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Full Clip: This Month's Hip Hop Albums Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , March 1st, 2016 09:14

Gary Suarez returns to his monthly rap reviews beat armed with an ultralight beam and a laser sight

This is not a review of Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo. What good would it do if it were one anyway? Every music critic with a byline, a prescription for Lexapro, and a few low-bitrate Taylor Swift MP3s has already made their case for or against the rapper’s new album / mixtape / fashion show soundtrack / social media performance art piece / whatchamacallit. It doesn’t matter if I consider The Life Of Pablo a God Dream or a Dog’s Breakfast. Shoddy, fraudulent lazy narratives have won the day, as usual.

Instead, this is a review of Wave Gods, the latest tape from New York street rap potentate French Montana.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and the reigning Coke Boys monarch has woes for days. I suppose I ought to be grateful that those millennial know-it-alls who shared their amateur diagnoses about Mr. West wouldn’t bother analysing Montana, or pretty much any other rapper. But if by chance they did, they might find themselves Googling the phrase survivor guilt, a condition that I’m in no position to affix to the man’s file.

Nonetheless, Montana’s justifiable preoccupation with his incarcerated friend Max B and his tragically departed friend Chinx Drugz touches just about every track on Wave Gods, a party rap project with a covert yet profoundly sentimental heart. By his own admission, the brutal murder of Coke Boys’ rising star slowed Montana’s own output, and he’s not afraid to reveal just how much that loss continues to affect him. Commiserating with Future on ‘Miley Cyrus’, he grapples to maintain his flashy lifestyle while addressing personal trauma.

Apart from the newfound gravity of Montana’s verses, Wave Gods is unquestionably one of his most instantly gratifying releases. Borrowing Metro Boomin for a minute, Montana parties through the pain on ‘Man Of My City’ with punchline pal Big Sean. For wavy banger ‘Sanctuary Pt 2’ he repurposes a Utada sample and quotes The Weeknd in a stunning pop culture power play. Better than most of The Life Of Pablo, ‘Figure It Out’ heavily features West’s signature robotic gargle.

Curtiss King - Creatine

If you assume this is your first encounter with the Inland Empire native, chances are you’re mistaken. With production credits for Ab-Soul, Glasses Malone, and Murs, among others, Curtiss King potentially found his way into your ears well prior to this Alpha Pup release. A beat tape unafraid to reconnect the torn ligament separating trap from the rest of hip hop, Creatine culls from old workout videos and self-help cassettes for its thematic and often comedic sample base. After a deceptively disco lead in, King reveals a comparatively ballsier intention on "2 Minute Abs," a quivering mass of snaps and wobble. Playing fast and loose with genre works well for him, be it on the footwork pace of ‘Tread Mill$’ or the halfstep thump of ‘AM Stretch’. With incidental help from Jane Fonda herself, ‘Venice Beach’ pours a little spacey funk into the mix before transitioning to the vocoder detachment of ‘Skinny Dip’. Convenient for any exercise regimen, Creatine covers a lot of ground in roughly a half hour.

Nef The Pharoah - Neffy Got Wings

One of the most consistent producers out there, Cardo typically brings out the best in the rappers who adopt his beats. No exception to this trend, Nef The Pharoah parlays his 2015 Cash Money homage ‘Big Tymin’ into this collaborative project for E-40’s Sick Wid It imprint. No doubt inspired by that retro feeling minor hit, Cardo captures and disseminates that Mannie Fresh essence on tracks like ‘Devil’s Team’ and ‘Saydaat’. In less skilled hands, that could prove catastrophic, but the duo pull it off repeatedly here. Much of that comes down to Cardo’s ability to actively connect past and present, keeping Neffy Got Wings from digressing into some tedious subgenre exercise (‘Betta Run’, ‘Innovative’). But that’s no slight to Nef, clearly a natural. His flow resembles Lil Wayne at his smoothest and most confident, exemplified by the sleek ‘Michael Jackson’, a reprise from last year’s self-titled EP. His silken voice floating over the airy beat, ‘Big Chang Chang’ demands rewind after rewind.

Ras G & The Koreatown Oddity - 5 Chuckles: In The Wrld

To date, Leaving Records’ patronage of erstwhile Brainfeeder beatsmith Ras G has yielded no fewer than three beat tape series of note and import. Teaming with sharp-tongued young emcee The Koreatown Oddity, he does it again with a second volume in the 5 Chuckles canon. Fusing improv comedy techniques with pointed lyricism, ‘Da Po-Lice (Phuck Em)’ perfectly encapsulates the ethos of this first-rate rap duo. In case the Backwoods parody packaging didn’t ring any bells, recreational drug use makes for a literally evergreen topic throughout In The Wrld. On ‘Burfday’, TKO croons about shrooms in the middle of stand-up routine about psilocybin. He bashes Raven-Symone and Disneyland with equal derision, navigating Ras’ curvy and psychotropic beats with a Mickey Mouse impression in tow. Ras’ crate-digging productions often have a kitchen sink feel to them, but TKO operates on the same wild wavelength as his innovative partner, effortlessly changing the style up in line with the track. A must-hear.

Rome Fortune - Jerome Raheem Fortune

The upshot of 808s And Heartbreak manifested with a subsequent generational subset of emotional rappers using their albums as amateur therapy sessions and agnostic confessionals. With a genre as prone to fakery as rap, perceived honesty is an admirable trait, though misused it can be self-serving. Were earnestnessJerome Raheem Fortune’s sole fault, it would be easily overlooked as the efforts of a burgeoning talent. The messiness of Rome Fortune’s big little record jibes with the act of gut spilling, but one would hope he’d tidied the place up a bit before inviting us all over (‘Find My Way’, ‘Past Future’). Naturally, dropping your rap album on a label like Fool’s Gold means you can get away with a disco number called ‘Dance’ as your single. Apart from that weird Kaytranada misfire, Cubby’s production gleams and glistens in ways that would sound just spectacular as an instrumental beat tape. It feels bad to pan Rome, an artist truly worth rooting for, but here we are.

