“Walk on Water,” Mumble Rap, & That Time I Went to a GZA Show

Aside from a handful of Labor Day weekends spent at Seattle’s yearly Bumbershoot music festival, the first rap concert I ever went to was GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan at a venue called Neumos on Capitol Hill. I was going with my friend Cole, and as 17-year-olds from different neighborhoods, neither of us were very familiar with our surroundings and neither of us owned a car. But we weren’t just going to let The Genius slip through our fingers, so we did what any rational person in 2008 would do: hop on a bus downtown and use our printed directions from MapQuest to find the venue on foot.

Being the naive teens we were and having never been to a non-festival rap show, we had no idea what “doors open at 7:00 PM” truly meant. By 6:45 PM, we had grabbed our tickets from will call, gotten patted down by security, and found our places in the crowd. We stood around waiting for the opener (a local act named Scribes, who I knew previously from having handed me numerous demos burned onto Memorex CDs at Bumbershoot, Folklife, and other Seattle music festivals) with the handful of people who got there as early as we did, many of whom had already crowded around the front of the stage hoping to reserve a front-row view.

On my way to the bathroom at one point, I noted a piece of paper that stated Scribes was not set to go on until 9:00, and GZA until 10. I disappointingly relayed this info to Cole, and we continued to wait and talk while the DJ spun about what you would expect from a GZA show: mostly 90s New York classics like Black Star, Biggie, Pharoahe Monch, Mobb Deep, and, of course, Wu-Tang Clan. Most people were standing around, bobbing their heads and rapping along, but there was one man who seemed to be really feeling the set. He danced nearly the entire time the DJ was spinning and was pouring with sweat an hour before even the opener was set to go on (later in my life I realized this man was probably on Molly, AKA The Artist Formerly Known as Ecstasy. GZA also seems like a strange choice of concert to roll at.).

Around 8:30 PM, the venue was starting to noticeably fill up with people–and blunt smoke. The DJ was still playing, and “Kick in the Door” faded out as the beat to the newly released “A Milli” dropped. For a quarter of a second, the room froze, and then boos from all angles of the venue quickly overtook the song. Clearly flustered, the DJ dropped the levels and stammered into the mic, “This is the KRS-One remix! You don’t think I’d play Lil Wayne for y’all would I?”

While I was, at this point in my life, more of a fan of 90s rap acts like members of the Native Tongues Posse and the Rawkus Records crew, I still liked a lot of the newer guys, most specifically Kanye West, The Cool Kids, and Weezy himself. Hyphy and other Bay Area rap artists like Mac Dre, E-40, and Andre Nickatina were also immensely popular at my high school, so I had also been introduced to that side of the hip-hop spectrum (looking back, I think I actually had a reasonably diverse taste in rap for a 17-year-old). I’d obviously heard people shit on some of the newer, non-traditionalist rappers before, but this was the first time in my life I had really encountered “real hip-hop” fans in the wild. Before that night, the notion that something is or isn’t “real rap” was foreign to me.

Fast forward to today: anyone who’s paying attention to hip-hop knows that Eminem recently released a collaboration with Beyoncé entitled “Walk on Water,” thought to the be the first single from his forthcoming album, Revival. It’s a sparse, somber, and stripped-down ballad about crippling self-doubt and self-mythologizing in hip-hop, conveying that Eminem feels discouraged about his creative process and that nothing he writes is good enough for his fans anymore. The song is actually fairly moving from a lyrical standpoint, but as a piece of music, it sounds more similar to a Macklemore-esque spoken word piece than the scathing, rapid-fire, celebrity-bashing single we’re normally used to from Eminem. In a lot of ways, it’s a sign of maturity, with Mathers choosing to vent his creative frustrations as a product of a different era of hip-hop rather than dissing the gaggle of new school rappers currently occupying the airwaves.

However, in the inaugural episode of Rick Rubin and Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast, Broken Record, Rubin states that Eminem is “frustrated” with “mumble rap.” And, well, of course he is: it’s only natural that an artist known for his lyrics would feel out-of-place in an era where style, vibe, and flow are king. Though 2017 isn’t without its dozens of capable lyricists, in some of today’s music, the emphasis seems to be placed less on what you say and more on how you say it. Even so, publications and fans alike have been quick to run with this notion that Eminem being frustrated creatively with this new era of rap is the same thing as hating it, with many traditionalists using it as some sort of validation of their rejection of a post-808s & Heartbreak world of rap music. But even listening to a secondhand account from Rubin, it seems clear that Eminem isn’t frustrated because these artists are successful, he’s frustrated because the way he raps isn’t necessarily en-vogue anymore.

The notion that only a certain style of rap is “real hip-hop” has been around since the conception of the genre itself—for many of its earliest pioneers, even recording raps in the first place was sacrilege, as it was meant to be performed in real time with a DJ. Going back to “A Milli,” though Lil Wayne is generally touted as one of the greatest of all time today, in the mid-2000s, he was not only an extremely divisive rapper, but an extremely divisive rapper who was also completely unavoidable. It’s no exaggeration that a new Weezy song dropped or leaked on an almost daily basis—from 2007-2009, he appeared on over 100 songs each year. While Wayne was massively popular, there was still a large portion of rap fans completely discrediting his merits as an artist. They threw everything at the wall, from Wayne’s supposed “poor lyricism” (meaning his more abstract lyrical style didn’t fit in the traditionalist box they’d cornered themselves into) to his southern dialect, hoping some sort of critique would stick and knock him down a peg or two. Southern rappers have always caught the brunt of such “real rap” criticism: even Outkast, one of the most universally acclaimed musical acts (let alone rappers) of all time, was once booed at the Source Awards. Nowadays, though southern trap music has made its way into pop as by far the most popular contemporary subgenre, it’s still referred to by many as “mumble rap.”

Using the term “mumble rap” is akin to calling electronic music “bleep bloop robot music.” It reduces a diverse group of artists into one negative generalization, and it shows a distinct lack of understanding of the genre. It’s a disparaging notion that, quite frankly, was probably somewhat rooted in racism in its initial use (even if most people who use it mean nothing by it at this point due to its more widespread use), as it’s a term that tends to be used to refer to southern black artists with thicker accents who use copious amounts of regional slang. There’s no denying that it sometimes takes a few listens to be able to fully understand the lyrics of certain rappers if you’re a new listener (Young Thug, Future, and Kodak Black, for instance). But more often than not, good Capital-A Art is art that rewards the audience upon subsequent listens: each one begs you to uncover a new layer, a background vocal you didn’t notice before, a hidden meaning in seemingly innocuous lyrics. The first time I hear a Young Thug song, I’m usually too enamored with the melody and the elasticity of his voice to take in most of the lyrics, and only upon further listening do I begin unpack his more freeform lyrical style.

