The present #1 tune in America isn’t Memphis rap, but it surely desires to be Memphis rap so badly. Drake’s new album Truthfully, Nevermind is usually a full-length exploration of home and membership music kinds, but it surely ends with “Jimmy Cooks,” the LP’s one full-on rap tune. “Jimmy Cooks” opens with an echoing, repeating pattern of “Simply Awaken Shaken,” a ghostly seven-minute dirge that stands as a basic of the Memphis underground. Native hero Playa Fly, a person who’s solely been intermittently lively lately, launched “Simply Awaken Shaken” in 1995 — the identical 12 months that he left Three 6 Mafia and the identical 12 months that he turned 18. When “Simply Awaken Shaken” got here out, it couldn’t have been any farther from the pop charts. Now, it serves because the backbone of a straight-up chart-topping hit.
In a vacuum, it’s wild that an ancestral Memphis crunk monitor might have a chart impression a long time after it first got here out. However when you think about the present rap local weather, it makes excellent sense. When Drake put “Jimmy Cooks” on Truthfully, Nevermind, he was hedging his bets, ending a probably divisive file by going again to a sound that he knew folks preferred. Drake and 21 Savage have finished this earlier than. Final 12 months, they kicked off their hit “Knife Speak” with a Mission Pat verse taken from a recent-ish A$AP Rocky file, and so they spent the remainder of the monitor doing their takes on Pat’s flows and material. Three 6 Mafia, the group that when counted Playa Fly as an unique member, have aged into business legends, inspirations for whole generations of underground rap. That entire sound simply hasn’t gotten outdated.
It hasn’t stopped, both. Two and a half years in the past, the Memphis rapper Duke Deuce broke out with the viral hit “Crunk Ain’t Useless.” It’s a hammering anthem with a easy thesis: “Crunk ain’t lifeless, crunk ain’t lifeless, crunk ain’t lifeless, ho.” Duke Deuce would know higher than most individuals. He actually grew up with crunk; within the ’90s, his father Duke Nitty was a producer for Memphis underground stars like Gangsta Blac. The message of “Crunk Ain’t Useless” was completely appropriate. Crunk, the churning and thundering type that started in Memphis and went big-time in early-’00s Atlanta, has by no means actually gone away. It retains coming again — within the staff of Waka Flocka Flame and Lex Luger, within the garbled goth-isms of Raider Klan, within the many waves of SoundCloud rap which have adopted. Crunk is principally the rationale that individuals mosh at rap exhibits now, even when a Rolling Loud moshpit has as a lot in widespread with the unique Memphis gangsta stroll as ’80s CBGB creepy-crawling did with a 2005 Warped Tour pit.
“Crunk Ain’t Useless” was an entire assertion, and it simply might’ve been the one factor that the world ever heard from Duke Deuce. How far are you able to get with a crunk-revival platform when you get previous that tune and the remix, which introduced in crunk elders Lil Jon, Juicy J, and Mission Pat? However Duke Deuce was too good to go away after that. From the start, Duke remodeled himself right into a human meme, dancing spasmodically in each video and virtually demanding the world to show him into gifs. His movies are too outsized and ridiculous, and his music is an excessive amount of enjoyable. Duke Deuce hasn’t precisely advanced since “Crunk Ain’t Useless,” however he’s so charismatic that it’s not even a problem.
Goal music criticism doesn’t exist, however I’m extraordinarily non-objective on the subject of the persevering with viability of crunk music. I love crunk music. Proper round 2003 or 2004, when Lil Jon was screaming throughout half the songs on the radio, I used to be about as enthusiastic about pop music as I’ve ever been in my whole life. I like arduous, visceral, simplistic music, music for chanting and stomping, and crunk is in regards to the purest type of that. So I’ve been rooting for Duke Deuce from the start. However even with that in thoughts, I’m stunned at simply how good Duke Deuce’s new album Crunkstar actually is.
