Every week, The FADER's Lawrence Burney picks out the best rap songs and moments in the world right now. Here they are, in no particular order.
"@ MEH" — Playboi Carti
Playboi Carti leaks have been so plentiful over the past year that it's hard to believe yesterday was the first time he officially released solo music since his 2018 sophomore album Die Lit. "@ MEH," produced by frequent DaBaby collaborator jetsonmade, features the Atlanta rapper doing what he does best — using vocal mechanics, rather than the actual words he's saying, as the driving force of his creativity. This time around, he's somewhere in between his baby voice and the more frequently used nasal delivery. Still high pitched, he's perfectly in sync with jetsonmade's arcade game-like synth loops, which sound like digitized chimes are being struck every few seconds. There's no clear sign as to whether or not this track is the lead single of his long-awaited Whole Lotta Red album, but considering that Carti isn't the type to drop loosies, there is some hope that his third full length is around the corner.
"Rumours" — Ivorian Doll
While skimming through the Twitter timeline last week, I saw a few people singing the praises of someone named Ivorian Doll. And the number of flame emojis they were using for emphasis was enough for me to go straight to the YouTube search bar. When I did, the first thing that came up was a track called "Rumours." It's a U.K. drill track and within seconds, I was led to believe that she is one of the best that London has to offer in that scene. As the song title suggests, Ivorian Doll shoots down gossip being spread about her over T1OTB & DA production. But what really sticks out is the conviction in her voice as it cuts through the beat with commanding force. She has the type of delivery that you just want to hear all the time because (whether or not it's true) it feels like she 1000% means everything she says. Put me down as her newest fan.
"Hood Tales" — Jayy Grams
Baltimore's Jayy Grams has been making a solid name for himself since he was a high school student who ditched class to go up to NYC and freestyle for Sway. Since then, the 20-year-old has been consistent in releasing music under his own name and as a part of his LOWFi clique, a group of likeminded kids from Baltimore whose music is much more in line with boom bap hip-hop than the street harmonies that are becoming the sound of the city. Today, Grams dropped his first solo project under Cinematic Music Group titled Every Gram Counts. The project's lead single "Hood Tales" is the perfect stage for Grams's gifts as a storyteller. In it, he tells a tale of getting into a fight on his hometown's westside before heading east to buy weed. To his surprise, when he arrives in East Baltimore, the guy he was just in a fight with is there and takes a few shots at him before he returns fire.
"Put My All" — Lor X
Where Jayy Grams and crew are an anomaly in terms of the music they make compared to the rest of their hometown, South Baltimore's Lor X offers the quentissential sound of the city: trap bangers mixed with earnest tunes about the hardships he's faced in life. Last week, X dropped the 10-track mixtape In Da Trap, which is a perfect balance of pain and celebration. One of the project's standouts is "Put My All," which features X singing a story of redemption — calling out people who thought his life and career were over after he was nearly shot to death in 2018. That experience is probably why he finds himself at a place in life where failure is a more daunting thought than death itself.
"$500 Ounces" — Westside Gunn f. Freddie Gibbs & Roc Marciano
There's plenty to choose from on Griselda member Westside Gunn's new album Pray for Paris if you love illustrious bars over dramatically angelic production. But just the idea of him having a track that features Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano over production from The Alchemist is enough to go to that song first. (I admit that it should be illegal to not start a new album from the top but I couldn't help myself this time.) As one might expect, the quotables are bountiful on this one. Comforting, '70s-style horn burps loop throughout while Westside beautifully raps about blowing people's brains out, Gibbs reminisces about mishandling cocaine in his early days, and Marciano goes on about the jewelry tucked under his mink coat. This one makes me feel like a rich, retired don.
"Better Days" — SimxSantana f. Relle Bey
Last week, rising West Philly rapper SimxSantana released his new Trenches 2 Riches. The majority of the project falls in line with a lot of popular rap at the moment — money, violence, and women — but there are some flashes of Santana going a bit deeper to provide some insight into what makes him tick. "Better Days," featuring a hook from Relle Bey, is the best example of that on this project. On the track, Santana talks about what's at stake for him to find sustainable success — meaning he can't let petty beef and disputes from his past knock him off of his focus.
"Rockstar" — DaBaby f. Roddy Ricch
According to much of my Twitter feed, the early consensus on DaBaby's new surprise project Blame It On Baby is that the Charlotte rapper's delivery, content, and production choices are starting to become painfully predictable — and that maybe he should start waiting a bit longer to release new music. While those criticisms aren't completely untrue, what can't be discounted is DaBaby's intangible appeal, his natural ability to entertain, and how satisfying he is as a live performer (even though it looks like we won't be experiencing that until sometime in 2021 thanks to COVID-19). His music adds to the excitement of getting ready to go out and turn up with friends or just going outside in general. Maybe with of everyone's lives being cut off right now, his music is less exciting to engage with. But one song that does venture off from his predictable offerings is "Rockstar," which features Roddy Ricch. Roddy is admittedly the highlight of this one — as time goes on, it gets more and more exciting to see him grow into one of the best singers in the game, with melodies that pierce the heart.
"Legg" — WiFiGawd
Washington D.C. rapper WiFiGawd is one of the DMV's (and the wider national underground's) most exciting rap experimentalists, especially when he works with frequent producer Tony Seltzer. Today the two came together again for "Legg," the lead single for a forthcoming WiFi mixtape. Booming bass, luxurious synths, and sharp kicks lay the foundation for Wifi to talk his best shit, as he asserts that his competition 1. can't rap very well and 2. are absolutely not getting the amount of money they claim to be. Sometimes you just have to shit on your peers and that's totally fine.
"Paperwork Party" — Babyface Ray
East Detroit veteran Babyface Ray has consistently been one of the more refreshing voices out of a city that seems to produce new rappers only second to Atlanta. His style and choice of production is very Detroit, but what sets him apart from the pack is the fact that much of his music is so conversational that you forget that you are actually listening to music. It feels more like if Gil Scott-Heron was involved in street activity and instead of jazz, he chose rap production to be the background of his poetry. That still rings true in Ray's newest offering, a four-track EP released today titled For You. My favorite of the bunch is "Paperwork Party," a three-minute track with extremely soothing flute play. Here, Ray raps about starting his day fresh out of a lean nap, picking his daughter up from school, and getting to the money. It's basically an unbothered play-by-play account of a day in his life, which makes it even more entertaining because it feels like he's barely trying.
"Black Dragon" — Lukah
I don't know much about Memphis rapper Lukah. In fact, before this week I had never heard of him. But thanks to him being posted by Cities Aviv (another Memphis native whose music I've been following and covering for years) I was led to his new two-track project titled Black Vito x Black Dragon. In sound, his music (this project in particular) is a far cry from the turned up, crunk anthems that artists from his hometown like Duke Deuce, Key Glock, and BlocBoy JB produce. It's more in line with the lo-fi offerings of artists like Mach-Hommy, MIKE, and Earl Sweatshirt. On "Black Dragon," Lukah slyly boasts his own rap skills by pointing out that there isn't anyone who can compete with his penmanship. On a day when Westside Gunn and Jayy Grams dropped, today is looking like a win for rap on the more conventional side of things. And Lukah's contribution is one worth noting.