5 - 1
Action Bronson & Party Supplies
Blue Chips 2
To these ears, the original Blue Chips existed as little more than novelty, a tape taking from Statik Selektah’s 24 Hour EP series (wherein an artist and producer lock themselves in a studio for an entire day and walk out with a completed project), but sagged under the weight of the rushed nature of attempting to create a full project under such circumstances. But whether Party Supplies have gotten more confident as producers or Action Bronson as unflappable in the studio as he’s always sounded on record, Blue Chips 2 only added to the internet legend that has become Bronson’s last two years. Rapping over everything from Phil Collins to radio jingles to Tracy Chapman, Bronson’s task here appeared to be finding humor in whatever layer of his subconscious that he could. Rapping for comedy has always been, for whatever reason, a bit of a fleeting affair most rappers hold close to their chest for fear of running out of jokes too soon in their career. Bronson is not that guy; his one-liners rapid fire across soundwaves like an Anthony Jeselnik special without the mean spirit, a series of non sequiturs intended purely to bring joy to your heart through aloof misogyny and wrestler-as-food metaphors. In a year brimming with quality gangster rap, perhaps more than there has been since the G-Unit heyday, it’s refreshing to have a guy like Bronson out there, constantly throwing rap back to the late ‘90s with his delivery, while embracing the culture of the internet more brazenly than anyone else rapping in 2013. Blue Chips 2 would have been the tape you brought out to barbecues and swimming pools had it released earlier in the year; keep it in mind when the warmth comes back around.
When I originally reviewed this release, I opened with a sentence I can’t help but paraphrase here: Freddie Gibbs’ career has turned problematic as he’s realized how good he is at his job. During his brief signing to Young Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment, what would have seemed to be exactly the boost his career needed became instead an effort in turning Gibbs into an Atlanta rapper. The results were consistently quality, but rarely transcendent in the way Gibbs’ earlier independent work had been. ESGN existed primarily to declare his independence, then, shifting his focus to a mostly Los Angeles-based production roster and inviting all his old friends from Gary, Indiana and pre-Midwestboxframecadillacmuzik mixtapes to remind the world of the vitality of a gangster rap posse showcase.
It worked. Whether it was “9mm” acting as an ode to the chillingly melodic death chants of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, “Have U Seen Her?” emulating the sing-songy stress rap of Kevin Gates, “Eastside Moonwalker” giving listeners a glimpse at what lowriders might look like on Mars ,or “Freddie Soprano” making the great point that we could all be doing a little more to keep the dream of ‘90s boom bap alive, ESGN didn’t always make the argument that Gibbs was freed from the shackles placed upon him under the Atlantic Records umbrella. But much like The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Midwestgangsta…, Gibbs sounded undeniably invigorated for making music again, which almost by default places ESGN in the Must Hear bin.
2 / 3
Curren$y / Curren$y & Young Roddy
New Jet City / Bales
Like most Curren$y projects these days, New Jet City did not initially feel like it would connect on all its jabs and hooks. Released in early February, Curren$y sounded more polished than ever, and his subtle transition into more of a mob boss character à la Nino Brown seemed like a strange play for a rapper at the forefront of the mixtape scene’s jazz rap revival. But one can only resist the charms of Juvenile on “Bitch Get Up” for so long, or the way Lex Luger finds a fur coat groove in XXXL white-tee menace on “Coolie in the Cut”. New Jet City slowly revealed itself to be the first Curren$y project that wasn’t just stocked with quality beats and rhymes from front to end, but a genuine singles factory were Curren$y positioned in that way. “Choosin’” and “These Bitches” in particular could have played nice with anything else on gangsta rap radio over the summer.
But it wasn’t until Curren$y’s collaborative tape with protégé Young Roddy near the end of the summer that it was confirmed that the kid had dominated the mixtape scene for another year. Bales was a brief, 33-minute smoke session that brought back the Jet Life jazz sound and proved Young Roddy had grown into a more than formidable complement to Curren$y, providing a proper energetic counterpoint to Curren$y’s drawl. In many ways, these two projects were two of the least surprising of the year, but Curren$y’s is a formula that’s long since proven surprises may be a bit overrated. Whether at the peak of summer fun or the valley of winter doldrums, Curren$y’s projects have once again proven to trade in a consistency that few rappers can equal, past or present.
New York City
Troy Ave is a guy who wears his influences on his sleeves, jeans, and fitted caps, so unabashedly proud of them he sounds exuberant to be so approximate to them even as he attempts to project menace with his lyricism and inflection. New York City can’t help but encapsulate that feeling as a result, the bittersweet torrid love affair with the hood that birthed New York classics like Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and H.N.I.C. in the early 2000s. Troy Ave co-opts the snarl of Pusha T, but he’s a cub among lions in that arena. His sing-songy, who-gives-a-damn flow brings to mind vintage 50 Cent, a love-him-or-hate-him persona who still values rapping as an art form. At times, he comes off like a Skyzoo that skipped the bus to school every morning to chase women and money, all nasally threats redirected from personal fortune and positivity to cocaine bricks and belt buckles.
“I Know Why You Mad” is so, so, so the heyday of New York mixtape singles it’s hard not to believe in flux capacitors. Seriously, all that G-Unit swagger married to Dipset-level ad-libbing coming from one dude? New York City‘s a place where Prodigy feels comfortable calling someone a “warm heart” as an insult, but Ave can refer to his falling in love with a stripper as an “epic fail” and neither feels out of place. “Regretful” is 30 percent down the road to a gangsta rap “Runaway”, at least until an ab-libbed vocal outré that quickly devolves into playground clowning. It’s a cold place, but there’s a showmanship to the coldness that makes it feel like home, leaves the listener confused as to how this style so gloriously flamed out in response to game changers like King, Graduation, and Tha Carter III. By the time “Hot Out” comes around with it’s Wildstyle beat and Troy Ave rapping like Monsta Island Czars gemstone Gigan, all bets are off. New York City becomes less a hollow imitation, and more one of the mainstream’s very coolest attempts to make older styles of hip-hop seem as relevant as it’s been in a long time.