Welcome to Hit Or Miss, our new weekly column where we cover as many new rap tapes, albums, EPs, and projects from the week as we can. Some are good, others, not so much, but don’t be scared. Honesty is the best policy.
King Louie – Drilluminati 3
When King Louie is good, he’s fucking great. Tony was one of the most thorough projects of 2014, but the hasty follow-up Soprano wasn’t nearly as magnificent. The long-awaited Drilluminati 3 looks to be Louie’s crescendo following heavy buzz around his OVO affiliation.
Louie turns Chicago’s violent energy into something more dynamic – a display of macho bravado, laced with regret and hidden pain. “Since I’m living in hell, I know I’m going to heaven,” he raps early on the tape, and it belies the larger picture of Louie’s music. He’s always made an intentional effort to differentiate his sound from the litany of other drill artists, and that effort has made him one of the most revered rappers in the midwest.
He’s clever (“my pockets fat, your pockets plasma”), funny, ambitious (the electro pulse on “Live It Up” isn’t a far stretch from “Live And Die In Chicago”), and in total control of the many flavors across the tape’s 16 songs. (If you only feature Fetty Wap for a verse, you didn’t need a Fetty Wap feature.) Even the acoustic guitar of “My World” can’t pierce a chink in Louie’s armor (“Kinda weird to call my pops on father’s day / Since my momma raised me, she can get anything she want from me”). The God of Drill earns his name on Drilluminati 3 by side-stepping pastiche and continuing to sculpt his own sound. – Max Weinstein
Best Songs: “Throw Yo Sets Up,” “Tony Flow,” “Or Whateva,” “Where I Come From”
Camp Lo – Ragtime Hightimes
Camp Lo – Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba—are certified rap bastards. While the bards from the BX boast several influences, there is no progenitor to their style, which can best be described as diamond crusted extraterrestrial incongruence powered by aggressive alliteration. The unabridged title to their latest project Ragtime Hightimes In a Padded Room of Pink Elephants Playing With Spiked Mushrooms merely hints at their psychedelic ambitions, as the two co-pilots navigate the listener through a cosmic theme park which feels like Neil De Grass Tyson tip toeing in shell toes.
The duo has reunited with producer Ski Beatz, who helped launch their careers in the Clinton administration with the classic Uptown Saturday Night. However, this go around they balance the 70s soul samples which complemented their Blaxploitation-era steez with more ambient and bright original soundscapes. But the lyrics are still upper echelon, as on the dreamy “Bright Lights” and “Life I Love” they blast holes in the night ’til she bleeds sunshine: “It’s a quarter moon to mars on the FDR/ no roof flying cars, sparkling stars/ headed up to Harlem an my trunk got candy/niggas might be hawking zebra seats so flamby…” Inhale. – Jerry Barrow
Best Songs: “Life I Love,” “Sunglasses,” “Bright Lights”
Ka – Days With Dr. Yen Lo
Sharp as a samurai sword, Brooklyn rapper Ka spiders his way through Preservation’s black James Bond beats on Ka’s triumphant return, Days With Dr. Yen Lo. Ka etches so many little gems into his rhymes, and his approach to crafting albums is so holistic, I spun the whole thing back as soon as I finished my first listen. There are bright spots and low points, but Ka’s monastic mood makes you want to literally sit down and focus on every word. A surprise cameo from Roc Marciano feels like seeing Samuel L. Jackson pop up in Tarantino flicks, and Preservation deserves a ton of props for the mournful sounds that make this album such an engrossing listen. Days With Mr. Yen Lo is the best New York rap record of the year so far, but knowing Ka, he’ll just recede into the shadows and let the music speak for itself. – MW
Best Songs: “Day 0,” “Day 81,” “Day 912”
Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred
Georgia Anne Muldrow’s first official rap album could put a lot of full-time rappers to shame. The soft thump of Chris Keys’ straight-from-the-crates beats sounds like a highlight reel of Stones Throw best-ofs, and Georgia weaves strands of Badu and Lauryn into her laments about monoculture and celebrity. Drawing on history, Muldrow positions her struggle within the context of black history (“My heart do the beating but the blood ain’t mine”), giving her raps an added punch. She’s a little preachy at times, but her rhymes are tightly written and easy to groove to. Mello Music Group continues their hot streak with yet another stellar release. – MW
