Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.
Jack Harlow’s most predictable move yet
The fraternity brothers who wear Mitchell & Ness throwback basketball jerseys need lifestyle music, too. Thank goodness they have Jack Harlow. The curly-haired Kentucky rapper’s latest song honors Tyler Herro, the 20-year-old Miami Heat star whose popularity is largely due to the fact that he probably would have been the dude at the frat party controlling the aux cord if he didn’t happen to be 6-foot-5 and really good at basketball.
On “Tyler Herro,” Harlow leans into the bit, but not nearly enough. “My homeboy Tyler he play in South Beach/He told me this summer he gon’ fix my jumper,” he raps over trendy production, like he’s just repeating the first conversation the two ever had. The track’s most memorable line is supposed to be a self-aware, goofy-white-guy joke—“I brought a gang to the party with me/Five white boys, but they not *NSYNC”—but it doesn’t land (unless Harlow’s ultimate goal is to ghostwrite for the Lonely Island). But even if he can’t think of anything notable to say about one of the most discussed professional athletes of the last two months, none of it probably matters, because at least he provides frat bros nationwide with the rap equivalent of a Wolf of Wall Street poster hung on the wall with thumbtacks, along with a few new embarrassing Instagram captions.
What is pgLang?
Kendrick Lamar and former TDE co-president Dave Free refuse to reveal any details about their new joint creative company, pgLang. “Putting pegs through square holes is not a process, but we embrace the idea of anarchy and challenges that make us stronger,” they say in the vaguest mission statement of all time. So far they have only released cryptic ads and two Baby Keem singles—which would suggest pgLang is a record label, but they insist there’s more to it. Well, if they won’t tell us, I guess we have to make some extremely smart guesses on our own. pgLang could be...
An Etsy shop that just releases deep phrases on T-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers
A lifestyle company with major Silicon Valley funding like Peloton, but instead of getting fit it’s about getting your vibes right
A secretive government agency designed to guide the political rise of Baby Keem
They have no idea what it is either
YN Jay: “Doonie Van”
YN Jay endlessly recycles his own lyrics—about the sex he’s had, the sex he is about to have, and the sex he hopes to have—and somehow keeps coming up with something new. On “Doonie Van,” the Flint rapper spends the bulk of the song’s one-and-a-half-minute runtime trying to find the power to repeat his signature bars from “Coochie Land”: “How are you doing today, I’m the Coochie Man/I just pulled up with 10 hoes in the doonie van.” In the process, Jay repeatedly stops, starts, and interrupts himself with anxious words of motivation like, “No you said it like that last time, Jay!” and “No man!” But eventually he manages to cooperate with himself and smoothly raps the two familiar lines. This breakthrough is short-lived: He halts again and screams “Ughhhhahhhh” in frustration, like he can’t control the words coming out of his mouth. Even for YN Jay, a rapper whose made a career out of “coochie”-themed songs in the past six months, “Doonie Van” is bizarre. I’m not even sure if this should be considered a song or if it’s just a peek inside of his warped mind.
We don’t make fun of older rappers like we used to
The new Netflix dramedy The Forty-Year-Old Version tells the semi-autobiographical story of director, writer, and star Radha Blank, who decides she wants to become a rapper as her 40th birthday approaches. When Radha tells her longtime best friend Archie that she wants to record a mixtape, he exasperatedly says, “Honey, we are not in high school”—but he doesn’t necessarily clown her newfound dream. Nobody in the film does (except a finger-wagging old woman who responds by telling her that “Harriet Tubman just shot herself in the afterlife”).
At one point, Radha shows up to the studio of a Brownsville, Brooklyn-based producer whose beats fit the dirty, Boot Camp Clik-style she’s looking for. I was fully expecting it to be an uncomfortable scene where she gets called “washed” before being shown the door, but that doesn’t happen. She ends up laying down a somewhat impressive record that would have once landed her on a Sean Price album. The young producer is dazzled by her storytelling and message, and her age almost becomes an afterthought.
We’re not so far removed from the days in hip-hop when Cam’ron was aiming at JAY-Z with lines like, “You 37 years old, you was born in 1968,” having such a good time clowning Jigga’s age that he didn’t even take a moment to get the birth year right (Jay was born in 1969). Or the time Jim Jones cackled about Jay being 40 on the “We Fly High” beefmix (the toll Dipset’s jokes took on Jay must be why he began rapping like a CPA). For years, rap has been a game for those in their teens, 20s, and, in special cases, early 30s—anyone older than that might as well put the mic down and focus on raising a family. It’s still like that to an extent, and lots of rappers continue to lie or dance around their actual ages. But as the genre has gotten older, so has the fanbase. In 2020, hip-hop is more accepting of oldish rappers than ever before.
