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.
Twenty years of the Baller Blockin’ soundtrack
Outside of Allen Iverson, the coolest thing to a kindergartner like myself in the year 2000 was the sight of a teenage, baby-faced Lil Wayne on BET’s Rap City. His rapping was great, sure, but I was more enamored with his style: the colorful bandanas, the T-shirts draped over his body like a cloak, the straight-back braids that my Haitian father wouldn’t let me have.
At that age, most of the videos that aired on Rap City were a blur, but some days, after host Big Tigger’s neverending spiel was over, they would play my favorite: “Project Bitch” (censored as “Project Chick”) from the soundtrack of Cash Money’s Baller Blockin’, a street drama made by and starring the label members. I was naive and had no context for what was flashing in front of my eyes, yet I was locked in. The video felt more fantastical than an episode of The Magic School Bus: cars that looked like spaceships zipping down the highway, projects that were made to feel as glamorous as a party in The Great Gatsby, and, of course, Lil Wayne’s outfits.
Wayne could have said anything over the thudding Mannie Fresh instrumental, and I would have loved it the same. All that mattered was the cherry-red shirt hanging off his torso, like he forgot to put his other arm through the sleeve, and the white durag dangling from his head to his knees. Or the Titans jersey, once again covering only half of his body, paired with jeans big enough to fit an NBA small forward. I had no idea what a style icon was, but I knew one when I saw it; kids of the past probably felt the same every time they looked at Diana Ross or Donna Summer or LL Cool J. Twenty years later, it’s a moment that I still remember as the beginning of my relationship with rap.
21 Savage and Metro Boomin revive the classic Pen & Pixel look for their Savage Mode 2 album cover
Big Jade: “I Ain’t F#ckin”
Beaumont, Texas loudmouth Big Jade has the best music videos. In her last couple, she has delivered her sharp, rapidfire flow while braiding hair. (Jade mercilessly parting her daughter’s hair on a stoop in the “Phone Jumpin” clip brings back childhood memories of watching my mom and sister doing the same.) In the video for her new single “I Ain’t F#ckin,” she lays down edges with the precision of a surgeon as she spits about the men who won’t leave her alone: “He wanna date me, say he wanna save me, he callin’ me baby, I wish he would stop,” she raps on a vocal sample that sounds similar to Nelly’s “Air Force Ones.” Whether she has the rat tail comb in her hand or not, Big Jade is a must watch.
Heavy Steppers: “Gangstas Only”
Ke Millie and SBG Kemo are the Heavy Steppers, a Chicago duo who sound like they want to kick their designer boots straight through a wall. On “Gangstas Only,” the West Side twosome are in their comfort zone. The minimal, bass-heavy beat seems to be the result of a producer recklessly slamming the lowest keys on the piano. In under two minutes, Millie and Kemo keep up the momentum they established on last year’s viral single, “Heavy Steppers.” “I like Louis, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Off-White, I be fresher to death!/I like shooting guns in Louboutins!” raps Kemo; few other rappers can make such a clichéd list of brands so unforgettable. The song feels unfinished—Millie doesn’t even get a full verse, only the hook. But maybe after Millie heard Kemo scream, “I like big ol’ juicy booty!” he decided there was no point in trying to top that. Understandable.
Five producers behind the sound of Michigan rap right now
Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time in this column praising the rappers of Detroit and Flint—but what about the producers who are consistently providing the scene with a stream of hectic and nervous-sounding instrumentals? Here are a few of the best beatmakers the Great Lake State has to offer.
Right now, Detroit’s Topside is the most trusted producer in the city. His dark, cryptic instrumentals suit rappers with more lethargic deliveries, like Baby Smoove, Babyface Ray, and the WTM crew. Though his finest work can be heard on his beats for Los, which sound like they wouldn’t be out of place on a No Limit cassette or a Street Lord’z record.
If you’ve spent any time immersed in Flint’s rap scene this year, chances are you’ve come across a fast-paced, anxious, and church bell-heavy Enrgy beat. Whenever you see a Rio Da Yung OG or YN Jay “type beat,” they’re most likely trying to replicate the sound of Enrgy.
Jose the Plug
Beat of the year: Sada Baby’s “Aktivated”
BeatsBySav is from Chicago, but the “type beat” producer has made his name in Michigan. He can adapt to any sound, though he feels most at home when he’s matching the impulsive energy of Kasher Quon or YN Jay.
Beat of the year: YN Jay’s “Coochie Man Pt. 2”
These days, Damjonboi beats are hard to come by, since he saves most of his work for his own raps. He’s probably the most traditional Detroit producer on this list, and you can feel the traces of a veteran like Helluva in everything he releases.
Beat of the year: Damnjonboi’s “Blessed”
GTP Daidoe and BabyTron: “Huge Lifestyle”
The anxious drums and warm jazz piano on “Huge Lifestyle” sound like they could soundtrack a cocktail night at the Village Vanguard. Concocted by Machu Productions, the blend is made bizarre by the presence of GTP Daidoe and the ShittyBoyz’s BabyTron, who start rapping about get-rich-quick-scams as soon as they enter the picture. “This phone never ring; it’s for illegal shit,” raps Daidoe, quickly followed by BabyTron, who, as usual, is talking recklessly: “I don’t got a job, I catch jacks, and I crack banks.” With “Huge Lifestyle,” the pair just might earn themselves a couple of spins on WBGO radio.
The mixed feelings of Rylo Rodriguez
Rylo Rodriguez’s punchlines are either painful, dumb, or hilarious—sometimes they’re all three. But because they’re always delivered with the same dreary deadpan, you have to listen to each line closely to place the tone. Every song is a rollercoaster ride, and this week’s “Standing in the Rain” is no different.
“Ain’t no more love inside my bones, that’s how my dawg died”
“Standing in the rain, waiting on the sun/Wondering if it don’t come”
“Tell that ho I ain’t no freak, I can’t put it in her butt”
“Fuck a hideout, we drop addresses, I ain’t talking skirts”
“Ho sat on my lap, push her off me, these Amiris”
“Fifteen hundred on Dior, fuck it, I buy them hoes like Sperrys”
Chuck Strangers: “Regular Season”
If you’re of a certain age in New York, Joey Bada$$’s 1999 will forever hold weight. Sprinkled across that record was Chuck Strangers, a Brooklyn rapper and producer who has been putting out soulful hip-hop at his own pace ever since. On “Regular Season,” the new single from his upcoming project, the cinematic self-production is perfect for his distorted musings. “I put my head down all 82 games,” says Chuck on the hook, comparing his grind to the NBA’s regular season. His raps are assertive and his production is graceful—it feels like a solo breakthrough. Maybe it’s time he left his mark on New York’s rap scene once again.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork