Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.
Baby Keem is supposed to be your favorite rapper
Over the last year, Baby Keem has been anointed the Next Very Big Rapper—there hasn’t been this much energy behind a rising talent since Zion Williamson was throwing down windmills on hapless high schoolers nationwide. Hyped-up comments like “Baby Keem is up next!” and “Baby Keem is the future!” flood his YouTube videos and social media. But how much of this fuss has anything to do with his actual music?
The rise of Baby Keem has been cloaked in mystery, and for a while, he didn’t even show his face. But we know he’s a 19-year-old based in Los Angeles; he has contributions on the Black Panther soundtrack, Jay Rock’s Redemption, and Schoolboy Q’s CrasH Talk; he has a music video directed by Shia LaBeouf; he has a tolerable 2019 mixtape called Die for My Bitch, with co-signs from Tyler, the Creator and Kendall Jenner; he’s a 2020 XXL Freshman; and oh yeah, he’s rumored to be related to Kendrick Lamar, who is currently pushing Keem’s two new singles through pgLang, his joint venture with former TDE co-president Dave Free. Phew.
After all of that, the music must be mind-blowing, right? Not quite. Actually, it’s just fine. The centerpiece of Die for My Bitch is “Orange Soda,” a breezy, funny, mesmerizing single. “Bitch sit on my face, I attack that,” he raps on the hook, and it deserves to be shouted from the top of your lungs whenever it’s played. The bulk of Die for My Bitch is more tasteful and less captivating: On “Honest,” he treads into the type of shallow melancholy that belongs on a moodboard next to Steve Lacy, and “France Freestyle” will make you wonder if we’ve returned to the 2016 moment when MadeinTYO was chanting about Ubers.
His new pair of singles are uneven, too. On “sons and critics freestyle,” a grim and fiery beat doesn’t stop Baby Keem from slipping back into the monotony that hurt Die for My Bitch. But “Hooligan,” much like “Orange Soda,” is spellbinding. “I drip in all black like an emo bitch/But these are not regular clothes/These are the outfits I make a movie in,” he raps over a climactic piano instrumental, dripping with the unearned arrogance of Kyle Kuzma.
Baby Keem now has two great songs to his name. Is that enough to be considered the next big thing? Well, the answer probably should be no, but it also probably is yes. Because regardless of whether he has the output to back up the deafening hype or not, flaws are overlooked if the right people vouch for you. Baby Keem is the future. I guess it could be worse.
The intro to G Shit Vol. 1, a joint mixtape from rapper Los and producer Topside, feels a lot like it could be a scene in the Will Smith thriller Enemy of the State: The phone won’t stop ringing, a helicopter is hovering above, and Los doesn’t know who to trust. It’s a stressful mixtape. Every day is a grind of shady and monotonous tasks, with no glamour whatsoever. It’s a life that Los wants to escape, and on “I Should” he comes up with a plan to get away to Pittsburgh, or maybe farther north. But ultimately, he stays. Topside’s murky beats accentuate this feeling of being trapped in the underworld, bearing traces of everything from No Limit to Blade Icewood to G-funk. The producer’s style peaks on the demented bounce of “Matlock,” which finds Los once again going through it. “Like this my last 100 grams then I’m going home/Like this my last time flipping then I’m done with it,” he raps. Though, we know he’s only going to fall back into his old ways.
Paying attention to virtual shows is hard
On Monday morning I was listening to Hot 97 (because I like to suffer) when Ebro and company started gushing about Bad Bunny’s virtual performance, where he sang and rapped atop a bus driving around New York City. One of the hosts said he drove into the city from Long Island to follow the bus, and even though I’m 90 percent sure he was lying, I was jealous of the feeling.
Since live rap shows have gone virtual during the pandemic, I’ve wanted to immerse myself in the experience. Earlier this month, MoMA PS1’s Warm Up series streamed a free all-day show from their courtyard in Long Island City, Queens. Multiple artists I care about were on the bill, including J.I the Prince of NY, Chucky73, and KeiyaA. If it were any other summer I would’ve been waiting in line before the doors even opened. Streamed in partnership with the virtual-gig pros at Boiler Room, it was an easy show to watch, but I couldn’t muster a connection to the artists through my phone screen.