Crunkstar got here out on the identical day that Drake launched Truthfully, Nevermind so it was at all times going to have a tough time getting any consideration. However there’s a lot frantic, overpowering life in Crunkstar. Duke Deuce’s album is just too lengthy, and it ends with some actually doubtful experiments in emo-rap with critical nü metallic overtones, however when it really works, it works. Duke Deuce is a versatile rapper who understands find out how to rap on enormous, gothed-out orchestral beats with out sounding like a relic, and he’s received a present for bellowing chanted hooks. He’s additionally received a wonderful sense of the absurd. It’s ridiculous to show one thing like LL Cool J’s pioneering 1987 simp-rap hit “I Want Love” into an elbow-throwing anthem, and that’s precisely why Duke Deuce does it. Ridiculousness can be why Duke Deuce rocks the Beethoven wig within the “Simply Say That” video and why visitor Doe Boy rhymes “blast hammers” with “Dangerous Santa.” This shit is enjoyable, and it ought to be enjoyable.
Crunkstar isn’t simply silliness, although. It feels absolutely steeped in group. Musically, the album in all probability owes extra to the Atlanta crunk of the Lil Scrappy/Crime Mob period than the Memphis stuff that got here earlier than it, however the album additionally feels absolutely rooted in Memphis. Loads of its visitors and producers come from the Memphis underground, and most of them aren’t well-known but. The good single “Simply Say That” finds Duke Deuce teaming up with Glorilla, the younger Memphis rapper whose viral smash “FNF (Let’s Go)” simply landed on the Sizzling 100 just a few weeks in the past. Different visitors, like Slimeroni and DJ Tootz, come from that very same scene and don’t have something resembling a nationwide hit. (The DJ Tootz collab “Open Up” is only one lengthy chanted mosh name, and it’s the sort of factor that might’ve come out of Memphis 25 years in the past.) On “Flip Da Change,” Memphis legend Juicy J co-produces, and in his guest-verse, Juicy rediscovers his outdated bloodlust: “Your child mama can’t even bury your ass, gotta begin a GoFundMe.”
Per week after Crunkstar, Juicy J got here out together with his personal new album. Juicy’s Area Age Pimpin’ is a full-length team-up with Pi’erre Bourne, the rapper and producer whose queasy tracks could possibly be thought of stylistic grandchildren of the stuff that Juicy used to make. However Area Age Pimpin’ doesn’t work. The Juicy and Pi’erre components appear nearly disconnected from each other, and Juicy spends means an excessive amount of time rapping about cryto like that’s a cool factor. There’s a lot unsuitable with a line like this one: “Shopping for NFTs within the metaverse, now I personal ’em.” That shit was dated earlier than it even got here out. Juicy should’ve misplaced a lot cash up to now month.
Duke Deuce doesn’t have that drawback. Crunkstar is an album constructed on older sounds, but it surely has a deranged, instant vitality that retains it from sliding into retro revivalism. Perhaps that’s as a result of Duke Deuce is just too gifted a rapper and too important a presence, or perhaps its simply because crunk ain’t lifeless, crunk ain’t lifeless, crunk ain’t lifeless, ho. I would like Duke Deuce to turn out to be an arena-level star, however even when that doesn’t occur, I’m nonetheless trying ahead to listening to somebody pattern his voice on a #1 hit a quarter-century from now.
1. Dot Da Genius – “Speak About Me” (Feat. Denzel Curry, Child Cudi, & JID)
I like all these guys, and I would like all of them to be greatest mates in order that we are able to preserve getting songs like this one. Child Cudi might be hit-or-miss, however once you put him with some actual rapping-ass rappers, then he turns into one, too. It’s wins throughout.
2. Fr33 – “Come Outdoors” (Feat. Tmaac, Queeen, RatchetMan, & Gabbi)
This can be a two-minute posse reduce with, what, 5 rappers I’ve by no means heard of? And it’s nice. It’s so cool when one thing like that occurs.
3. Bandmanrill – “Jiggy In Jersey” (Feat. Sha Ek & DJ Swill B)
Drake may mess around with Jersey membership sounds on his new album, however Bandmanrill comes from Jersey membership, and he raps over these beats in ways in which discover widespread floor between membership and drill. He appears like he’s working in a very completely different universe than something that Drake might think about, and it’s lovely timing that he simply got here out with this monitor. It’s like: Go forward, strive biting this.
4. Gabe ‘Nandez – “RPG” (Feat. VIP Skylark)
This beat is so hypnotic, and but it at all times sounds prefer it’s about to glitch out. So when it does glitch out, it barely even interrupts the movement.
5. Bktherula & Ski Masks The Hunch God – “By 2 U”
Youngsters are virtually rapping over modem noises as of late. It’s the most effective.