The Rap Report: Smino’s brilliant nostalgia, Wale’s “Sue Me” video, and more

This week’s best rap moments featuring Smino, Wale, Octavian, The Khan, and more.

April 24, 2020
The Rap Report: Smino’s brilliant nostalgia, Wale’s “Sue Me” video, and more

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.

"Jamie Boxx" — Smino

In terms of voice and flow combinations, Smino is one of the best in music right now. There's a certain type of joy that comes with listening to him move so nimbly with his vocal deliveries, whether it be singing or rapping. His appeal also lies in the fact that his style (music and beyond) could have fared just as well in the neo-soul-meets-rap golden age of the early 2000s. All of that is why his latest release, She Already Decided (a throwback-style mixtape that combines original production and freestyling over beats from already-popular songs) is a satisfying listen. There are plenty of moments to revel in on the 16-track project, but an early standout is "Jamie Boxx," an 87-second long take on Roddy Ricch's mega-hit "The Box." On Smino's take, he waxes poetic about amazing sex, in just about every way possible. There's a nostalgic pleasure about hearing artists interpret big hits in ways completely different to the original.

"Sunshine" — Young Dolph

When Young Dolph shared the artwork for his new single "Sunshine" earlier this week (which is like a rap take on a political cartoon) featuring Donald Trump intensely peering off into the distance, a backwards American flag accentuated with blood dripping from the red stripes, and a nurse tending to a sick patient on a ventilator, I was excited not because I thought he'd be taking on our current political climate, but because I thought that he'd go off the deep end and make an outlandish drug-related metaphor for COVID-19. I'm happy to now know that I was completely off in that estimation. "Sunshine" is such an accurate first-person account of the circumstances that so many people across the world find themselves in. It frames Dolph at home, yelling out to his kids to stop jumping on shit and on the phone with a friend talking about the designer weed, lean and investment ideas he's been having since being on lockdown. Over top of some signature ominous Memphis style production (and Three 6 style "Yeah!" chants) he also finds the time to salute the medical workers on the frontlines of this pandemic. Being able to cooly describe his world in a conversational manner is what makes the Memphis rapper so good.

Wale's "Sue Me" video

Last October, Wale released Wow... That's Crazy, his sixth studio album. It felt like the first time in a while that the pioneering DMV rapper dropped without a lot of distracting chatter. "Sue Me" is a fan favorite from the project. It features Kelly Price and the support of a gospel choir behind Wale rapping about the need to extend love and support for all Black people (the hooks repeats "I'm rooting for everybody that's Black"). According to him, the song's performance on NPR's Tiny Desk, just after the album was released, may have been one of his top live sets to date.

Earlier this week, the song made its way back into the minds of rap fans when Wale released a short film for its music video, which was directed by Pyer Moss founder and fashion designer Kerby Jean Raymond. The short takes place in New York City and it's an alternate universe that reverses the role in which Black and white people play in society — American society, at the very least. Here, advertisements that hang over the city push kinky hairdos onto white people instead of relaxers and weaves being pushed to the Black community; depictions of Black religious figures are littered throughout the home of the white family in focus; the canister of oatmeal that the main character eats for breakfast has an old Black man on it and it's called Melanin Oats. Every facet of this Wale- and Jean Raymond-imagined world flips the script on racial messaging and existence in our current day-to-day lives.

At the end of the film, the main character goes to visit his father in prison and informs him of a new bill that's being passed that would allow non-violent offenders to get an early release. But instead of being met with optimism, the father scoffs that these kinds of advancements aren't made for people "like them" and goes as far as to say there is no hope.

The video's concept is an interesting one, in that, like many imaginative scenarios in which Blacks are not treated as second-class citizens, whites are on the bottom rung of the social ladder. It's intriguing because it's not clear if Wale and Jean Raymond are implying that this world would be a better one. And it also isn't clear that if pushing a lack of hope onto whites is saying that real life Black people live in perpetual state of pessimism, or if it's just a mirror being held of to how media pushes these types of archetypes onto us, whether they are completely true or not. I suppose that's what makes this collaborative film one worth discussing, because it begs you to ask these questions. The one most prominent to me after I watch this and place myself into their world is: Is a turning of the present day tables in this manner a true victory, or does it just place the pathology of racism onto Black people in a different way?

"Big 28" — Tate Kobang

Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang's new song and video "Big 28" are significant for a couple reasons. First, it's one of the first releases the rapper has had since parting ways with 300 Ent (who pushed his breakout single "Bank Roll" in 2015) and second, it's one of the last times he'd been seen on camera with his cousin and collaborator Dee Dave, a well-known East Baltimore rapper who was killed earlier this year just outside of the city. "Big 28" is Tate at his best: high energy, rapping non-stop, with the perfect amount of bounce to hit just about every signature Baltimore dance in existence. The track will be featured on Kobang's Wrote On My Body, which is due out next week.

"Eat It Up" — Flo Milli

Flo Milli's music first came to me by way of video snippets being uploaded to Twitter, typically somewhere around the 90-second mark. What's great about those clips is that they usually capture the most compelling of artists songs. Flo is the perfect artist for that way of marketing — she raps relentlessly, hardly taking breaths to collect herself. In her new song "Eat It Up," like many of he recent tracks, she has those moments where you get tangled up in her wordplay, but the downside of some of these full length tracks is the attempt at anthemic singles with repetitive hooks. The hook here isn't very imaginative and honestly can drive you crazy after the fourth or fifth time hearing her say "Eat it up!" but it doesn't take away from the pleasures of seeing her grow in terms of what's actually being done in her verses.

"Jameson & Ginger Ale Freestyle" — The Khan

At the beginning of our collective quarantine in the U.S. last month, D.C. DIY rap standout The Khan dropped his Loko Los-produced "Jameson & Ginger Ale Freestyle." The song, like much of his work, thrives on chaotic energy — the type that isn't quite made for being on lockdown, but, in reality, could be a great source of letting off steam right now. Earlier this week, for Earth Day, Khan dropped the track's video as a gift to his fans and everything he's doing in it feels like the proper behavior to have while listening to this: unnecessarily standing on a kitchen island, raging in the parking lot of a convenience store, and drinking straight out the bottle.

"Poison" — Octavion ft. Santi, Take A Daytrip, and Obongjayar

Octavian has been one of the U.K.'s more intriguing rising artists lately, blending the worlds of rap, afro-fusion, and fashion together a bit more effortlessly than many of his peers — which is to say, he is mastering the art of cool. There's no one thing that Octavian is great at, but it's starting to feel like he's figuring out a sound and aesthetic that will buy him time while he sharpens what will musically set him apart. Part of what makes an artist successful that often gets overlooked for their own individual contributions to their music is the ability to identify who to work with, and when. On his latest single "Poison," Octavian continues to show that he has a knack for selection. It joins the talents of American producer duo Take A Daytrip, London-based Nigerian artist Obongjayar, and Nigerian alté scene standout Santi for a catchy track about being counterproductively addicted to a woman's affection and intention.

The Rap Report: Smino’s brilliant nostalgia, Wale’s “Sue Me” video, and more