Full Clip: The Best Hip Hop Albums & Mixtapes Reviewed by Gary Suarez

Stop trying to convince yourself that The Life Of Pablo wasn’t utter trash and allow Gary Suarez to guide you towards something else

You’ll know pretty quickly if you fuck with Lil Yachty or not. The social media dividing lines already drawn, his listeners and non-listeners respectively register their pleasure and displeasure based on trivialities. Fun-seekers take selfish delight in Yachty’s Autotune biases and Finding Nemo soundboards, while stodgy rap conservatives don their apocalyptic sandwich boards and bang their ominous gongs to proclaim the genre dead for the umpteenth time.

To call Yachty’s music merely polarizing would be an insult to magnetism. His spunky, colourful persona takes Atlanta’s outliers further to the left of Young Thug, squawking one minute and mumbling the next. And that really seems to piss some people off, enough that the initial critical consensus of rap music journalism’s inner circle shattered within days of Lil Boat’s arrival on our cynical shores. After a period of handshakes and highfives, supplicants took umbrage to the subsequent dismissals and gnashing teeth of the record’s furious detractors. Yachty, to his credit, politely thanked Pitchfork via Twitter for his public panning.

We do this far too often, we the critics and conversationalists that exalt and damn rappers in feverish fits of nullifying numbness. Future is either shit or shinola. Kanye is washed or waxing. But at some point it has to stop, right? The enormity of contemporary rap music means a trap goofball like Yachty has the right to exist the same as Royce da 5’9” or Nas or Nicki Minaj. Comparing him disparagingly to the recently departed Phife not only denigrates all those implicated, but further ignores the reality of rap’s seemingly infinite night sky.

Between you and me, I’m a bit obsessed. When you devote over 2,000 words each and every month to a dozen mixtapes and albums, there’s scarcely enough time for manic listening. Nonetheless, hardly a day goes by now where something from Lil Boat hasn’t entered my ears, especially during my daily rides through the New York City subway system. Yachty’s mirthful delivery on ‘Good Day’ remains on the brain hours after the serotonin well runs dry. He’s a vastly less grotesque Post Malone on ‘Not My Bro’ and the Burberry Perry supported single ‘1Night’. ‘Run:Running’ features Nintendo fetishism in the humble tradition of Yung Lean’s Mario Kart fixation, while the hot cold contradictions of ‘Minnesota’ are offset by slamming guest verses by ATL bigwigs Quavo and Thugger. Yachty may not do it for you, but that’s because you’re wrong.

Bas – Too High To Riot

Arguably the best of J. Cole’s mentees, the Queens, NY representative would be capable of ascending to the levels of his boss in a just world. Yet there’s something so paradoxically limiting about being signed to Dreamville, a label that freely and frequently releases new music but fails to get much traction for it beyond established market segments. Bas can only grow at a fraction of the rate Cole does, a conundrum which proves maddening when taking into account the immediacy of Too High To Riot. On ‘Methylone’, he applies a light metaphorical touch to make some relatable points, later getting even more personal and direct on the eulogical “Live For.” Much like Cole, Bas’ sound is stateless, even as he full-throatedly reps New York (‘Dopamine’). A record like this could’ve come straight outta Toronto, straight outta San Diego, straight outta anywhere. Yet it’s his mellifluous delivery on cuts like ‘Clouds Never Get Old’ and ‘Penthouse’ that transcends regional trends and just makes for damn great hip hop.

Blac Youngsta – Young & Reckless

Much of the attention paid to this Cocaine Muzik Group rapper has less to do with his music than his drama, particularly his ongoing beef with Young Dolph. There’s more to Blac Youngsta than Memphis’ territorial disputes, and his new tape reminds that some of the best street rap of the moment emanates from Bluff City. As Yo Gotti demonstrated with last month’s The Art Of Hustle, Three 6 Mafia is no longer the last word in dark atmospheres and over-the-top productions. Youngsta wouldn’t know subtlety if it waved at him from across the strip club, and maximalist bangers like ‘Catch A Body’ and ‘With It’ sufficiently rattle. Where he actually stands out are over the selection of Tayerrific beats, several of which take his slightly croaky style out of the trap and closer to the radio. ‘Sidewalk’ sparkles with bright synths and a hooky chorus, while closer ‘Hold It Down’ shrewdly sanitizes Kevin Gates’ dirty pop format.

Cardi B – Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1

Cardi B is the villain we need, someone to save us from the tiresome and endless stream of lame fake rappers reciting the same twice-told tales. Known largely for her reality television career, the Bronx native presents the unvarnished, far more believable counterpoint to every prurient rap song of the last decade. Those so-called groupies you brag about? Scammers. Your latest bedroom exploit? She played you for thousands. Credibly all about her shmoney, Cardi scoffs at those foolish enough to catch feelings over something purely transactional (‘Sauce Boyz’,’Wash Poppin’). Justifiably unapologetic about her past and her present, she milly rocks all over her haters on ‘Lil Thot’. Her Ten Trick Commandments could save a whole lot of these dudes before their next trip to the strip club. Yet despite the simple joys of her Young Thug ‘With That’ remix, Cardi shows us her pain as well. ‘Her Perspective’ puts the horrors of domestic violence front and center in a deeply unsettling skit.

