybe he’ll be the last of his cohort, this generation and era, to pop off the web and into the mainstream. — From Back to the Abyss, Feb. 2019
On Cartier’ God
In 2013 the late, great Taylor Estrada, aka Sushi God, added me to Bitch Mob Task Force, a secret group on Facebook created and adminned by Lil B, moderated by Taylor and a group of task force generals B hand-picked, and dedicated solely to protecting the bitch and preaching his gospel. I soon found myself trapped in BasedWorld, a global community of Based pages and groups that united a diverse coalition of weirdos, outcasts, Harvard students, European DJs, NEETs, jocks, dealers, shooters, junkies, aspiring e-celebs, hypebeasts, hipsters and, most notably, the disorganized cells of first wave cloud rappers who understood B’s genius before anyone else. I was exposed to a new way of thinking and living; to the internet community as a conceptual and creative space; to B’s based ethos of radical tolerance, authenticity and genuine love; to a new strain of experimental internet rap that would soon transform pop culture.
The chief architect of this global creative incubation chamber is Cartier’GOD, an Athens, GA rapper and producer who has been five years ahead of the culture since he entered the rap game in ’06. From 2008 through 2010, he formed the connections with Lil B enthusiasts from MySpace to Twitter to Facebook, created and maintained areas where they could congregate, and, along with Yung God, Agoff, and Soulja Boy, dropped some of the first iterations of the cutting-edge and influential genre that would be known as Soundcloud rap 5 years later. Despite his myriad innovations, Lil B and Soulja Boy collabs, and the role he played in the formation of a culturally significant space for internet culture and rap music, he has languished in semi-obscurity for most of the 2010’s. This is despite him making “Soundcloud rap” when Lil Pump was 8, dying his dreads before nearly anyone, and using the term “drip” since before the decade began. Rather than becoming frustrated, he simply kept innovating, each new track revealing a different incarnation of a mysterious digital pimp that seemed to levitate above cloud rap’s left field.
The style he has perfected over the last few years is a psychedelic new subgenre without an analog or precedent. Working with his blood brother Tre’Beats as production team Futuristic’Ideaz, Cartier’GOD has fused an array of electronic influences (Vaporwave, UK bass/ dubstep scenes of early 2010s come to mind), his roots in cloud rap, and a signature falsetto flow into a sound that is uniquely his. These innovations have attracted some of the post-soundcloud scene’s most gifted innovators, who have joined forces with Cartier to forge new paths and possibilities in a critical transitional moment for the genre. — From An interview with Cartier’God, Sept. 2019
On Rhys Langston
Most of the rappers I cover work in one medium, that medium being laying vocals on top of 808s and synths. Yet over the past year I’ve grown comfortable with rappers telling me they must be categorized as “artists.” Rap is now a form of visual performance art, a 24/7 maintenance of an internet persona, an embellishment on subjectivity that takes place in the hidden vacuum nowhere space of social media.
Adjust your eyes for a second. Squint and rub and focus. Sweat a bit and shake your head back and forth. Okay, maybe now you’re prepared for a Rhys Langston visual EP. Rhys should not ever be categorized as a rapper, nor would he ever be categorized as one. He is a multidisciplinary artist more versed in philosophy and literature than you and blessed with the ability to flip his perspective into abstract rap music that bleeds into poetry and the future. The TC Wash Suite Visual EP is artistically ambitious and sonically sound. Like all great literature, it’s a psychedelic twist on the mundane, a day in the life in the gig economy that no clips through tents and street fridges and finds no ingratiating characters or happy story lines from the beach to Silver Lake. — From “Song of the Day, Oct. 2019
On Lil Gotit x Lil Keed
“Pope Gucci Mane celebrated the first 10/17 mass when Rome was launching its second invasion of Babylon, when BMF was throwing millions at Magic City, when Bishop Keed the Beatified and his younger brother Gotit the Goat Healer were yet to enter the Seminary. Since that first Mass the Gucci’s Day has evolved into an All-Saints Day, our high priests now even higher than Giraffe Pussy on Molly and more numerous than 2 litters of baby goats. The tenets and practices of Gucci’s Church have been continuously evolving, from wordplay and Zaytoven keys to a schism across the Faith that saw the hesitative and percussive rap flow innovations of Bankroll and Peewee split from the brilliant and joyous melodic innovations of Thug and Quan.
While the Orthodox faction of Hoodrich Pablo Juan and Peewee hold it down, Thug’s disciples are writing new Gospels that are leading the Thugger Vatican’s Third Crusade to convert the barbarian hinterlands with the Good Book of Thug, and shows no signs of letting up.
