Rap music generally depends heavily on status and confidence: The best guys are the guys who mange to convince us of their complete dominance, and who assemble teams of like-minded guys behind them. More than just about every other genre, rap is built around stars, around rappers who have successfully asserted their will on the world. And sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to the character actors and sixth men who stand behind those stars, happy to get whatever share of the spotlight comes their way. Consider the case of Beanie Sigel, one of my favorite rappers of all time but one who will always, in the public mind, exist in Jay-Z’s shadow. And that’s one of the great things about Welcome To The Fish Fry: It’s two longtime supporting players stepping out on their own and leaving their own impression. The other great thing about Welcome To The Fish Fry is that it’s just a super-fun Southern rap party-tape, one that nobody really saw coming.
Some background here: Killa Kyleon first got attention for being a member of Slim Thug’s Boss Hogg Outlawz crew, back when the towering Houston MC was riding a wave of interest in his hometown. Slim Thug never became a major star, but his crew was a remarkably deep one. (Shout out to the unjustly forgotten C. Ward. I always liked that guy.) And in Kyleon, he had the rare extended-crew member who consistently outshone his boss every time they were on the same track. Kyleon is a natural bulldozer, a hard-drawling and charismatic rapper who bellows hard without falling out of the pocket and generally gives the impression that he’s a good-natured guy who would be happy to beat the shit out of you if he had to. In recent years, he’s been a loose affiliate of the Curren$y/Wiz Khalifa weed-rap mafia, someone who shows up to give scene-stealing guest verses all the time but whose own solo projects haven’t quite popped. That changes now.
As for Mouse, he made his name as one of the house producers for the Baton Rouge gangsta rap label Trill Ent., cranking out most of that label’s hits: “Give Me That,” “Zoom,” “Set It Off,” “Wipe Me Down,” “Independent.” (The simple act of cobbling together those links just caused me a 15-minute solo dance party in my office.) Like Mannie Fresh, Mouse draws from the irrepressibly funky second-line rhythms of his home state, but his production style is even simpler and more direct, built around two-finger synth hooks and explosive bass-rumbles. His tracks are, by and large, ridiculously catchy. And he brings that same sensibility to his rap style: A slurry, elastic singsong that makes every line sound like a hook. Things came off the wheels for the Trill Ent. empire in the last couple of years, when label figurehead Lil Boosie went to prison for what looks to be a very, very long time. He’s currently on trial for murder, facing a possible death penalty — a sad end to a career that was among Southern rap’s most promising not too long ago. But last year, Mouse stepped out on his own and released the insanely fun Swagga Fresh Freddie mixtape, one of last year’s true sleepers. Like Kyleon, he’s read for people to start paying attention to him.
I have no idea how Mouse and Kyleon ended up working together, but thank god they did. The two have an easy, carefree chemistry, Kyleon slamming his way through tracks before Mouse comes in with that playful, high-stepping nasal slur. Mouse produced all of Welcome To The Fish Fry, and his voice and Kyleon’s are the only two non-sampled ones here except for one Savage guest-verse that you won’t even notice. There’s something willfully anachronistic about the tape — two guys who rose to small prominence in the mid-’00s making a tape that would’ve fit in completely during the era, ignoring all of rap’s prevailing trends and just knocking out a tape of drunken trunk-rattlers. They never get introspective or slow things down or change their flows up; they just stick with their strengths and give us a piece of work that just radiates sloppy joy. The two of them can be happily stupid, as on the vaguely racist hey-ya-heys on the affectionate but tone-deaf “Pocahontas.” But that’s part of the fun; they don’t give the slightest fuck about sounding ridiculous, and they don’t feel any need to make anything with any redeeming social value. The beats alone are enough to brighten your day, and spring doesn’t really feel like spring until the first time you drive around shouting along with a knocker like “I Got The Power” with your windows down. None of the songs quite reach the absurdly goofy zenith of Mouse’s Boosie collab “Cartoon,” probably my favorite of his tracks, but everything comes close. And the two rappers have the sense to let every instrumental ride out unaccompanied for 45 seconds or so at the end of every song. Those Mouse tracks speak for themselves.
Download Welcome To The Fish Fry for free here.