Status Ain't Hood

Hus Kingpin’s Beautiful, Evocative, Grimy New York Rap

There’s a moment on “Lootpack” — the Madlib-produced, 83-second opening track from Long Island rapper Hus Kingpin’s new mixtape 16 Waves — where Hus says, “I’m the nicest since Nas passed the torch over.” It’s not an especially surprising moment. Hus is, after all, a rapper from the greater New York area, and he’s somewhere in his thirties. For rappers from that region and generation, Illmatic-era Nas is generally considered to be the Platonic ideal for rap music, the living embodiment of everything a rapper should be. But Hus doesn’t really sound anything like Nas. Instead, his approach, I think, comes from another Queensbridge rapper, a contemporary of Nas. Hus raps in a staggered, grizzled cadence, weaving just off the beat instead of studiously sticking to it. And his lyrics are an impressionistic kaleidoscope of violence, a collage of bloody shards of memory. None of that shows the influence of Nas. Instead, Hus comes off sounding a whole lot more like Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.

Prodigy’s influence isn’t lost on Hus; he and frequent collaborator SmooVth named their 2016 album H.N.I.C.: Hempstead Niggas In Charge in honor of Prodigy’s 2000 solo LP H.N.I.C. And on a purely aesthetic level, Hus doesn’t sound that much like Prodigy. Hus’ voice isn’t a battered rasp; it’s higher and flintier. Besides, people from the Prodigy/Nas generation were trying to be rap stars, pushing their music in ever-more-commercial directions until it eventually became obvious that they were losing their base and they needed to recalibrate. Hus Kingpin comes from a different world. He comes from the same Long Island town, Hempstead, as Roc Marciano, and his music has the same hardnosed, evocative artiness. He’s on the same continuum, somewhere between the cerebral insularity of Ka and the dusty head-smack intensity of Westside Gunn and Conway. And like those guys, Hus does fascinating things with the New York boom-bap of his ’90s youth.

When I moved to New York, in the middle of the last decade, boom-bap was dying, and New York rappers didn’t know how to handle it. I heard, over and over again, how we had to bring New York back, how we had to take rap back from the Southern insurrectionists who had become the commercial and creative center of the genre. There was a supremely unattractive grumpiness to the way many prominent New York voices, especially in the online-media world, looked at the way rap was going. We still hear echoes of that in the talk of the rap generation gap — the elders like the Hot 97/Beats 1 host Ebro who famously go into harrumphing fits every time they come face to face with the Lil Uzi Verts of the world.

But most people, I think, have figured out that rap, like everything else, has splintered into a million tiny pieces, that there is no center anymore. Rappers are making music for audiences who like to hear the kind of rap music that they make. And for those of us who love Migos and Roc Marciano, the genre is an endless bounty of riches. The great thing about Hus Kingpin is that he’s perfecting his own distant, refracted New York sound, and he’s doing it without any commercial concessions at all. He’s not chasing a mainstream that doesn’t exist anymore. He’s forging his own sound.

Hus has been doing this for a few years now, racking up an intimidatingly huge discography in short order. But 16 Waves is a great place to jump in because it’s so weird and personal. There’s a lot of baroque fuck-you-up talk on the mixtape — “y’all niggas never seen blood float in orbit” — but it’s all intense and idiosyncratic in the way that the best rap music can be. The production, most of it from producers whose names I don’t recognize, is built on strange sounds and airy textures, its crackling film-score samples pretty and fragile as a candle’s flickering flame. For me, that’s where the Prodigy influence is strongest; P, after all, is the rapper who taught a whole generation how to be weird and dark and personal and depressed without losing touch with their own fundamental hardness.

Hus sometimes gets diaristic, spending one track rapping about a cousin who’s gotten out of prison after 15 years but who finds that he can now get in touch with long-lost family because of social media, another discussing how Sean Price’s death sent him into a fit of mortality-fear, texting his mother in the middle of the night just to make sure she was OK. Hus also spends a bit of time kvetching about the tight-pants weirdo generation, but his music is, in its way, just as weird as anything Lil Yachty ever did. And that’s a great thing. Rap needs as many types of weirdos as possible. And Hus Kingpin has joined a growing list of rappers finding new inspiration in old sounds, pushing those sounds to places where they never went the first time around.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Juvenile – “Red Sox” (Feat. Young Thug)
The most entrancing slurry-singsong rapper of the ’90s meets the most entrancing slurry-singsong rapper of the ’10s, and they have more chemistry than you could possibly imagine. I would pay good American money for a collaborative album from these two.

2. Crystal Caines – “Fuckery (Run With Me)” (Feat. A$AP Ferg)
A$AP Mob would be a vastly more interesting crew if A$APs Ant and Twelvyy and Nast would go away for a while and if Crystal Caines joined up instead. Here, she absolutely goes wolverine on what sounds like an EDM track that’s been built on a broken cellphone, and Ferg sounds like he’s drafting on her momentum when he shows up.

3. Peewee Longway – “Master Peewee (Remix)” (Feat. Master P & Gucci Mane)
“Master Peewee” was always an extended Southern-rap-nerd wordplay riff, so it feels almost Tarantino-esque when the real Master P shows up, sounding revitalized and ready to drive a gold-plated tank back through this motherfucker again.

4. Barclay Crenshaw – “U Are In My System” (Feat. The Cool Kids)
The Cool Kids always sounded great over the spacious Chuck Inglish tracks that gave them plenty of room to operate. But I might prefer them over this lush, psychedelic electro where they’re reduced to ornaments.

5. Maxo Kream – “Grannies”
Maxo Kream has been the young king of Houston’s underground for a while now, but I had no idea he was capable of this sort of breathless, slice-of-life storytelling. If he can keep surprising people like this, he’s going to be something special.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO