It’s an old story: The cult-beloved pioneer whose work helps found an aesthetic and paves the way for a young phenom to come along, take shit over, and seize the popular imagination. The 26-year-old Chicago rapper Young Louie became a local star by helping to popularize the grim, gutstomping drill music sound, and like every other dreadlocked rapper in Chicago, he got his major-label deal this year. But Louie now exists completely in the shadow of teenage wraith Chief Keef, the guy who rode Louie’s aesthetic to YouTube infamy and a mind-boggling Interscope deal. So maybe Louie is the Mudhoney to Keef’s Nirvana, the Miranda Lambert to his Taylor Swift, the Whit Stillman to his Wes Anderson. I’ve almost certainly stretched this analogy too far, but you get the idea.
By just about any metric, King Louie’s Drilluminati is a harsh and dead-souled piece of rap music. The beats are mostly bleary elemental gothic stomps. The lyrics evoke a bleary landscape of fast cars and dark clubs. The best song might be the one called “My Hoes They Do Drugs.” But with Keef’s rise, Louie seems like an almost comfortingly familiar rap dude, as opposed to am empty, nihilistic child soldier. He’s still way young but a whole generation older that the wave of teenage rappers that Keef represents. And, on Drilluminati, it shows. There’s actual effort and craft put into his slippery, in-the-pocket flows, and he allows himself moments of pure exhilaration. He’s also got the older rapper’s belief that a full-length shouldn’t just sit in one musical lane for its entire running time, which leads to stuff like the godawful R&B sex-song “Bandz Up.” When Louie links up with out-of-town guys like Pusha T and Juicy J, it doesn’t seem like something his record label made him do. His Midwestern drawl isn’t as thick as Keef’s, and there’s just more life in his voice. He comes off like a professional rapper.
Oddly, Louie’s time-honored rap values make Drilluminati a less interesting, resonant listen than Keef’s new Finally Rich, a less ferocious and focused take on the same ideas. Louie can be warm or happy, and warmth and happiness have no place in Keef’s world. When Louie aims for rap&B melodics, it dilutes the basic kick of his sound. But when he’s on, Drilluminati can be seriously catchy and impressive. Over its first half, he flexes that exuberantly twisty style over sparse drum-heartbeats and synth-churns, and it’s exhilarating hearing someone who can actually rap take on this sound. And “Val Venis,” the kinda-hit named after the late-’90s porn-star wrestler, is an exceedingly infectious piece of rap nonsense. Finally Rich is still my favorite thing that’s come out of the drill music universe, mostly for the way it takes its lane and just bulldozes the fuck out of it. But on Drilluminati, Louie shows that the genre has some wiggle-room, that an actual grown-up can get in there and have some fun with it. It’s not going to elevate him to Keef’s level, and it shouldn’t, but it works just fine on its own terms.
I’ve been giving Drilluminati some faint praise, maybe, but this week has been a busy one for mixtapes, and a lot of them have been pretty good: Young Jeezy’s frequently-rousing It’s Tha World, Spaceghostpurrp’s demented and noise-inflicted B.M.W., Riff Raff and Dame Grease’s jittery and playful Hologram Panda, Shy Glizzy’s buoyant Fuck Rap. I considered giving Mixtape Of The Week to all of them. But at its best, Drilluminati is stickier and more energetic than any of them, and I’m more likely to return to it. That says something about the way Keef’s album and his scene have been dominating my brain this week, but it also says something about Louie’s own internal engine.
Download Drilluminati for free here.