Mixtape

Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

Young Thug is one of the most interesting rappers to emerge this decade.  Ostensibly an Atlanta-based trap artist, his signature squealing, half singing, notoriously incomprehensible vocal style gives him easily the most unique voice in the game, a voice that’s been (deservedly) championed as well as condemned and imitated ever since his breakthrough single, “Lifestyle“.  He gets featured all over the place (most recently on two standout tracks from Drake’s latest mixtape), wears amazing and provocative outfits, features in a few wonderful music videos, and puts out mixtapes at a clip of two per year or so, his most recent being last summer’s solid Jeffery.  His newest mixtape, Beautiful Thugger Girls, is his biggest departure to date, away from both trap and rapping in favor of slow, smooth pop, sultry R&B, prominent singing, harmonies and acoustic instrumentation (the guitar on the cover isn’t entirely a red herring, despite the fact that Thugger’s holding it upside down).

Of course, for many (but not all), Thug’s Achilles heel has always been his lyrics.  Basically, every Young Thug hook and couplet remarks on one of the following subjects:

a) his desire to have sex with a woman

b) his desire to receive a blowjob from a woman

c) his desire to have anal sex with a woman

d) his request of a woman to let him ejaculate onto her

e) his desire to ejaculate onto a woman

f) his desire to ejaculate inside of a woman

Thus the album’s title, while not especially an apt description of the way Thug talks about women on the record, at least doesn’t seek to eschew the thought and intention behind every Young Thug song, album, mixtape, or what have you.  The record’s opening lyric is “Let me put that dick inside of your panties” (over a pretty sweet reversed acoustic guitar, however).  A sampling of the album’s hooks include “Fuck me, suck me”,  “Gimme the threesome, three three three threesome,” and “You said you gon’ fuck me to death when you see me, you said that you said that!”.  Granted, Thug definitely hedges far more toward admiration for women than misogyny (unlike nearly all of his peers), but aside from a head turning line here and there, Beautiful Thugger Girls contains exactly the vacuous sexual desire and bad puns you’ve come to expect from a Young Thug project.

Which of course doesn’t doom the album whatsoever.  No one’s going into this expecting Kendrick or Vince Staples, and if they were… lol.  But sonically, Beautiful Thugger Girls is for the most part a really nice listen.  Very few of Thug’s peers, especially within trap, can claim a song as pretty musically as opener “Family Don’t Matter”, with its acoustic guitars, tambourine and melancholy choral vocals.  “You Said” features some impressive guitar arpeggios (a sample, but still a good choice) and more harmonies, and “Me or Us” is basically a Bright Eyes song featuring Young Thug.  As far as melodic, singer-songwriter rap is concerned, Thug is setting the bar pretty high.

The low points come when tracks revert to derivative trap formulas, such as on the Future featuring snoozefest “Relationship” or the familiar dark, ambient flute stylings of “Tomorrow Til Infinity”.  Still, Young Thug’s vocals are truly all over the place on all of these songs, singing in a wide variety of voices, high and low, nailing vibratos, falsettos, interesting melodic turns and intricate harmonies.  Listening to the project is like riding on a Young Thug melody roller coaster, and closer inspection to what he’s doing with his voice, such as on the hook of “You Said” or spitting within the peaks and valleys of the latin-tinged, horn-featuring “For Y’all”, never fails to impress.

Beautiful Thugger Girls doesn’t have the best Young Thug songs (that’d be Barter 6) or make the loudest, most inventive Young Thug statement (Jeffery), but it is both his most cohesive and prettiest album yet, capturing an aesthetic and theme and sticking with it (despite that theme being, well, girls Young Thug is into).  At 14 songs and 55 minutes, it could have used with some pairing of the more uninventive tracks, but it’s still far from the trials of listening through his 18 song, 70+ minute Slime Season mixtapes.  As far as pop music is considered, Thug’s vocals are way more interesting than anything else out there, and as R&B, the tracks sound pretty good and Thug’s flow and acrobatics are typically impressive enough to make up for less interesting song structures.  I’d say this album is about on par with Thug’s two best records and continues to show development, which is a great sign.

Score: 8 / 13

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Kool A.D. – The Natural

I find some humor in the fact that the first two albums of 2017 I’ve written about both came out in the waning days of 2016.  They’re also both rap albums, but in that regard they couldn’t be further away on the spectrum of hip hop. Where Run the Jewels are a serious, tightly produced, extremely aggressive duo, Kool is basically their exact opposite; far from serious, rambling on and on over endlessly repeating beat loops, encouraging everyone to chill out, reflect, find the subtle beauty in everyday life and smoke some weed.

