1st of the Month is a monthly column that reviews notable rap releases. This month’s edition tackles King Kendrick, G. Perico, Joey Bada$$, and more.
I live in Los Angeles, and I have never heard so many album cuts come so quickly out of passing cars, apartment windows, clubs and bars and cabs and headphones. DAMN. is a phenomenon. “LOVE.” is already all over the radio, and “DNA.” is winning at stoplights so far. What Kendrick’s managed to do here is make a record about grappling with his God, his family, and what he has to do to save his soul, parceled out over 13 songs that work perfectly—sometimes viciously—on their own. “DUCKWORTH.,” which is three different 9th Wonder beats stitched together, is an unbelievably fortuitous version of Kendrick’s own backstory, where he’s only here on Earth because his father got in the good graces of the man who twice robbed a chicken spot, but spared a few lives. Compared to To Pimp a Butterfly and its accompanying collection of demos and B-sides, DAMN. is positively skeletal. It leaves just enough on the bone to give the record a character of its own, separate from his last two major works. It’s so ferocious, so gripping, that it very nearly topples his masterpiece, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
Read our Album of the Week review of Damn. here.
All that said, Kendrick Lamar was not the only rapper from the southern part of Los Angeles County to drop an album this month. And given a few months to play catch-up, G Perico’s All Blue might rival DAMN. as the most-played album out car stereos come the dog days of August. After establishing himself as a sneering, Jheri curled star in the making with last year’s Shit Don’t Stop, Perico is trying his hand at an album with more heft, higher stakes. All Blue isn’t exactly a day-in-the-life trek like YG’s first album; it’s more about routine, about how assassins lurking up and down your block is far from an irregular occurrence. Perico sounds a bit like Suga Free or DJ Quik, but he doesn’t necessarily rap like them; he usually defaults back to a 4x4 grid and favors consistent momentum over long, loping tangents. The best songs on here, like “Can’t Play” and “Wit Me Or Not,” marry a hazy, smoked-out summer feel to stories of Perico’s life and childhood, which couldn’t be more sobering. All Blue is rap music as connection to L.A.’s past, without ever getting too wrapped up in that past to see what’s right in front of us.
All Amerikkkan Badass could easily be split into two parts. The second half plays like a natural extension of everything Joey Badass has been doing since he became an underground sensation in 2012: it’s gritty, it’s knotty, it’s formalist, it’s stylistically conservative. It casts him as a razor-tongued corrective to everything that’s going on in rap today, and it leans heavily on the aesthetics of the New York of his childhood. But the record’s front half, the one with all the hits, sees the 22-year-old aim for something more universal, for radio play in Atlanta and Miami and L.A. and Seattle, for hooks that crowds can chant back to him. And to Joey’s credit, he strings these two halves together with a simple, strong thematic backbone: America is eating its poor and propping up its rich. Songs like “For My People” distill this down into something slick and digestible for Ebro and Rosenberg, while “Super Predator” (which features a superb assist from Styles P) blows it up into a sprawling, frothing attack. Though he still seems like an artist in search of a unifying aesthetic direction, this is an admirable effort from Badass, and a marked step up from his retail debut, B4.DA.$$.
I think we’re deep enough into this column that I can make a big claim without too many people burning down the VMP offices: In 2014, Rich Homie Quan pulled (at least) half the weight Tha Tour, Part One, his joint mixtape with Young Thug, which was issued under the Birdman-controlled Rich Gang banner. Despite having an atrocious, Microsoft Paint-level cover—and despite the fact that the titular tour never actually happened—Tha Tour is the best rap record to come out this decade. But while Thug took the tape’s success in stride, sweeping up its warm reception as part of his simmering-but-never-boiling-over hype cycle, it marks the near-end of Quan’s run as an A-lister. Though he scored a major hit in “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh),” he was unable to parlay that into an album release date, largely due to the legal purgatory he finds himself in with a former label. So Back to the Basics is not only a superb rap record—it’s a successful attempt by Quan to wrestle back control of his own narrative. See “Heart Cold,” “Str8,” and “Back End,” all of which are tremendous rap songs on a formal level and deal directly with the state of the Atlantan’s professional life.
To say that rapping seems a secondary concern of Playboi Carti’s isn’t controversial, or even particularly cynical. If this self-titled tape launches Carti into a modeling career or lands him a holding deal with MTV, it will have been a success. But that isn’t to say there aren’t absolutely essential songs wrapped up in the branding. “Magnolia” is skull-rattling hard, but sounds just foreign enough to be unlike anything else on radio for the past half-decade. To that point, producer PierreBourne might also have a breakout summer on his hands. Stream here.
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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