Young Thug – JEFFREY (2016) – B+
The faraway buzz of cicadas; lighter clicks as fingernaps; a cascading piano, also distant. Then “Pop Man” goes into full throttle: the buzz still intoxicating, but also, an irresistible bass bounce, two different backing vocals, one counter-pointing (“wah-wah”) with Young Thug (“wet wet”) and the other revealing us to be somewhere south of the border; “Jeffrey…Jeffrey…” That’s maybe the lushest and most detailed beat of 2016 – hard to think of another off the top of my head. And immediately after, a song that feels more appropriate in this context than on Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight: the lethargic after-party to “Pop Man”; everyone stares at a floating molecule that isn’t even there. Elsewhere: the catchy reggae beat of “Wyclef Jean” and what Thug does with his voice on “RiRi” (not just the choruses, but follow his voice descend in the back half of the first verse), both incredible highlights. (I can’t say I care for either “Floyd Mayweather,” with a few gross lines that I can’t shake, or “Future Swag,” though admittedly the later adds to the variety of the mixtape, and there was something thrilling about hearing it for the first time.) My friend popped this right after Birds at a house party last Saturday and I realized how much I liked both: sometimes incredibly vivid night-time music. Good for parties too. Or in my recent case, small gatherings of friends at someone’s house with booze involved. Cover is one for the ages; a few people got schooled on Twitter when Erykah Badu compared Thug to Andre 3000 – that was fun.
Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife (2015) – B+
The good stuff seems magical, but probably not by design (the worse sophomore backs this up): Slim Jimmi moving his voice around in perfect iambic pentameter in the climax of his verse on “Throw Sum Mo”; how fucking rousing the choruses of “Unlock the Swag” become once Slim Jimmy gets really into them; how the disorienting bass/minimalism of “No Type” turns what could have been a generic banger (lyrically, what, with the contradictory “I ain’t got no type / Bad bitches is the only thing I like”) into the soundtrack for the fucked up afterparty where everyone’s way too strung out to be out of bed; part of that effect is due to how much younger these guys sound than they actually are – which was already young to begin with. (Treating Twitter memes with a sort of romantic reverence adding to that effect.) The two that cross the 4-minute mark have no business doing so other than the fact that there’s a third rapper on deck: “Unlock the Swag” effectively ends after Jace’s verse (Swae Lee doesn’t contribute anything worthwhile); “YNO” (good bass creep) references a movie from a decase past in an irksome manner in the chorus (“Tokyo drift through the heeeels”). Some bold moves, like delegating the best rapper you have to hook duty or bringing back the cheesy anthem of the late-00s to round out your album (should have closed with “No Type” instead), but Mike Will’s beat of “No Flex Zone” makes me forgiving of the latter.
Future – Future (2017) – B
Taking a 17-track, feature-less Future album as, you know, an album ain’t the right way of doing things, even if Future’s sequenced it to play like one (ie. start with a bang; end with introspection). Me, I think this is a step-up from the disposable EVOL if only because the number of highlights: the cultist vocal loop of “Rent Money”; the woodwind loop of “Mask Off”, though I wish the sample was used more than just once (it’s so understated!); “I’m So Groovy,” which has no groove, but still wins me over with the ethereal-ness of the high-pitched blip-bloops, to say nothing of “I just fucked her face, mhm / I don’t even know her name, nhnh hook”; the skrt-skrt of “Scrape”; likely a few others. And Zaytoven, responsible for Future’s best collection in Beast Mode, hands in two beats, both saved for last: “When I Was Broke,” which alternates between the twinkle of the keyboard with blasts of alien fuzz and the touching “Feds Did a Sweep,” which houses another good woodwind loop.