A quick programming note: El-P and Killer Mike’s Run The Jewels is out now, and it is a monster. The music I usually consider for this column is the music that’s out there for legal free download, and Run The Jewels qualifies on that front. But El has repeatedly insisted on Twitter that Run The Jewels is an album, not a mixtape, and I don’t want to piss off anyone who’s rapping with El’s current level of throat-slit intensity. So because of that, and because physical copies of Run The Jewels are out there for sale right now, I’m considering that one for Album Of The Week rather than this column. Anyway.
Other than the odd street sign collision, nothing Kanye West does these days is an accident. So when he only brings in one guest-rapper on all of Yeezus, he’s telling us something. On Yeezus, Kanye mines the past few decades of music for the hardest, most punishing sounds he can find: Synthetic postpunk grind, apocalyptic dancehall, primitivist early house, confrontational industrial throb. And Kanye’s one rapping guest comes from Kanye’s hometown but represents a scene very different from anything that existed when Kanye actually lived in Chicago. It’s King Louie, hammerhead uncle of Chicago’s dead-eyed and minimalistic drill music subgenre, and he verbally slaps the shit out of the dope-as-fuck “Send It Up.” (Drill star Chief Keef also shows up, singing and making an unlikely duet partner for Justin Vernon on “Hold My Liquor.”) Kanye uses drill music on Yeezus because he hears it as elemental facepunch music, music of dead-souled violence, and it certainly can be that. But this month, King Louie also showed up on another Chicago rap full-length, one that shows just how fun and lively and engaging drill music can be.
Katie Got Bandz is a South Side teenager with one of the best ad-libs in rap today (“Katieeeeee“) and the rare ability to convey sass and attitude without compromising drill music’s terse, tough, inflection-free aesthetic. If you look at King Louie in her video for “Pop Out,” you’ll see a very different guy from the one who snarls in monotone on “Send It Up,” even if he’s pretty much rapping the same way on Katie’s song. In the “Pop Out” video, Louie and Katie gently clown each other, dance with each other, laugh a whole lot. They seem to like each other, which, in a genre famous for inter-neighborhood blood feuds, feels like a minor revelation. I don’t blame him; I like Katie, too. She seems tough as hell, her flow growly and assured and her voice loud enough to blow bricks out of walls. But even though she’s rapping about fighting and getting money, and even though she sounds credible doing it, there’s this amused wink in her voice that shines through no matter what she’s talking about. As anyone who’s spent any time in a high school punk band can tell you, it’s fun to sing about fighting, especially when you’re young enough that you don’t have too many other ways of asserting agency. And that element of fun is way more obvious in Katie’s music than it is in the music of any other prominent drill music voice.
Most of the beats on Drillary Clinton come from producer BlockOnDaTrack. His style has plenty in common with that of drill music production mastermind Young Chop — the titanic drums, the eerie minor-key synth melodies, the general sonic flatness — but the BlockOnDaTrack beats are busier, less monolithic. Occasionally, they turn into full-on trap-rave on the songs’ outros, and there’s usually a little house-music push to his tempos. That’s important because it means the music here moves. There aren’t any instantly iconic tracks here like Chop’s beat for “I Don’t Like,” but all of it has forward momentum; all of it moves. It’s the type of mixtape where I can’t sit still when I’m listening. And with one producer handling most of the tape, there’s also a sense of cohesion here; even when Katie ventures out into Future-esque Auto-Tune singing, it never fucks the flow up.
But as fun as those tracks are, Katie is still the primary point of interest here, the force of personality holding everything together. Katie, after all, comes from the same scene that produced Lil Reese, who found internet notoriety last year when a video of him beating the shit out of a girl, in a crowded room, made the internet rounds. (Reese never apologized or anything; instead, he complained about haters trying to bring him down by posting an old video.) Katie comes from that same scene, but she sounds as tough and self-possessed as anyone else in it. When she snarls, “Boss bitch! I’m a boss bitch!,” I catch flashbacks to Diamond and Princess, the two girls in the great early-’00s Atlanta group Crime Mob, whose energetic sneers were so perfect on tracks like “Stilettos (Pumps).” Like them, Katie comes from a part of the world that’s actively hostile to young women, but she sounds happier and more in control than any of the boys around her. If every other drill rapper is making music about tension, Kantie is making music about release. And if Kanye is over the pre-fatherhood jitters that animated Yeezus, maybe he should look her up when he gets around to making another album.
Download Drillary Clinton here.