Are there a gaggle of Atlanta rappers who all sound the same? Of course there are, but for every innovator in music there are always going to be hundreds of cheap imitators and average wave-riders waiting to hop on coattails. Music is and always will be malleable, and we should strive to embrace innovation even if it sometimes results in failed experiments. People need to take note of rappers like Juicy J, who seems intent on evolving with the genre and letting it flourish, rather than anchoring it in the past and consequently splintering its sphere of influence.  

Maybe Eminem does think Playboi Carti sucks, and that’s fine, but I’m sure a considerable number of younger hip-hop fans feel the same way about the revered old head from 8 Mile. Everyone has their preferences and you don’t have to like everything—luckily, there’s always going to be a Conway and a Westside Gunn for every Young Thug and Future, even if they don’t currently have as much mainstream appeal. There’s great music to enjoy on both ends of the spectrum, and we should be celebrating the fact that hip-hop has become this diverse rather than trying to stifle creativity because not everyone wants to sound like Eminem anymore.

I Don’t Like Macklemore but Here’s a List of People Who Might & Also I Rated Gemini Out of Ten

A few weeks ago, Macklemore released Gemini, his first independent studio album since 2005’s The Language of My World. As a native Seattleite, I’ve talked and written about Macklemore extensively everywhere from college classes to my terrible, now-defunct independent blog. At this point, I feel as if writing any more about him is somewhat of a fruitless exercise. You know how I feel. I know how I feel. Fans of Macklemore will always want more Mackle-ing.

Yet, for some reason, I always find myself taking time out of my busy schedule of listening to Lorde and NBA YoungBoy to let The Mack’s smooth beats Mackle all up into my ear canals through the $7 Panasonic earbuds I take terrible care of, accidentally destroy, and subsequently repurchase from Amazon on a monthly basis. Macklemore isn’t for me, and he never will be for me, but he is for some folks. Some folks that aren’t so good, but also some other folks that I think are pretty swell. Anyway, instead of writing a review (writing is hard and no one reads the actual text anyway), I decided to just give readers what they really want (a rating) and devise a list of people who might enjoy Gemini so you may easier decide whether or not to purchase it from The Wal-Mart.

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8 Solo Dreezy Songs That Go As Hard As “Bodak Yellow”

Dreezy was on a silent killing-spree last year, building on organic momentum she had gained as Chicago’s next virtuoso. Dancing, rapping, singing—her skill set often felt incredibly underrated. Last year’s string of high-quality singles, featuring the likes of Gucci Mane and T-Pain, lead to a fantastic debut album that, as shown by the aforementioned singles, balanced unyielding drill cuts with slower R&B joints. On paper, it probably looks like this run was abruptly ended by the woman who’s currently sitting atop the Billboard charts: Bronx native, Cardi B. 

Rap has been a male-dominated genre since its inception, and it seems as if labels only ever want there to be room for one mainstream female rapper. Nicki Minaj boasts her fair share of harder cuts, but she was always pushed as a pop artist (even though most of her pure rapping songs are better than her slower jams), leaving a void in the culture begging to be occupied by another down-to-earth, no-fucks-given female rapper. We’ve already discussed the enigma that is “Bodak Yellow:” proud, defiant and biting in her unfiltered delivery, Cardi B’s chart-topping single is the soundtrack to a classic American underdog story.

But if you felt like you were rooting for an underdog when praising Cardi, you’ll soon come to realize that Dreezy is the biggest underdog in the game right now and one of the most under-appreciated rappers period, regardless of gender. It’s safe to say everyone is ecstatic about Cardi’s success, and we don’t aim to pit female rappers against each other. Pop culture always likes to sniff out beef even when there is none, and we would hate to do the same. Instead, what we’d rather do is spend some well-deserved time with Dreezy’s own arsenal of hard-hitting raps. For this list, we chose to hone in on a few of the songs that possess the same competitive energy of “Bodak Yellow:”

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Top 9 Rap Runs of 2017 (So Far)

As highlighted by our mid-year list, it has been a fantastic year for rap so far. A brand-new, unconventional self-starter seems to blow up every other day (have you heard of YBN Nahmir yet?), established acts like Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz keep upping their game, and certified GOATs appear to be revitalized a la Jay-Z and Gucci Mane. The social media era has proven that one of the best ways to distinguish yourself amongst the stiff competition is consistent output (and, obviously, consistent quality as well). One drawback of these rapid-fire releases, however, is that it can be hard for listeners to keep up with everything.

With this list, we aim to highlight a few artists who barely missed the cut for our mid-year ranking, but have put out multiple stellar projects in 2017 nonetheless (also included are a couple artists included on our previous list who have continued to put out great music in the latter half of 2017). Now, this has nothing—we repeat, nothing—to do with commercial success, hit-making, or popularity. This list takes into consideration quantity and the quality therein—that’s it. 

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Young Thugger Armstrong: Tracing the “Harambe Flow”

Editor’s note: a previous draft of this article was accidentally published missing the entries for “I Do” and “Heatstroke,” which have since been added.

The release of Young Thug & DJ Carnage’s “Homie,” the ferocious lead single off their collaborative EP Young Martha (slated for release September 22nd), has everyone trying to determine the origin of Thugger’s part-DMX, part-Louis Armstrong impersonation. Diehard fans were quick to pinpoint a snippet for an unreleased remix of Young Greatness’ 2016 breakout hit, “Moolah,” and while that lo-fi teaser is definitely the most Thug has ever channeled Satchmo’s beautiful rasp, other fans are just as right to look to “Harambe” as the most formal introduction to this relatively new vocal technique.

Now, we say “relatively” because, if we dare to strain our collective memory a bit, this aggressive Super Saiyan Thug can actually be traced as far back as his breakout mixtape, 1017 Thug. Before giving it the proper rollout this past year, Atlanta’s foremost innovator has been quietly perfecting this delivery at his own leisure. And, as you will see below, the natural progression is apparent.

Don’t believe us? Here’s a quick timeline of the “Harambe Flow” as we see it (feel free to tweet us any crucial additions we may have glossed over).

“2 Cups Stuffed” (2013)

Quite possibly the earliest instance of Thug going ape shit, “2 Cups Stuffed” is a roaring tribute to properly served lean. From “Two guns up, Ferarri SMASH” on in the first verse, you can hear what appears to be a proto-version of the so-called “Harambe Flow.”

“Chanel Vintage” (2014)

Future’s probably to blame for Thug’s aggressiveness on this one. It seems like the only way to match his elder counterpart’s enthusiasm was to take it to the next level himself.

