Atlanta, man. City full of weirdos. Look at some of the city’s biggest rap stars at the moment: Middle-aged bad-joke craftsman 2 Chainz, soul-baring Auto-Tune gurgler Future, yammering helium-voiced button-pusher Young Thug. These guys all have personal styles that influence and infect each other, but sometimes it also feels like they’re locked in a neverending battle to see who can come up with the most baffling, out-of-nowhere forms of self-presentation without losing their grassroots street support. I’ve never even been to Atlanta, but everything I’ve watched and heard and read about that scene makes it sound like a loose network of home studios, in suburban bedrooms and trap houses and grandmothers’ closets, and all-night recording sessions in those studios keep the city’s mixtapes-and-strip-club machine churning. There are entire major-label divisions dedicated to figuring out how to profit from the woozy brilliance that those all-night recording sessions bring, but the actual music seems light years removed from whatever goes on in those boardrooms. It’s a city where an old-new rap approach like the Migos flow can absolutely sweep through the entire landscape in a matter of weeks, not because that flow has been demonstrated to lead to pop success but because enough people hear it and say “holy shit, that sounds like something new, let me see if I can try that.” In a city like that, a guy who once seemed like a hanger-on can all of a sudden erupt into the spotlight, can seize your attention and show you that he’s got things to offer. That’s PeeWee Longway right now — a talented freak in a city full of talented freaks, and one who’s having his moment right this very second.
If I’d thought at all about PeeWee Longway before The Blue M&M, it was as the guy who stood next to Young Thug in videos and sometimes chipped in with an odd brain-needling verse of his own. Just physically, Longway and Thug make a fascinating pair: Thug long and stringy and zooted, Longway tiny and built like a bowling ball and given to making amazing I-am-the-best faces. When I saw Longway at this year’s SXSW, I just couldn’t believe how short he was; if Marvel ever gets around to making an Alpha Flight movie, Longway should take a couple of acting classes and see if he can’t land that Puck role. But that was pretty much my only impression of him. The Blue M&M reveals Longway to be the sort of goofball who, well, names his mixtape The Blue M&M and who then gives it that cover. (First guess as to what’s going on there: Drug reference. Second guess: Gang reference. Third: Reference to Longway’s physical stature, though that doesn’t explain the blue part.)
At the outset of “How High,” Longway makes an announcement: “I start my day on three different drugs: Molly, gas, and lean.” And then he spends the rest of the song determined to prove that, yes, this is the way he starts his day, daring you to imagine how many substances his brain is swimming in by the time he goes to bed. The song drowns in echo, Longway trying out different voices and deliveries and flows, his voice bouncing at you from every possible angle. Later, on “Situation,” he’s practically offering a note-perfect Future parody, cooing through Auto-Tune but ditching any and all romanticism and just offering the sort of slurry, faded come-ons that only come to you when you’re deeply fucked up and can’t come up with anything more clever: “What’s the situation for the night? I want you to be my luh-uh-uhhhve.” That’s his persona: The chemical-sloshed party monster who’s persistently so high he can’t count the money he’s stacking up. But his delivery, his sheer technical range, tells a deeper story.
As a sheer vocal stylist, Longway is an absolutely incredible rapper, one capable of finding five different cadences on one spacey beat and then trying them all out in the space of a single verse. Longway’s lyrics generally don’t look great on paper, but the tiny little assonances of his lines can be just enormously gratifying. Tiny little bits of sound will repeat themselves in enough ways that they always sound interesting, even when the substance of what he’s saying is as basic as brag-rap gets: “My swagger literally from Italy.” There’s some vivid imagery in there, like when Longway refers to African diamonds as “Akon boogers,” but the flow is the thing. He raps quickly, in those bunched Migos-flow syllable-bursts, but sometimes he’ll only launch into that cadence after lazily muttering a couple of lines, almost shocking you by how quickly and suddenly he locks in. He’ll alternate from sleepy to deathly-urgent, and then back again, so quickly that you won’t have time to process it. There have been plenty of times I’ve been wondering who a given track’s guest rapper is, only to check the tracklist and realize that the song has no guests; it’s just Longway rapping in a different vocal register. He makes all these abrupt stylistic switch-ups, these jarring alterations of delivery, sound natural and effortless, like the sort of things you might come up with if you were up all night recording six different songs. But they’re not natural. They’re special.
The Blue M&M is very much an Atlanta affair, a product of all those storied all-night fast-food-fueled recording sessions. As far as I know, the only out-of-town guest is A$AP Rocky, showing up on a tape-ending remix of Longway’s local hit “Servin Lean.” Thug only shows up once on the tape. The Migos guys show up a bunch of times, solo and as a unit. Impressive no-names like Woop and Hoodrich Pablo Juan, guys who could very well be having their own moments in the next few months, drop by, too. The producers are the usual Atlanta suspects — Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Dun Deal, the Honorable C-Note — all supplying beats that sound like Casio keyboards trapped in echo chambers and trying to make Halloween sound-effects records. There’s no real construction to the tape — no build, no narrative thread — but it all fits together just because these rappers and these tracks sound like they belong together. And at the center of everything, there’s Longway, working like a mad scientist, constructing bizarre new ways to tell the world that he’s high. He’s having fun rapping, and it’s fun to hear him rap.
Download The Blue M&M at Livemixtapes.