Iron Chef came out a couple of weeks ago, and it hasn’t appeared in this column yet because I was initially drawn to a couple of more immediate tapes: DJ Paul’s bleary-eyed hardhead marathon For I Have Sinned and Meek Mill’s insta-blockbuster Dreamchasers 2. At this point, though, the new Fiend tape has more plays in my iTunes than either of those. (Mouse & Killa Kyleon’s great Welcome To The Fish Fry still reigns supreme.) And it makes sense. Iron Chef isn’t the sort of thing that grabs you by the back of your neck and yanks you skyward. More than a decade ago, when Fiend was a roaring spitfire with Master P’s No Limit crew, he made music that did that. But Fiend is now a couple of years into his new artistic life as the perma-chill elder gentleman in Curren$y’s luxuriously weeded-out Jet Life crew, and his voice seems to sink a bit deeper into a velvet couch with every successive mixtape. Iron Chef is all calm, jazzy, lived-in warmth, and it’s built for hot weather and lazy afternoons. It lasts.
After the obligatory DJ drops, Iron Chef opens with a sample of someone proselytizing about the virtues of soul food over a bed of harps and trumpets. The second the first song kicks in, Curren$y mumbles to himself, “We all wish we could sing like Fiend, though.” He is not lying. Fiend sings more on Iron Chef than he ever has before, and his voice is a rich bourbon-y leather-interior baritone, one that lives somewhere in Barry White’s zip code. It’s a great voice, the sort of thing that persistently makes Fiend sound like the coolest motherfucker in the room at all times. And even when he’s rapping here, he invests it with a rumbling-singsong sense of melody. These days, Fiend is a crease-faced linen-suited ’70s soul singer reincarnated as a weed-rapper, and his late-career transformation continues to boggle my mind.
Iron Chef unites Fiend with Cookin Soul, a Spanish production duo whose fluttering, airy beats pull Fiend further than he’s ever been from his Southern rap base. Cookin Soul’s drums snap when they have to, but they aren’t built around a skeleton of 808s and earthquake-bass subs, the way that even the most of ornate of Fiend’s beats usually are. Instead, their tracks are all in-the-pocket bass-popping and fast-dissipating wisps of horn. They sound like the sort of thing you’d see in a montage about Brazilian life in a ’70s spy movie. That is a sound that makes Fiend very, very comfortable.
A few guests float through, but nobody attempts to steal the show. Curren$y and fellow young peers Trademark and Corner Boy P are plenty happy to play supporting roles, their flexible flows lazily kicking around beats in between Fiend’s old-soul choruses. Both members of Tha Dogg Pound — grizzled-but-smooth veterans who probably went to a lot of the same parties as Fiend back during that period where Snoop Dogg was signed to No Limit — prove truly simpatico when they show up on “Nobody Rides For Free.” And then the whole thing ends in less than half an hour, leaving a remarkably pleasant aftertaste. Fiend has released a ton of mixtapes over the last year and a half; the new mixtape-based rap economy seems to come easily to him. And honestly, I can’t think of any reason why he couldn’t keep releasing tapes like this well past middle age. God knows I’d keep listening to them.
Download Iron Chef for free here.