“Brotherly Love” is a hymn that celebrates the sibling’s abilities and love for each other as much as it celebrates their musical bloodline; a bloodline pumping from the South’s transportation hub through every highway, Amtrak, every suburb and bedroom, every rap club and trap spot across this decaying Empire. However many years Atlanta’s trap stars have been rap royalty, however how obvious Keed and Gotit’s Thug discipleship is, the music remains beautiful. And the family ties remain thicker than blood.” — From “Song of the Day,” Oct. 2019
On Rez Water
A culture that is so accepting of navel-gazing narcissism, self-absorption, refreshing instagram notifications and inserting Harry Potter fan fiction into life or death political equations is sure to forget so much injustice occuring under its nose. The plight of Native Americans in this country is often regarded as a fatalistic historical footnote, not an ongoing atrocity.
Yet today on the Crow Nation Reservation in Montana there is a lack not just empathy, but water. Rez Coast Grizz is an artist from the Fourth World with first rate pop songwriting chops. On “Water” he blends his God-given abilities with the facts on the ground in his hometown. The blue-haired auto-tune crooner sings from his chest, painting images of friends forced into prostitution, of his thirst for water not being quenched by whiskey, of pain and life in the forgotten corners of a nation built on genocide. You don’t expect conscious rap from an artist with obvious influence from Thug, Juice WRLD, and Trippie Redd, but it’s one of the most powerful tracks I’ve heard this year. — From Song of the Day, March 2020
TrippJones is the dark prince of abjection on the Lower East Side. He paints pictures of life in the shadows of post-historical urban decay and gentrification with charcoal and ink pens. He is a dark wave shadow star who has spent the past few years documenting all that happens behind the opaque bricks and stones of LES mid-rises.
Right now what’s happening is sex, not couples clutched in missionary every few days to get it over with. Not timid questions and more awkward answers, not dark corners and suggestions, but raw, soundtracked, triple X fucking. Chemical-induced satiation of the worst of those hedonistic impulses developed through trial, error, PornHub, Tinder, ketamine, acid, and molly. Exploring the worst of smut because nothing can or should stop you.
ORGASM plays with the contradictions and tensions at the heart of pornographic liberation and sex positivity, unnerving not in it’s explicitness, but in its contextualization. Describing the heights of pleasure under the crackling, menacing sounds of Black Money Boyz and Hi-C production gives those acts of saliva and semen an undulating air of sin. Those darkest corners and edges ebb downwards, but are always immediately augmented by splices of edgy, tweaked out euphoria. Take that first transition, Mutant Joe’s despair and grey noise contrasting with Tripp’s rasps and wheezes on “Fuego Cabeza” morphs to hooting celebration on top of the insidious rolls of DJ Akoza percussion on “Stuff It.”
A schizophrenic break was inevitable; the disintegration of Western mores of chastity, moderation, and monogamy has happened so fast that black leather bound Bible’s promises of hellfire seethe underneath all of our sexual interactions. TrippJones’ stated goal on this album was to release his first porno, but the result is the visceral communication of the now universal experience of post-coitus self-disgust.
This is the logical conclusion of the Dark R&B genre Purrp created 20 Twitter accounts ago, splitting the difference between Intoxxxicated, Uncle Luke, and the hip-hop playing in the background on Xvideos. It’s not supposed to be an easy or mindless listen, it’s supposed to bring you further from God, relieving the worst of your impulses in the absence of anything else to do. If we do indeed live in hell or the apocalypse, you need music like this to keep overthinking all the things that led you here. — From POW Premiere: TrippJones – “Orgasm EP,” March 2020
“Yvncc’s star was born in a black-hued nebula where the abrasive, cybernetic experimentation of the Anti-World set collided with Doomshop Records’ Memphian Retrofuturism, fused and bonded and lit a white dwarf lighting a fully imagined, self-contained universe. A star system of rapper weed, gibberish slang being made meaningful through symbiotic repetition, asteroids mined for hair dye, and an elder scroll instructing Earthlings to smoke Satanic sativa.
Landfill and Shark of Anti-World are masters of all that is gray, liquid metal, and cybernetic. Their beats on this album are not so much a single dimensional as they are a 3D animation rendered for a Resident Evil 2 Playstation cut scene: dark, menacing, multi-faceted, and maybe a tiny bit melodramatic. Mutant Joe and DJ Birdo have grabbed the torch from Black Money Boys and lit another black-flamed rapping Olympics. And if there was a rapping Olympics, yvncc proves that he would at least be invited to the trials:” — From POW Premiere, Vnccc – Quanicles: The Curse of Quan, April 2020