Best Songs: “Monoculture,” “Great Blacks,” “Ankles,” “Sans Vacay
Fredo Santana – Ain’t No Money Like Trap Money
There are only so many rappers from Chicago’s drill scene I check for these days – King Louie, Lil Durk, Chief Keef – so when I pressed play on Fredo Santana’s new tape, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. Too much of Ain’t No Money Like Trap Money is boring retreads like “Play With Yo Children” (not the best title) and “Where Yo Trap At?” but it’s when Fredo strays from the norm that he impresses. “I’m Going” sounds like Fredo staring at a starry sky while he hops freight trains out West, and “Watch Out” is the highlight of the tape as Ty Dolla $ign and Que tap into the same vein. With blanket production from TrapMoneyBenny and Hurt Boy AG (and singular contributions from Metro Boomin, TM88/Southside and Ralph1), Fredo improves on previous tapes thanks to his melody-driven work. – MW
Best Songs: “I’m Going,” “Watch Out,” “Always In The Kitchen”
Remy Banks – higher
For all the “buzz” (see: people tweeting) about Remy Banks of the Queens crew World’s Fair, you’d think his new higher tape would be better than it is. He doesn’t sound all that different from Troy Ave, but he wears signifiers like Bape to recall some other vacant, more exotic attitude. Everything that surrounds Remy is more interesting than Remy himself – the samples, Sporting Life’s low-end, D.R.A.M.’s unhinged caroling. The end of “the function” is probably my favorite part; it doesn’t have any rapping.
higher is a cool 11-track tape, something to throw on because the beats are dope, but you can’t help feeling like you’re settling on raps like this when you compare them to something like Ka’s new shit. – MW
Best Songs: “n1go,” “let em know,” “higher”
Twista & Do or Die – Withdrawal
If you close your eyes, forget that cover art, and pretend it’s 1996, the new Twista and Do Or Die EP will whet your appetite for cold, hard raps. The intro and the title track are gasoline streams of rhymes, while “Aquafina” lightens the mood. It’s funny, though, listening to this back-to-back with younger phenoms like Sicko Mobb, whose ultra-hyper music recalls some of the high-speed rhythms of these Chicago legends. The old informs the new; the new gives life to the old. – MW
Best Songs: “Intro,” “Withdrawal,” “M.I.A”
Sicko Mobb – Mulah
Sicko Mobb’s rise has been slow and steady. Ever since bop took off in Chicago circa 2013, Lil Ceno and Lil Trav have been leading the pack with mixtapes like Super Saiyan Vol. 1 & 2, and this week they dropped another surprise tape, Mulah, complete with Rebull and FakeShoreDrive logos slapped on the front. It’s hard not to smile listening to this stuff. The third track interpolates Eiffel 65’s classic “I’m Blue” with strips of autotune layered over it. The idea is to celebrate their newfound success (they recently signed a deal to the hitmaking production duo Stargate’s imprint on Sony) by remembering when things weren’t so peachy, making each dance move that much sweeter.
Diversity is the biggest challenge facing these kids, and they address it throughout 17 songs, never getting too bogged down in one tempo. The lawless streaks of Autotune that fly across their songs could be balled up and focused toward stronger climaxes, but their energy never flags (though songs like “Count Gs” help mellow things out). Hence why kids love this stuff.
One interesting note here: the plethora of Southern mixtape signifiers on the tape. PeeWee Longway and Future adlibs, drops from DJs and producers like DJ Spinz. Confusion reigns when artists don’t properly credit the people who produce their songs. – MW
Best Songs: “This Is How We Rock,” “Mulah Medusa,” “Audi,” “Stunt On Em Daily”
Gucci Mane – King Gucci
Another week, another Gucci tape. If it’s one thing we’ve learned about Guwop during his latest bid, it’s that he works his ass off when he’s in the free world. The downside is that a lot of the stuff dropping at the speed of diarrhea sounds like leftover material. Gucci is still an entertaining MC, but the language is a bit lazier than usual, and you have to wonder if Gucci would be as revered as he is today if he didn’t help shepherd in a new wave of Atlanta talent.
Still, there’s joy to be salvaged from King Gucci. “Got Her Drunk” shows Gucci still has some creativity in his pen while Quavo steals the show on “Saran Wrap.” But please – no more RiFF RAFF collabs. – MW
Best Songs: “Got Her Drunk,” “Saran Wrap”