As an Oakland rapper who constantly shouts out East Bay spots (“Alameda In N’ Out, Berkeley stand up, West Side Oakland, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, East Side Oakland / Acid visions in an El Cerrito parking lot”), I feel some regional attachment to an artist that I haven’t since I started following music (Houston’s indie rock scene was… lacking). The former Das Racist member dropped 10 mixtapes on his Bandcamp in 2016, two of which had 100 tracks. I listened to another two of these when they dropped (Official and Have a Nice Dream), and although I enjoyed both (Official was superior imho), they were both experimenting with a particular sound, and didn’t hold a ton of replay value for me.  The Natural, on the other hand, is the most straightforward Kool tape I’ve heard since 2013’s Not O.K., and I can’t stop listening to it.

The formula here is simple; find a sunny/jazzy/80s pop music beat, loop it for 3-4 minutes, then casually ramble through bars that sound half-freestyled, throwing in as many non-sequitur pop culture references as possible and flavor with dashes of philosophical epiphanies that emerge like moments of acid clarity in the midst of gnarly trip. Pretty much the exact opposite of RTJ.  The rhymes flow loosely, easily, with Kool often laughing or trailing off, getting himself back on track with a “I feel like (insert celebrity name)”.  The songs often end when it seems like Kool has simply run out of things to say and has grown bored of the beat. Production is a non-factor here; the beats just loop until the song ends with no interruption.  There are few hooks (one of note is on “This Mane (Reprise)”, which is a reworking of one of Official‘s best tracks) and only three features across the fifteen tracks.  But there is also a formula to enjoy this album; throw it on in the background, enjoy the chill beats, and occasionally a lyric will grab you and make you laugh or think (often both) either for its absurdity or its profundity.

With no lyric sheet to be found on the internet, you have to pull the lyrics the old-fashioned way, through listening. Here are some of my favorite lines I’ve collected over the seven or eight listens through I’ve given this thing in the last few days:

“Look at the sun, look at the sun, okay stop looking at the sun now, close up your eyehole, open your third one / try to understand if you even know what love is” -The Natural

“I feel like Bill O’Riley, I got no feelings / but it’s still fuck Bill O’Riley and his whole feelings” – The Natural

“This is my music my music is me, it’s really good sometimes, but other times it’s bad, but that’s whatever it’s love” – Respect, Acknowledge

“Young alphabetical male with the money / With the B.A., the B-A-star-select cheat code styles of the previous ages” – Punic Wars (Scooby Doo)

“The young fresh prince, the young restless, trees for breakfast / I said everything all times it’s all time / all time is illusory, that’s shout to Albert Einstein” – Lay Up

“Your boy transcend counties / in a horseless carriage / life is a divorce-less marriage / all homicide, suicide / life is truly divine, please cherish it / all ideas are embarrassing” – Love, Love, Beautiful Love

Through it all, Kool comes across not like the ‘too smart for his own good to the point where maybe he’s a dick‘ guy from his Das Racist days, but as someone who has truly found peace and happiness in their life and is half trying to convey it through raps, then realizes that such ideas and feelings can never be translated, and thus devolves into his own silly pop culture references that crack him up.  This isn’t a style unique to Kool (see Lil B), but he does it in such a likable way, over beats that sound friendly and familiar, melting into one after another with ease.

My favorite moment on the album comes from ‘Rest In Power Dr. Sebi’, where Kool gets on a particularly emotional rant of listing off celebrities that at first don’t feel linked at all, but slowly reveal their subtle connections: “I’m lil Yachty on a boat / I’m Yo Gotti at the Rob Lowe roast / Fuck Ann Coulter / Jill Stein for president / peace Allah Baraka plus Barack Obama”  (he also later shouts out Haruki Murakami, my favorite author). This album is one of personal, favorite moments. The point in the final song, ‘Respect, Acknowledge’, where the beat changes and Kool states, almost as if he’s genuinely surprised, “And we still rapping, it’s still the same song / It’s all the same song” is another favorite.

I feel like listening through The Natural is an exercise in stepping into Kool’s house, smoking a j with him, then listening to him freestyle as you drift in and out of paying attention. But when you’re there with him, and you get it, it’s warm, inviting and rewarding.  What can I say, I really like this album.  Now I have to go from these warm East Bay vibes to the cold new xx album that I feel like I’m gonna hate and I’m not siked.

Score: 9/13