“Givenchy” (2014)

By the time Thug’s voice starts unraveling on the intro to Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1, it’s pretty clear to everyone listening that something otherworldly is taking place. It’s not the deep growl he’s developed as of late, but it’s in the same vein of emotive explosiveness.

“Keep it Going” (2014)

You know you’re pushing the limits when you have to remind yourself mid-verse that you’re gonna lose your voice if you keep screaming. Just like “Givenchy,” “Keep It Going” takes its time building to a riveting climax, but is also perhaps the first instance of this inflection in a fully tangible form (though, as you will see, it would continue to get more pronounced and exaggerated as times goes on).

“Spaghetti Factory” (2015)

What was originally leaked as the “OG” version of Travis Scott and Young Thug’s “Skyfall” collaboration, “Spaghetti Factory” has a dark, almost murderous vibe. The brooding aesthetic is matched perfectly by Thug’s fluctuating aggression throughout the track.

“Rarri” (2015)

This instance is obvious from the jump, with Thug’s gruff delivery encapsulating the hook as a whole. In some ways it seems more like a direct precursor to last week’s “Homie” than any other track on this list.

“Don’t Know” (2015)

This underrated cut off of Slime Season 2 features a balls-to-the-wall breakdown mid-verse that sees Thugger declaring: “I’M A LEVEL-FIVE GOBLIN!” He comes through with the ferocity of at least 50 of said goblins and stretches the strained delivery for the next four bars with the utmost conviction.

“Drippin” (2016)

The unpredictable stream of consciousness of “Drippin” sees Thug takes his lyrics and his vocals in a dozen unexpected directions. One of those direction is a straight up war cry, followed by unnecessarily aggressive declarations of his unparalleled authority in the fashion world.

“Guwop Home” (2016)

The sweeping ode to his mentor, “Guwop Home” serves as a crash course of all the neat little tricks Thug learned in Gucci’s absence. One of these weapons in his arsenal just so happens to be a warm, raspy croon that he employs on the main section of the chorus.

“I Do” (2016)

Shortly before “Harambe,” there was “I Do.” This awe-inspiring feature shows Thug at his most militant and his vocals entirely match the defiance found in his lyrics.

“Harambe” (2016)

The most formal introduction to the now trademark roar, “Harambe” sets the tone right off the bat with an unfiltered shout of “MAFIA!” to open up this punk jam. In terms of vocal delivery, “Harambe” draws as much from the post-hardcore genre as it does from traditional rap in the vein of DMX and Mystikal.

“Youngsta” (2016)

“Youngsta” was overlooked because it was on a Blac Youngsta project before he really had any traction. However, it was the perfect followup to the tone set by “Harambe” a month prior and showcased just how flexible Thug could be with this newfound voice.

“Cop Me A Foreign” (2016)

What was clearly a solo Thug song before he gave it to his newest YSL signee, Gunna, “Cop Me A Foreign” sees the YSL President effortlessly bounce between measured lows and unhinged highs before settling into a deep, rolling intonation.

“Bit Bak” (2017)

The most recent instance of this delivery prior to the release of “Homie,” “Bit Bak” was supposedly the first single off of Rich Gang 2. Just like “Lifestyle” once introduced an entirely unheard of vocal style to the rap community, “Bit Bak” goes out of its way to highlight the impressive spectacle of yet another Young Thug innovation.

“Heatstroke” (2017)

Thug’s performance on “Heatstroke” was one of the most captivating turns on Calvin Harris’ star-studded album, Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1. “I’m tryna talk to you darlin’,” he pleads with a gentle twinkle in his voice before bellowing “Do you hear me?” It’s this sort of range and control that makes Thug an inimitable vocalist.

“Homie” (2017)

Finally, we have “Homie.” During a recent interview with HotNewHipHop, Carnage explained how he wanted to take everything we love about Thug and turn it up a notch or two. This apparently included the “Harambe Flow” and the results are nothing short of spectacular. It’s the most refined we’ve ever seen this delivery and is proof of just how far Thug has come in a relatively short period of time. We’ll find out just how far Carnage pushed Thug on the EP when Young Martha drops on September 22nd.

Did we miss anything? Tweet us at @SoundsPurp and let us know!

A Pretty F—ing Fast Year: From Bounded to Blonded

That’s a pretty f-cking fast year flew by.

Within that “year” between channel.ORANGE and Blonde, Jay-Z and Kanye West became fathers, Dr. Dre and D’Angelo released albums, and J. Cole went platinum without any features. Then, it finally happened: four years of insurmountable hype was met with four promotional tools: a library card, Woodshop 101, Nikes, and a magazine; symbols that represent a coming of age of some sort. Now here we are, one year after Blonde’s release, and Frank Ocean continues to demonstrate his esoteric growth as an artist in ways that are practically an extension of Blonde itself. 

Every time you listen to Blonde, it almost feels like you’re somehow listening to it for the first time again. When the untouched vocals on “Nikes” finally materialize it’s as if Frank never left. Those four years of near-silence melt away, and you forget about when he said he had #two versions #july 2015 #album 3. You forget the fact that you waited all day Thursday for him to finish painting those boxes only for him to leave for the week. You forget that Time Magazine lied to you. It puts you right back to a particular moment, whether it’s when channel ORANGE came out or when you heard your first Beatles song. It’s an album hell-bent on nostalgia more than Frank’s 2011 release that literally has the word in its title.

Blonde is a combination of the old and the new. “Pink + White” is the Frank you’ve come to love since his emergence with Odd Future. “Self Control” seems vaguely familiar, but you can’t put your finger on it. It amazes you that a song like “Pretty Sweet” that utilizes a children’s choir can coexist on album that has Yung Lean backing vocals. 

“Nights” copies the formula that made “Pyramids” so intriguing, and the rhythmic change happens exactly in the middle of the run time of not only in the song itself, but the album as a whole. Before the shift in tone within “Nights,” Frank uses his vocals in a more optimistic tone. Here’s a guy that has everything in life to look forward to, and even with warnings from his beloved mother he intends to experience everything life has to offer.

“After 20 years in, I’m so naive
I was under the impression
That everyone wrote they own verses
It’s comin’ back different and yea that shit hurts me
I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving
I’m stumbled and lift every word
Was I working just way too hard?”

The second half of Blonde is a reflection on everything that shaped Frank—it’s a lot more pessimistic—and “White Ferrari” is the perfect song to put you on that road of reflection. This half of Blonde retroactively starts to make a lot of sense when you can contextualize and compare both his post-channel.Orange and post-Blonde outputs.

