Full Clip: October’s Hip Hop Albums Reviewed By Gary Suarez
, October 31st, 2016 09:44
An autumnal chill fills the air, and leaves begin to find their deaths on the ground. But the heat exuded by Meek Mill, Gucci Mane and Jeezy albums reviewed by Gary Suarez can counter all that
Meek Mill has every reason to be aggressive right now. After all, the general consensus goes that he squandered a high profile rap beef with Drake that, at least in the public eye, he appeared to have started. Though the convenient timing of his opening tweet salvo possibly positively impacted on early sales of his second album Dreams Worth More Than Money, the Philadelphia rapper's market-facing missteps damaged his reputation and inadvertently emboldened his rival, now more comfortable than ever to take cocksure potshots at hip hop elder Pusha T and smaller fish like Kid Cudi. Compounding matters, a defensive Meek has since accumulated or escalated apparent beefs with Joe Budden, 50 Cent, and The Game. These disputes make for rap blog fodder and sometimes even some good music. Yet even when things get out of hand and spill over into physical arena, rarely does beef threaten to sink a rapper’s career.
More so than either of his Maybach Music Group studio albums, the Dreamchasers mixtape series represents Meek at his most credible, as a street level lyricist capable of soul-bearing realism and frankly poetic violence. But before even pressing play, DC4 suffers from its tardiness, a product not only of the calamitous professional and legal circumstances that came in the wake of the lopsided Drake beef, but also of the roughly three years that passed since the well-received prior instalment. The handful of EPs Meek dropped following DWMTM had a few hot moments, but never felt like a true follow-up. So when DC4 opener 'On The Regular' leads with one of the most hackneyed G-Unit Jr. beats of 2016, there's cause for concern among even his most faithful devotees.
DC4 is imperfect, in more ways that it ought to at this fraught stage in his career. Still, the mixtape format itself allows for experimentation, and a weak cut can find forgiveness if placed among bangers. The commercial mixtape approach inadvertently endangers that social order, as rap artists increasingly seek to re-monetize the model in a marketplace that puts scarcely little value on music. The potential for actually flopping means DC4 can’t really afford to fail.
With the reputation of his prior Dreamchasers volumes at stake, Meek manages to come through here with the belly fired bars on ‘Litty’ and ‘Tony Story 3’. Arguably his most effective response to the turmoil, standout ‘Shine’ brings shouty catharsis over a hopeful beat, desperately juxtaposing his personal issues with more macro level ones in the embattled black community. ‘Froze’ promptly follows, linking up with Auto-Tune up-and-comer Lil Uzi Vert and featuring Nicki Minaj herself in beast mode. He gets lost in the Atlanta shuffle on the OZ-produced ‘Offended’ with Young Thug and 21 Savage, but he recovers on the R&B tip with YFN Lucci for ‘You Know.’ While Meek hasn’t fully recovered from his scarlet 'L' DC4 at least stops the bleeding.
Coca Vango - Cocaine Flow
As artists like YFN Lucci and 21 Savage bust out of the trap with legitimate chart-primed heat, it
makes sense that others from that world would seek to follow suit. Even still, looking out from
the unvarnished somewhat grotesque cover for his latest tape, Coca Vango appears unwilling to
find fame and fortune on anyone else's terms. Musically, the contents of the bluntly titled
Cocaine Flow are substantially more palatable, slickly produced hooky bangers like
'Extravagant' and 'She Geeked' in line with what he delivered on the prior Van Gogh
project. He gloats about his couture clout on 'Birthday' and clowns a wide range of amateurs
and wannabes on 'Broke' with a relentless stream of snappy one-liners and less inventive
insults. On occasion, Vango squeaks rather close to Young Thug’s territory, but even then he
does so with finesse (‘I.C.N.D.I.’). His guests deserve recognition for making the tape’s second
half, particularly the contributions from ManManSavage and living legend Project Pat.
The Game - 1992
For many, the year 1992 evokes televised images of Los Angeles besieged by racially charged riots, and this album transports listeners to that scene from the jump with ‘Savage Lifestyle’. After last year’s duo of The Documentary 2 and 2.5 portrayed a rapper rejuvenated, The Game draws considerable influence from his Compton adolescence for this impressive full-length follow-up. Too young to be tried as an adult but old enough to know the score, he speaks in unapologetic terms about mentalities and motivations. A Nas-level natural at narrative bars, Game’s true life storytelling suits the subject matter well, with the benefit of pervasive musical cues to rap classics. His fulsome flows suit harsh tales like ‘Young Ni**as’ and the marginally lighter-hearted ‘I Grew Up On Wu Tang.’ No mere time capsule, 1992 stays true to its conceptual conceit even as it fast forwards to the present day (‘However Do You Want It, ‘92 Bars’).
Gucci Mane - Woptober
During some of the most tumultuous times in his life, Guwop compounded personal chaos with
artistic prolificacy. Not even incarceration could repress the sheer volume of the Atlanta trap
pioneer's music hitting the market. His release from the Feds a few months back has too been
followed by a period of hyperactivity. Yet Woptober, his second full length in three
months, seems more of a coherent creative outpouring than a meandering deflection.
