I had a strange realization the other day: I was getting ready to write a Mixtape Of The Week piece about Casino, Future’s brother, and his Ex Drug Dealer tape, which I like OK but which I was just choosing because Future is all over the tape and because I like the way Casino says his own name (“Cas-iii-no!”). Beyond that, I didn’t have a whole lot to talk about. Some weeks are just like that: I listen to my share of mixtapes, and nothing much presents itself as exceptional. In the first couple of months of the year, we saw a crazy onslaught of very good rap mixtapes, and I had to skip writing about a lot of them. So instead of highlighting something more recent but just above average, let’s talk about one that’s almost two months old: Million Dollar Afro, an excellent piece of Californian hornball club music, which had the misfortune to come out the same week as Gucci Mane’s Trap God 2 but which, upon reflection, is probably better than the Gucci tape. It’s definitely more fun.
In this space, I’ve already written at length about Richmond, California’s IamSu!, my favorite rapper occupying himself with the West Coast’s cold, empty ratchet music sound. The style had its moment in the sun last year with Tyga’s hard, propulsive strip-club anthem “Rack City,” but that’s just the beginning: There’s a whole landscape of young guys discussing their cunnilingus prowess over handclaps and fingersnaps and spaceship sound effects from 1980s video games. IamSu! has a couple of qualities that make him my favorite among them. One his his warmth — the easy, laid-back, conversational fluidity in his voice, one that makes him sound calm and approachable even when he’s just talking about fucking and/or partying, which is most of the time. There isn’t enough conscious struggle-rapper in him to overwhelm his libertine side, but there’s just enough to make him sound like a human being, rather than the strip-club robot that Tyga likes to pretend he is. The other is the way he moves his voice through space, tripping effortlessly over these buzzing thumps, casually switching up cadences with a no-big-deal grace. Also, he calls himself “Suzy” and gets away with it, which is frankly incredible.
On Million Dollar Afro, Suzy teams up with Problem, a generically monikered Compton rapper with a slightly harder, more pugnacious style. The two already showed up together on E-40′s regional hit “Function,” and they’ve got a fun chemistry, throwing shit-talk back and forth between each other with a practiced, lived-in informality. They’ve got complementary rap styles, and they bring out the best in each other. With Problem around, IamSu! never indulges in the contemplative sad-bastard stuff that sometimes weighs down the latter halves of his solo tapes. And with IamSu! around, Problem’s got none of the bloodthirst he sometimes shows; he’s too busy having fun. The beats rattle along with the same breezy bump, and the hooks come fast and dizzy. When Juvenile shows up on “100 Grand,” it makes perfect sense; Problem and IamSu! have a way of making party-rap that never strives to cross over but have a way of turning half their lines into hooks anyway, and they could’ve learned that by keeping 400 Degreez on repeat as kids.
I should be clear: These guys are making songs, more or less, about being assholes. The whole mixtape’s thesis can be boiled down to the first line on Too Short’s “Wassup” guest-verse: “I’m dancing behind her / What she gon’ do with that vagina?,” drawled out so that “behind her” and “vagina” rhyme perfectly. This is locker-room shit-talk music, and Problem and IamSu! are absolutely happy to write an entire song about how you need to “step your dick game up,” and then, in case you missed the point, to recruit Omarion for an entirely different song called “Step It Up.” And they manage to come off like charming-scoundrel types anyway, by throwing in little asides about how they just had to blow way too much money on some Jordans or by having so much fun rapping that they can’t help but turn words into elongated yelps. And the music makes for absolutely perfect springtime driving music, with “I Get Bitches” harking back to the minimal 808 crunch that helped Too Short become a cult hero 25 years ago and “MDA” showing just how catchy an obnoxious Auto-Tune chorus croon can really be. These guys know what they’re doing, and nobody has made a better low-stakes poolside rap record yet in 2013.
Download Million Dollar Afro for free here.