Sometimes, a great piece of music will come along and fuck up all your plans. I had a whole idea about what I wanted to do with this week’s column. The enigmatic young Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty released his Lil Boat mixtape last week, and I tried to like it, but I can’t even understand the fucking thing. I can’t even tell whether I hate it or whether it just exists at some frequency I can’t hear. And that got me thinking that maybe I should hate it, since I’m a 36-year-old white man with a ’90s-bred taste profile, and the rap generation gap is a real thing. This was going to segue into a bit about Lil Uzi Vert going on the Hot 97 morning show and refusing to rap over Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal” beat and about how generational divides are healthy and even necessary for music. I think it would’ve been a pretty good column. Maybe I’ll still write it next week. But then, when all this was coming together in my head, Kamaiyah released her A Good Night In The Ghetto mixtape, and my whole brain just short-circuited. Because how are you going to stress about esoteric taste questions when there is perfect summer music happening?
You know that feeling where you hear some new music and it’s exactly what you didn’t know you needed? That’s A Good Night In The Ghetto for me right now. This thing is arriving at the exact moment when I can go outside in a T-shirt, and it’s total go-outside-in-a-T-shirt music. Kamaiyah is a 21-year-old rapper from Oakland, and her music sounds a whole lot like something that could’ve come out of her hometown in the year she was born. It has the crisp propulsion of the West Coast’s recent Mustardwave sound, and Mustardwave MVP YG shows up to rap on “Fuck It Up.” (He’s the only remotely famous guest on the whole mixtape, unless we’re counting Bay Area producers like Trackademics and P Lo.) But the music isn’t stripped-down and minimal like those DJ Mustard tracks. Instead, it’s lush and slick and funky. It’s got burbling Zapp basslines and shivery keyboard melodies and euphoric R&B melodies. It’s just lovely. There’s not a single track on the tape that doesn’t sound great hammering out of an open car window.
And Kamaiyah is a ridiculously charismatic presence. She’s not a lyrically lyrical rapper, and she doesn’t need to be. She’s got confidence and brashness and a powerful melodic sensibility working for her. And she comes across like a real person, like someone who might work in your office. On “How Does It Feel?,” she raps about being broke, wondering what it’s like to not stress about money all the time. Her dreams are regular and everyday enough to sound attainable, and she works real tension into her music without hurting the gleaming party-rap force of the song itself. On tracks like “Niggas” and “Freaky Freaks,” she takes on old-school Bay Area sex-rap hedonism, and the whole hit-it-and-quit-it ethos sounds a whole lot less queasy when it comes from a female rapper who’s talking about hooking up with dudes and then kicking them out. (It helps that her singsong flow on “Niggas” reaches Nelly levels of insane catchiness.) And “For My Dawg,” the tape’s last song and its only real down moment, is a thoughtful dedication to a friend who’s died of cancer, and even a bleak song like that has fingersnaps and lush pianos and breezy vocal melodies. If you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics, you could play it at a barbecue.
Hell, play it at a barbecue. Play the whole thing at one. Maybe people will get a little sad during the last song, but it’s a barbecue; they won’t get that sad. More likely outcome: People will come up to you and ask you who’s playing. That was me a couple of months ago. I hadn’t heard of Kamaiyah before “How Does It Feel?” showed up on Pitchfork’s songs-of-the-year list, and I tend to be suspicious of rappers who come to my attention through critical channels rather than through, like, browsing the most-searched list on Livemixtapes. I don’t live anywhere near the Bay Area, but Kamaiyah, best as I can tell, is not some organically self-made local star. She only has about 3,000 Twitter followers, and I mostly encounter her name on tastemaker websites. This raised alarms for me. Maybe it raises them for you, too.
But honestly, who gives a fuck? It doesn’t matter who likes Kamaiyah or even what her context is. If the music is as flat-out perfect as this stuff, only a churl would dwell on the whole intended-audience question. Kamaiyah is making ridiculously good music right now — music that’s hitting me like some lemonade with too much liquor in it, music that’s making me excited to drive around running errands just so I can hear it in the car. As I’m writing this, I’ve only been living with A Good Night In The Ghetto for about 24 hours, and I’m already ready to call it my favorite mixtape of 2016. The Lil Yachty question can wait for another day.
1. Lil Yachty – “Minnesota (Remix)” (Feat. Quavo, Skippa Da Flippa, & Young Thug)
OK, fine, I’ll get into this Lil Yachty thing a little bit. There are things I really like about this song. All the guest verses are weird and great. “I was eating pork and rinds with a bitch from New York Times” is a memorable, confounding line. (Pork and rinds?) It’s got a distinctive sound, simple and gentle and hypnotic. And yet I don’t understand how a song this flat and amateurish and goofy can hit the way this is hitting. No rapper has ever made me feel this old.
2. J-Zone – “Go Back To Sellin’ Weed”
See, this is more like it. The preeminent funny-ass grump of the early-’00s New York underground laments the indisputable truth that there are too many rappers, then throws in a nasty scratch solo. Nobody needs to explain this to me.
3. Westside Gunn – “Bodies On Fairfax” (Feat. Danny Brown)
A new Danny Brown verse always deserves your attention, but the real news here is the lovely, impressionist, drumless beat. More marimba in rap music, please.
4. Domo Genesis – “Dapper” (Feat. Anderson .Paak)
More of that beautifully fluid, funky California summer music.
5. Paul Wall – “Swangin’ In The Rain (Remix)” (Feat. Slim Thug, J-Dawg, Lil Keke, Z-Ro, & Chamillionaire)
Half the good rappers in Houston mob up to rap about candy paint and purple drank over the Dramatics’ “In The Rain.” This song could’ve existed at any point in the last 15-or-so years. I love it then, I love it now, and I’m still not over the novelty of hearing Paul Wall and Chamillionaire back on the same song again.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Andrew Barber (@fakeshoredrive) March 3, 2016