Album Reviews, Arts & Entertainment

Reanimating the corpse of trap music

There was a time, not too long ago, when it seemed that Lil Yachty was the future. He looked and sounded like a radically new type of rapper, happiest when crooning over samples of cartoon theme songs, his bars lighthearted and youthful. He entered the mainstream with his 2016 mixtape Lil Boat charting at number 106 on the Billboard 200. The then-18-year-old joined Quality Control, the Atlanta label which includes Migos among its signed artists.

Then, he bricked hard. His debut full-length record, 2017’s Teenage Emotions, was boring, overlong, and a commercial disappointment (and for some reason featured Diplo). The album’s sales were as disappointing as its critical reception, moving less than 50 thousand units in its first week. Another dud could put an end to the short reign of the so-called king of teens. Thankfully, his newest project, Lil Boat 2, released March 9, 2018, finds Yachty unshaken from the failure of Emotions and making some of the best music of his career.

The Atlanta rapper manages to display his improved technical skills while also recalling the carefree bubble-gum trap of his early career. On “love me forever,” Yachty floats over production by Buddah Bless with the fun auto-tuned singing that distinguished Lil Boat the first.

Cuts like “COUNT ME IN” and “OOPS” highlight his marked improvements; on the latter, Yachty impresses by confidently changing his flow over a simplistic drum beat. He deploys his characteristically hilarious bars throughout: On “COUNT ME IN” he implores listeners to call him “Yachty Rothschild.”

The record is good, not great. It slogs in the middle, with songs like “Das Cap” and “WHOLE lotta GUAP” rehashing the same ideas, and sounds he expounds sufficiently on other tracks. And while Yachty has surely developed as a rapper, he still struggles to go bar-for-bar with the likes of Ugly God and 2 Chainz.

Still, this is the project that Teenage Emotions should have been: A solid showcase of all the eccentricities that have made Yachty one of the most subversive rappers of the decade.

Ten years Yachty’s senior, Los Angeles rapper 03 Greedo is no less irreverent. His sound is difficult to pin down, using both Gucci Mane-like triplets alongside R&B melodies that would fit well on a prime Stevie Wonder record. His beat selection is impressive, and he sounds comfortable spitting over both old-school synths as well as the drum machines that have become omnipresent in today’s trap. Lyrically, Greedo is very much a part of the gritty, realist West Coast tradition.

Greedo’s versatility shines through on his impressive new mixtape, The Wolf of Grape Street. On the lead single, “Substance,” his voice carelessly glides over a chilled-out soul beat, contrasting with the story of his struggle with substance abuse. “Baytoven” is celebratory, with Greedo comparing his go-to producers to some of the industry’s hottest: “Ron Ron just like my Zaytoven/Beat Boy, that’s my Metro Boomin’.” Greedo sounds like he’s having fun, effortlessly rapping over a beat that sounds like the brainchild of the same producers who pioneered Migos’ sound.

The mixtape loses no steam down the stretch. Greedo’s versatility demands the listener’s attention by refusing to stay with one sound. He goes for a more atmospheric and smooth sound on “For My Dawgs,” but a few tracks later explodes on the abrasive “Vulture.” 03 Greedo’s strength is his flexibility, and he manages to show it off without making the album feel unfocused.

Yachty and Greedo represent an answer to the current stasis trap music finds itself in. The Migos sound, which seemed so revolutionary not so long ago, has gotten stale. This January’s Culture II, for example, is a bore at almost two hours longin part because they tediously relied on the same formula of triplets and strange adlibs that made Culture work so well. The few highlights of the record are the tracks that the group experiments on, like “Stir Fry.”

Yachty and Greedo, on the other hand, have revitalized the sound by injecting it with their unique personalities and influences. We’d be lucky if these records are any indication of the sound of trap to come.

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