1st of the Month: July's Best Rap, Reviewed

On July 30, 2016

by Paul Thompson


1st of the Month is a monthly column that reviews the notable rap releases. This month’s edition tackles Gucci Mane, Dreezy, Lil Durk, and more. 


Dreezy: No Hard Feelings

For the considerable buzz around artists like Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz, it should have been predictable that the next woman to vault from Chicago’s rap scene to the national stage would smooth out some of drill’s rougher edges. Dreezy is 22, signed to Interscope, and preposterously talented--a technical rapper so precise she can hit complicated patterns while emoting deeply, a singer whose vocals are crisp and current, but feel lived-in and uniquely honest. Her full-length debut reimagines love and breakup songs as vehicles for self-improvement and reckless shit talking (“Your favorite nigga in my DMs but ain’t even my type”); the label issued it to streaming services tagged as “R&B/Soul,” but it’s one of the best rap albums to come out this year.

No Hard Feelings is loosely structured around a choice between two men, one bad for Dreezy, one slightly better. A handful of mercifully funny skits (a boyfriend is livid about Jeremih’s body language in Dreezy’s video) do most of the heavy narrative lifting. The songs themselves chase tangents to-- and past-- their natural conclusions: the substance of a drunk voicemail is ignored in favor of a song about her boyfriend’s drinking. (It’s also the best Rihanna song in a great year for Rihanna songs.) The Jeremih single in question, “Body,” is irresistible pop; “Worth It” is a glitchy exercise in self-analysis that turns around and dares either man to flinch. No Hard Feelings is emotionally and musically complex, but its songs--and its greatness--are immediate.


Gucci Mane: Everybody Looking

Gucci Mane is three years sober, home from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and--at least for the time being--his commercial stock has never been higher. So the fact that Everybody Looking isn’t a notable departure from his previous work gets to the heart of what’s made him so great for much of the past decade: Gucci’s a craftsman, and for all the white noise around him, his creative mind works best in knotty, brilliant 16-bar-spurts.

Everybody Looking isn’t Gucci’s opus, and doesn’t rival 2009’s minor classic The State v. Radric Davis in scope or sheen. But it does reach astonishing highs: see the gloomy, hypnotic “Pop Music,” the exultant “Waybach,” or “At Least a M,” where Mike WiLL Made It and Zaytoven extend trap’s purview to include ice cream truck jingles. (And Young Thug’s voice-cracking hook on “Guwop Home” is worth the price of admission.) Compared to his pre-prison output, Gucci’s voice is thinner and clearer; aside from the highlights mentioned above, his writing rarely channels the absurdist genius of the early Obama years. There’s even a troubling dearth of onomatopoeic ad-libs. But Everybody Looking is uniformly strong, and suggests that Gucci should be back in his wheelhouse before the year is out.


Lil Durk: 2X

If Everybody Looking is underscored by the arc of Gucci’s public life, Lil Durk’s second album for Def Jam revels in its lack of context. 2X exists mostly in a vacuum, foregoing narrative or autobiography in favor of urgent, present-tense pop that retains its grit and creativity. It improves on last year’s Remember My Name in every conceivable way, making excellent use of Durk’s elastic voice. And where his debut ceded space to Logic, 2X benefits from an all-star supporting cast: Future, Young Thug, Yo Gotti, Ty Dolla $ign, and Durk’s superlatively talented girlfriend, DeJ Loaf.


Cam & China: Cam & China

Inglewood twins Cam & China dropped one of 2015’s best rap singles in “Run Up,” a woozy series of threats and synths. A remix of that cut--bolstered by a delightfully unhinged verse from Compton’s AD--appears alongside six other songs on their self-titled, self-released EP. Late of L.A.’s jerk scene (they were two-fifths of the group Pink Dollaz), Cam & China rap furiously over production that’s distinctly modern, distinctly West coast. If YG’s Still Brazy synthesizes California rap dating back to the early 1990s, Cam & China’s history starts in 2009.


Shy Glizzy: Young Jefe 2

For most of the last two years, Shy Glizzy’s seemed like a star in waiting. But with Young Jefe 2, the Washington, D.C. native makes a case for himself as someone who can straddle the line between mainstream participant and local hero, embodying the District’s unique place between the Eastern seaboard and the South. [Read my full review at Pitchfork.]


Starlito: Red Dot Free

Nashville’s Starlito celebrates his friend’s release from prison with a virtuosic mixtape full of jacked beats like the form’s early-2000s heyday. He and his Step Brothers partner Don Trip pull off a beautiful bloodletting over Kanye West’s “Real Friends.”


21 Savage: Savage Mode

21 Savage, the unnervingly reserved Atlantan, teams up with Metro Boomin for the moody, elusive Savage Mode, where all of the rapper’s pain seems distilled through years of practiced apathy. The nine-song effort is by far Metro’s most experimental work.


Z-Ro: Drankin & Driving

George Costanza lived in fear of the pop-in; in the first ninety seconds of Drankin & Driving, Houston legend Z-Ro’s survives a pop-in and taunted a police officer about the size of his guns.


Migos: 3 Way

There are people who will tell you that the Migos came and went, but those people don’t go outside. 3 Way doesn’t have any homeruns, but the trio becomes more interesting as its members continue to delineate themselves.


Yung Simmie: Simmie Season

Simmie Season is only twenty minutes long, but Miami native Yung Simmie shoehorns in enough color for the whole summer. The splintered Raider Klan catalog is worth tracking down and dissecting if you have a free week and plenty of Adderall.


Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP

Occasionally a captivating writer (“Running errands for grams/ The paramedics at Tam’s”), Schoolboy Q improves on 2014’s woefully mismanaged Oxymoron. Still overly long, the new LP channels his gruff delivery well, especially on the Vince Staples-featuring “Ride Out.”


Don Trip: The Head That Wears the Crown

Where Starlito went low-fi and low-concept with Red Dot Free, Don Trip opted for something a little more fleshed out. “Higher Learning” plays to the Memphis native’s strengths with its dizzying maximalism.

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