Between channel.ORANGE and Blonde, it seemed like time was running out for Frank: there was the pressure of topping a critically acclaimed debut, the growing distance between the members of Odd Future, as well as all the regular pitfalls that come with celebrity stardom. These burdens led to his disappearance and re-evaluation of what exactly he wanted from his music career. By ditching Def Jam and forming a partnership with Apple Music, Frank is allowed full creative control of his music, leading to diverse singles like “Chanel,” “Lens,” and “Biking,” all accompanied with alternate versions that signify a previous artistic battle Frank faced as a singer and rapper. His progression as an artist and the jarring amount of new music Frank has put out post-Blonde emphasizes a renaissance for him as an artist. Frank is as equally elusive as he’s always been (releasing singles on unscheduled radio shows in the middle of the night), but now he seems to be on the road to master his craft and has no intention of stopping.

When the final falsetto on “Seigfried” hits, it hits hard. The vocals trail off and you’re left wondering about that person that he would do anything for, but then “Godspeed” comes in sporting the optimism found on the A-side of the album. “Futura Free,” perhaps the most revealing track on the album, blends together Frank’s ocean of past memories with his little brother’s bright optimistic future that he possessed in the first half of the album.

“Remember when I had that Lexus, no
Our friendship don’t go back that far”

As a listener, you’re happy. You remember the come-up leading to the mystery that would later be Frank Ocean, but it’s over. He’s the same guy that would freestyle with Tyler and Earl in 480p YouTube videos. Frank’s ability to stay true to his roots and keep his friends close are the reasons his and The Weeknd’s careers went so retrograde. Frank will always be the guy that gets it, that gets you. Blonde will be the album that you will remember during both the most trying and the happiest times in your life. Rather than ending the album with his own voice, Frank ends it with his brother, Ryan Breaux’s. By ending the album with his younger brother, he’s re-insinuating the idea of the wide-eyed youth that he and all of us once were. No one is the same person throughout their life and it’s always interesting to reflect on how you have grown into the person you are now, and for this reason, the album is not only for Frank, it’s also his gift to us. That’s why you don’t care that it took four years to make—you’re too busy remembering everything that this album reminds you of.

Biting vs. Homage: The Curious Case of “Bodak Yellow”

Bodak Yellow” is in strong contention to be song of the summer, and as of this week it has landed a top 10 spot on the Billboard Charts. It’s the highest-charting solo single by a female rapper since 2014’s “Anaconda,” an impressive achievement for hip-hop newcomer and former Love & Hip Hop star, Cardi B. There is no doubt that this is a well-earned triumph for Cardi B: rather than being yet-another reality star who wants to lazily cash in on her name to push a mediocre single, it’s clear she has studied the craft closely and has worked on creating her own distinct style and sound. Looking at her raw, unfiltered personality and the seriousness she has taken to the genre, Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma seem to be clear influences, but Cardi could be well on her way to surpassing them and becoming the new queen of hip-hop. She has certainly become a fan favorite as was seen when Drake brought her out last week to perform the hit single at OVO Fest.

When looking at Cardi’s latest releases, it initially seemed like “Red Barz” and her Offset collaboration “Lick” had more hit-power, especially considering their radio friendliness and Offset’s sheer popularity at this moment in time. But “Bodak Yellow” had an organic popularity stemming from fans’ overwhelmingly positive reception to the song. The label quickly saw its potential and put forth the marketing dollars in order to morph this untapped potential into a smash hit.

What many immediately noticed about the song is that it pays direct homage to rapper Kodak Black. Cardi has spoken openly about this homage rather than denying it, and for good reason. It’s hard to deny that “Bodak Yellow” shares many similarities in the flow department with Kodak’s 2014 breakout song, “No Flockin.”

Borrowing flows and lines is nothing new in hip-hop and it’s great to see acknowledgement from Cardi about this. This “biting vs. homage” argument has been a source of contension and has led to many squabbles in the past over what artists perceive as stealing. Where do we draw the line between inspiration and straight-up jacking? In this situation, however, Kodak had no issues with the apparent flow-jacking and expressed that, although he wasn’t a fan of Cardi B at first, he liked the song.

When discussing the song’s popularity and massive success, many have brought up the “No Flockin” record as a way to diminish Cardi’s achievements. As previously mentioned, this is not a new phenomenon in hip-hop: anyone who has spent even a small amount of time listening to the genre should know that its foundation lies in sampling and reappropriating past works to create something new. More artists should take note of how smoothly this was handled by both Cardi and Kodak and give the proper credit rather than denying it altogether. By openly embracing Kodak and “No Flockin” as inspirations for the song, it seemed Kodak felt more like he was being honored than stolen from.

A recent example of how tensions have arisen over supposed flow-jacking has been over Drake’s “KMT” and XXXtentaction’s breakout hit, “Look At Me!” Xxx and his ever-loyal fanbase were unhappy at what he perceived as flow-jacking from Drake. He took to twitter to address his grievances:

On a Radio 1 interview, Drake then delivered his response to the entire situation:

“So I go and find what song they’re talking about, and I listen to it and I’m like okay, I see where people could draw this comparison off of the first two lines, whether it be cadence or the rhyme pattern or whatever… It’s crazy that people think that after all this time, after all I’ve been through, that I’m the type of person…to go and take that and make it my own. I’m not stupid, I’m not a shitty person like that.”

It’s ironic that the controversy of the supposed biting was what led to the two-year-old track gaining traction and entering the billboard charts. You can listen to the comparison for yourself and draw your own conclusions. But this wouldn’t be the first time that Drake has been accused of swagger-jacking. It’s something he has been called out for time and time again, perhaps most notably perhaps on the 2014 remix to Migos’ breakout hit “Versace” where he took advantage of the triplet flow and continued to use in future songs. He has also been accused of jacking the sound of D.R.A.M’s single “Cha Cha” for his #1 song “Hotline Bling” (which Xxx previously addressed in his tweets).

Travis Scott is another artist who has been dogged with “jacking” and “biting” claims throughout his career. He has even had to respond to a Deadspin article that labelled him as a “shameless biter.” These claims were perhaps most notable on his smash hit, “Antidote.” Many listeners immediately noted the song’s similarity to that of many Rae Sremmund songs, and in particular to Swae Lee’s cadence. The similarities exist to the point that Rae Sremmurd producer Mike WiLL Made It felt he had to speak out about this and went on an impromptu twitter rant about what he perceived to be artists biting from Rae Sremmund without giving their due credit. In the end, Antidote became a worldwide smash hit that pushed Travis Scott into a household name. Whether this has been achieved through swagger-jacking the juice of others is debatable and the ethics of his success shady to say the least.

