Seattle: Gifted Gab and Spekulation both have their album-release parties this Thursday, June 23, at the Crocodile and Barboza, respectively.
Somewhat different crowds and community/fan love going on. Gabby is Moor Gang's first lady, one of the city's best rappers—and her Gab the Most High (whose cover sees her styled in the manner of the Afrocentric divas of the 1990s) is her most complete work, full of her reveling in her mastery of words, voice, and flow.
But why does it seem like Gabby is barely celebrated in her hometown? (If this was Minneapolis, she'd be on the cover of City Pages.) Simple: She is unapologetic, outspoken, raw as hell, and straight-up rap (besides her leavening touches of R&B)—no artsy alternative tags could be applied to her Bandcamp description. Maybe she's not the acceptable kind of Black by Seattle standards, the kind that gets that critical love, those main-stage headlining slots, those major looks. Nah, that couldn't be it.
Now, Spek is still not my favorite rapper (though I always liked his beats), but his heart, humility, and love in the community put a strong wind at his back and growing crowds in front of him.
His proper debut, Nine to Fives & Afterlives, was released right after last week's Beacon Hill Block Party went off like crazy (BIG shout-out to the Station and the community they hold down), and it demonstrates the mindful care he brings to his craft (he's clearly put a lot of work into his flow and voice) and shows that he knows his lane and exactly how to stay in it. He fully deserves his props—others deserve theirs, too.
As for OT, I've been saying for years: The XXL freshman cover is a trash barge of a tradition, built to float sales for a long-sagging print mag and manufacture the sort of garbage conversation that reduces art to sales and sports stats. And 2016's edition, to be fair, is not even half bad—wait, no, I lied, it is precisely 50 percent bad (or at least boring, which is an even more insidious type of bad).
You got your earnest NYC traditionalist (Nas signee Dave East) and the mediocre East Coast knockoffs of Atlanta energy (Philly's Lil Uzi Vert and BK's Desiigner). You got your actual mediocre Atlanta dude (21 Savage).
And of course, you got your token white dude, Lil Dicky, who not only exudes the kind of smirking semi-racist rap-is-so-dumb-I'll-show-'em type arrogance that would make a young Asher Roth and Hot Karl blush in embarrassment—but has taken the chamber of "Nerdy White Dude Can Really Rap" YouTube clips to its logical conclusion.
(Please, MCs, abandon your need for crystal clarity: mumble, slur, obscure, swing, bounce, just get the devil off your trail. How to be a technically proficient rapper is being taught at your suburban community college, so give us the funk they can't.)
Everybody knows Anderson Paak is dope (despite the Macy Gray vibes that make me wonder if I'll always like his shit), Chicago's G Herbo has been raw since "Kill Shit," and Carol City's Denzel Curry is one of the illest out under 25, no question. And as much as I actually kind of hate Lil Yachty (based particularly on his interviews, the fact that he put Kylie Jenner in a song, and that he often talks about how original he is), I still can't deny that he made a pretty fun tape with Lil Boat, even if I don't think I want to listen to it again for a while.
But there's no way around it: Pompano Beach's 19-year-old Kodak Black is the true champion here. (You know when somebody's music goes from "Hey, this is pretty good" to "I'm just gonna have this song on repeat all afternoon"?) Last year's Institution was dope, but his just-out Lil B.I.G. Pac tape is an arrival—not only ambitiously named, it's phenomenal Southern rap of the bluesy, haunted, steeped-in-desperation variety.
He's got his clear stylistic progenitors Gucci Mane (welcome home, Trap God) and '07 freshman Lil Boosie on board (on "Vibin in This Bih" and "Slayed," respectively), but on both collaborations—and throughout the tape—Kodak takes full attention, displaying a wealth of wit and pathos, serving low-key raps breathtaking in their economy, storytelling, and unexpected cleverness. It's the mournful "Can I" that stays with me the most: "Will I live long enough to raise my son? / Make something outta nothing / [There's] nothing where I'm from / Can ya boy do something productive for once?"