Statik KXNG - s/t

Whenever boom bap purists and other such rap conservatives bemoan the state of contemporary hip hop, so too comes an urge to shove their snouts into Statik Selektah’s expansive discography. The producer essentially calls these close-minded types out on ‘Lost A Fan’, a characteristic track off this new collaboration with seasoned Slaughterhouse member and Death Row alum KXNG Crooked. The old school vibes are strong on ‘Stop Playing’ and ‘Death Or In Jail’, the latter reinforced by the shout outs to Hieroglyphics and A Tribe Called quest, among others. Unfortunately, Statik KXNG never reaches the loftier levels that its producer often does. That burden falls rightly on Crooked, an orthodox utilitarian and Jameson enthusiast lacking the dynamic qualities of Freddie Gibbs or Freeway or Action Bronson. There’s only so far a rapper can get flouting his traditionalism (‘Brand New Shit’, ‘I Hear Voices’). Frequent Statik partner Termanology arrives to spit a few bars on the anti-blogger grumbler ‘Let’s Go’ to show Crooked how it’s done.

YFN Lucci - Wish Me Well 2

Think It’s A Game helped introduce Rich Homie Quan to the world, so it makes sense that they’d be an appropriate label to try and push this singing rapper. YFN Lucci had a moment last year with ‘Know No Better,’ packing as many Atlanta trap tropes into a piano ballad produced by J. Caspersen. That formula suits Lucci fine on his latest tape, with cuts like ‘Talk That Shit’ and the Fetty-lite ‘In A Minute’ attempting to match or surpass that prior brush with success. But as anyone who’s ever gorged on sweets before knows, too much of a good thing can prove monotonous. In pursuit of that breakout single, Lucci’s single-speed coupled with Wish Me Well 2’s 78 minute length inadvertently exposes his limitations. Before long, the RHQ similarities become as glaring as Desiigner’s Future xerox job (‘Artificial’, ‘Unstoppable’). When his better arrives on the finale ‘Letter To Lucci,’ the upstaging is a profound and hopefully humbling one.

Yo Gotti - The Art Of Hustle

Over the years the prolific Memphis rapper has regularly come through with singles and mixtapes that make him impossible to ignore. Despite his work ethic, his uneven 2013 Epic debut I Am never connected like his Cocaine Muzik series did. However, with its engaging street codification primers, The Art Of Hustle reveals Gotti as the rightful successor to 8Ball, MJG, and Three 6 Mafia. After opening with a sparse hometown ode featuring K. Michelle’s raw pipes, Gotti gets down to the business of surpassing his last LP and making some of the best work of his career. ‘Bible’ and the Instagram hit ‘Down In The DM’ share a certain aesthetic loopiness, with crisp snares and warm muted synths. Whether slanging that white or stripping at King Of Diamonds, hustlers and their respective hustles get their due here (‘Come Up’, ‘Law’). Incredibly, Pusha T’s presence on ‘Hunnid’ doesn’t steamroll Gotti as the G.O.O.D. exec’s verses often do. The love feels so real on ‘Momma’ too.

Young Thug - I’m Up

A would-be Slime Season installment redacted so late in the game it dropped with the wrong cover art, the renamed I’m Up emerged as a standalone commercial product. Effectively if unintentionally positioned as a Barter 6 follow-up, the project charted roughly the same stateside, an indication that Young Thug’s popularity has hardly waned despite the deliberate data dumps and unintended leaks of 2015. Furthermore, the slim I’m Up is his best start-to-finish release to date, a reflection of the comparative control he seems to have acquired of late. While lyrically having little to do with its title, ‘F Cancer’ is a peppy grower of a single with a secret hook leading to a brisk Quavo verse. But by now we ought to recognize this approach as Thugger’s modus operandi. He spits stream-of-consciousness bars better than most anyone, as highlights like ‘King Troup’ and ‘Hercules’ demonstrate. His actual sisters get some bars in for closer ‘Family’ and, well, they slay.

Yung Lean - Warlord

Today rap tastemakers are buzzing about Desiigner and Lil Yachty, but in their wake you'll find a long trail of discarded prior appointees. One such figure, Yung Lean refuses to depart quietly - nor should he. While undeniably informed by trap, his deep digital sound precedes Atlanta’s current metropolitan boom, and now should be regarded as its peer. Transfer the production on Warlord cuts like 'Fantasy' or 'Highway Patrol' to a new Future tape and his purple sipping stans would trip over their Yeezy Boosts for it. Much like Nayvadius and his cadre of beatmakers, Lean keeps his sound consistent by working with many of the same producers from Unknown Memory and Unknown Death 2002. The hooks here aren’t quite as immediate or lasting as what came before, and those looking for the next ‘Yoshi City’ simply won’t find it. Satisfied with his template, Lean croons and babbles in equal measure (‘Fire’, ‘Eye Contact’). A successful cloud rap recap, 'Afghanistan' out-Khalifas today’s Wiz.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Future - EVOL A prodigious studio artist, the rap star tests his fanbase’s limits with this predictable set of moody lean bangers that feel more like elevated B-sides than the more gripping primo material off last year’s triumphant DS2.

J.R. - Gang Season Capitalizing on the radio-friendly success of his Trey Songz assisted single, the St. Louis rapper drops this EP of glossy unit-shifting pablum.

Kevin Gates - Islah There’s an excessive urgency to the Baton Rouge resident’s vocal wobble, that Red Bull gelatin dessert flow carrying beat after beat after beat on his first proper album.

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