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Every month, we round up the best releases in rap music. This month's edition covers Open Mike Eagle, Young Thug, and more.
Open Mike Eagle was born and raised in Chicago, but is best understood in the context of his time at the legendary Los Angeles open mic and rap collective Project Blowed. That is to say he works with unassailable technical skill, but the form never crowds out a razor-sharp, absurdist sensibility. His last solo album, 2014’s Dark Comedy, was a tour de force that cast a wide stylistic net; see the spare, horrifying “Idaho,” the Hannibal Buress-assisted “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps),” and the gulf in between. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, his extraordinary, overtly political follow-up, is narrower in terms of music and subject, and is perhaps the year’s best rap album.
Tracing the life cycle of the Robert Taylor Homes—the series of 28 high-rises on Chicago’s south side that at one time constituted the largest public housing system on the planet—Brick Body Kids is a missive for the black men and women whose homes and existences are left to the whim of ballot referendums and opaque city politics. The buildings are personified with flesh and blood, and see their already dense mythology expanded and fully articulated. The album feels frequently like relic from a lost society—which in many ways it is.
“Everything is better when you don’t know nothing,” Eagle raps on “daydreaming in the projects.” He goes on: “I’m grown so I’m always disgusted.” Brick Body Kids is indeed saddled and world-weary, but engages in good faith with the sunny blocks outside the projects and the boiler rooms rumbling below. There’s a plea for a Trump-less civic holiday (“happy wasteland day”), an uninterrupted stream of thought that Mike considers submitting to Business Week as an op-end (“TLDR (smithing)”), even a song that serves as a longform argument for leaving him off your wedding invite list (that would be “wedding ghosts”).
All of these come as part of a clear, coherent argument meted out over twelve tracks: what if they tore down the pyramids, then put the demolition on YouTube and shrugged at what was lost? The closing track, “my auntie’s building,” is vicious: “They say America fights fair, but they won’t demolish your timeshare.” Of course, in that song, the last standing Robert Taylor tower is given the “I” pronoun, because that’s what we’re trafficking in: people’s lives and bodies. “Where else in America will they blow up your village?” Despite all of this, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a remarkably easy listen, a formal achievement as much as a political one. It argues for Open Mike Eagle as one of his generation’s most unique talents, and carries on the Blowed’s tradition of daring virtuosity.
If you’ve heard Mach-Hommy’s name in passing, chances are you were catching bits and pieces of an economic argument. The New Jersey rapper, late of the Westside Gunn- and Conway-led Griselda Gang, has so far been notable for two things: rapping exceptionally well and selling his music for truly incredible sums. His signature release, last summer’s H.B.O (Haitian Body Odor), was marketed—mainly through Instagram in its initial run—for $300. (The price has now spiked to $1,000—”or more”—via his Bandcamp.) This year has seen a smattering of EPs and other short- or medium-length projects, including a collaboration with the Stones Throw producer Knxwledge.
One of the most fascinating records Hommy has pressed this year is DUMPMEISTER. A steal at $187, it features a staggering list of collaborators, from Mello Music Group’s Denmark Vessey to the avant-rap savant billy woods. Hommy’s most obvious antecedent is Roc Marciano, and when he settles into autopilot—as he does occasionally, even on his shorter efforts—he can sound a little too much like a Marcberg acolyte with slightly less color in his prose. But when focused, he yanks the listener from tenement hallways to hazy dream states and back again: see “Sherwin Williams,” which sounds like a half-remembered day from your childhood if your childhood was full of full-length furs.
At the time of this writing, Young Thug is out on bond after being arrested in DeKalb County, Georgia, and charged with possession of a firearm, possession of Xanax, possession of cocaine, possession of ecstasy, and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, all supposedly stemming from a traffic stop in which he was pulled over for having tinted windows. (This comes just over two years after a raid on his Georgia home that was precipitated by alleged threats Thug made to a mall cop; the charges stemming from that search were later dropped.) Young Thug’s attorney insists these new charges are “false.”
While this is all grinding its way through Georgia’s court system, Young Thug’s record label is stuck in its perpetual loop of half-hearted promotion that seems to merely hint at his massive pop potential. A video for “Relationships,” the Future-featuring song from June’s Beautiful Thugger Girls—which itself received only a truncated rollout—was released with little fanfare. And his latest EP, a collaboration with the producer Carnage, seems to have bubbled out with very little in the way of a focused strategy.
That makes sense to a degree: this is a minor project, albeit one that shows glimpses of Thug’s best post-Barter 6 self. The opening song, the Meek Mill-assisted “Homie,” spends too much time exploring Thug’s “Harambe” voice, but “Liger” is a confounding and irresistible fragment of a video game soundtrack that could be replicated by a half-dozen people on Earth at the absolute most. (The former song does feature an excellent verse from Meek, who is quietly having a banner year.) Young Martha is not going to break through the din—given the speed of our news cycles, we can already say that definitively—but serves as another, brief reminder of the world-stopping LP that could one day materialize.
Paul Thompson is a Canadian writer and critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in GQ, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine and Playboy, among other outlets.
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