A few minutes into the new mixtape Mandatory Brunch Meetings, the Queens rap bruiser Meyhem Lauren joins a very small circle: The tiny club of rappers whose between-verses shit-talk is as much fun to listen to as their actual raps. On “Mandated Participants,” the tape’s first song, Lauren pushes the tape’s title to its logical conclusion, portraying himself as a power-tripping, petty boss, lording it over his underlings at a restaurant meeting: “Yeah, I understand you got a fuckin’ question, but I got a fuckin’ question for you. Why the fuck does everybody in the room have on a nametag but you? You feel like you’re elite or something? You’re too good to write your name on a tag?” It’s a weirdly detailed and hyperspecific rant, the work of someone who’s presumably had to sit through some godawful-boring meetings in his life, and who gets off on his own over-the-top embrace of the bullshit he encountered there. Elsewhere on the tape, he drops that persona but keeps having fun. On the self-explanatory “Beautiful Areolas”: “The whole shape of the breast, like the texture, the feel the firmness, all that is right. Plus the perfect-sized aureolas. She should be a model for, like, Aureola Magazine or some shit like that.” On “Persian Rugbys: “You might’ve seen me on Divorce Court! You might have seen me in a motherfucking advertisement in a Jet magazine in the ’90s, with my hair spinning, advertising a black hair product or something like that! There’s no telling! You might’ve seen me 13, at my nigga Lux bar mitzvah, looking crispy, with a fucking pinstripe suit on and a yarmulke!” On closing track “FDR Music,” he interrupts himself so that he can read People’s Republic Of China propaganda in the same cadence that he later uses to threaten decapitation of anyone who misses his brunch meeting.
Mandatory Brunch Meetings comes after Lauren already released one of the year’s best mixtapes, Respect The Fly Shit, and it’s a very different piece of work. Lauren recorded that last mixtape in his Embassy Suites hotel room during SXSW, roping in two great producers, Harry Fraud and Tommy Mas, to provide all the beats, and a vast reserve of New York’s avant-hardhead rap community for verses. The tape itself sounded like a supremely weeded-out party, and it also served as a crowing moment for one of my favorite music narratives in recent years: The emergence of a new New York rap underground. That scene is now stacked with batshit characters, guys who willfully turn their personas into loopy characters, stylists who play around with traditionalism without ever using it as a crutch. That tape had a riot of great voices: Action Bronson, Riff Raff, Heems, Despot, Roc Marciano, grandfathered-in hardass legend Sean Price. Its biggest problem, if any, was the way its ostensible star sometimes got lost in the crowd. That’s not a problem anymore. Meyhem Lauren now has a full-on ridiculous personality to match those of his friends, and Mandatory Brunch Meetings is his own coming-out party.
I was worried Mandatory Brunch Meetings might be a bit boring. In contrast to Respect The Fly Shit, it’s a more conventionally put-together rap full-length: Not too many guest-rappers, a ton of producers, a few actual choruses. But it’s not boring. If anything, it might be too calculatedly weird from time-to-time, as when Lauren dedicates a love song to Saved By The Bell siren Kelly Kapowski. Mostly, though, the tape does a great job depicting Lauren as a classic NY tough guy who’s in love with his own eloquence and happy to fall down dorked-out pop-cult rabbit-holes. He’s got a lot of Kool G Rap in his delivery, and he specifically shouts the man out on one track. But if G Rap was watching Saved By The Bell, he wasn’t rapping about it.
Those between-verses rants are great, but Lauren’s verses on the tape are also better put-together and more considered than his ones on Respect The Fly Shit. He never gets introspective or strays from standard lyrical rap tropes, but he has fun playing around with them. On “Beautiful Areolas”: “Her nipples look like silver dollar pancakes / I hit it from the back, and then her hand shakes.” On “Stewed Rabo”: “Old bucks get treated like coldcuts / Faces get broken and sewed up.” And he has nearly as much fun talking about food as his buddy Action Bronson: “Ostrich flesh sprinkled with blue cheese, my new steez,” “Salmon searer, fly outfit preparer.” And even though he’s got a ton of producers’ beats, it all hangs together, since he’s stuck to tracks that filter late-’80s boom-bap through drug-rock filters and do it in completely accessible ways. (This tape marks the first time the Taco Bell drive-thru guy has ever asked me to turn my music up.) So even though Respect The Fly Shit might be the better tape, Mandatory Brunch Meetings is the one where Lauren has established himself as a guy worthy of attention, no matter who he happens to be hanging out with at any given moment.
Download Mandatory Brunch Meetings here.