This past week alone, one of the most high-profile releases was 35-year-old Benny the Butcher’s Burden of Proof, an album that sounds like a throwback to the days when Dame Dash oversaw East Coast rap like a mafia boss. The week before, the rap conversation was driven by the surprise release of 44-year-old Jay Electronica’s long-awaited Act II, and this year has been filled with memorable releases from MCs like Boldy James (38) and Ka (48). Noticeably, many of these rappers have found nostalgic niches—they’re not trying to be the next Lil Baby. By doing so, they’ve created an environment in hip-hop with enough room for someone like The Forty-Year-Old Version’s Radha to explore her creativity without being laughed at or, even more traumatizing, getting age-shamed on a diss track.
YoungBoy Never Broke Again: “The Story of O.J.”
The usual criticism of YoungBoy’s music is that too many of his songs use the same formula: bitter, catchy crooning about his insecurities and paranoia set to either a melancholy piano beat or some gloomy acoustics. You’ll rarely encounter a risk across his many mixtapes, but that hasn’t necessarily made the music less effective. YoungBoy’s refusal to step out of his comfort zone is part of what makes his remix to JAY-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” so surprising. The chilly No I.D. beat was intended to provide a backdrop for Jay’s rapping about real estate and taxes, but YoungBoy is angry at the world. “The Shade Room was posting things, they don’t understand how I’m living slime/But they won’t understand how I’m 20 cockin’ over 10 million huh,” he raps, taking shots at the Instagram blogs who follow his life like the paparazzi once did Paris Hilton. He doesn’t sing a note. Instead he just raps with straightforward fire, aggression, and hate—all the feelings that make this remix feel like one of Tony Soprano’s unhinged therapy sessions.
Five of the best recent Chief Keef leaks
Does anyone know what Chief Keef has been up to in the last several months? Maybe he’s spending the quarantine doing some home renovations. Maybe he picked up a new hobby, like gardening. Or maybe he’s just on his couch playing Warzone. Whatever it is, his fans won’t stop leaking his music. Just about every other day over the last two months, new Chief Keef songs have unofficially surfaced on YouTube. Here are the ones I keep coming back to.
Since Chief Keef was a teenager, he’s worn the influence of Gucci Mane on his sleeve. “Minnesota” sounds like it could exist on any Gucci mixtape before 2010, even down to the signature ATL trap horns. But the most bizarre touch is that the instrumental is completely drumless, as if Keef looped the five seconds before a trap beat usually starts and then rapped over it with phlegm in his throat.
Keef uses Auto-Tune sparingly, but when he does, it’s never overdone. “Promenade” boasts some of his best crooning, and if this song had an Uzi feature, it could have easily fit alongside “Bean (Kobe)” on LUV vs. The World 2.
You know the Chief Keef song is good when you can overlook him rapping about wanting to go to Puerto Rico to eat burritos.
This one reminds me of Back From the Dead 2-era Keef—my personal favorite. The ad-libs are endless, the beat sounds like it should be performed by a full orchestra, and his rapping is hilariously bleak: “I told my daughter stop breaking off her Barbie heads.”
I would listen to an entire tape of Keef remixing classic Gucci records.
TisaKorean: “Did You Know/Bounce”
For years, Houston’s TisaKorean has been soundtracking the constantly evolving Texas dance scene on YouTube. Even if choreography-obsessed social media apps like TikTok and Triller never came around, Tisa and other Texas dance rappers would be alive and well. But without really trying, they’ve become ideally suited for these platforms: A new TisaKorean song doesn’t feel desperate for a viral dance, it’s simply built to make you move. Just listen to the middle section of “Did You Know/Bounce,” when the song’s slow-motion pace picks up, and Tisa repeatedly shouts “bounce!” with energy that would make his ass-shaking dance-rap forefathers like Uncle Luke proud. Someone is probably working on the tutorial already.
Rx Papi: “I Forgot Who I Was”
It’s unclear whether Rx Papi does anything but record rap music. Almost every time you log on to YouTube, the Bronx rapper has a new song or mixtape ready to go. The best part is that I never have any idea what they’ll sound like. Will he attempt to rap seductively on a classic R&B sample? Will he tackle an ATL trap throwback that sounds like it was made in Zaytoven’s mother’s basement? Will he make the least romantic love song? Will he record a track that, in another lifetime, could have been on Lil B’s 6 Kiss? Well, “I Forgot Who I Was” doesn’t sound like any of those. Papi raps about “Obama runtz” and claims he looks like King Tut over a beat that could soundtrack a trippy episode of Adventure Time. It’s one of his best songs yet—and by this time next week it’ll probably be buried under a handful of new ones.
Some good news: Lil Bibby is going to rap again
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork