Before I get into this Fiend tape, I want to spent a minute talking about Gucci Mane. This past week, Gucci released two new mixtapes on the same day, Trap Back 2 and EastAtlantaMemphis, the latter a collaboration with Brick Squad foot soldier Young Dolph. If you include collaborations, these are the third and fourth Gucci Mane mixtapes of the year, and it’s fucking March right now. When Gucci released three mixtapes in all of 2012, it felt generous; he’s already exceeded that. And both of the new tapes are great, especially Trap Back 2. The only reason I didn’t devote this column to either of those is that I already gave Mixtape Of The Week to both of his previous ones, and I’m not sure I want this to turn into Gucci Mane Mixtape Of The Week. But Gucci’s 2013 has just been staggering thus far. He’s made those four tapes, kept up a steady stream of song-stealing guest-verses, played a major role in the Harmony Korine movie Spring Breakers (which I cannot wait to see), and launched a possible beef with former protege Waka Flocka Flame (which, rumor has it, is over which one of them is banging Selena Gomez). So Gucci has been busy. And he’s maintained that level of activity while reawakening some version of the word-drunk lunatic hooksmith that a few of us fell in love with four or five years ago. He is on absolute fire right now, and before we talk about anyone else’s mixtape, we should take a moment to wonder at this recent hot streak. Salute.
But anyway, this Fiend tape. Fiend, a New Orleans native, has had one of the great second lives in recent rap history, going from the frantic rah-rah screamer of the peak No Limit era to the gravelly, relaxed back-porch storyteller of Curren$y’s Jets crew, the one guy in that crew who regularly outshines Curren$y on his own songs. Fiend doesn’t just have one of the world’s great rap voices; he has two of them. And occasionally, for a song at a time, he’ll go back to that old No Limit rabid-pitbull style, just to show us he can. Most of the time, though, he’s in gravelly, weathered, conversational mode, talking about weed and girls and old-life regrets with a conversational elegance that falls effortlessly into the lush and breezy beats he’s so good at picking. Since reemerging alongside Curren$y, Fiend has released a good handful of mixtapes, but Lil Ghetto Boy seems to be the one where he’s really making his move, stepping out of Curren$y’s long shadow. It’s long — 22 tracks — and, for a B-level rap mixtape, it’s star-studded, with guys like Styles P, Devin The Dude, and Killa Kyleon showing up to contribute verses. Before its release, it had one of those DatPiff countdown clocks that never actually matches up with the release of the mixtape. It’s still a low-key affair, but if any Fiend mixtape has ever been hyped-up, it’s been this one.
And the hype has been justified. Stylistically, the tape fits very well with what Fiend’s been doing ever since he popped up on the scene — lush peals of guitar and Rhodes, regal horn-bursts, funky live-sounding basslines. Fiend’s singing voice, when he uses it, is a bluesy growl that only adds to his tracks. But tracks like “No Apologies” go for anthemic-banger status, and more or less get there. “Lil Sumptin” has one of those slippery earwormy Mouse On Da Track choruses, and his digital-gutbucket style fits Fiend beautifully. And even with these bursts of stylistic variation, the whole thing coheres beautifully, pulled together with the glue of Fiend’s slow-drawling flow.
But the moments of Lil Ghetto Boy that linger with me the most are the ones where Fiend incorporates little bits of his old No Limit style into his current easygoing delivery, letting loose with the odd mid-sentence “WHOMP WHOMP!” before going back to his regular speaking voice. Fiend’s done those voices on different songs before, but as far as I know, he’s never done them both on the same song, let alone the same line. The effect is startling; it’s like catching a werewolf mid-transformation. Sometime in the future, it might be cool to hear a tape of Fiend vacillating madly between those two extremes. For now, this one will do nicely.
Download Lil Ghetto Boy at Datpiff.