Mixtape Saturday: King Louie, RetcH, Starlito, Gino Marley
FADER contributor @Moneyworth reviews this week’s important rap tapes: King Louie’s triumphant 2013 send-off, RetcH’s cool storytelling, Starlito’s insomnia concept album and GBE’s patched-up relationship with DJ Kenn.
Welcome back to Mixtape Saturday, a weekly roundup of great rap tapes around the web hosted by FADER contributor Meaghan Garvey. This week, she talks about King Louie's triumphant and varied 2013 send-off, RetcH's cool storytelling, Starlito's insomnia concept album and GBE's patched-up relationship with DJ Kenn.
King Louie's been Chicago's best rapper for the last handful of years, but for some reason his appeal hasn't quite translated on a national scale, even post-Yeezus feature. ("My Hoes They Do Drugs," off 2012 tape Drillumati, could have been as big as "Bandz A Make Her Dance" in a fair and just world.) This year, his Jeep Music tape didn't quite live up to the high bar his 2012 output set, but he came back in a big way with the insane, unofficial March Madness series—a month of daily releases in which he threw everything at the well and went bop, fist-pumpy Ibiza-pop and lounge-R&B. Drilluminati II harnesses some of that residual weirdness—note the Dipset Trance Party vibes of "Fuck Is These Niggas," the gurgling freakout of "#TrnDwnFrWhat," the Nicki-esque "Remember" and starry-eyed bop ballad "Hella Band$." But it leads with the kind of understated bangers Louie's best at. As ever, he's too cool to care about shoving his bars in your face, letting little wisecracks catch up to you. It's the best thing he's done since last year.
Highlights: Charlotte producer Jay Storm is responsible for the two best tracks: the Araabmuzik-esque "Fuck Is These Niggaz" and the parallel universe Lone-meets-Future collaboration that never was, "Terrific."
WTF: "Tony" has Louie doing the best-worst Tony Montana impression since, you know.
Far be it for me to encourage more '90s worship from rappers born in the '90s, but sometimes it just works. North Jersey's RetcH just dropped one of the year's best not-quite-nostalgic homages to East Coast "golden era" storytelling with Polo Sporting Goods. I was almost thrown off by the flamboyant, Action Bronson and RiFF RAFF-recalling titles, and there's definitely an element of those rapper's style of goofily decorative (if sort of hollow) non sequitur lyrics. But for every Versace burger with the Ferragame french fries, there's ornately-detailed narrative perfection like Crime scene at the Bellagio/ The cop was pussy but he stocky though/ I faked him out with the stop-and-go/ Broke his ankle got his sock exposed, cinematic but grounded in reality. And then there's "Special Jim," a soulful and honest triumph. The whole project is produced by Chicago's Thelonious Martin, whose slowly-unraveling, sullen brand of next-generation boom-bap keeps things from getting obvious. This feels like "real hip-hop" for people who hate "real hip-hop."
Highlights: The five-minute "Burgundy Windbreaker," which is like an MF Doom song slowly caving in on itself. "Marmalade Sky," the ultimate showcase of RetcH's flair for narrative.
Insomnia Addict, released with no promo on Starlito's birthday, is his fourth full-length project in as many months; no wonder it's an anxious, rasping ode to manic, sleepless nights. Lito's voice always feels burdened and world-weary, but here he barely raises it above a hoarse (though still intelligible) mumble, sighing Must be the drugs and Pray for me. Even his titling, curiously punctuated and exhaustive, like "Red..Dot..Music (A Midwinter's Midnightmare)," seems like a decision made and night and forgotten the next morning. He pulls it off though. In a less capable rapper's hands, a tape about descending into a lean-hazy stupor could be a sloppy endeavor, but even on auto-pilot (or conceptual auto-pilot), Lito is a better rapper than pretty much anyone, sounding at points like mid-2000s Wayne at his druggiest. Still, if even Lito's mid-tier tracks are keepers, I can only imagine what might have been he consolidated the best work from Cold Turkey, Fried Turkey and Insomnia Addict (disregarding his collaborative work with Don Trip) into one project; it'd be an easy contender for one of the best tapes of the year. But I'll never complain about more Lito.
Highlights: Rather than one track in particular, I'm most compelled here by the gradual shift in Lito's voice from track one to track ten, which sequentially represent the window from 4AM to 6AM. By the sprawling, ten minute conclusion, he's repeating Smoking til my eyes closed in a defeated croak that sounds like they already are.
WTF: Another week, another "Paranoid" flip. Keep em coming! I don't care! Make it last forever! (For what it's worth, Lito's is probably the best version since the original, and definitely the creepiest.)
Gino Marley is one of the GBE members usually relegated to the background. His name pops up on features regularly, but he's yet to make That Song that makes his name ring bells. On Raised In The Streets, the standout moments come from the stacked roster of features, which ranges from the welcome but fairly expected (SD, Fredo Santana, Fat Trel) to the contextually bizarre (Danny Brown? Ty Dolla $ign?). Though it's a pretty transparent strategy, it works; stripped of these novelty features, this would be a decent but largely forgettable addition to this year's pack of "just fine" drill releases. But as a study in contrasts—Ty's airiness against Marley's leaden yelps on "So Fast," DJ Kenn's bright, optimistic production against Deezy and Murda Beatz' solemn death-march drilling—compelling moments emerge, though I'm not sure if Marley can hold his own at this point.
Highlights: There were rumors that DJ Kenn (the Japanese producer without whom it's hard to imagine Keef would be where he is now) had fallen out with GBE. He was quiet for a bit earlier this year, but now seems to have patched things up with Keef and company. His trio of soaring productions here—"A Lot," "Robert Horry," and "My Name"—are far and away the tape's best, not to mention lightyears away from the stone-faced drill of the other tracks (and Kenn's older works).
WTF: "Diego Pt 1" caps off a year of kinda-goofy, arguably-racist impersonations of South American plugs, done best (and least offensively) by Young Scooter, and most eyebrow-raising-ly by Migos and Gucci.