When it comes down to it, no one can “own” a flow (even what is today known as the “Migos flow” can be traced back to early Three 6 Mafia). It’s impossible to know if a rapper or artist listened to a song and directly took the entire rhyme scheme and flow or if the idea was completely original to them. However, Cardi B has shown us the correct way to deal with “borrowing” another artist’s cadence to use on an original song and it has worked out extremely well for her. As long as you give credit where credit is due, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. It’s a bummer that Cardi will likely continue to be dogged by claims that she is an unoriginal artist who made a karaoke version of a Kodak Black song, but at the end of the day, “Bodak Yellow” will continue to get massive play all around the country despite its detractors.


The Fate of SoundCloud

UPDATE 10:08 AM PST: SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung and Chance the Rapper both tweet that SoundCloud is here to stay. Ljung announced that Kerry Trainor and Mike Weissman, previously of Vimeo, will be joining the service as CEO and COO, while Ljung will keep his role as chairman.

The clock is ticking on SoundCloud as it faces a hugely pivotal and defining week.

We’ve heard many rumors lately about the apparent termination of SoundCloud due to funding issues, as for many years the company has been running on an unsustainable revenue model and the bubble could be on the verge of bursting. This would be a huge shock to the music industry with many fans, DJs, and artists alike relying heavily on the streaming service. Premium paid service SoundCloud Go doesn’t seem to have had the traction and impact the owners hoped, but this is unsurprising when we look at the fierce competition in the market, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL. SoundCloud failed to amass as many subscribers to the premium service as they had hoped, thinking it would be able to help tackle their monetary woes. The struggling company has had to let go 40% of its staff and has shut down its London and San Francisco offices.

When rumors of SoundCloud’s demise first arose, we got an interesting response from hip-hop’s golden boy, Chance the Rapper. In a tweet, he offered support to SoundCloud and vowed to save the struggling streaming service, leading some to believe that an Apple Music-SoundCloud merger could possibly be in the cards due to the rapper’s affiliation with Apple. The next day, Chance announced that SoundCloud was “here to stay,” also dropping Young Thug collaboration “Big B’s” exclusively on the service. With Chance being able to do no wrong in the public’s eyes, he was hailed by many as the savior of SoundCloud—but it seems like those reports may have been off the mark.

Fast-forward to this week and events have gotten to a critical and defining period. According to a report from Axios, shareholders will be voting this week on a new reorganization plan for the company. The plan has been put forward due to a new investment of $170 million which values the company at $150 million overall. This valuation is significantly lower that it was just a year ago, when Bloomberg reported the company was mulling over a $1 billion deal. At that time, a situation like this seemed hugely farfetched.

The investment has been put forward by Raine Group, Temasek, and existing backers of the company, and the deal hinges upon existing backers accepting somewhat of a raw deal: the new investors would get first priority on funds should the company face liquidation. A “no” vote would leave the company in a huge mess and serious questions would undoubtedly be raised about its prospects (though reports that SoundCloud could face demise in a day seem a tad premature at this point). A joint statement has been put out which reads as follows:

“Financing of this size will enable to company [sic] to pay off its remaining debt, while ensuring a strong, independent future… In the event that the transaction does not close and in the event SoundCloud does not otherwise obtain additional funding, based on current cashflow forecasts, SoundCloud faces liquidity concerns in the near term.”

SoundCloud artists Lil Pump & Smokepurrp — Kyle Johnson / The New York Times

Somewhat ironically, the service’s woes seem to have started just months after we first began to see its first artists, such as Xxxtentacion, Lil Pump, and Smokepurrp, use the service to truly break into the mainstream. If anything, the SoundCloud story is a cautionary tale in regard to how solid business models should always be looked at rather than simply potential—the music scene is rapidly changing and SoundCloud only has to look at Napster to see how giants can fall.

Though it is too early to panic, SoundCloud artists should be backing up all music uploaded on the service in the event of a closure. SoundsPurple will keep you updated with the results of this latest vote that will prove pivotal to the future of the existence of the streaming service.

The 17 Best Rap Albums of 2017 (So Far)

Contributions by Taylor RubrightPatrick Pardo, and Hasman Singh.

In the world of music journalism, to have integrity is to practice transparency and maintain an open mind. That doesn’t mean you have to like every new trend, sound, or artist, but it does mean that a level of respect and understanding needs to be established before passing any worthwhile critique. Rap doesn’t have to sound like anything in particular anymore—Post Malone isn’t Nas and Death Grips is nothing like Outkast—and we should be celebrating such a colorful spectrum of creativity. At the end of the day, what we all value is good music.

That being said, 2017 has been a gripping year for rap so far. Kendrick Lamar solidified his status as one of the most important voices in the genre, Jay-Z bared his soul on his best solo effort in nearly a decade, and the Migos made it abundantly clear that they want their dues. There has been an eclectic blend of new faces, contemporary heavy hitters, and longtime vets pushing a plethora of sounds new and old. Nearly every week a new project dropped that made us reorder and reevaluate our list completely. Like track lists made for the streaming era, there comes a point when a list becomes bloated to the point of detriment. We soon realized that if our aim is to present you with an honest list that best summarizes the year thus far, we could only include releases with a certain level of notoriety and caliber. Below you’ll find some of the most innovative and visceral rap albums of 2017 and our thoughts on these fantastic projects—but it’s worth keeping in mind that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

17. 21 Savage – Issa Album

Last year’s Savage Mode combined some of Metro Boomin’s spookiest instrumentals to date with 21’s deadpan, cold-blooded flow to create a piercing horror movie aesthetic. 21 was in his pocket the entire time, but the resulting tunnel vision had a certain subset of rap fans wanting for more. Issa Album is hardly “happy,” but it does see 21 approach a lot of the same grim content in new ways, sounding more hopeful in his celebration and more lucid in his retrospection. “Nothing New” is a poignant protest track, self-produced standout “Bank Account” is the summer’s newest earworm, and “Famous” is a cinematic intro that sees him torn between pre and post-fame life. Even if it could have benefitted from being trimmed by a few tracks (keep the Lil Yachty karaoke for a random SoundCloud drop), Issa Album is a well-crafted, often endearing album that shows untapped potential from a talented artist who only first picked up a mic in 2015.

16. Freddie Gibbs – You Only Live 2wice

2017 has been a year of reinvigoration for a lot of artists, but of all the artists on this list, Gibbs invokes this sense of redemption most literally. The obvious points of reference are the album name and cover art, which paint Gibbs as a resurrected, Christ-like figure, but the songs themselves live up to this fantastical narrative in a disarmingly poignant manner. Though perhaps a minor blip in the scope of his discography, it’s an important and powerful reset following the acquittal of his sexual assault case last September. Suffering from a broken spirit, this is Gibbs putting the pieces back together in real time, and acts as a necessary transition to tide fans over until the main course later this year, the highly anticipated Piñata follow-up, Bandana.

