Five or so years ago, most rap mixtapes consisted of rappers grabbing each other’s beats by the handful, competing to see who could do the most damage to “A Milli” or whatever. (But no, seriously, it was almost always “A Milli.”) But later — possibly during Gucci Mane’s dizzy 2008-2009 rise, or at whatever moment the rap universe collectively realized that nobody was buying albums anymore — that changed, and rappers had to effectively turn their mixtapes into albums, largely swapping out cobbled-together freestyles for finished, original songs. For whatever reason, though, the past week has seen a mini-trend of rappers — older rapper, rappers who remember the way mixtapes used to be — returning to the freestyle model. Lil Wayne, once the all-time champion of that mixtape style, returned to it with Dedication 4, a decent but unfocused moment where Wayne repeatedly gets shown up by collaborators, including the pre-pubescent thug-rapper Lil Mouse. Its best moment comes when J. Cole, of all people, rips the everliving shit out of the “Special Delivery” beat, and its worst — worse even than the Twitter confusion that comes with Nicki Minaj claiming to be a Romney voter — comes when Wayne confesses that he doesn’t like the “Special Delivery” beat, which what the fuck, Wayne. Trae Tha Truth, a minor Texas legend with a depressive quick-tongued flow that only his cousin Z-Ro has ever managed to best, largely goes back to the old freestyles format with his new The Blackprint, which does, admittedly, have a few (great) original songs on it, and he gets better results out of the whole idea. (It helps that T.I. is heavily involved.) But my favorite of the three comes from unstable Maybach Music juggernaut Gunplay, who just fearlessly bulldozes his way through classic after classic on his new 106 & Snort.
If you’re not sure who Gunplay is, he’s the constantly-shirtless dreadlocked guy who always jumps around with just a little more energy than anyone else in Rick Ross videos. He has a major label contract even though his name is “Gunplay.” For reasons I can’t even begin to explain, he has a swastika tattooed on the back of his neck. In a new video that’s making the blog rounds, he lovingly cradles his first-ever pair of Reebok Pumps, and then he licks the sole. He is fucking crazy, and more importantly, he actually comes across like someone crazy when he’s rapping. But he can also rap, and he’s funny. His best moment ever came on last year’s “Bust Your Heart”: “No Arm & Hammer in my Hannah Montana! / These ain’t alligator skin, I think they salamander! / Oops! My bad! I think them shits iguana! / Oops! My bad again! I think they anaconda!” He absolutely bellows every line like he’s worried the beat will drown him out, as if there’s any possibility of that ever happening. Picture Redman, if he were a whole lot less affable and a whole lot more likely to stomp on your face. He’s great.
On 601 & Snort, he mostly applies that gorilla-stomp scream to canonized rap classics like Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover” and Raekwon’s “Criminology.” Plenty of other rappers have attempted to tackle tracks like these, but Gunplay stands out because he yells all over them without the slightest bit of reverence. Over “Criminology,” he’s rapping about “pussy jumping up and down like the Dow Jones,” a weirdly visual metaphor. He also hijacks recent tracks, including a few (“So Sophisticated,” “Pop That”) that already featured his crew leader. On a great remix of Future’s “Same Damn Time,” all the most energetic members of the Maybach Music crew — including, somehow, Wale — just tear through the track. And even with Meek Mill bragging about romantic exploits with the same urgency that most of us reserve for, like, “The call is coming from inside the house!,” Gunplay walks away with the thing: “All black khaki jumper! Acting a donkey! / At the same damn time, got these bitches popping monkey!” And on “Bible On The Dash,” he actually shows some level of fatalistic regret without letting the ferocity lag.
As you may have already guessed, Gunplay’s ideas about gender relationships are pretty horrific. But if you can get past that, 601 & Snort is a crazy half-hour energy-blast, the sort of thing that had me catching myself involuntarily office-chair-moshing the first time I heard it. This is a mixtape that has a celebrity stripper named Tip Drill using a Trick Daddy classic to brag about shitting money and pissing merlot. It may not reflect too well on me, but there’s nothing about that last sentence that I don’t like.
Download 601 & Snort for free here.