Every day, dozens of free rap releases hit the Web. These are the moment’s most interesting and resonant—and this week it’s a star-studded affair of new and free music.
1) French Montana – Casino Life 2: Brown Bag Legend
The South Bronx’s French Montana is the manifestation of New York rap in the 2010s: a byproduct of a New York City scene that’s long gone, along with every other region of rap that gets on the radio while rarely giving credit. French came up under the tutelage of Harlem rapper and crooner Max B’s melodic genius. French was basically his Flavor Flav, or at least a really good weed carrier. But as Max does 75 years upstate, it’s been French who’s reaped the platinum records and Kardashian dates.
Casino Life 2 follows up its overlooked predecessor from 2011. There’s no longer a bad photoshop of French and Sharon Stone on the cover, but there are a couple samples from the 1995 Martin Scorsese epic. But don’t let that vague concept fool you, there’s nothing consistent running through these 14 tracks, made in anticipation of his second major label album which is due out this summer. The only connection to NYC is a couple of verses from the faceless Queens rapper Chinx and an uncredited N.O.R.E. feature. Besides that though, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross show up to prove that French is in fact a famous rapper, there’s a song where Chris Brown bombs his audition to be the fourth member of Migos, and Will.I.Am attempts to be a Chicago street rapper, which is a worse look than his fucked-up haircut. There’s also a feature from someone named Zack, who’s apparently French Montana’s brother.
The music itself is as all-over-the-place as the list of features. Also on the list for the wackest sausage-fest party is Kanye West’s drooling apprentice Travis Scott to appeal to the aesthetic hypebeasts, and New Orleans pothead Curren$y to appeal to the stoners. There’s an almost comical range of music, and nearly none of it sounds any good. The Lil Wayne song is nice enough in a James Bond: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture kind of way, but the only other times the mixtape succeeds is when French stays within himself. On “Yay Yay,” he finds the lane that brought him to prominence as a solo artist: mindless stripclub anthems. The two songs with Chinx also stand out because it sounds like the rappers, sound, and studio they recorded it in were all in the same area code. But other than that, whatever genre mutilation the A&R person at Interscope Records was going for turned into a disaster. The outro song sounds like it’s Uncle Kracker (when I looked this song up I found out it was Everlast). Free Max B.
Remarkable reference: “Manute Bol hanging off my clip, boy”
2) Young Buck – 10 Bullets
Early last year, I heard a radio rip of the Young Buck song “Trained to Go;” it was the first thing I’d heard from the Tennessee rapper since he served a year and a half in a Mississippi prison on weapons charges. The beat was ethereal and haunting like an Enya song with a pistol grip pump in its lap, and Buck reminded me why he could possibly be the best rapper in 50 Cent’s G-Unit. I waited forever for a version of the song with no DJ tags, but it seemingly never came (if anyone has this mp3, please holler one). By this year, the G-Unit reunion was in full swing and “TTG” never found its way to proper release. Buck put out a mixtape earlier this year that was mostly a rushed promo for his reuniting band, and despite none of it touching “Trained to Go,” his newest mixtape 10 Bullets is a much better effort.
The DJ Whoo Kid-hosted tape has a drop from Samuel L. Jackson and a bunch of different bullets standing on a chessboard on the cover, which seems really impressive. On the songs themselves, Buck has a kind of reserved nihilism that can also be read as maturity. He raps, “‘Pac gone now you motherfuckers stuck with me” on “Not This Time,” which is about how he got back in G-Unit clear-eyed and solely for the money. “Hoes and a Ounce” uses the same daunting strings as Big Sean’s “Paradise.” When Young Buck creates the maudlin rapping-from-the-other-side effect like on “Dope Boy,” or he sounds more like he’s from south of the Mason-Dixon line than of a New York rap group member, like on “Craccin and Poppin,” the raps can be straight-up compelling.
Remarkable reference: “Might shoot off to the Grizzly game on any given Sunday”
3) Sasha Go Hard – Nutty World 2
In 2011, before Chicago’s drill music scene graced the webpages of Gawker and became the thinkpiece microcosm for which to discuss the city’s street violence, South Side rapper Sasha Go Hard dropped “What We Do.” She rapped in the brunt, braggy, post-Atlanta style of many of her drill contemporaries, on the instrumental for Snoop Dogg’s “Platinum,” which was featuring Chitown’s own R. Kelly and produced by Lex Luger, one of the main architects of that earlier ATL sound. The video was directed by the local producer DJ Kenn, and was indicative of how the music scene capitalized on visuals. It’s still Sasha’s most-viewed YouTube video, thanks in part to a moment from 1:02 where Ms. Go Hard shows her Blackberry to the camera as an incoming call pops on the screen reading “Lame Ass N***a,” along with the wack dude’s uncensored 10-digit number.
