When the Berkeley, California rapper 100s released his Ice Cold Perm mixtape a couple of years ago, I initially took a pass on it because of Main Attrakionz fatigue. 100s came from the orbit of that Bay Area duo, who were in the midst of cranking out a staggering number of bleary, emotive, lost-in-the-fog mixtapes. There were Main Attrakionz tapes, Squadda B solo tapes, MondreM.A.N. solo tapes, tapes from the group’s various associates, and it was all getting to be a bit too much. I liked the group, liked their sound, but it eventually went into the sort of overkill where I had trouble telling the differences between the different projects. But at least as far as 100s was concerned, I was making a mistake. When I finally listened to Ice Cold Perm months later, it emerged that 100s wasn’t just not like the other Main Attrakionz guys; he was the opposite of them. Rather than offering up streaky, soft-focus dream-rap, 100s was, and is, about cold, hard definition. The beats on that tape are precise, merciless synth-bap bangers, and 100s’ voice is a chilly, clinical scalpel. Moreover, he’s obsessed with the whole player/pimp persona, in all its haughtily goofy ’70s-style finery. Ice Cold Perm is a tape full of nasty, emotionless sex-raps (“100s came to bust on your face, not your fuckin’ leg”), and unlike 100s’ obvious pimp-rap forebears like Too $hort and Snoop Dogg, he doesn’t project any self-aware kitsch into his mack strut. He’s harsh and ugly, talking the way you’d imagine a real pimp would. There’s a genuine, stinging shock that comes with that sort of thing, a sneakily attractive transgressive tingle. 100s doesn’t sound silly or ridiculous when he talks about this stuff. He sells it, and moreover, he sells it with enough snarling charisma that you could imagine people falling under his spell. And on the new IVRY, he keeps that same character intact while blowing out the production values, taking advantage of his new place on the Fool’s Gold label and the resources he’s got at his disposal now. It’s sort of like seeing Bruce Campbell’s Ash making the transition from Evil Dead 2’s grisly, ridiculous homemade violence to Army Of Darkness’s relatively vast scope. And just like Ash, 100s suddenly sounds like a man out of time — except instead of the middle ages, he’s been sucked into a supernatural wormhole and deposited in the jheri curl era.
Musically, IVRY sounds like it’s located in the dead center of an imaginary crossfire between late-’70s/early-’80s funk and the California rap production of this exact moment. In some ways, the chilly production of Ice Cold Perm anticipated the spacious, airy, handclap-driven style of DJ Mustard and the HBK Gang and all the other people working that style right now. And IVRY often uses similar levels of empty space. League Of Starz, leading lights in the whole ratchet-music production style, produced the new track “Can A Nigga Hit It,” building the song entirely out of spacey music-box melodies and exquisitely-timed handclaps. But there’s a ton of hair-flipping old-school funk on the tape, too: Squelchy slap-bass, glassy electric pianos, rumbling talkboxes. People like A-Trak and Chuck Inglish have production credits on the tape, but most of the high-stepping, fleshed-out production comes from relative unknowns like Scott Stallone and Joe Wax, and the assembled cast absolutely nails the Zapp/Rick James vibe that 100s is clearly chasing here. (“Middle Of The Night” even has a blazing butt-rock guitar solo toward the end, a total Rick James move.) And while his rap style is still an expressionless sneer, 100s has taken to singing his own hooks, delivering them in a pinched nasal coo that fits the style immaculately.
In terms of his persona, 100s still walks that disappearing line between appealing and appalling. The closest he comes to empathy is this: “I can never knock the next man who gon’ trip on these hoes until he got a bedpan.” (You will be unsurprised to learn that he quickly points out that this is like not him, as if there was any doubt.) There’s a bit of a wink in 100s’ lyrics this time around, and he clearly has fun playing the old permed, fur-coated player archetype: “The bitch foul, man, a nigga ain’t missin’ her / I caught her in the shower trying to steal my conditioner.” And to hear him tell it, 100s’ life is nothing but a nonstop parade of sexual exploits, even when he’s at the gym or whatever: “I said, ’Hold on, bitch, before you get on that treadmill’ / And told her some shit that probably got her wet still.” He delights in that whole archetype, luxuriates in it, and never breaks character. But it’s not just a retro pose; there’s a real heartlessness behind it. He points out, again and again, how much he does not love the women he fucks: “She said, ’100s, I love your ass’ / But that ain’t gon’ get my hair done.” And he delivers all this talk with such straight-faced intensity that he never sounds like he’s joking, even when he probably is.
100s has had a weird life: He’s a half-black and half-Jewish kid who constructed his own ideas about pimp life from watching the Hughes Brothers’ hyper-stylized 1999 documentary American Pimp as a kid. He spent much of his teens abroad at a boarding school in Africa, after his parents shipped him out for acting up too much. He learned French just so he could get along in Ivory Coast. He fell in love with rap from afar, after discovering the music that Mac Dre was making in the hometown that he must’ve missed terribly. But 100s does not want to tell you about any of this in his music; you have to pick it up through interviews. He’s too fully invested in playing a character, even a two-dimensional one, and doing it to perfection. Obviously, 100s is not the most versatile rapper, and you won’t feel the same emotional attachment to him as you might with a truly great rapper. He is, however, a bold and clearly defined character, and within the aesthetic that he’s tapped for himself, he’s got a strong and undeniable charisma that makes him feel something like a star. IVRY never becomes oppressive; it gets in and gets out, its nine songs ending well before the half-hour mark. And while those nine songs are playing, I buy completely into the ridiculous fantasy character that he’s created for himself.
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