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Full Clip: May’s Hip Hop Reviewed By Tara Joshi
Tara Joshi , May 30th, 2017 08:46

Does the old school disdain for Lil Yachty really matter? Tara Joshi considers the Atlanta teen king’s debut, alongside the last two months of releases

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If there’s one artist symbolic of the debate between old and new school hip hop right now, Lil Yachty is surely it. The Atlanta teen star is capable of grating rap’s more conservative listeners like no one else, mainly due to his cartoon-ish musical stylings (he has sampled the Rugrats theme before), his “mumble”, as well as his unabashed use of both auto-tune and social media. Of course - that time he said he didn’t know five songs by Tupac or Biggie probably didn’t help ingratiate himself that much either.

It’s not something that hasn’t been debated before though - back in 2015, Vince Staples famously said that he felt 90s rap got too much credit. The comments were obviously met with some outrage, but - generally speaking - once protective sensitivities about sacred cows are taken into account - it’s ultimately the case that people have the most affection and feeling for the music that they grew up with.

And so, while drill music, “bubblegum trap”, heavy doses of auto-tune and songs that are wearyingly about his dick being like a Harley Davidson might not do much for older traditionalists, this isn’t really for them. Instead, the sugary, high energy sounds on Lil Yachty’s debut album Teenage Emotions are pretty much guaranteed to blow up any teen gathering right now (or, as YG puts it on ‘All Around Me’ – “Don’t worry ‘bout these n*ggas, your shit poppin’ every party”).

At its best this is a potent album loaded up and ready to go for summer – be it bangers or ballads, Yachty appeals to the youthful conflict between wishing for romance versus the desire for partying with friends and casual sex with people he's not even that into.

Migos-featuring ‘Peek A Boo’, produced by Ricky Racks (a frequent Young Thug collaborator) swirls intensely with the absurd, if not-quite aggressive sexuality of alter-ego Lil Boat. There’s the tropical smoothness of ‘Better’, featuring UK MC Stefflon Don, all languid and idealistic with its allusions to laying on the hood of a car and looking at the stars.

Then there are some comic insights into being young and kind of stupid on the bouncy nursery rhyme of ‘Priorities’ - “I’mma cheat on my girlfriend who’s so loyal for some sluts / my priorities, my priorities, my priorities are fucked”. He sweetly shouts out his mum at various points too, in stark contrast with how he talks about other women across the album.

It is gratuitously long and bloated at 21-songs but - in the same way that Drake understands playlist culture - so too does Yachty. This is for an audience who will pick and choose what they like from the offering, rather than necessarily only considering it in its full length context.

Arguably nothing here pushes the boundaries in the same way that, say, ‘Minnesota’ did - perhaps Yachty has taken on board some of the criticisms and met them with more standard forms. Teenage Emotions is a decent debut that for the most part maximises powerfully on exciting, youthful irreverence. If you’re a purist in your listening habits and mainly rinse All Eyez On Me, this probably isn’t for you – but then, that’s kind of the point.

Young M.A. - Herstory
(M.A. Music / 3D)

That this EP opens with a track referencing Biggie is telling – unlike Yachty et al, Brooklyn’s Young M.A. is proud to channel the old school. She’s even got Monica singing on ‘JOOTD’, and ‘Bonnie’ samples a 2002 Irv Gotti/Ja Rule/Ashanti/Charli Baltimore track - it’s hard to not get some feeling of throwback here. With that said, this precursor to her debut album (Herstory In The Making) isn’t derivative – when she’s doing it right, M.A.’s delivery can be brash and wild in a way that’s fresh. ‘Bonnie’ especially showcases a real proclivity for storytelling. It’s hit and miss, and previously released freestyle ‘OOOUUU’ is ultimately still the most grabbing track here, perhaps, but if this EP is a prelude it’s certainly got enough to tease the appetite for when the album drops.

Vince Staples - ‘Big Fish’
(Def Jam)

Vince Staples is one of the best rappers in the game right now, albeit one who is still underrated in the mainstream. The California rapper’s got deliciously smooth flow and lyrical prowess, but his not being bigger in spite of all the critical acclaim surrounding Summertime ‘06 is perhaps down to a lack of radio appeal. This track might change that – ‘Big Fish’ is a gritty banger with electronic flourishes, a braggadocious Juicy J chorus (“I was up late night ballin’ / Countin’ up hundreds by the thousand”) and - as the stunned commenters on YouTube will attest to - no curse words. While we wait for new album Big Fish Theory to drop in June, Staples considers how rap has transformed his life, thinking on where he “shoulda been”, and ultimately seems to embrace the path his has found himself on.

Missy Elliott - ‘I’m Better (Remix)’ ft. Eve, Lil Kim & Trina
(Atlantic)

Having featured the original version of this track back in January’s column, it seems a bit unnecessary to be waxing lyrical on a remix months later – but Missy bringing in Eve, Lil’ Kim and Trina on this Lamb-produced beauty is no joke. In a field that far too often tries to pit female rappers against one another, there’s something fiercely exciting about this collaboration, and they all go hard: belittling your man, rolling their eyes at your girlfriend, living it up with their wads of cash. There’s nothing lyrically astounding, admittedly, but the delivery is laden with nonchalant sass – Eve especially, who hasn’t released anything since 2014, dips in essentially just to tell us how great her life is. It’s not phoning it in, so much as a joyous exercise in not giving a fuck, happily reminding us they’re still here and still killing it.

