The ancestral Oakland pimp-rapper Too Short is arguably one of the, let’s say, 10 people in history who have had the most impact on rap music. His trajectory — hand-to-hand cassette sales to national fame — is one that countless rappers have imitated and countless more have aspired to. His cold-eyed sex-life memoirs are pretty much the blueprint for the ways in which most rappers have talked about fucking for decades. And his endless, emotionless nasal-twang slow-flow has found imitators in every region of American rap. But in a Too Short interview I read years ago, the man himself claimed that he’d never been particularly original, and that his one big innovation was that he was the first rapper to say “beeyotch.” In the spirit of that, the young rap trio Travis Porter have one big claim to a legacy: A few years ago, during an unprecedently fallow period for the stuff, they brought Atlanta strip-club rap back. Strip clubs are maybe the single most important cultural hub for Atlanta rap music, but when Travis Porter made the irresistible “Bring It Back” and “Make It Rain,” the traditional ass-shaking soundtracks had fallen to Gucci Mane’s drug-rap and Waka Flocka Flame’s fight-rap and the swag-rap of about a million kids you don’t really need to know about. Travis Porter’s music had elements in common with all of those, but its unapologetic hornball energy and its shamelessly catchy hooks were the music’s real engine. And a few years later, the momentum they generated with that stuff is more than enough to power a long but deeply and compulsively listenable new mixtape.
If you’re predisposed toward hating a rap group like Travis Porter, you’ll find plenty of fire-fuel on Mr. Porter, a sprawling tape that, despite its length, has no patience for things like feelings. Virtually all the songs, including the ones that seem like they should be emotional, exist firmly on the girls/pills/partying spectrum. They persistently treat women like objects to be plied with money and fucked. The tape’s title is presumably a joke about old square people like me who can’t understand why a group of three guys would give themselves one guy’s name. Trinidad James shows up. The three guys in the group aren’t particularly distinct rappers, and they aren’t their lines aren’t that great on paper either. One of the Travises, in fact, has one of the most howlingly awful rap lines I’ve heard in many moons, regarding a skater girl: “Asked her what’s her favorite trick, she said a ollie / Asked her what’s her favorite drug, she told me molly.” And yet this line, in all its miles-away predictable awfulness, is also weirdly likable. Because when you make music like Travis Porter, that every-dumb-line-at-once sloppy silliness isn’t a liability; it’s an asset. The gentlemen of Travis Porter don’t sound like ice-veined in-control Players’ Ball pimps; they sound like enthusiastic goofball teenagers doing their best to make each other laugh milk through their nasal passages at the lunch table.
They’re also low-key great musical stylists, people who have been lingering in the game for long enough to develop immaculate instincts about how to pace a mixtape. It would be easy for a mixtape like this to devolve into thudding musical obviousness, but Travis Porter keep things frisky and fun. The tape’s one big-name producer is DJ Mustard, the architect of the recently-in-vogue spartan, insinuating West Coast ratchet sound, and Travis Porter’s single entendres turn out to be a natural fit for his dinky-but-unshakable keyboard melodies and perfectly-spaced handclaps. And for a vast chunk in the middle of the tape, things turn toward delicate midtempo R&B without losing the lovable pills-and-boners awkwardness. It’s a treat, for instance, to hear the great Chicago singer Jeremih weave his airy silkiness in between the Travis Porter guys’ forehead-slap come-ons. And these songs have hooks. There are 22 songs on this tape, and every one of them have at least one sly little melodic moment that makes it worth hearing. I don’t skip any of them.
If you’re of a certain non-Southern rap mentality, it takes a few mental adjustments to properly enjoy a tape like Mr. Porter. Guests like Gucci Mane and Tyga regularly school the Travis Porter guys, but they’re not trying to overwhelm these guys. And speaking of Too Short, you have to accept that lines like this are a grim inevitability: “Bitch named Venus say that I’m the meanest / Told her shut up, bitch, and come suck a penis.” It’s a tape that transcends nothing, that exists firmly in a context of locker-room shit talk and knowing microphone mediocrity. But in the context of all that, it’s a surpassing piece of dumb-fun craftsmanship, a loopy-grin manifesto that, when you give yourself over to it, is impossible to hate.
Download Mr. Porter at Datpiff.