Speakerblogggs is Chart Attack’s weekly roundup of great hip-hop that we think deserves more play.
This week, mixtapes from Kevin Gates, Vince Staples, Kool A.D. and more.
Kool A.D., Word O.K.
"Listen to the beat, it's way more complex than you might wanna give it credit for." Kool A.D.'s compliment for AMAZE 88's instrumental on "Open Letter" is also a sneaky address to critics of his entire career, who've equated his low-slung humour as a prank on the audience. (This is unfair, because Das Racist were always direct with that. For example, seeing which of the white kids that filled up their shows would say the last word of the last line from Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" during an acapella call and response.) On the next line, "A lot of y'all letters green, you need to edit more" he applies to himself on the whole of Word O.K.
Compared to his last proper solo release, the double tape project 19 and 63, this has the structure, flow and restraint of a label project. It's less of a psychedelic free-association race to the finish and more of a portrait of a rapper who prides his ability to elicit smiles as much as his verbal gymnastics. Features from Toro Y Moi (yes he raps), Lakutis, Mr. MFN eXquire, Del The Funky Homosapien, Talib Kweli, Boots Riley from The Coup, and more.
Kevin Gates, By Any Means
"Swear to God my life a movie," Kevin Gates marvels on "Movie" as he recounts the birth of his two children. It's fitting then that his new mixtape By Any Means is bookended like a tragedy. We open with "Wish I Had It" a motivational banger wherein Gates marvels at his abilities and the spoils they've rendered, and close on "Get Up On My Level," casting Gates as the Charles Kane of Baton Rouge, robbed of something his massive wealth could never buy back.
Between the two, the rapper wanders through the broken bedstrings, betrayals, and Actavis-stained jeans of his new life with an honesty akin to a 4AM conversation with a stranger on the bus ride home. (The beats here get ravier than any other of Gates' projects, and he sounds fantastic on them). Harder times are still fresh in his mind, though: the tenor on "Just Want Some Money" matches the anxiety of an empty bank account met with the sight of friends who welch on debts during tough times, and "Arm and Hammer" brings a photographic memory to the trap house.
EQ Why, CHITOKYO
CHITOKYO is staring at the television for an hour, unblinking, your finger depressing the remote through all the music channels at a fearsome rate. Samples repeated like they're trying carve out a portion of your brain for themselves, bass enough to rattle your headphones off. The staples of footwork and ghetto house are here. Their demonstration, however, is far from plain: as with Enter The Why Vol. 1, the Chicago producer isn't afraid to make the artists he channels compete for your attention.
But this time their tussling is more tightly choreographed, jocking for space on a few seconds of bisected, cassette style release. The revelatory football spike of sample juxtapostion Endtroducing... is an obvious analogue, but as the title suggests, CHITOKYO is global-minded, and regard samples from Drake and Nicki Minaj as plane tickets. From the echelons of Top 40 to unknowable musical ephemera, there's a universe here too, but one that's discordant, messy, and less choosy of the constellations.
Vince Staples, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2
Vince Staples isn't interested in taking prisoners, even if they may not exist. On the track opening his new mixtape, he calls the most powerful person in the world a house nigger just after swearing to kill anyone, even God, who prevents his rise. Nas comparisons included, it's easy to focus on the bleakness of a rapper, especially one aligned closely with Odd Future.
But with a surgeon's precision Staples will just as frequently identify the cause of his and Black America's struggles as describe the violent aftermath. He's clued in to himself and his environment, and how they led him and others to a life of crime or disaffection. It's crazy: even with Kanye's mentor No-I.D. handling the majority of the production's grit-and-unglamour, not once does Staples sound like anything other than a veteran, fully-formed and hungry with a hoodie slung low over his eyes, but never so far that his gaze could be averted.