15. Rich Homie Quan – Back to the Basics

Three years ago, under Birdman’s wing and the Rich Gang stamp, Rich Homie Quan was on his way to becoming a bonafide star. Yet, here we are three years after “Lifestyle” shook the world and Quan’s major label debut is nowhere to be found. In fact, despite his relatively steady mixtape output, there wasn’t even an agreed upon “Quintessential Quan Project” before Back to the Basics. Anyone who’s truly paying attention knows how impressive his performance on Tha Tour was and how big of a moment “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” was, but personal issues soon sidetracked any momentum he had gained as a solo artist. Luckily, Back to the Basics is not only Quan’s best solo work to date, but works as an easy starting point to dive into his discography. At just under 35 minutes, its name rings true to its form. It’s concise, focused, and refreshingly honest, avoiding the mixtape trope of being bogged down by the intimidating 20+ song track lists of past projects. Quan is one of rap’s most impassioned writers, and he’s a master at tweaking his cadence to match the exact tone of his lyrics. He has a knack for directing your empathy even if you can’t fully relate to his circumstance. If Back to the Basics is any indication, Quan’s well-deserved career mulligan should see much success.

14. G Perico – All Blue

Though the oft-imitated south may have usurped the crown that was so often volleyed back and forth between east and west coast rap, grassroots movements foraged by artists like G Perico still exist on both sides of the continent. All Blue follows last year’s Shit Don’t Stop, furthering the neo G-funk sound and proving there’s still room for regional rap in the internet age. Perico shares more than a Jheri Curl and gang affiliation with Eazy-E—he’s perhaps the closest vocal analogue we have right now. Using his distinctive voice with increasing precision, the 28-year old often straddles the line between removed OG and someone who’s still in the dead center of the action. His harrowing narratives are not a condemnation, but rather more of an objective report, detailing accounts of street life with no judgement involved. Beyond a brief mainstream G-Funk renaissance thanks to DJ Mustard and YG, Perico’s bounce isn’t something you’re going to hear much outside of LA. He may not be quite as innovative as fellow Californians Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples, but he makes up for it with hyper-regionality and attention to detail.  

13. Don Trip & Starlito – Step Brothers THREE

It’s rare that a “threequel” lives up to its predecessors. That there’s an argument to be made for each Step Brothers project being the best is a testament to Don Trip and Starlito’s success as rappers in and of itself, even if they don’t have the RCAA receipts to back it up. Rich Gang aside, no rap duo in recent memory has chemistry to match that of the two Tennesseans. Trip and ‘Lito fluidly switch from chilling accounts of systemic racism to energetic punchline tracks where they tell detractors “shutdafuckup like Juicy J.” Step Brothers THREE‘s phenomenal production might give it the edge over its predecessors, but regardless of which tape is your favorite, it’s clear that quality control isn’t an issue for this duo.

12. Migos – C U L T U R E

When was the last time a genuine rap group reached genuine stardom? Dipset? G-Unit? Before you make a case for Odd Future and A$AP Mob, remember that these acts are more “collectives” than traditional rap groups. What Migos have accomplished this past year is no small feat, and despite Quavo aggressively flirting with solo fame, longtime fans know just how symbiotic their relationship is (and will likely continue to be). Quavo stole 2016 off of guest verses alone (taking the place of Future and 2 Chainz before him as rap’s go-to for feature spots), but it was almost as if Offset and Takeoff saw Quavo’s success as a solo artist, realized they didn’t want to be left behind, and made a statement with the criminally underrated 3 Way EP. Migos’ music relies on a collective consciousness, and it’s clear how much they value this ability to play off each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Throughout CULTURE, there’s a delicate balance of Quavo harmonizing, Takeoff rattling off rapid-fire rhymes, and Offset switching between a number of smooth, syrupy flows. It’s palpable, electric synergy that’s hard to deny. While “Bad & Boujee” was what propelled Migos to stardom, “T-Shirt” is another crowning achievement for the group because of how well each member plays off the other two, even when the typical formula is tinkered with. 2016 saw 21 Savage take trap to depths that would make Future squirm and Yachty to its most bubblegum, and CULTURE settles one of the last unincorporated territories as the genre’s first truly great group album.

11. Chief Keef – Thot Breaker / Two Zero One Seven

Chief Keef’s canonized discography is hard to pin down. Streaming services like Spotify are plagued with unofficial compilation albums and different projects are listed as being his “studio albums” depending on where you look. Keef “retired” from making music for the better part of 18 months, and it seems this allowed him to hit the metaphorical reset button, grinding that discography confusion to a halt. In a similar fashion to Future’s “double album,” Chief Keef released two projects this year that chronicle two sides of the same artist. Two Zero One Seven demonstrates a continued prowess as a producer as well as further experimentation with flow and melody. Thot Breaker, however, is perhaps Keef’s best and most mature album thus far. Despite its unfortunate name, it presents a vulnerable, soul-searching Keef—a side of him we’ve only gotten glimpses of in the past. A far cry from 20-plus song mixtape offerings, it’s an exercise in emotion, precision, and album-craft from an artist who has previously dropped albums with track lists left unsequenced in alphabetical order. More than anything, these two tapes serve to prove that Keef is best left to his own devices as one of the most versatile and influential rappers of the past decade.

10. Kodak Black – Painting Pictures

What immediately stands out about Painting Pictures is how full everything feels. For an album that boasts 24 different producers over 18 tracks, it’s extremely cohesive and sonically consistent. Though it would have benefited from a track list as concise as last year’s excellent Lil Big Pac, it errs on the side of 2015’s bulkier offering, Institution. However, unlike his previous work, Kodak’s world now feels fully fleshed out. Underneath the slurred bravado, the rapping is as evocative as ever, the hooks are more tangible, and the lush production provides a more vivid canvas for Kodak to “illuskrate.” Kodak has one of the more unique deliveries in contemporary rap, and Painting Pictures is a testament to how he can manipulate that talent to his advantage. “Up in Here’ is a nervous breakdown disguised as aloof machismo, ”Patty Cake” is pure joy distilled into three minutes and 18 seconds, while “Conscious” sees him going toe-to-toe with both the FUTURE and HNDRXX versions of Future as they sing the blues.

9. Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti

There’s something endearing about Playboi Carti—which is probably why rap nerds latched onto him almost two years before he even dropped his debut mixtape. With A$AP Rocky as his mentor and Curren$y as one of his self-proclaimed inspirations, Carti is a playful reinvention of the cloud rap aesthetic that shaped much of his formative years. Though his signing with A$AP Mob late last year seemed like somewhat of a strange move (seeing as Carti hails from Atlanta), it makes perfect sense in retrospect. His earlier work tended to be more traditionally structured, but on Playboi Carti it’s often hard to tell where the chorus ends and verses begin (or if there are verses at all), but the more repetitive, ad-lib-heavy, free-form structure allows Carti to float in, out, on top of, and behind the production at his leisure. It’s 47 minutes of “lean on the rocks” poured and sipped slowly—for Carti, it’s a means of pleasure, not escapism. Playboi Carti isn’t going to leave you with anything profound or completely flip the hip-hop soundscape on its ass, but it’s a relentlessly fun project that will be booming out of portable bluetooth speakers at cramped campsites packed full of twenty-somethings throughout festival season and beyond.

8. Drake – More Life

It’s easy to look at More Life’s success and simply call it a result of its presentation. By now, you’ve probably read at least 40 (no Shebib) think pieces on the expectations Drake set by calling it a “playlist” in the age of streaming. Of course, this fact is important in regard to how it was received by both critics and the public, especially considering that Drake has shoehorned his last three bodies of work into three different categories: If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late is a “mixtape;” Views is an “album;” More Life is a “playlist.” Still, it would be doing More Life a disservice to chalk its success up to format alone. The important lesson here is that not every body of work needs to be “an album’s album” by “an artist’s artist” to succeed, because More Life is a great (sometimes brilliant) body of work even if it supposedly isn’t an “album.” More Life’s format allows it to play to any given mood: it’s just as easy to start at “Portland” or “Lose You” as it is “Free Smoke” or “Passion Fruit.” It gives him the freedom to jump from Atlanta to Toronto to the Caribbean in a matter of a few songs, going head-to-head with the regions’ best influencers while adding his own spin on each individual sound. Not everyone should have to be a Kanye West or a Radiohead to be a considered A Great Artist. Perhaps it’s time for Drake’s fans to come to terms with the fact that maybe he’s better at making individual songs than he is at making traditional, full-on “albums,” and for his critics to admit that maybe it’s OK that Drake (or anyone else, really) is a singles artist. The digital age suits Drake, and More Life is proof of talent just as much as it is proof of concept.

7. BROCKHAMPTON – Saturation

Saturation calls forth Odd Future comparisons in a number of ways. Most obviously, BROCKHAMPTON shares a lot of superficial similarities to the California collective—they’re a group of talented, internet-savvy kids (they actually met on internet forum KanyeToThe) whose music has a wide range of sounds. Their de-facto leader, Kevin Abstract, identifies as gay, and from the rap name to the music itself, he appears to idolize Frank Ocean on multiple levels. Beyond his sheer talent as a singer, rapper, and songwriter, Ocean was the first modern, truly mainstream hip-hop/R&B artists to come out as LGBT, paving the way for budding stars like Abstract to confidently pursue music in a culture that has long been dictated by toxic hyper-masculinity. But beyond the simplicities of the Abstract-Ocean analogue, Saturation is one of the first rap albums that feels post-Blonde. Using songs like “Nikes,” “Ivy,” and “Seigfried” as blueprints, they crafted something that truly sounds like their own. It’s an album that exudes nostalgia while still feeling fresh and youthful. Beyond that, “I just gave my nigga head” is the best rap flex this year (though Nas boasting about eating Chili Cheese Fritos in a helicopter is a close second).

6. 2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

2 Chainz is turning 40 this year. Though it was ironically on his worst album when Jay-Z said “30’s the new 20,” the sentiment stands all the same. Hip-hop has always been thought of as a young person’s genre (probably because it’s, well, a young genre). So-called “Golden Age” rappers are just hitting middle age, and it’s becoming more and more clear that age isn’t an issue for rappers of a certain caliber. While it may feel like 2 Chainz is part of a younger generation of rappers, he’s actually closer in age to N.W.A. than he is the Migos. But like some sort of Benjamin Button in Polaroid form, rather than fading, 2 Chainz’s imagery only gets more colorful and more vivid with age. On most tracks, an almost Ghostface-esque level of hyper-specificity and natural wit supports what may be the most effortless rapping this side of Lil Wayne’s historic mixtape run. It’s a laser-focus and consistency we’ve never seen from 2 Chainz before, and unlike Jay stating “30’s the new 20” with regard to his performance on Kingdom Come, when 2 Chainz raps “my verses are better and my subject is realer,” he has the receipts to back it up.

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

There is a scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon jokingly describes his experiences in fantasy-themed clubs: “You get in there and the music, like, owns you. It’s like that house music.” Vince Staples’ choice of production for Big Fish Theory delivers that same visceral feeling. When “BagBak” dropped as the first single it was met with mixed reception due to the strikingly dissimilar beat, a far cry from the singles on Vince’s 2015 critical darling, Summertime ’06. In context of the album, it’s actually one of the more tame outings on Big Fish Theory. “Crabs in the Bucket,” the intro track featuring Justin Vernon and Kilo Kish, sets the tone from the jump. It emulates the claustrophobic nature of the social media era and plays like Vince is trapped in a fishbowl, forced to view the uncertain nature of the world through the glass. Big Fish Theory is a veracious representation of Vince’s real life attitude towards music. Staples will continue to make music for himself, further exploring the disparate yet intertwined influences that have molded his tastes since childhood. It’s honesty and self expression at its purest, and for that we thank him.

4. Future – FUTURE / HNDRXX

Though released one week apart as two separate bodies of work, FUTURE and HNDRXX are, for all intents and purposes, each one disc of a double album that serves to show two sides of the same artist (think Nelly’s Sweat and Suit): Future is the super trapper, Hendrix is the lovesick rock star. While the former is consistent in its own right, the latter is a moving rumination of love and heartbreak. You can choose to view a song like “My Collection” solely as possessive and scummy—which it without a doubt is in a lot respects—but taken beyond face-value, it’s an admission of insecurities and double standards. By the album’s climax, “Sorry,” this raw anger has dissipated into guilt, apologies, and acceptance of past mistakes. The potential for Future as a pop star has always been there, and fans have been clamoring for more pop/R&B from the Atlantan trendsetter since he began toying with the sound on 2014’s underrated Honest. Unfortunately, the smash-hit from these sets of songs comes in the form of “Mask Off’,” yet another one of Future’s ritualistic odes to designer drugs. As infectious as “Mask Off” is, it’s the exact type of Future song the world doesn’t particularly need any more of. It’s the par-for-the-course, vault-clearing Future we’ve seen since What a Time to Be Alive, not the soul-bearing virtuoso that exists on HNDRXX. Hopefully this commercial success doesn’t deter any of Future’s more experimental ventures down the line—rather, it would be fantastic to see him pivot off the critical acclaim this dual release received and continue to play with album structure and lyrical content in new and innovative ways.

