With a constant stream of new releases, new announcements of releases, new artists on the comeup, reviews to read, and the entirety of the genre’s history to explore and re-discover, being a rap music fan in the digital age is as exhausting as it is rewarding. I read somewhere that hip-hop is the new Wrestling, and while I hate any attempt to reduce the artistry in a genre that’s already maligned due to race and class issues, one has to understand that all of this hubbub is pure pageantry. Fascinating pageantry—occasionally hilarious—like watching Kevin Gates defend his love of his cousin, but it’s an opportunity to watch these larger than life figures interact with an industry that will hang on their every word.
For some reason, this past week was particularly hectic, as releases from both high-profile and up-and-coming artists were hitting left and right. Maybe to build SXSW hype, or to placate the fans that couldn’t make it? If I had to guess, some of these are mistakes, but the surprise album drop seems generally a “strategy” thought of by marketing people in order to “engage their audience” and create “buzz” via social media. Even when this seems to run contradictory to the desires of the artists themselves, as we’ll see below. Luckily, I am here to take you through these things, kicking and screaming, and forcing you to listen to all the rap music of the past week. We’re gonna make it.
We’ll go from least to most popular, but Father is hardly an unknown. Over the past year, the mastermind behind Awful Records has gone from ATL weirdo to national recognition on the back of his hype single “Look At Wrist”, which had club goers across the country pretending to cook crack on the dance floor. Who’s Gonna Get F***** First is the followup to last year’s acclaimed Young Hot Ebony that had introduced the rap game to Father and the rest of Awful’s raunchy, psychedelic rap universe. That tape had spawned the aforementioned “Look At Wrist”, as well as a bevy of other bangers; weird hit after weird hit, from “Why Can’t I Cry $$$” to the album’s title track. In addition to expanding his subject matter and perfectly showing that the Awful project is scalable, WGGFF also feels much more unified as an album. Highlights include Father’s interpolation of “Oye Mi Canto”, and the penultimate track, “Everybody in the Club Gettin’ Shot”. If you want to delve beyond singing the hook to “Wrist”, definitely check it out, as well as fellow Awful Records artist Lord Narf, who also dropped her tape last week.
Call them memerap if you want, but Death Grips have become a bonafide cultural phenomenon. Love ’em, hate ’em, you can’t deny that they have a legion of devoted fans refreshing deep web pages for every release, as well as a opposing crowd that views it as overrated hype. My views fall somewhere in the middle, in line with Drew’s in this article. Jenny Death comes as the highly anticipated second half of The Powers that B double album, which had been hinted at, in true Death Grips fashion, with cryptic YouTube videos and tweets. While the band’s no stranger to the surprise release game, the fact it came this week, already saturated with surprises is either entirely coincidental or telling of the larger state of leaks and digital releases. Since the former would be of absolutely no interest to write about, I’ll take the latter.
From a rape- and violence-obsessed teen on EARL to the introspective young man burdened by fame on Doris, the internet has watched Earl Sweatshirt grow up. On “Grief” we get Earl soaking in that loneliness and depression, but finally with the skill to rap through these emotions without relegating them by use of metaphor. He’s facing them head on, over a laconic, murky, atmosphere that perfectly matches Earl’s flow as it slows to a grinding halt. “Grief” comes with the surprise announcement of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, released on Monday, March 23. Unfortunately, this seems to be a mistake of a surprise release, according to Earl’s Twitter. If “Grief” is any indication, he’s at his most mature, focused, and experimental yet.
— EARL (@earlxsweat) March 17, 2015
Then, we’ve got Gucci Mane. If there has ever been a schedule to his releases other than vague Tweets or Datpiff countdowns I’ve never been aware of it, but, like Death Grips, the fact it was this week seems somehow significant. Let’s get one thing straight: Gucci is in prison right now. He is behind bars on a gun charge. Thus the three mixtapes—Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner—are pre-recorded tracks or old vocals stitched together by producers, often under Gucci’s direction. They strike one as a spiritual successor, at least in form, to last year’s Gas, Lean, and Molly trilogy. At this point, what more can be said about Gucci? During his nearly decade-long reign over the southern rap scene, he’s been in and out of jail, spawned multiple careers, and parlayed this success into being in a Harmony Korine film. These tapes are Gucci Mane in a time capsule, as he always is: still a great ear for beats, immaculate and varied flows, and the twisted punchlines draped in violence and crime that will never really get old.
Finally, the big one: you all already know. Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly, originally due out the March 23, leaked then released as a concession, or an accident on the part of iTunes, or something. In a now-deleted tweet, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, the eponymous Top Dawg himself, seemed none to pleased with how things have transpired.
But, it’s here now, for better or worse. Most definitely better, as the near-perfect score reviews roll in one after another. Better than Good Kid m.a.a.d. City? Impossible to compare the two? Do Kendrick’s syncretic goals of jazz, hip-hop, and addresses to the African-American public come to fruition? At the very, very least it’s given hip-hop heads something to bicker about, much like GKMC did. At its best, it’s a daring, expansive, and immaculately constructed project that shows the world another step in the ascendancy of Kendrick Duckworth as the lord and savior of the rap game.
This isn’t even counting the myriad of singles , a new tape from Future, or the rumored leak of Action Bronson’s upcoming LP, Mr. Wonderful, which was also released on Monday. For the sake of my ears and my sanity, I hope this week is a little more low-key.