Famous Dex – #OhhMannGoddDamm

Freshly linked up with Rich The Kid’s fledgling imprint, the Chicagoan quickly follows his Drippy tape from a couple months back with this new one, a reactive move that sadly seems more and more necessary nowadays in the competitive rap marketplace. Famous Dex’s city could use a champion right about now, what with its waning status as Atlanta’s hip hop sister city. Still, it’s not clear if he’s the right mane for the job. Cuts like ‘Hit Em Wit It’ and ‘I Ain’t Talking Spaulding’ don’t accomplish all that much, but his unorthodox plays ‘Ciabatta’ and ‘Yeaaa Yeaaa’ keep things interesting. Calling a track ‘Kanye’ feels like a setback, and the metaphor doesn’t hold for very long. Lil Yachty rushes to his aid on two separate occasions, first on the trap-lite of ‘4Real’ then later on the positively effervescent ‘We Next’. Still unfathomably underrated, Rich The Kid shows up for the chaotic ‘Hell Yeaaa Remix’, but it’s Dex himself who ultimately makes it work.

ILoveMakonnen – Drink More Water 6

The exponentially diminishing likelihood of him turning out another zeitgeist popper like ‘Tuesday’ means we can finally start talking about Makonnen like reasonable people instead of frothing hype machinists. Roughly a year since the last instalment of this mixtape series, Drink More Water 6 starts off with ‘Back On You’, the sort of meandering quirky pop number that initially suggests he hasn’t grown much. But that one’s a red herring of sorts. Makonnen obviously hasn’t given up his singer-as-rapper strategy, but on tracks like ‘Big Gucci’ he firmly claims his position among the current trap artists he’s often perceived as merely adjacent to. When it comes to asserting dominance, ‘UWONTEVA’ is both Kanye-level cocky and Kanye-level good. Makonnen goes harder than usual on ‘Live For Real’ and it pays off as one of the tape’s strongest cuts. If nothing else, Drink More Water 6 is a testament to the elasticity of his voice, sounding like Madea with a touch of ketamine on ‘Solo’ then turning into classic Keef for ‘Where I’m At’.

Oddisee – Alwasta

Coming off the best album of his wholly impressive discography, expectations deserve to stay sky high for this Maryland rapper/producer. Curiously, the closest Oddisee comes to matching the jazz-speckled dopeness of The Good Fight on this seven-track postscript is ‘Catching Vibes’, its smoothed out groove buoying a tuneful hook. That assessment may sound a bit harsh, and in all honesty Alwasta does more in its condensed format than most rappers accomplish in an entire career. But that’s the price one pays for being one of the top independent talents in rap music today. While the atmospheric shuffle of ‘No Reservations’ appeals, it zigzags to nowhere in particular. ‘Strength & Weakness’ sets itself up for glory, but falls short of heaven amid all the crashing cymbals. Citing ancestors and influences, ‘Slow Groove’ closes things out on a gospel tip accented with the extraneous crackle of dusty vinyl.

SremmLife Crew – Trail Mix

This is not the Rae Sremmurd you’re looking for. The sophomoric senselessness and rote misogyny of ‘Doggin’ runs counter to the upbeat hedonism of their album, with Slim Jimmi and Swae sounding unusually embittered and vicious following the best year of their young career. Maybe there’s too much toxicity and testosterone in the studio, but regardless it’s not a good look coming off their comparatively sunnier and commercially successful singles. Moreover, none of the tracks on the Trail Mix compilation are strong enough for this acerbic act to even slide (‘Are You Ready’). Of course, the blame also rests on the remaining members of their expanded crew, including generic knockoffs Bobo Swae, Riff 3x, and Impxct, the latter of whom at least tries to counter some of this ugly narcissism to some half-asses extent on ‘One Of A Kind’. The squandered beats present opportunities that none of these lean carriers seem capable of maximising. Perhaps Mike Will needs to sit his boys down for a heart to heart.

ZelooperZ – Bothic

These days it seems like more and more rappers are vying to get on by sounding as unusual as possible, perhaps in the hopes that some bored music journalist discovers their difference while treading through the seas of sameness. That increased volume of kooky contenders works against those who can’t also bring strong material alongside whatever vocal or style gimmick they’ve adopted. Despite the formal co-sign, Detroit’s ZelooperZ is no Danny Brown, a fact reinforced by this eccentric and ultimately disappointing collection of semi-nasal bars and dolphin noises. More often than not, he coasts through his own tracks, including his comparatively best known single ‘Elevators’. Off key and loving it, he’s the fly in his own ointment on unintentional irritants ‘Automatic’ and ‘Scale’. On ‘Bothic Bout It’, he blurts out the same brands that every A$AP and YSL stan numbly covet from afar. Look past his voice work and there’s not much of substance to be found (‘Isbd’, ‘Ocean’).

BONUS: One Hitters:

2 Chainz – ColleGrove Bolstered by the strongest showing from collaborator Lil Wayne in years, Tity Boi represents well as the majority stakeholder for this above average album-as-mixtape.

Smoke DZA – He Has Risen While devoted to the tidy stoner rap niche he’s carved out for himself, the lyrical yet approachable Harlemite never comes across as one-note over these glistening Harry Fraud beats.

Young Thug – Slime Season 3 His most inessential release since 1017 Thug 3, the final installment of this uneven series somehow drags in spite of its comparatively truncated running time.

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