For anyone who regularly wastes time on Twitter, the brief and fleeting death-scare is a familiar sensation. You see the name of a celebrity you like, a musician or an actor or a comedian, in the trending topics. And you briefly feel the fear that this person has died. Then you click on the link, and you see that this person is merely celebrating a birthday, or maybe has said something stupid in an interview. Every once in a while, you learn that the person actually has died. More often, though, you get to enjoy a minor and equally fleeting sense of gratitude that this person is still around. The opposite happened to me on Saturday morning. I woke up, looked at Twitter, and saw the name of Bankroll Fresh, the young and promising Atlanta rapper, in the #1 trend spot. And it didn’t even occur to me that he was dead. Instead, I got excited. Hey, maybe he’s got some new music out! And hey, it’s cool that he’s gotten to the point where he can be the #1 trend now! But no. No, he was dead, shot to death in an Atlanta recording studio the night before, at only 28 years old.
Now: It seemed entirely plausible that a new Bankroll Fresh mixtape could’ve made him the #1 trend in the country, even in the early hours of Saturday morning, even the day after surprise album releases from Kendrick Lamar and the 2 Chainz/Lil Wayne tandem. Bankroll Fresh had that kind of upward momentum, the type that starts as an organic online buzz and leads to something like stardom while critics like me are still scrambling to catch up. For years, rapping under the name Young Fresh, he’d been a quiet presence in Atlanta rap, a guy who gets 16 bars in on a Gucci Mane track but never says anything you remember. That was changing. In 2014, he’d released his Life Of A Hot Boy mixtape, a blistering and quietly excellent album-length piece of unshowy Atlanta street-rap. It had been anchored by the song “Hot Boy,” an irresistible trunk-rattler on which Bankroll Fresh used the names of the Hot Boys, the late-’90s New Orleans rap stars, as shorthand for street-kid success. The song had a long, slow-cresting life. A year after its release, all three of the non-incarcerated original Hot Boys came through to rap on a remix. Careers have been built on lesser things.
Bankroll Fresh released two more mixtapes last year, Life Of A Hot Boy 2 and a self-titled one. He’d co-starred, alongside 2 Chainz, in some kind of straight-to-WorldStar mini-movie. On Instagram, Drake had reported watching Marilyn Manson “go up” to a Bankroll Fresh track in a Sydney club. Taken all together, those accomplishments might not look, at least to an outsider, like much of a legacy. But they show that Bankroll Fresh was building a name for himself in Atlanta, currently the most crowded and competitive rap scene in the world. And he’d done this without any flamboyant gimmickry, any easy-to-latch-onto press narrative. He was just a street guy who was really, really good at rapping. And while we’ll probably never know the whole story about his murder, it’s telling that he was gunned down in the studio, his workplace, while he was practicing his craft.
And he was serious about that craft. If you look at Bankroll Fresh’s lyrics on paper, there’s not too much to distinguish him from about half of the rap world. The hook of “Trap,” one of his underground hits, went like this: “All we do is trap,” repeated a few times. And he was stuck to that subject matter: The life of the small-time drug-dealer. But it was the way Bankroll Fresh rapped about that life that made him special. Bankroll Fresh understood flow. In a lot of ways, he was a classic gangsta rapper, the same way someone like Freddie Gibbs is. He had a rough and gravelly and understated voice, and the way he rapped, you could tell he didn’t generally talk too loudly in his day-to-day life. But in his delivery, he skated erratically all over tracks. His patterns weren’t too different from those of Future or Young Thug, but he used those flows in the context of a workaday street guy, not a larger-than-life personality. There was room for that in the world. He had a lane.
Bankroll Fresh never achieved any sort of musical immortality during his lifetime, but he was on his way. Beyond the obvious tragedy of Bankroll Fresh’s murder — another young guy taken before his time — that’s the shittiest thing. Bankroll Fresh hadn’t yet made his mark on the world. He had all this talent and momentum, all these things working in his favor, and all that is gone now. We’ve seen it too often: Rappers ready to take on the world who never quite get the chance, guys who only achieve #1-trend status in death. Bankroll Fresh deserved better.
1. Kool John – “Ahh Shit Gah Damn!” (Feat. Snoop Dogg & Iamsu!)
If you name your song “Ahh Shit Gah Damn!,” there is a 100% chance that I will listen to your song and an almost-as-high chance that I will enjoy it. Kool John is quickly becoming the world’s most dependable party-rapper, to the point where he can get a Snoop Dogg verse and it doesn’t make you wish you were hearing the 20-years-ago version of Snoop.
2. Thast – “Snitch”
A harder-than-fuck raw-voiced Central Florida rapper goes in, in full lo-fi screaming-into-a-shitty-mic style, over a beat, from a Norwegian producer, that sounds like an early-’90s ambient-house banger eating itself. Globalism at work!
3. Tinchy Stryder – “Allow Me” (Feat. JME)
If you haven’t spent any recent insomniac hours falling into a contemporary-grime-video YouTube K-hole, then you haven’t been spending your recent insomniac hours right. In the decade-plus since the Run The Road compilation, I’ve spent approximately zero time thinking about Tinchy Stryder, whose “Move” was a highlight. And yet here he is, still wrecking shit. Grime didn’t go dormant; it’s just that too many of us fell asleep.
4. OG Boobie Black – “Get Gangsta” (Feat. Kevin Gates & Beanie Sigel)
All I know about OG Boobie Black is that he’s a guy who sometimes shows up with perfectly decent guest verses on Kevin Gates tracks. But if he’s going to get Gates and Beanie Sigel to rap on the same track, then he’s hero status. It’s that simple. Beans has been through so much, and he still sounds like the hardest motherfucker in creation.
5. Samiyam – “Mr. Wonderful” (Feat. Action Bronson)
“405 is what I’m benching on the benches with my henchmen / Black turtlenecks, we on some Friends shit / And I shoot like I’m from French Lick / Sometimes, it feels I’m playing with a death wish / All a player wants is neckbones and red fish and a thick redbone to give me neck, dome for breakfast / What a life I made for myself, damn / All them nights I played with myself / Now I don’t even take a piss by myself / Bitch I’m done, baby hand me my belt.”
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— izzie (@izzieagnew) March 7, 2016