At the close of 2013, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Guardian and various other righteous music news sources gushed over breakthrough ATL act Young Thug. Fair play, cos Young Thug, with his Martian-on-Quaaludes flow is nice. But, as usual, there seems to be some sort of quota system going on. Plaudits have rained down upon Young Thug as though he was working from some hermetically sealed rap garret. He’s the chosen one! The one guy doing something special! The auteur! The visionary! …A breed apart from those other dumb bastards!
Unsurprisingly, the reality is very far from that. Rather than talking about Young Thug as some sort of black swan fluke, the press would bait itself up a little less if they started contextualising the guy (*see note below*), and placing him in the seismic shift in flow that’s taking place cross hip hop in general, and the Southern States in particular. There’s a whole scene of young MCs, all on the same tip; inspired by the success of Future and his emotion drenched autotune delivery, these kids are stretching the traditional idea of a ‘flow’ in ways so bizarre they make ODB look like Wonder Mic. Everything, from pronunciation to melody is open to blurring, vocals often degenerating into a mush of sizzurp slurping autotuned vowel sounds, with rhyme schemes so lackadaisical they’re flatlining. Crucially, the tracks still bang, maybe more than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
It’s possible that the movement is a reaction against the easy accessibility of pop rap, a deliberate attempt to alienate outsiders with the intricate codes of the hoodest of hood slang. If it is, as often happens, it’s just made the outside world all the keener; last time I looked, Rich Homie Quan’s Type of Way – as good an entry point as any – had racked up a staggering 35 million Youtube views. The sound is defiantly Southern, the beats keep that hot, spacious, molasses thick 808 aesthetic that goes right back to 3 6 Mafia, and the slang verges on the incomprehensible – to this outsiders ears at least (it probably ain’t that hard to get if you grew up in the ATL projects…)
So, I wanna share a couple of tracks that have set me to writing this, starting with the insane current performance by Johnny Cinco that you can listen to at the top of this piece. Cinco is a breaking ATL artist who’s inadvertently got himself some kudos by treading that well-worn hip hop path: The Beef. Over a series of increasingly lairy tweets, Cinco has become Ja Rule to Rich Homie Quan’s Fiddy. Unusually Quan – the bigger artist- started the beef, apparently over a girl. It’s either a false flag marketing scheme to shine Cinco some limelight, or Quan is really, really fucked off. The good news is, turns out Cinco is an amazing rapper. A week or so back he bought out a diss track in response to Quan. I don’t know how to describe what he does with his rhymes – I mean, they’re not even rhymes, they’re more just kinetic slurring. This shit needs to be listened to through speakers that can handle the 808 kick. No lie, it’s phenomenal. For those to lazy to scroll up, here it is again:
Quan’s first broadside was equally lethal:
Away from the Quan/ Cinco beef, similar fare can be found on the Crazy 8 x It’s A Southside mixtape that surfaced November last year. The tape is a master class in new school MCs jamming out. The beats are mesmeric, heavy duty trap fug, steeped in these odd music box melodies that sound like they were made to soundtrack bayou sorcery. It’s on this tape that Young Thug’s massive Danny Glover first got wider attention. Other highlights included sometime Waka Flocka collaborator Chaz Gotti’s track Jeweler, a one man master class in use of the glottal stop. “Ah ju lu jull-i” he squeals on the chorus, never knowingly completing a word.
Further in, Zach Farlow’s Black Diamonds from the same tape is off the scale. At times Farlow sounds like he’s having a therapy induced breakdown, accompanied by the swampy pluckings of a detuned guitar. Like the rest of the mixtape it’s as weird as hip hop gets, without departing into obtuseness for its’ own sake. I always felt the greatest innovations in rap were made by producers who managed to be crazy avant garde whilst still operating inside a club context – any clown can make a jarring beat and mumble some random bars over the top (see: most of the Def Jux catalogue. Sorry backpackers), but it takes a genius to make something bizarre, and still make it clap. Gotta say, I was surprised to see Zach Farlow looked like a rapping Joe Thomas, but still, takes all sorts..
And while I’m here, let’s give Young Thug his due – he’s just murked a track with Tyga, giving a typically mental performace. To be fair this collab was never gonna work that well for Tyga – his calling card has always been his timbre rather than his content, and when Young Thug has set the bar to infinite cosmic weirdo, nasal rhymes about kush just don’t seem that exciting.
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* This contextualisation ain’t gonna happen in the mainstream media anytime soon though – dilettante journalism is the pits, but it’s what RnB gets. Imagine sending someone who’d never heard of Alfred Hitchcock to review the remake of Psycho. Wouldn’t happen, right? Because, y’know, what the fuck would be the point? Still, when it comes to ‘urban’ music, broadsheet editors are still happy to commission the nearest staff writer to pull an opinion out of their arse. I guess the issue stems – particularly with hip hop- from the genre’s popularity. Because pretty much everyone alive has heard a Jay-Z song, there’s a concurrent belief that pretty much everyone alive ‘knows’ the rap form. This is actually a pretty weird supposition – just because any fool can quote ‘to be or not to be’ don’t mean we live in a nation of Shakespeare scholars… Hey ho. </rant>
This piece first appeared on Don’t Watch That