Hometown Sound in Post-Regional Hip Hop

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In Lil Wayne’s “Shooter” from his 2005 album Tha Carter 2, he raps: “And to the radio stations, I’m tired of being patient/Stop being rapper racists, region haters.” He’s dissing radio stations for the prejudice they had against Southern rappers for their supposed simplicity. That feels like a long time ago—especially since the South dominates the mainstream hip hop style—and also because the internet more-or-less eroded these regional boundaries, allowing for much wider collaboration and the sharing of flows and sounds. However, as positive as this has been, it can lead to problems. When you don’t have a foundation, sonically, it can lead to some confused, muddled projects, and I think Quavo’s first solo project Quavo Huncho is exemplary of that. To put it curtly, Quavo is trying to do too much; sometimes not having any restraints is a bad thing. On the other hand, there are two recent projects that are about as regional as anything can be in contemporary hip-hop: Drip Harder and Mudboy. By looking at the successes of these albums, we can see why Quavo Huncho wasn’t up to par.

Quavo’s Underwhelming Solo Debut

Quavo is the most recognizable figure of Migos, a hip hop group of Beatles-level influence and popularity. For reasons that are ostensibly clear, Quavo Huncho is his first attempt to go after it without his nephew and cousin (yes, imagine being in a rap group with your uncle and cousin). But after listening to it, there is no clear reason why this is a solo project. He has a deluge of features, and every one of the 19(!) tracks sounds like it could be on a completely different album—in a bad way. The only cohesive theme is that Quavo is going to make weird choices that will leave you either confused or bored.

Like on “Fuck 12,” he opens with a sample from a Malcolm X speech, and then the first word Quavo says is “fabrics!” and it takes an entire minute for anything political to enter the song. The song isn’t bad, and it has a good verse from Offset, but why waste our time and your own time with a whole verse that has nothing to do with what you’re trying to say in the song? Sometimes the weird choices work out, like “Champagne Rose,” which inexplicably features Madonna and a much-more-welcome Cardi B. But it just seems like Quavo is suffering from an excess of riches. He can have any producer he wants, and he utilizes his reach (credits to Murda Beatz, Wheezy, Buddah Bless, Tay Keith, Pharrell… you get the idea). He wanted to try everything, and it seems like nobody suggested that maybe he didn’t have to release every song he recorded. Quavo seems a little too certain that he can effortlessly make hits, and so he released the musical equivalent of throwing twenty darts at a target hoping one hits. Personally, I don’t think any of these songs will stick around.

Lil Baby and Gunna’s Exciting First Collaboration

Drip Harder is a joint project released by Atlanta natives and Young Thug proteges, Lil Baby and Gunna. Both of them have been having a pretty good year, Lil Baby more so. He had a hit with Drake in “Yes Indeed,” and even had one of the better verses on Quavo’s album in “Lose It.” Drip Harder is a merciful 38 minutes, and it is primarily produced by Turbo with some help from Wheezy and Quay Global—all Atlanta producers. And, as opposed to Quavo Huncho, this project seems to have a coherent intention.

Gunna and Lil Baby are signed by Quality Control, so they could’ve had just about whoever they wanted on this album. But they showed restraint and stuck with the people they knew, and it paid off. The best songs are when Gunna and Lil Baby are trading bars over a Turbo’s production, like on “Drip Too Hard” and “My Jeans,” which has Young Thug with the best feature of the album. There are not many features either, aside from a head-scratching Nav and Lil Durk on the first track. Of course, smelling clout, Drake also came running and delivered a nice verse on “Never Recover;” and Drake might as well be from Atlanta, right? He’s the new King of Reggaeton, so I guess nothing matters if you’re Drake. The album stagnates a little, especially on Gunna and Lil Baby’s individual tracks, but it’s a collaboration that shows a lot of promise and is sure to bolster the recognition of both these artists.

Mudboy Showcases a Surprising Sheck Wes

Sheck Wes released his debut album Mudboy two weeks ago. You might know Sheck Wes from his absolute banger, “Mo Bamba.” It’s a song that emerged from a 20-minute freestyle, and it more or less catapulted him to fame—the video has over 30 million views. Plus, it got Sheck signed to Cactus Jack (Travis Scott’s label) as well as G.O.O.D Music (Kanye’s label). So Mudboy was a very hyped debut that probably should’ve let people down.

Sheck Wes could’ve easily used this as an opportunity to chase hits, and to use all his label’s resources to cop every feature and producer he wanted, in an effort to amplify his name recognition. Instead, he seems to execute a very specific, personal musical vision. It’s a weird, unexpected album. But Sheck is a weird guy. He was one of the best basketball players in New York City before he was even known as a rapper, he was modeling in the Yeezy fashion show at MSG, and he spent a formative month in Senegal which led him to have Nobel-Peace-Prize-level aspirations. Most of the production on Mudboy consists of lowkey, haunting beats produced by LunchBox (also from Harlem) that slips into the background as Sheck’s straightforward, charismatic delivery carries the track.

This conciseness has been mistaken as simplicity by some, such as the producer Zedd who went on twitter to hate on “Mo Bamba” and got more-or-less dragged by a smattering of producers. One of A-Trak’s (the producer who tweeted back at him) arguments was that when “Mo Bamba” plays at a club, there’s a different sort of energy. If you’ve experienced that, like I have, you get that the song is just too lit to effectively describe.
But it’s not like Sheck is just after big club bangers; interspersed between the hard-hitting songs are more serious moments when he explores what it was like growing up in Harlem, as a “Mudboy,” as he calls it. On “Live Sheck Wes,” he raps: “It gets tragic where I live, everything is negative/Hold the roaches in the crib, elevator full of piss/Everybody grew up tough, bunch of diamonds in the rough/Police ain’t never give a fuck, they just want us in them cuffs.” A verse which Pitchfork called, “as clear and concise an indictment of big-city politics as in any rap.” One of my favorite parts of the album is when he raps a whole verse in Wolof—a Senegalese language—on “Jiggy with the Shit.” It’s a great touch. Throughout, his austere writing and the bleak beats combine to paint a picture of Sheck’s personality and where he comes from. It is almost the complete opposite of Quavo’s album, and where QuavoHuncho fails, Mudboy succeeds. Maybe it proves that some restraint can have a positive creative benefit.

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