For me, and for a lot of other people, Kanye West’s Yeezus was the rap album of the year — and the album of the year, period. But general consensus says that the biggest problem with Yeezus as a rap album was the actual rapping — the deluded, snarled, all-over-the-place word-delivery. I don’t agree; Kanye’s paranoid coke-flow has a gravity all its own. But it’s still arguable that the single best verse on Yeezus is the only one from a guest-rapper (if we don’t count reggae guys like Assassin as guest-rappers, which we shouldn’t, since dancehall toasting is its own thing). That verse is the Chicago rapper King Louie, the wizened older uncle of the teenage drill scene, muttering unflappably over Kanye’s berserker sirens on “Send It Up,” calmly tough-talking about his violent exploits making the news as if “Send It Up” where a perfectly natural thing to be rapping over. And now Louie has given us Drilluminati 2, his first mixtape since Yeezus, and it just might be rap’s first post-Yeezus full-length. Kanye’s last album-length experiment, 2008’s 808s & Heartbreaks, had a seismic effect on rap, and many of the major stars who emerged afterward (Drake, Future) are definitively post-808s rappers. Yeezus, an intentionally abrasive move that consciously had nothing to do with current rap trends, almost certainly won’t change the genre from within like that. But Drilluminati 2 shows what happens when those blaring, apocalyptic textures blunder their way into underground street-rap, when that influence leeches outward.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Drilluminati 2 has no Kanye influence at all. Louie, of course, comes from drill music, and drill music had as much of an effect on Yeezus as dancehall and industrial and acid house did. Louie could’ve arrived at the sound of Drilluminati 2 on his own. Still, “Send It Up” remains the biggest look of Louie’s career by an order of magnitude, and an appearance like that can change someone’s life and redirect an entire career. The first Drilluminati tape, which came out late last year, had some of the same hard-pounding, merciless qualities. But compared to the work of younger contemporaries like Chief Keef, that first Drilluminati tape seemed almost clumsily friendly and wide-open. There was nothing like, say, the bass artillery that producer Bobby Johnson blasts all over “Again,” or the manic Auto-Tuned goth-churning of “#TrnDwnFrWht.” Where Louie once sounded simply aggressive, he’s now channeling dark spirits and making his tracks sound like the end of the world. Drilluminati 2 is a mean, mean piece of work.
It’s also weird, in ways that Louie has never really been weird before. Consider, for example, the way “#TrnDwnFrWht” threatens to descend further into total dissonance by the end, without ever quite doing it. Consider the way Louie jacks both Future’s terrible fake Tony Montana accent and Migos’ bouncy-ball cadences on the mercenary “Tony.” It doesn’t all work; the extreme Auto-Tune wailer “Hella Band$,” which ends the tape, is damn near unlistenable, piling on the trance synths in such ridiculous concentration that they start to sound like banjos. But when, for instance, Louie is depressively slurring about his own boss status and its pressures over mutilated Tangerine Dream keyboards and maniacal ad-libs on “O.D.B.,” it’s simply majestic. And when Louie and promising up-and-comer Lil Herb trade off double-time threats on “Eastside Shit,” you can a sense of what drill music can and hopefully will develop into, if the truly gifted rappers on the scene have anything to say about it.
If you’ve been reading this column for a while this year, you’ve probably noticed that the city of Chicago has been absolutely running things lately, something that damn sure wasn’t happening a couple of years ago, when I was writing Pitchfork’s mixtape column and actually living in Chicago. As the city continues to descend into violent chaos, the level of talent in its local rap scene is getting just ridiculous. Part of that is because of the arty guys, blown-out conscious stoner types like Chance The Rapper and Tree and Vic Mensa. But just as much of the good rap music coming out of Chicago lately comes from the other side, from street-level tough guys, people who might have major-label contracts but who make music that major labels absolutely aren’t interested in releasing right now. Chief Keef isn’t currently one of those guys; he made a surprisingly great debut album in Finally Rich (happy first birthday, Finally Rich), but his 2013 mixtapes have been, more or less, unfocused garbage. Still, peers like Louie and Lil Durk and Lil Bibby and Fredo Santana are building on the aesthetic that Keef helped to popularize, pushing it outward and keeping its toughness while drifting in different musical directions. The initial explosion has died down, but the music is in a great, great place, and it will stay there as long as it keeps giving us mixtapes like Drilluminati 2.
Download Drilluminati 2 here.