As most of the Chicago street rap scene has either signed with a major or faded into the periphery, Sasha has steadily been releasing mixtapes, while also collaborating with one-hit wonder Kreayshawn and Florida producer/trendfinder/carpetbagger Diplo. Nutty World 2 is just the latest example of how she has improved her flow and kept the fire in her belly seven mixtapes in. The tape’s repeated opening bars are “Long as I’m eating my daughter won’t starve/She the main reason that I’m going hard.” Sasha had a daughter late last year and in spite of proclaiming herself definitively not a drill rapper, she can still sound as hard as any other street guy. She experiments with some different sounds courtesy of Tampa producer Haz on the Beat, even putting together a legitimately sung chorus on “Don’t Fall In Love.” Sasha proves to be a dynamic rapper but when she really goes off on something right in her wheelhouse, it’s obvious she can rap better than a lot of her contemporaries.
Remarkable reference: “Pretty bitch with Timbs no heels I’m being real/My name marking the game/Chiraq where is my deal?”
4) Katie Got Bandz – Zero to 39th
Katie Got Bandz is similar to Sasha Go Hard not just in just their rap names’ grammatical similarity and being rappers from Chicago, but also because they’re both unsigned and fairly prolific from what at least feels like it could be the last real regional rap scene to exist mainly in real life–or at least the last to find huge local popularity without first spreading to the rest of the country. Katie also had a memorable debut from 2011, called “I Need a Hitta,” which is both more gangster and more romantic than any Ja Rule song. The differences between the two South Side rappers are notable too. Sasha will occasionally sing as well as rap. Katie’s every bar sounds like it could be the the first instruction to the person she’s robbing.
This is quite frankly some of the hardest gangsta rap out today, with Katie making gun puns on gun puns, while skittering 808s, echoing gun sounds, and her reckless ad-libs fill every track. Also while Sasha has gone to different producers looking for new sounds, most of the beatmakers who have songs on Zero to 39th have been around the Chicago drill scene for years. And yet it’s when Katie breaks out of her more straightforward taunting that the songs get most intriguing. At one point she raps “I just wanna get me a Grammy” and it will be curious to see if she wants one enough to expand her sound, like the EDM song she did a couple years ago.
Remarkable reference: “Three-five stuffed in one blunt now a bitch buzz like Lightyear”
5) OJ da Juiceman – The Realest N***a I Know 2
Looking back now, it’s astonishing that OJ da Juiceman was even a somewhat relevant rapper at any place in time. He got his start by living in the same apartment building as Atlanta trap god Gucci Mane, and was one of the ships riding Atlanta’s rising tide of street rap at the end of the last decade. Da Juman’s 2008 single, “Make tha Trap Say Aye” hit No. 108 on the Billboard Hot 200, no small feat for a rapper who’s ad-libs are arguably better than his rapping. He was featured on singles by R&B maven R. Kelly and Yonkers rap legend Jadakiss. But as the rappers in OJ’s class were losing relevance (including him), he just continued cranking out mixtapes with increasingly goofy covers (notably Lord of the Rings).
I can only guess what most of the rappers on the same label, 1017 Brick Squad, are up to these days, but Juman has kept up releasing mediocre-to-extraordinary music. OJ dropped an album last year (or at least a buyable mixtape) which fills me with joy, even though, I gotta be honest, I didn’t listen. But I love the idea of OJ never ceasing, and I did in fact listen to his newest tape, The Realest N***a I Know 2.
There’s too many songs but one can never insist upon their realness too much. I kind of zoned out with the headphones in, but “Snakes N da Grass” sounds awfully triumphant for a song about backstabbers, “Hot Tamale” has some interesting backwards classical strings, and “Find My Way” sounds like it wants to sample Eurythmics but never quite does. By far the best song on the tape is “D.O.P.E,” which is also the most maudlin, either because he legitimately feels sorry for his haters or da Juman realizes that no matter how dope his life can get, he’ll never be wholly happy. Either way, pretty dope song.
Remarkable reference: “Back to drinking mud/Smoking on bud/Big long pistol like my name was Elmer Fudd”
Screengrab via FrenchMontanaVEVO/YouTube