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Guardian of the Rap is our monthly rap column where our staff writer covers all the rap that’s fit to print. This month’s edition covers Curren$y + Freddie Gibbs + The Alchemist's long-awaited release, and everything else rap you've got to know about the last month.
Question: did everyone take the note to push back against Algorithm Albums by doing a lot with shorter projects? Meanwhile, is the term EP deaded now that many a release, major or independent, are hovering around 20-ish minutes? Is a brighter day on the horizon where artists aren’t bound by the album format to deliver music to listeners without hounding everyone’s time? Or, conversely, are we fucked by how stratified our habits are becoming to keep up with everybody’s shit, er, content?
More importantly, y’all finna vote? Another question: y’all finna do some shit other than vote because it’s merely one tactic in a toolkit to fight impending fascism? Because voting isn’t the saving grace to achieve liberation for oppressed and marginalized communities who are consistently silenced and suppressed under our alleged democracy? Or we finna just… chill with this neoliberalism on ice, thinking-and-praying it out right quick?
Yes, I’m finna vote. Yes, I’m finna do some other shit, too. This is what I think about when I’m not thinking about rap; now, let’s think about rap.
The long-anticipated trio drop showed up on the cusp of Hallow’s Eve and I must say… this shit is precisely what the game’s been missing, no Santana. The expert textures found here are what occurs when you match collaborative wits together in an effort of artistry over algorithmic. It’s two MCs pushing their peaks, matched with a producer who can never find a bottom to his crate. First of all, #theculture has been long overdue to put respect on $pitta’s name as one of the better MCs of our time: the uninitiated, “Where the Cash At”— only listeners would expect Gangsta Gibbs to whale on Mr. Shante Franklin, but lo and behold, THAT AIN’T WHAT HAPPENS HERE. No, his namesake’s made frank, Curren$y’s gentlemen complementing Fred’s gangsta at every turn, illustrating luxury and survivor skills with unparalleled vigor. He raps the way he talks, which is the way many wish they could: cool, collected, delivering game with a smirk. And as for Freddie Gibbs? The nigga can’t miss! We stan consistency! He pirouettes through Alc samples with the nimble agility of rappers a decade his junior, the harder side of the coin. I don’t know where Alchemist digs and how he can’t run out of waves to curate, but these cuts are dry-aged, hazy and gentle. This shit sounds like Negro Noir, complemented by a plate of Harold’s and perhaps some KK smoke. (No Ye necessary.)
(Disclaimer: That’s the big homie!) Coming off the strength of his stellar Brick Body Kids Still Daydream album, Open Mike Eagle returns with a smaller, equally-candid project precisely as we spiral into another hellish realm of domestic terror with international implications. Mike Eagle has a way of doing that: responding to the pulse with his heartbeat to match, the whole of his guts on display again. I’d be remiss to run his striking portrayals of normalcy into the ground; the everyman is evident. This distillation of his appeals feels even more transparent by how much it accomplishes in an even smaller capacity. He raps about breaking cardboard boxes down, he doesn’t say waddup to the superstar rappers in public (cuz stardom is different), and any political both-sides rhetoric is abrasively dismissed. From the onset, he’s charging a Nedarb beat at full-speed to ponder the weight of his relatability as a figure, as a neighbor, as a person. Open Mike Eagle isn’t here to beg for humanity or for anyone to confirm it; on the contrary, he struggles to confirm the difficult pieces of this human experience and whether or not it’s all worth it.
NEWSFLASH: MICK JENKINS WILL NEVER MAKE “THE WATER[S]” AGAIN, GET OVER IT. For all the lukewarm reception to The Healing Component — which wasn’t a bad album at all — it’s clear Mick Jenkins took his time to re-up. Even he feels the disconnect a bit, like his trajectory simmered down with his past accomplishments throwing a shadow over what he’ll achieve in the future. In the grander scheme of things, Mick still just got here, only a second retail album in. On Pieces of a Man, he leans even further into the water, owning all of his style and gliding over the murky territory with a speakeasy cool that easily boils over into a thunderous boom. The punchlines are sneaky until they’re not; the vibe’s honed in, lived in, inviting. Mick’s concerned himself with the pieces and the whole, offering clips of the new life he’s paved mingling with the old versions of himself, pleading us to reconsider how we judge what we see. We don’t leave with an answer, but there’s plenty of reason to enjoy the ride. Even now, it’s hard to gauge where he’s at: He’s a quality MC leaning into jazzier tendencies instead of chasing a hit, but he’s unfairly floating just beneath the surface of the discourse. But sticking to his guns is finally paying off: if any album will amend such an injustice, Pieces of a Man is a surefire appeal for reconsideration.
It’s as if Sandman and Edan knew my inner-backpacker was attempting to mutate from my spine… cuz this Humble Pi overloaded my senses the way Stones Throw records did once I figured out how to steal music over a decade ago. It’s Stones Throw in the sense that it meddles with the past via futuristic principles: Edan morphs and layers his samples to feel like he pulled the pieces from across space and time to collage them in the Information Age. Sometimes I feel too sober to describe the overload; then, I settle for overload: trippy boom-bap with blurs and beeping notes and an acidic hard-rock glaze, clutching the listener by the throat. And Homeboy Sandman never folds under the challenge, the music never feels bigger than him. Sandman’s grown man raps cope with reality like the narrator of your life that you didn’t purchase from Google or Amazon. He splices his reality all throughout, but he drives simple tasks like declarations to celebrate; sometimes we need to order that pizza! Sometimes the post-nut clarity is necessary! There’s a huge world in these 22 minutes, and I implore anyone bored to slide off through a timewarp to see what the hell these two are on. Stay hydrated and bring tissue, perhaps rubbing alcohol.
If I may enter The Great Blueface Debate of 2018, I offer the following: I don’t see why niggas hate on him so much. I mean, I do, obviously: he was introduced to me via the 30-second snatch of “Respect My Cryppin’” comparing him to Courage the Cowardly Dog as if Suga Free and E40 don’t exist and thrive. Some say he skates by on looks, more say he shouldn’t skate by at all with the flow, a handful are probably thrown by the face tats since he’s not on a Ronny J beat. All of the above are missin’ how fuckin’ fun this nigga’s music is! He’s strikingly self-aware of how outta pocket he is, his punchlines make Californian high schoolers turn the pep rally up to administrative disgust, and his inflections literally make me laugh aloud. Watching this moment reminds me of seeing “Like a Martian” in my uncle’s basement during my senior year of high school; 2dopeboyz posted it under Random Acts of Fuckery, I was an annoying-ass backpacker, and I played the shit eight times. That’s like me, a few days ago: anxiously grocery-shopping with the Blueface on slap. You see those face tats………… HE DON’T WANT A JOB! Yeah, aight.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.
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