During the Chucky73 set, I found myself distractedly scrolling over to a new tab until I eventually stopped watching altogether—I didn’t even stick around to see J.I lay down “Love in the Club.” It wasn’t the fault of the rappers or PS1 or Boiler Room. If anything, it made me realize how watching a crowd’s reactions—and how artists feed off of those reactions—is half the fun.
This week, Afropunk announced an upcoming festival that seems designed to combat this lack of immersion. The free, three-day virtual event will include “digital destinations,” art galleries, interviews, and socio-political discussions along with the performances. After the third night, I hope to close the tab and feel as electrified as Ebro was on Monday morning. But even if it merely keeps my attention for a few hours, I’ll take that, too.
GANG51E June: “Quarantine Dreams”
Nearly every GANG51E June music video begins with the Tulsa, Oklahoma rapper slowly making his way through a prayer. This sets the tone for his painful and bluesy ballads, where he reflects on a system set up for him to fail. On his recent breakout single “Base Body,” June gave a brief history of Tulsa and rooted the current misfortune of the Black people in his city to the 1921 race massacre. These are generational wounds. That passed-down trauma is also felt on his new song “Quarantine Dreams.” Over gloomy acoustics, he warmly croons, “Remember when Granny had got on my ass ’cause a nigga was thuggin’ was skippin’ his classes,” a line that conjures a world of bleary nostalgia. June’s grandmother is likely old enough to know that Tulsa was designed to drive him down the wrong path. This is why June prays so much—it’s the only way to have some hope.
Lil Yachty and KrispyLife Kidd: “Krispy Boat”
Lil Yachty might be the only person who wishes he was from Flint, Michigan. In the span of a few weeks, the Atlanta-based rapper has become a constant presence in that city’s local scene. He’s not just looking for a quick way to reignite his career—if he were, he would’ve moved on after doing a one-off with Flint’s viral man of the moment, YN Jay. Instead, Yachty doubled down. He recently appeared on a track with locals RMC Mike and Louie Ray, and he was spotted in the studio with Rio Da Yung OG. Now he’s got a punchline marathon with KrispyLife Kidd, the Flint rapper who once said, “Take dog obituary make a paper plane out it.” Though “Krispy Boat” is the first track Yachty and Kripsy have released together, the two are already finishing each other’s lines. The duo’s finest moment comes when a worked-up KrispyLife Kidd is clearly about to say something offensive, only to be interrupted by Yachty, who raps, “He was about to say some shit that he ain’t really mean.” That save is enough to declare Yachty an official Flint ambassador.
Glamorized depictions of organized crime have fascinated rappers for decades, and Damedot is no different—many of his past songs begin with Meadow Soprano asking her father, “Are you in the mafia?” On “Bagathon” he’s still committed to capturing the lifestyle. Over a beat that moves in slow motion, he smoothly raps, “Got so many phones, feds sick they can’t tap me up.” His obsession is slightly dated, but he’s a good enough rapper to pull it off.
Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin: “Richard Pryor”
FlySiifu, a duo comprised of Birmingham’s Pink Siifu and Richmond’s Fly Anakin, has all of my attention. On “Richard Pryor,” the second release from their upcoming album, the pair sound as soothing as a day spent sitting on the porch with your grandparents. “In hindsight I’ma prolly die like this/Step out fly bumping ‘Me & My Bitch,’” raps Pink Siifu, in a reflective mood. He’s complemented perfectly by Anakin, whose flow is more intense, but still gentle: “Uncle Sam gave me his hand, I put the cash in it,” he says over a tender beat from Playa Haze. In the absorbing Nelson Nance-directed video for the track, Siifu and Anakin are dressed like they spend their free time playing cards at a park in the Lower East Side. FlySiifu have found something special.
I’m convinced G Herbo’s clone is actually a Terminator
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork