Trappers and Philosophers is a new hip-hop column by Michael Madden. Today, in the first installment, he discusses the emotional gamut found within new releases from gangsta rappers Schoolboy Q and Lil Herb—plus, new mixtapes and a Lil Boosie playlist in light of the rapper’s release from prison last week.
Colors, the Dennis Hopper-directed police procedural movie from 1988, is just fine, even if it’s aged terribly. When I watched it a couple months back, though, I was disappointed that, despite the movie’s focus on the relationship between Los Angeles Crips and Bloods (though more focus is placed on Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, and the heavily mustached rest of the LAPD), the gang members in the movie are practically unknowable. Colors was one of Don Cheadle’s first movies—he plays a solemn, nonsmoking Crip named Rocket—but there was no indication that the 23-year-old from Missouri, in a blue bandanna like the rest of the Crips, was going to be the star he is today. There’s also the red-haired actor Courtney Gains, credited but never named in the movie as Whitey, who spends all his time on-screen with the same doofy face: everything scrunched, nose pointed at the sky, front teeth showing even though he’s not smiling. The assumption is that Whitey is stupid-high or maybe just plain stupid; the point is the movie doesn’t address it.
What’s missing from the Crips and Bloods of Colors is the dimension of, say, the irascible Roland Bishop (Tupac Shakur) in 1992’s Juice. For their part, Schoolboy Q, with Oxymoron, and Lil Herb, with his debut mixtape, Welcome to Fazoland, don’t just depict gang life faithfully. (Q used to be an L.A. Crip, while Herb and the equally ascendant Lil Bibby are the most visible members of Chicago’s No Limit Muskegon Boys.) The two projects are vastly different in temperament, running g-rap’s emotional gamut from sorrow to celebration, peace to war.
It makes sense that the cold-blooded rap coming out of Chicago today might indirectly be related to a murder or two, just as Grand Theft Auto or anything else can conceivably inspire violence. Herb’s lyrics, however, are so clear that they thoroughly simulate the dark, twisted fantasies of shooters everywhere. Maintenance men mop up sidewalks crusty with blood. You learn that a stoplight is the most dangerous place for someone like Herb to be. On Fazoland‘s searing “All My Niggas”, he rattles off a way-too-long list of fallen friends—Kobe, Fazo, Peewee, it goes on. The PTSD symptoms of the first half are only a couple logical steps from the unrestrained trigger-happiness of the second.
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Equalizing Schoolboy and Herb in some ways the fact that they’ve both attended funerals at a rate of regularity that doesn’t arrive for most of us until after Social Security starts. But Q has grown-ass-man responsibilities that Herb doesn’t. A recurring reminder of this on Oxymoron is the voice of Q’s daughter, Joy, who takes the mic several times on the album. At one point, you hear the sound of her trying to wake up Daddy while he’s space-cadeting on one substance or another. Her job is to propel him out of his stupor, in more ways than one.
Q isn’t necessarily someone for Herb to look up to, and Q would be the first to admit that. But the realism of Q’s music is something all young lyricists should look to for inspiration. If Herb sees a problem, it might end with him squeezing a trigger and laughing it off. The environmental and familial obstacles of Oxymoron, meanwhile, aren’t so easily defeated. Theoretically (firing up the time machine now), if Herb had been consulted when Colors was being written and produced, he probably would have woven his own toughness into the characters of Rocket and Clarence Brown, the fleet of foot Blood. Under Q’s direction, the movie would have no doubt been truer to the way the human spirit rises and falls. Either way, Oxymoron and Fazoland are the best of their respective worlds, and it’s a blessing they were released around the same time.
Turn the page to read about four new mixtapes and a Lil Boosie playlist…
Free Crack: Recommended New Mixtapes
The heading “Free Crack” is a nod to the Lil Bibby mixtape of the same name. This will forever need explaining.
Welcome to Fazoland’s intro is a minute-long compilation of snippets from past Lil Herb songs: “Next Up”, “Street Shit”, the Project Pat-sampling “My Hood”. All of these are the sound of an intensely combative street-rap vision, and Fazoland adds to that vision, Herb rapping in double-time and sounding like he’s recently developed a habit of munching on thumbtacks. Lyrically, Fazoland might be the most incisive rap record out of Chicago since the last Common album you loved. Imagine an hour-long version of Meek Mill’s merciless “Lil Nigga Snupe”. The slow-burning third installment of Herb’s “Four Minutes of Hell” series is here, and it’s a mature rumination, whereas the previous two were more about the tough talk. On “Designer”, Herb aims for the effect of Migos’ “Versace”, except that he rotates about a dozen words instead of just one. The guests are exclusively Chicago-bred: Lil Reese’s cackling verse on “On My Soul” might be his finest ever, while King Louie’s 16 on “Another Day” is unofficially hellish.
Alley Boy, unlike many of his Atlanta peers, is a born lyricist; his teeth-clenched turn on Freddie Gibbs’ 2011 “Rob Me a Nigga”, the first verse I remember hearing him, was an unstoppable moment of penniless desperation. “I’m a prophet of my time,” he says on “Too Comfortable”, explaining Alley Shakur’s 2Pac-alluding title. He’s one of the few street rappers who seems to step into every session thinking, What do I want this verse to be about?, and he brings that focus to trap narratives, turn-up records, and slick-talking, R&B-tinged tracks alike. On that count, Shakur edges 2013’s great War Cry for variety without losing focus.
75 million records. The late-’90s heyday of Master P’s No Limit Records now seems so far away that this figure is almost unbelievable, but Percy Miller is resurgent in 2014 thanks to songs like last year’s “Brick to a Million” and regular collaborators like Alley Boy and producer Drumma Boy. The Gift is an attempt to latch onto rap’s obsession with selling cocaine, but it wouldn’t exist without P’s trunk-splintering earlier material. Songs like the Game-featuring “Is There” and the Alley Boy assist “You a Genius” swirl like the work of P’s fellow New Orleans cult hero Curren$y, while “No Way” and a handful of others lurch with leveraging horns and rapid hi-hats.
The elastic-voiced rapper 100s still isn’t treating his women all that nicely, but IVRY, his neon-glowing EP debut on Fool’s Gold, sounds like pure chivalry from the Bay Area native as he sings sweeter and oftener than ever while rapping over mink rug basslines. Standouts include the gooey, curlicued “Slide on Ya” and the slapping Chuck Inglish production “Inglish Outro”. By the time 100s gets to the bouncy Prince pastiche “Middle of the Night”, it’s already clear where his strengths are.
Trouble Man: A Lil Boosie Playlist
Lil Boosie didn’t need prison to be secluded from much of the rap world. He’s already from Baton Rouge, which, to many of us, means he and his monstrous pet gators have been behind a certain invisible partition from the start. Boosie was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary last week after serving five years on a marijuana charge and additional drug indictments. A “new” Boosie song featuring Webbie, “Wartime”, was quickly loosed, and an in-studio video suggests he spent as much time in the weight room as he did penning new material (to say nothing about the completed GED). Hopefully for us and for him, the man who once likened his troublemaking to Garfield the cat will stick to his proverbial lasagna.
Boosie, now 31, is to Baton Rouge as Atmosphere is to Minnesota, maybe even more locally beloved. Having debuted at the age of 17 with 2000’s Youngest of Da Camp, he has one of rap’s signature voices, a fiery, hopped-up squeak that one out of six people will never be able to tolerate. But Boosie’s hunger has always been undeniable. Whether he’s rapping about his jewelry or his diabetes, it comes from a very real place. Here are 12 great Boosie songs, arranged by release date. “Give Me That” feat. Webbie and Bun B (2003) “Give Me That” arrived at a time when songs like this – hornball anthems straight out of the bayou – could make Katrina-size waves. Play. “Goin’ Thru Some Thangs” feat. Webbie (2003) The swerving “Goin’ Thru Some Thangs” was an early notice that Boosie can be synonymous with drama. Play. “Set It Off” (2006) – “It ain’t no games with me,” Boosie says as “Set It Off” winds down, and no other song here means business like this does. Play. Foxx feat. Lil Boosie — “Wipe Me Down” (2007) This kinetic single off the Trill Family Presents: Survival of the Fittest compilation ushered Boosie to the national stage as much as any song before or since. Play. C-Loc feat. Lil Boosie and Max Minelli — “That’s My Thug There” (2007) There was a time when most laptop producers had trouble disguising how cheap their productions were. “That’s My Thug There” might sound cheap, but it’s an endearingly homespun cheapness. Play. “Crayola” (2009) And he’s not talking about one of those wimpy eight-pencil packs, either. Play. “Back in the Day” (2009) Rappers record going-home songs all the time – there are too many of them, frankly – but few love their city as much as Boosie loves Baton Rouge. Play. “Gin in My Cup” feat. Big Wayne (2009) He might be sipping Bombay, but “Gin in My Cup” also finds Boosie flying high pharmaceutically. Play. “I’m Still Happy” (2010) It’s hard to argue with the message of this song. Boosie hasn’t just survived poverty, jail, and diabetes; he’s come out the other end smiling. Play. “The Rain” feat. Lil Trill (2010) Rap albums are generally at their weakest during the closing stretch. Not Incarcerated, which closes with “The Rain”. With Lil Trill in tow, Boosie constructs his own take on conscious-rap. Play. “Devils” feat. Foxx (2010) – On “Devils”, Boosie raps about foes like he’s a five-year-old flicking an especially unfriendly-looking insect from her knee. Play. “Bank Roll Pt. 2” feat. Webbie and Big Head (2010) – Draped with hearty strums and backwoods licks, “Bank Roll Pt. 2” is an ode to stability, not wealth. Play.