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On Young Thug & Obama: The Latest Hip-Hop Mixtapes
Gary Suarez , September 3rd, 2014 08:35

Gary Suarez ponders unfulfilled potential and disappointment as he reviews the latest tape from Young Thug, as well as casting his ears over new stuff by Young Scooter, Rich The Kid, Porter Ray, Mick Jenkins, The Celestics, Ty Dolla $ign, King Louie and Euro

Not since Barack Obama in 2008 has there a public figure been so conveniently defined by his electorate as Young Thug. Recall how progressives heaped superlatives onto the then-Senator as though he were one of them, letting the emotional sloganeering of the campaign trail instill in them an overinflated sense of hope. Nevermind, for example, the candidate's noxious line-towing on marriage - and by default, its privileges - being strictly “between a man and a woman,” a public view he only reversed once the sheer inevitabilities of law compelled him to hop onto the right side of history. So many on the American Left were willing to overlook such glaring indicators of his (at-best) Clintonian centrism, and naturally Obama's opponents on the right delighted themselves sick at the opportunity to label him some sort of a communist threat. Since then, he's made no friends on the opposite side of the partisan divide, and his recent Gone Fishin' pragmatism surrounding the escalating injustices of Ferguson, Missouri has further alienated him from those who cheered and wept for joy at his inauguration.

While admittedly to a lesser extent, I fear we are setting Thugger up for a fall. To a vocal minority, his sartorial style - call it trap dandy - makes him some sort of polysexual revolutionary in the war against cisgender norms. Millennials in turn want him to be as legendarily weird as Ol' Dirty Bastard, as if that were even possible. Critical consensus around his 1017 Thug tape last year was so intense that it felt like rap writers were trying to convince themselves more than the readership.

Assuredly, 'Danny Glover', 'Stoner,' and, to a lesser extent, 'Lifestyle' stand out as some of the most original rap songs of the past 18 months. Yet the nearly half dozen Gucci Mane administered tapes he's dropped since have been exceedingly inconsistent, a patchiness that seems almost unforgivable given the rhetoric. At present, Guwop's near complete loss of quality control, further exacerbated by his lengthening incarceration, has spread with an ebola-esque quickness to Young Thug. Both of their co-headlining releases of late, The Purple Album and Young Thugga Mane La Flare, were sporadically compelling ('Hurt Nobody' and 'Tell Nobody No' on the former, 'Siblings' on the latter) but otherwise so erratic that Thugger might as well have been locked up alongside his benefactor.

Half the length of its blockbuster antecedent, 1017 Thug 2 dropped in the middle of summer like an unwanted sequel. XXL freely admitted that it amounted to leftovers, yet still somehow rewarded it with XL status. Pitchfork, which recently named the original installment one of the best albums of the decade (so far), didn't so much as bother to review the second, perhaps as an act of mercy. The coverage--or rather, the lack thereof--says more than any review could.

Purportedly the last volume in the series, 1017 Thug 3 (The Finale) is its franchise's Bourne Ultimatum, demonstrably better than its immediate predecessor, yet still very much in the shadow of the original. For an artist who gets heaps of credit for daring to wear dresses, his oft-vapid sex-obsessed lyrics instead suggest someone predatory. Perhaps his cartoonish exasperated yawp - the frequency of which has been considerably reduced here - allows people overlook or forgive his Gucci-meets-Breezy level of creepitude. He's whipped up a bouillabaisse of bad bitch cliches and missed metaphors. Over a chopped-and-screwed rip on A$AP Ferg's 'Work' beat, 'Rich N*gga Shit' finds Thugger free-associating about tampon blood and Cinnabon alongside tired tropes about all the ratchet business happening around him, all the while borrowing a familiar flow you'd likely hear on a Lil Debbie track. On 'Rollin Rollin,' the tape's standout cut, he clumsily attempts to compare his sexual prowess to getting an endorsement deal from Vans. Elsewhere, he's just repeating himself into the ground, though most pitifully on 'You The World,' with its garbled impression of Speedy Gonzalez. At this point, I'm just hoping Gucci doesn't have any more of Young Thug's bars left to release.