Comfortable with the mixtape as confessional, Gucci speaks candidly of his sordid past on
'Addicted' and 'Aggressive,' not entirely penitent but wiser for the experience. Even reformed, he
remains as conversant as Carlito, a graduate of the streets like Jay-Z ready for the next phase
of his career ('Hi-Five'). In his signature laidback style, he hammers away at the 'Love Her Body'
hook until it becomes something worth repeating. Even with familiar producers like Metro
Boomin and Zaytoven, experimentation permeates in unexpected ways, like the nasty Suicide
synth on the hook for ‘Bling Blaww Burr.’
Jeezy - Trap Or Die 3
A grand and unpretentious return to the hard bars that made the Atlanta native a star, tracks like
'G-Wagon' and the bassbin-rattling Yo Gotti feature 'Where It At' tap into what Jeezy’s core fans
crave. Nothing here fits radio, but that's assuredly a deliberate opting out when a veteran rapper
makes the third volume of a respected mixtape series into a de facto album. Thug sonnet 'Like
That' meshes well with the more self-reflective anecdotes of 'Recipe'. Jeezy provides a suitably
referential sequel to one of his earliest hits by way of the French Montana Rolex flash of 'Going
Crazy.' Other guests include an off-his-game Lil Wayne on the skippable ‘Bout That’ and the
departed Bankroll Fresh on 'All There', the latter a bitter reminder of his once-promising
prospects. While in no way an essential release, Trap Or Die 3 works as a serviceable
addition to a fairly consistent discography, and a welcome one at that.
NxWorries - Yes Lawd!
Setting aside Anderson Paak’s tremendous 2016 momentarily, the key to understanding the immediacy of the music here lies in the other half of this hip hop duo. Even after scoring a plum placement on To Pimp A Butterfly and delivering the masterful Hud Dreems album on his own, Knxwledge has yet to receive credit as the rightful successor to Dilla and Madlib’s legacy. If not for his higher profile partner on the mic, Yes Lawd! might draw reasonable comparisons to Donuts by savvy listeners. Even at nearly twenty tracks long, the relative brevity of the release jibes with Knxwledge’s beat tape roots (‘Can’t Stop’). His sample-centric productions on ‘Best One’ and ‘Starlite’ never overwhelm the stirring vocals, but on repeat listens it becomes clear how well they distract from the singer’s occasional tendency for discursive riffing. Of course, a focused Paak can be a damn powerhouse, evident when he’s elevating the resplendent single ‘Lyk Dis’ or the ‘71 Temptations-esque ‘Sidepiece’.
Jay Prince - Smile Good
It takes some chutzpah to call yourself Jay Prince when Rap-A-Lot Records’ living legend J
Prince still lives and breathes. Chances are good that this London-based junior probably didn’t
even realize his rap game faux pas. In turn, listeners to this mixtape might not catch his accent
on first listen, and it’s to Prince’s credit that he eschews hyper-regional grime trappings to better
blend in with the American set. The mangled gospel of ‘Father, Father’ conjures Big Sean,
Chance and Kanye all at once for a modern ditty worth of some Midwest blessings. He wants us
to believe he’s got soul to burn on ‘Go East,’ but falters by flexing the admittedly limited range of
his singing voice. To aid in that department, he employs Aussie backup singer Jordan Rakei for
‘Where You Belong’ and, to lesser effect, Raheaven for the late ‘90s R&B genericism of ‘All In’.
Fresh off the Fudge record, rapper Michael Christmas brings bits of Boston to Prince’s insular
Self Provoked - Triangles
Supported here mostly by beats from Low End Theory resident Nobody, this Los Angeles area
emcee may not have appeared on your radar before now. Admittedly, it took that sort of co-sign
for Self Provoked to make it onto mine. For those who prefer rappers of the lyrical miracles
variety, his Triangles might provide a worthwhile listen (‘Dumb,’ ‘Young Man Sport’). For
the rest of us, well… Look, it’s not as though he’s untalented, as highlights like ‘Cameras’ and
the Daddy Kev-produced narrative ‘Friend To Foe’ prove. But much like the finest modern day
vaudevillians, Self Provoked overachieves at something simply outdated in a genre naturally
and perpetually moving forward. Ostensibly unperturbed by such stylistic criticism, he rattles off
a few fuck yous before plowing through the paranoid ‘Supposedly.’ Given that his vocal tone
and flow sometimes recalls that of Slim Shady, the overt Eminem interpolation on ‘Life’s Love
Letter’ causes more cringing than it perhaps ought.
Swet Shop Boys - Cashmere
On Eat Pray Thug, former Das Racist member Heems deftly mixed socio-political commentary with Queens insularity to make one of last year’s most interesting and important rap records. Slightly tweaking that model, his collaborative Swet Shop Boys project with British rapper/actor Riz MC balances devastatingly heavy topics with more upbeat diversions, frequently in the context of a single track. Finding commonality in their unlikely Indian-meets-Pakistani pairing, ‘T5’ and ‘Shoes Off’ force the unpleasant realities of travelling in a post-9/11 world to the fore, while party rocker ‘Tiger Hologram’ brings their shared aesthetic to the club. Though Heems tends to shine brighter in places, both vocalists hold their own from track to track, even trading bars back and forth on ‘Phone Tap.’ But what largely keeps Cashmere cohesive is London-based producer Redinho, who gleans from Western and Eastern sources for a signature sound (‘Half Moghul Half Mowgli,’ ‘Shottin’).