As far as I can tell, the three most interesting things about the Spanish Harlem rapper Bodega Bamz are as follows: His nicely sculpted beard, his vague A$AP Mob affiliation, and his name, the last of which is either great or terrible, depending on which mood I’m in. He’s not an inherently fascinating figure. He raps in a hard, taut yammer, excitable without being all that expressive, and he never falls off the beat. At least once on Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z., his new mixtape, he actually says, “I’m lyrical,” which is the last thing I ever want to hear any rapper say. Just a couple of years ago, he would’ve been a mere foot soldier in New York’s undying army of grimly competent mixtape-rap hacks. So the success of Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. (a few months old, actually, but it just showed up on Livemixtapes) is, in a big way, a testament to the strength of a resurgent New York rap underground that, for the first time in a while, is encouraging its rappers to seek out and embrace their inner weirdos.
At its best, Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. is disorienting drug-hunger music, frantic and unmoored and unafraid to chase its own shadow. “Say Amen” has A$AP Ferg declaiming vaguely religious nonsense over a beat that sounds like a pipe organ falling on a classical choir. “Where Ya Horns At” turns an extended Latin jazz horn-burst into a dying siren bleat. On “Tres Puntos,” the Alchemist cranks up the bass cannons on an idling spaceship. “Thrilla” is all frenetic Psycho string-stabs chasing the Flatbush Zombies through an abandoned funhouse. Certain tracks pay tribute to Bamz’s Latin roots through chopped-up salsa horn fanfares or through reggaeton legend Tego Calderon mumbling spoken word in Spanish, but even those tracks eschew warmth for disorientation. And for all his deficiencies, Bamz sounds absolutely at home amidst all this noise, sharpening the immediacy of his delivery until he comes off like a bug-eyed demon. Rap always needs more bug-eyed demons.
Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. loses steam toward the end, as Bamz eventually turns into an emotive struggle-rapper and the music around him turns relatively haunted and spare. It hits a tape-ending nadir when Bamz spends all of “Dear Non Believers Pt. 2″ rapping over the haunted piano interlude from Kanye West’s “All Of The Lights,” a piece of music that should never be rapped over, treating it like it’s a Coldplay sample or something. But then, Bamz is hardly the first rapper to lose his focus when his gaze drifts inward, and the trials of its last third throw the strengths of the rest of the tape into sharp relief. I don’t know if the sincere Bamz of the tape’s final songs is the real Bamz, whatever that might mean. But in tweaking his focus until he’s foaming at the mouth, Bamz turns out to be capable of making some truly compelling music.
Download Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. here.