Ballout - Welcome 2 Ballout World

As dozens of people eagerly await the arrival of Chief Keef's long-promised Bang 3, his Glo Gang associate has quietly upstaged him. While Ballout's prior tapes proved him a workable Sosa substitute, his latest further ushers in the sound his boss heavily hinted at with last year's Almighty So. (The two releases even share a track title in 'Ape Shit.') This is still hard-edged drill business of course, fixated on the wonderful world of drugs ('Free Weed,' 'Miley Iggy Pinky'). Yet as with narcotics, it's the quality that matters, and Ballout's pulled some premium beats over which he spits the typical Chiraqi tropes. The tone vacillates between foreboding hood horror scene and giddy hedonism. It's that latter category of tune that sets this tape apart, as on the twinkling trap house lullaby 'Flexin' or the tropical swagger of 'I'm Cover In Glo'. Any track with lively cohort Tadoe is a standout, particularly the airy and anthemic title track which also features Keef himself.

Euro - July

First featuring on Lil Wayne's uneven Dedication 5 tape, the Providence, RI spitter subsequently linked up with Cory Gunz and Justin Bieber. Though it's unclear why the Dominican-born artist took on a moniker like Euro, his first official solo project as a Young Money act finally offers him some focus. Unlike his outlandish boss, he's still humble and grateful for where he's at now, filled with doubts and emotion. But if Weezy thinks he's got a budding young Drake on his hands, he's mistaken. With a fairly straightforward flow, Euro tends to shine only when the beat permits, as on the Dire Straits sampling cloud cover of 'Last I Knew'. On 'Preach', he expresses a preference for Rosa Parks over Marilyn Monroe, as if that was ever even a choice. Later, Euro self-consciously freestyles over Jigga's decade-old 'Renegade' beat. By grasping at characters and caricatures, he's coming out the gate as a regrettable pastiche. A compact offering, July is more snapshot than spotlight, indicating that Euro's not quite prepared for the latter.

King Louie - Tony

As the Chicago conversation turns away from drill towards, well, anything but drill, rappers associated with that scene have reason to be nervous, especially those with major label record contracts and no album release dates. King Louie had himself a fine 2013, notably featuring on 'Send It Up' off Yeezus. Much like that record, Tony sounds like America feels right now: uncomfortable, uncertain, dark. Granted, Louie's producer choices are far less adventurous, though they've proffered some of the grimmest trap beats around ('Difference,' 'G.O.D.'). Bobby Johnson - yes, the very same one namechecked in Que's big single - adds to the dystopian hue with 'Day', an austere bassbin wrecker that'd sufficiently tickle Mick Harris and Kevin Martin. Jay Storm's 'Made' sounds a lot like a funeral procession, while C-Sick's 'Fuck N*a' is straight-up horrorshow. Brighter, poppier spots ('Michael Jackson Money') don't suit Louie's uncompromising aggressive style, which doesn't bode well for an artist that signed to Epic over two years ago. Bobby Shmurda's poised to eat his lunch.

Ty Dolla $ign - Sign Language

In the year since Beach House 2 and its unfuckwithable DJ Mustard-produced breakout 'Paranoid,' Ty$ became a rap radio staple, Taylor Gang signee, and card-carrying member of hip-hop's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack club (alongside Ya Kid K and Vanilla Ice.) His seamless ability to both sing-rap as well as rap-sing makes him at least the next Jaheim. Befitting a major label artist on his way to securing an album release date, his Sign Language tape features top-billed talent like French Montana, T.I, and YG, alongside more unlikely collaborators. Firmly in the latter category, Dom Kennedy spits exceptional earthbound bars over 'Lord Knows', which boasts a wonderfully wobbly beat by Ty$ himself and a decent Rick Ross verse. Tracks like 'Missionary' and 'Stretch' recall that slightly bawdy Beach House vibe while broadening his appeal. Unlike so many R&B acts, alternative or mainstream, Ty$ is ambidextrous, demonstrating comfort on heavy hitters ('Type Of Shit I Hate') and deep cuts ('Issue') alike.

BONUS: One Hitters:

The Celestics - Supreme Laziness Montreal beat scene principal player Kaytranada links up with his irreverent emcee brother Louie P, producing some next level results.

Mick Jenkins - The Water(s) Verbose yet vacuously vague, his is a murky and mild mixtape about as animated as a drowning narcoleptic.

Porter Ray - Fundamentals Comparatively conventional next to labelmates like Shabazz Palaces, Seattle okayplayer and newly minted Sub Pop signee keeps it 100 like organic produce at the farmers' market.

Rich The Kid - Feels Good 2 Be Rich Rather than differentiating himself, the Migos associate buries the lede (and possibly his career) with an almost ceaseless parade of scene stealing features by the likes of French Montana, RiFF RAFF, and Young Thug.

Young Scooter - 80's Baby It's pretty bold for any rapper to claim that he's pushed more dope than Pusha T, but with friends like Future and Gucci Mane such outlandish braggadocio seems almost banal.