Gunna - Drip Season 2
(YSL Records)

If nothing else you’ll know Gunna’s name from Jeffery standout ‘Floyd Mayweather’ – the Atlanta rapper was introduced to Young Thug by a mutual friend, prior to which he just rapped as a hobby. Now signed to Young Thug’s YSL imprint, this second tape from Gunna veers between beautifully atmospheric beats and poppier sounds, topped off with melodic, impressively assured flow that really doesn’t put him that far behind Thugger, Future and co. ‘Belly Of The Beast’ spirals darkly, while the delivery on ‘Shopping’ is all complex ebbs and flows. ‘YSL’ with Playboi Carti and Carti’s go-to producer Pi’erre Bourne sparkles and whirrs, and helps to elucidate on just why Atlanta (yet again) is the place for hip hop right now.

Playboi Carti - Playboi Carti (AWGE)

Again, Atlanta is the place right now. This eponymous debut tape from the Georgia capital’s Playboi Carti is largely gorgeous as background music – be it the Harry Fraud-produced ‘Location’, or languid standout ‘Magnolia’, with Carti’s exquisitely slack delivery and the general glimmering production. It’s been criticised for being “a glorified beat tape with ad-libs” , which is unfair – however, admittedly the tape’s sonic ambience and glossy beats are the main selling point, with the ad-libs often becoming the sparse main refrains. The minimalism becomes especially apparent when A$AP Rocky appears on ‘New Choppa - New Choppa’, bringing with him a hitherto unheard boisterous energy. With shallow (if amusing) lyrics, it remains to be seen if Carti by himself is more than a sound / aesthetic – but when the sound and aesthetic are so pleasant, maybe it doesn’t matter.

T-Pain and Lil’ Wayne - T-Wayne
(Self-released)

The reappearance of this lost mixtape from 2009 makes for surreal listening – the sounds here are totally incongruous to hip hop in 2017. It finds Lil’ Wayne and T-Pain having a bit of a laugh - see: calling their collaborative mixtape “T-Wayne” and having a track that legitimately samples the Oompa-Loompa song. Suffice to say, it’s an enjoyable if strange listen, with T-Pain eager and exuberant and Lil’ Wayne especially on exquisite form (of course). ‘Waist Of A Wasp’ is a particularly glorious and euphoric jam (if with silly lyrics, including word-play about “buttering you up” leading into sex in the kitchen). Overall, this does feel like an outtake that we didn’t necessarily need, but it’s a pleasant throwback that happily doesn’t take itself too seriously.

lojii & Swarvy - DUE RENT
(Fresh Selects)

This collaborative double album actually came out on the last day of March, but it merits inclusion here in terms of hip hop that might have slipped under your radar. A richly soulful release, LA producer Swarvy and Philadelphia rapper lojii have created something that is overall smooth and engrossing with DUE RENT. Weaving the story of lojii’s struggle to find work as a young black man in the states, it brings together present - him looking to pay rent, police brutality - with the past - ancestors in the fields picking cotton (on ‘blok’). Entirely succinct yet loaded and emotive, lojii’s nuanced delivery is complemented by Swarvy’s lush and jazz-infused production. This is a consistently impressive listen.

Young Dolph - Bulletproof
(Paper Route)

In February, Memphis rapper Young Dolph was shot at 100 times in Charlotte, North Carolina. This album is his response to that, tellingly opening with the track ‘100 Shots’ – the line, “How the fuck you miss a whole hundred shots?!” is at once amusing, relentlessly nonchalant, and somehow strikingly macabre. It’s a scathing record – on Metro Boomin’ produced ‘In Charlotte’ he spits to his would-be shooters, “you playing checkers little boy, I’m playing chess”. ‘I’m So Real’ bubbles with exquisite production from Atlanta-based Dun Deal, while Gucci Mane-featuring ‘That’s How I Feel’ is unsurprisingly brash and intense. Dark and full of boastful rage, it’s perhaps not as inviting a listen as predecessor Gelato, but still very much merits a listen.

Little Simz - ‘Backseat’
(Age 101)

Young London rapper Little Simz’s new track offers a harrowing moment of introspection. Considering her life so far, she describes herself a black sheep and wonders if her Dad would have been happier if she’d been an athlete. She wonders too if the fans who come to her shows and stand in the front row get the same feeling of awe she got when she stood in the front row for a J. Cole concert. With spacious production from Astronote, it’s an update from where she left us with last year’s Stillness In Wonderland, and touches on similar themes of mental health as she comes to terms with her burgeoning career and the lack of sleep. The refrain of, “This is what you signed up for” is on the nose, and in spite of the insecurity, Little Simz retains a sense of authority in her destiny.

Future - ‘Mask Off’ (Remix ft. Kendrick Lamar)
(Epic Records)

Doing a review of DAMN seemed irrelevant a month and a half after release – there’s little fresh thought that I could add at this point to the wealth of discourse surrounding Kendrick’s recent album. But the album was proof again that Kendrick has asserted himself at the top of the rap game, and his verses on this are further testament to that. Flute-laden ‘Mask Off’ was in of itself an outstanding moment from Future’s recent output, but this remix is straight-up celestial. Melding into the middle of the song, Kung-Fu Kenny’s got an exquisite sing-song flow as he describes his halo – being humble isn’t the aim here, as he talks about channelling Prince. He implores his fans to step up and away from gang violence, and to take their masks off and look at the fatalities of both gang and police brutality. It’s potent, as always but - unlike, say, ‘Control’ - he doesn’t totally steal the show in this feature. Instead, this is thrilling embellishment to an already glorious song.

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