3. Jay-Z – 4:44

It’s hard to listen to 4:44 and ignore the responses to Beyonce’s Lemonade. However, this isn’t solely a reactionary companion piece. At its core, 4:44 is the perfect culmination of Jay’s career up to this point, the type of critic-proof showcase of talent and character that’s eluded him for the better part of a decade. Excluding Watch The Throne, we all know how much scrutiny Jay-Z faces for “dumbing down his lyrics to double his dollars.” Even when his ultimate goal is to empower, he’s ridiculed (see: TIDAL). Choosing to partner with No I.D. for 13 tracks, 4:44 feels like the first time in six years where Jay-Z actually has a platform to air his grievances. The production is timeless, borrowing from contemporary sounds like Magna Carta… Holy Grail did, but without losing the soulful, sample-driven essence of his best work. 4:44 plays like a memoir or open letter in that it gives Jay the chance to address and absolve his sins, providing much-needed catharsis to both the rapper and the listener. It also makes it quite clear that a late-period Jay-Z album doesn’t need to be wildly innovative to be poignant. From the tremble of his delivery to the on-the-nose samples, Jay finally sounds like he needed to make an album—and that’s more than enough to have at the edge of our seats.

2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

DAMN. is the album we always knew Kendrick had in him. At a glance, To Pimp A Butterfly may have seemed like “the one” to top good kid, m.A.A.d city, but it quickly became evident that this wasn’t the case. To Pimp A Butterfly is an ambitious, sprawling record, but also somewhat of a tough one to listen to on a routine basis. Despite its status as a critical darling, it also alienated a sizable portion of his fanbase who missed the listen-anytime-anywhere ease of good kid or the more freeform nature of section.80. DAMN. showcases a new level of storytelling for the Compton rapper, one that strips away any of the training wheels found on his previous efforts. Nothing is spoon-fed and everything is up for interpretation, but unlike Butterfly, DAMN.’s structure doesn’t begin to fall apart as you begin to unravel and unpack it—it only becomes more rewarding and more soul-cleansing upon repeat listens. To find your place in the macro, you need to start with the micro, and that’s exactly what DAMN. is for Kendrick—it’s a compelling close-examination of his psyche on numerous levels.

1. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

Once guarded and withdrawn, Young Thug continues to transform into a full-blown pop star right before our very eyes. Beautiful Thuggers Girls reveals new facets of his once-enigmatic nature, peeling back the layers of his oft-misunderstood bravado. Love is at the center of this sweeping ode to his (then) fiancee, Jerrika Karlae, but it’s not the fairytale romances we’ve been programmed to strive for. It’s as carnal as it is fragile, seeped in seemingly unhinged promiscuity yet ultimately anchored by his unwavering loyalty to his friends and family. BTG seems to be split into two distinct halves: a flirty, playful side A and a ruminative, down-tempo side B. But this surface-level reading betrays just how intertwined love and lust are for this artist. As he recently posted (then deleted) on Instagram amidst a publicized fight with Rika, his love is often “bipolar,” and this sentiment can be extended to his music. At times, he sounds like Jay-Z, a high school dropout thankful for his riches, proud of his accomplishments, and hopeful that his children maintain their innocence. In other instances, he sounds like Prince, passionately emoting his way through layered, sensual, ballads. Part of BTG even sounds like it’s building on the pop-country stylings of artists like Post Malone, but with grit, heart and pride, Thug manages to turn saccharine soundscapes into poignant anthems. Although it may not be his long-awaited “debut album” (whatever that means in 2017), Thugger’s latest offering is an essential addition to his already impressive catalogue.

Review: Xxxtentacion – Revenge

For those not willing to scrounge SoundCloud and blog posts for haphazardly-released singles and snippets (AKA, the vast majority of people who listen to music), Revenge is probably their first taste of Xxxtentacion and his polarizing universe. Xxx embodies a type of angst that might be appealing to younger listeners—perhaps a version of this generation’s Odd Future or Eminem—but without the wit or pathos that made those two acts so much more endearing and appealing to fans. It’s hard to enjoy music when its main motif seems to be “abusing women,” especially if the artist was previously in jail for allegedly assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. Though it’s easy to appreciate Xxx’s willingness to think outside the box musically and foray into different genres, it cannot mask his shallow content.

Of course, Xxx is far from the only rapper to be criticized for misogynist lyrics, but a larger problem lies in the fact that there seems to be no meaning beyond the lyrics taken at face value. There’s no lesson to be learned, no indication that it’s self-aware or tongue-in-cheek. When Future opens his album with “Even if I hit you once you part of my collection,” it works because you’re supposed to be disgusted with him. You listen as he grapples with his demons throughout HNDRXX and ends up begging forgiveness its excellent closer, “Sorry.” There’s no “Sorry” on Revenge, no turning point. There seems only to be hatred for hatred’s sake. It’s a shame the lyrics are caustic to the point of hindrance, as the songs themselves could be creative, fascinating, even great if more was put into the writing, but Revenge mostly sounds like if Lil Uzi Vert had a younger brother who tried to make a Death Grips album after hearing Nirvana for the first time.

Breakout single “Look At Me!” is the most sonically dissimilar track on the album, likely tacked on as an intro for name recognition and to boost units “sold” via streaming. Its haunting beat (sampling dubstep artist Mala’s “Changes“) invokes the atmosphere of a Legend of Zelda dungeon, though its content, flow, and overall style is simply a more abrasive take on contemporary rap. It’s not until the B-Side of the album that Xxx begins to call back to this distorted, more lo-fi sound he toyed with on “Look At Me!” as songs like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore,” “Looking For A Star,” and “Valentine” take on contemporary R&B, the current Caribbean/dancehall trend seen on albums like More Life, and indie rock, respectively. “King” acts as a bridge, starting off softer like the previous three tracks, and then building into something more akin to metal. “YuNg BrAtZ” and “RIP Roach” fully commit to this blown-out sound, calling back more to roots of punk rock and grunge rather than Lil’s Uzi and Yachty.

Perhaps the most (only?) successful aspect of Revenge is the presentation, as Xxxtentacion’s bouts of aggression are best experienced in short bursts. At just 18 minutes long, even the tracks themselves are short, with every song but one being under three minutes, and three of the songs even being closer to the 1:30 mark. It acts almost like one of those snippet sampler mixtapes rappers used to put out in the early 2000s, transposing a collection of songs from his SoundCloud onto a commercial offering and allowing for Xxx to explore different sounds without turning off the listener by committing for a full album (or even full song). In that way, it’s the perfect bite-sized introduction to an artist whose catalog is expansive, inaccessible, and generally hard to navigate — even if it does so to mixed results.

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