Lil B is no longer the most important or innovative member of the Pack. The Based God’s entire head-blown love-the-world schtick has had a tremendous impact across underground rap, but he’s been working that style for years now, and he’s not exactly bursting with fresh ideas. B’s recent mixtape Hoop Life is actually his best in a couple of years, but other than its goofy basketball theme and its sports-blog-manna Kevin Durant dis, it doesn’t have anything new going on. (Like so many other Lil B tapes, it’s also about three times as long as it needs to be.) Meanwhile, Young L, who was in the Pack with B, is, when you think about it, one of the most important producers in recent West Coast rap history. It’s hard to imagine the minimal, blippy style of producers like DJ Mustard and the HBK Gang emerging without the precedent that Young L set in his days with the Pack. Meanwhile, L is soldiering on, making deeply strange music that varies enormously from project to project. On last year’s Convulsion EP, Young L sounded like he was making his version of a Clams Casino instrumental tape. And now, his new MVP sounds like a head-sloshing take on the AraabMuzik sound.
Like Araab, Young L builds his MVP tracks out of the basic building blocks of festival EDM: Compressed cathedral-goth keyboard stabs, thunderous drum clusters, messy globs of bass. And like Araab, Young L does weird things with those sounds, warping them until they sound just off and pulling a mournful creepiness out of them. But Young L actually goes further than Araab, and the sound that he’s built for MVP tingles and sways and basically forces your brain into a staggered, barely-conscious state. Consider, for example, “Range Rover,” on which Young L gargles the hook from Nelly’s “Country Grammar” through copious levels of Auto-Tune, singing it over a bed of dying, decaying rave synths and whispering hi-hats. By any metric, it’s a deeply weird piece of music, and it transforms one of history’s most ebullient and recognizable rap refrains into a slogging funeral hymn. Upon hearing it for the first time, your first reaction might be a simple, primal “Whaaaaat?,” and your second might be to slip into the ketamine coma that the music encourages.
Young L raps, or invites otherwise-unknown associates to rap, over a few of the tracks on MVP, and he tries out Future-style Auto-Tune on a few others, using the plug-in for massive space-alien effect. But he’s just as likely to let an instrumental play out on its own. The rapping, when it arrives, is strong in a drug-zonked sort of way, though he never actually says anything worth quoting. Just as often, though, he’ll let an instrumental play out by itself, or he’ll just chant “whoa whoa whoa whoa oh my god” over and over, the way he does on “Depre$$ed Oceans.” All of it sounds like nothing else, in Young L’s past career or anywhere else. I have a hard time imagining any of these tracks becoming hits, even of the underground variety. But their way-out textures and general adventurousness further reveal Young L as one of the few artists on the rap underground who simply refuses to repeat himself, and whose strangest studio goofs still demand attention. Young L has his own clothing line, Pink Dolphin, and it seems to be doing just fine; he doesn’t need to be making tracks like these. And yet there he is, cranking out these dizzily bizarre mixtapes a couple of times a year, leaving behind past sonic identities and finding new ones. That deserves recognition.
Download MVP for free at Livemixtapes.