Rap is no longer the light-hearted music it used to be, a while ago. Neither its conscious side – or what’s left with it – nor the materialistic and violent one, radiate joy and happiness. Even the most hedonistic kind of rap, the one tailored for clubs and dancefloor, is more about debauchery, drug addiction and mental disorders, than about passion for life. Even when it is all about power and success, it smells badly of revenge and competition. And so, when in 2015 Kamaiyah released "How Does it Feel", this single was welcome like some bowl of fresh air.
Those familiar with Starlito's - strong - latest releases may have noticed this: the Nashville rapper now frequently collaborates with a man called Mobsquad Nard. He featured on several of his projects, Manifest Destiny, Hot Chicken and Funerals & Court Dates 2. His very first appearances, though, predated these collaborations. The Jacksonville rapper, actually, started being noticed with his song "Right Ni", in 2015. And afterwards, he has been taken in charge by Cinematic Music Group, the Sony subsidiary already supporting rap luminaries like Joey Badass, Mick Jenkins and G-Herbo, which allowed the young man to start being covered by the media.
So, Kodak Black was not alone in Pompano Beach, in the Floridian county of Broward. Revealed in 2016 with his The Koly Bible mixtape, Koly P was another rapper coming from there. And of course, the two of them were connected. The guy formerly known as Kolyon had originally been a member of The Kolyons, with Dirty 1000, and Kodak B had been associated with them. The first time the duo was noticed, actually, was when it featured on "My Wrist", on Heart of the Projects. And they had collaborated even before. Nowadays, though, Koly P is his own man. And, after the warm welcome his first mixtape received, thanks to "Rich Gang" and "Gooked Out", he confirmed his greatness on April 18, 2017 – on his birthday – with a new release with a religion-inspired title: Rap Game Messiah.
In case some still have doubts about why mixtapes are so great, or if they wonder why rappers give for free what, actually, are real albums, they should have a close look at Future's career. Twice, he's been the herald of a new evolution of Atlanta's trap music based on Auto-Tune raps and vulnerable lyrics, a subgenre at the very core of the 2010's. By 2011, True Story and Streetz Calling had paved the way to Pluto, his first album. And after his second opus, Honest, hadn't met expectations, the rapper went back to the mixtape format, with a series of releases respectively titled Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights. Altogether, these had restored the critics' faith in Future, and helped DS2, his third album, collecting rave reviews.
Maybe people got bored, after all the craze around mixtape series like Dedication or Da Drought. Or, possibly, all were convinced now that Lil Wayne was on a downward slope. Or maybe it was no longer surprising, in the 2010's, to have major rappers releasing better mixtapes than their official albums; it had become a standard. Another theory might be that Weezy himself was now outpaced by the new transformation this musical format was quickly going through, while they became actual albums, instead of compilations of freestyles and existing tracks. Anyway, whatever the rationale was, the situation with Sorry 4 the Wait was the following: it didn't create as high expectations as the rapper's previous mixtapes.
The wait was long, before Fatimah Warner's first project, Telefone, was disclosed. Released in 2016 only, it had been heralded three years earlier, when Noname Gypsy – now just Noname – made a name for herself with her contribution to Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap mixtape. Quicker to feature on others' projects than to record her own, she also participated to Mick Jenkins's conceptual – and very strong – The Water(s), and more recently, to Late Knight Special, an album from New-York's rapper and producer Kirk Knight, and to Saba's Bucket List Project.
There's not just one Peezy in the rap game. While the buzz is growing around OMB Peezy, another guy with the same name deserves our attention: Team Eastside Peezy (per a new trend, rappers include now their bands' name to their own: will we talk soon about WTC Raekwon?). His Ballin Ain't a Crime mixtape is, indeed, one of the best in 2017. Contrary to the young rapper from Alabama, though, this Peezy is experienced. Based out of Detroit, his collective is active since the early 2010's. Now almost 30, Phillip Glen-Earl Peaks already released several albums or mixtapes, like Mud, Sweat & Tears in 2015, so far his most noticeable project.
Lady Leshurr is one of those who, recently, benefited from the grime resurgence. Along with others like Skepta or Stormzy, this British rapper caught the attention of her American peers over the last few months, with her "Queen's Speech" freestyle series. The fourth of them even made it to a Samsung commercial, exposing her to a large audience. And in her recent interviews, she mentioned potential collaborations with US heavyweights like Bangladesh and Timbaland.
Coming from the city of Mobile, in Alabama, Rich Boy started making some noise in 2006 with "Throw Some D's", a single about his new Cadillac – a luxury car he had undoubtedly bought with dirty money. To keep the momentum, Maurice Richards – his real name – contributed the following years to the mixtapes of more notorious rappers like Ludacris, or beginners like a certain Drake. And also, he released a first album, which would become a moderate success. What needs to be retained from his discography, though, is a mixtape he would record in 2008, to herald a second opus, Break the Pot, he would finally release much later, in 2013.
For decades, sex was a central theme in rap music. Often described in very raw and explicit ways, it is one of the key reasons why some people hate hip-hop. Because of this, they consider it too vulgar, or sexist, not always noticing – or appreciating – the often humorous and playful side of the approach. The shock value and debates even took an extreme turn, when successful female rappers like Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown played this game. They started a new war between two radically antagonistic kinds of feminism: the first, the rigorist one, which considers that women shouldn't present themselves as objects of desire; and the other one, according to which they are allowed to expose freely their libido and sexual appetites, that it is an inalienable human right, and a proof of their emancipation.
This is a well-established rule: any rap crew needs to have one feminine member. Such is the case with the Sailing Team, the collective led by Lil Yachty, who recently became an icon of Atlanta's new generation. Among his gang of happy guys with colored hairs, is a young lady, Kodie "Shane" Williams. Coming from a family of musicians – her half-sister used to belong to Blaque – she is not the least interesting of the band. She proved it last year, with a series of short projects like 2060, Little Rocket and Zero Gravity, and her defining song, "Sad". Having joined now Epic Records, thanks to Lil Yachty's post "Broccoli" notoriety, and benefiting from a growing media exposure, Kodie Shane recently proposed a new mixtape.
Things are going fast, in rap music. Chief Keef's fate is a proof of this. Five years earlier, in 2012, he was on the verge of becoming the master of the world. The big thing, by then, was Chicago's drill music, and the young rapper was incontestably its figurehead. Multiple media talked about him, as many labels courted him, and he had the opportunity to release a popular album. One year later, he joined Gucci Mane's 1017 Brick Squad crew, he featured on Kanye West's Yeezus, and even Lou Reed praised him. But suddenly, it was over. Chief Keef had to deal with judiciary issues, he was dropped from Interscope, and after having built his success out of a populist stance, he turned more or less experimental. He even left Chicago, he announced he would retire from music, and he didn't release any project in 2016.
As 2016 is coming to an end, it is good to review its new faces, and to choose those we want to remember. Among these is Travon Smart, a.k.a. Jimmy Wopo, a young man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who surfaced with the success of his "Elm Street" single. First coopted by local stars Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa – he is affiliated to the Taylor Gang – he was also praised by Mike Will, performed on stage with Rae Sremmurd, collaborated with Sonny Digital, and shared the mic with Riff Raff and another rising star, 21 Savage, whose "No Heart" he remixed.
The CunninLynguists have been, in many ways, an exception. The duo – later on, a trio - had represented more or less the backpack rap tradition in a place, the Dirty South, where it scarcely existed. Also, in an anachronistic way, they have been loyal to some 90's and Dungeon Family inspired kind of hip-hop, at a time when Atlanta had moved to other subgenres, like crunk, or trap music. And curiously, by the mid-00's, with their third album, A Piece of Strange, they started meeting some success, at least on the critics side, exactly when their kind of rap had seemed rejected to the dustbin of history. As a matter of fact, by the end of the decade, the group was fully part of the hip-hop landscape; it could mix with people coming from other worlds than indie rap, and be a full part of the game by 2009, when mixtapes reached an unequaled status, when they were all the rage.
In the 2010's, rap's biggest mainstream star is Drake, undoubtedly. He understood how rap was had changed from a musical genre, into the very center of international pop. He abolished the borders with other genres, using singing tunes, and also, with Future and a few others, the melancholic synthetic sounds rap critic Jeff Weiss and rapper Nocando once called a "sad robot music". Before Drake, though, there were others. Kanye West, of course, whose 808s & Heartbreak was somehow the matrix of this kind of music. But also Kid Cudi, who had contributed to this album, and released before that his own manifesto, A Kid Named Cudi.
By 1997, at the age of 19, Charly Wingate was sent to prison on thievery charges. He stayed there until 2005, and he returned to jail as soon as in 2009, supposedly for having ordered a murder. The case was somehow frail, but he was sentenced to a 75 years' imprisonment nonetheless. Needless to say, the Harlem rapper known as Max B had limited time to build his legend. And to make matters worse, this short period was troubled by his conflict with Jim Jones. Originally sponsored by the Dipset member - Charly had met him through his childhood friend Cam'Ron - he had been the creative force in his own ByrdGang collective. But afterwards, the two of them had started one of the most persistent beefs in hip-hop's history.
In 2014, while Future and his clique were sojourning in the Emirates, on their way to a prestige weekend taking place by the time of Abu Dhabi's grand prix, DJ Esco was arrested in the Dubai airport with a few grams of marijuana. UAE authorities don't joke with drugs, and he was sent for 56 nights in a local prison. In early 2015, a few weeks after his liberation, he named his new mixtape according to this unpleasant experience, and expectedly, this was talking about personal torments. Future, however, didn't say a word about his DJ's misadventure on this release: on the opposite, he focused on his own emotional troubles, and closed the great mixtapes trilogy inspired by his break-up with Ciara, he had started after Honest.
In 2002, Sage Francis stopped being the underground's best kept secret, due to the release of his first album, Personal Journals. Thanks to some great tracks and beats – maybe, also, because of his rock music compatibility – and despite the record's heterogeneity, the rapper and spoken word artist from Providence suddenly extended his audience. However, per one of the universal laws of music, some fans were disappointed. They thought that his Sick of… mixtapes had been much more exciting, especially the first of the series, Sick of Waiting Tables...
Until now, Young M.A. hasn't done much. She only released a few songs of her own, and mostly focused on freestyles. It is actually through one of them that her name started buzzing. Built on Nicki Minaj and Lil Herb's "Chiraq", rapped along a few of her RedLyfe PainGang buddies like Rell Markz and LA Danger, and renamed according to her borough, "Brooklyn" was a viral success. Thanks to it, the New-York rapper joined the historical Duck Down Music label – which was somehow logical considering this young woman's brash, virile and intimidating kind of rap.
You can't have missed them. The guys from the Sauce Factory, indeed, have been quite present over the last few months. They released several mixtapes, and were praised by locals like Slim Thug, as well as superstars like Drake. They are everywhere, and presented like the next wave in one of rap's biggest strongholds: Houston. The Sauce Twinz (Sauce Walka and Sancho Saucy), Sosamann, 5th Ward JP, Drippy, Rizzo, plus a few others, are coming from different places in the Texan city, but they all belong to the same new generation. They are the heralds of a new movement, a new sound, a new concept – all at once – they call "the sauce".