Rap needs villains. They keep things interesting. For years, Suge Knight reigned as rap’s dominant supervillain, and he did it without rapping a single bar, which somehow makes it more impressive. Lately, Birdman has played a more low-key version of the domineering-label-owner type that Knight pioneered, but he’s enforced his dominance by locking people into label limbo and refusing to pay them rather than dangling them off balconies by their ankles. Still, the effect is the same. Birdman’s villainy might be more efficient, but it’s just as heelish. 50 Cent was a born villain, a bully who absolutely took over everything for a few years by relentlessly clowning everyone else and by being more shameless with pop hooks than the people who he clowned for being shameless with their pop hooks. His extreme and sudden downfall came when he couldn’t recognize how sick the public was of his villain shtick, and that might be the ultimate villain ending. Kanye West sometimes likes to play the villain, but he’s a villain the way Magneto is — so driven by his beliefs and his passion that he sometimes ends up taking on the whole world. At this point, though, you’d have to be churlish as all fuck to see him as anything other than an aesthete hero. But maybe because of family connections, Kanye is now giving a big assist to one of rap’s great present-day villains: The smarmy little dicknose Tyga, who has managed to turn slimy-dirtbag charisma into something resembling rap stardom. Just yesterday, Tyga surprise-released his new joint The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty. Kanye West served as its executive producer. And it’s good! It’s good in ways that might make you hate it. It’s a true document of a villain coming into his own.
At least some of Tyga’s villainy comes from the strange, circuitous route he took to rap stardom. His initial claim to fame was that he was the younger cousin of lead Gym Class Hero Travis McCoy, a mini-rap villain himself. Maybe eight years ago, I watched a teenage Tyga do a historically shitty job “hosting” a Fall Out Boy show at Madison Square Garden, which pretty much meant he came out before each band and introduced them by way of terrible acappella rapping. He somehow parlayed a deal with Pete Wentz’s record label into a spot on Lil Wayne’s fast-growing Young Money roster. At first, he seemed more like a Gudda Gudda or Mack Maine-style hanger-on than a Drake or Nicki Minaj-esque star-in-waiting. But he parlayed a friendship with a rebounding-from-punching-Rihanna Chris Brown and a gift for skeevy strip-club rap into cult stardom, especially among teenagers. He’s not what you could really call a good rapper. His similes strain credulity, and he can’t convincingly convey any emotions beyond sneering self-assurance. But he hits that one note beautifully, and he rides beats with a deceptive level of ease. Over the years, he’s been responsible for more good songs than anyone wants to admit. “Rack City” was my favorite single of 2013, and it, more than any other song, was responsible for turning an entire coast’s sound into Mustardwave. And Tyga’s also had a hand in “Roger That,” “Really Raw,” “Bubble Butt,” “Hookah,” and “Ayo” — all great songs. He’s probably not the best thing about a single one of those songs, but he’s there, and that counts for something. But people like me are always going to have a hard time taking Tyga serious because we’ll always remember him as the little weasel from the “Coconut Juice” video.
But he still has those little-weasel tendencies, and they serve him well on The Gold Album. Tyga hangs out with Chris Brown all the time — they just released a collaborative album a couple of months ago — and he raps like someone who hangs out with Chris Brown a lot. There’s so much evocative skeeze on the album. Tyga raps about drinking virgin blood mixed with 151, or about a girl who has “holes in her neck from the fangs.” He gets off on playing the predator: “She a fun girl living on the edge / Papa ran a hedge fund, all his daughter do is give head.” He offers this lovely descriptor: She likes dick, dick, dick, and nothing else but dick / She eat it like candy or Swedish Fish.” (Among other crimes, this ignores the fact that Swedish Fish is already candy. So he’s basically saying she eats it like candy or candy.)
Tyga is famously dating the 17-year-old Kylie Jenner; Drake burned his soul a couple of months ago by telling Tyga, “You need to act your age and not your girl’s age.” And the album gets extra ooky when you consider how many lines might be about Jenner. The wildest line on the album doesn’t actually even belong to Tyga. It’s Boosie Badazz, one of the only guests on the album, howling about how he’s like to “stuff Kardasian pussy” while on a song with an actual Kardashian sister’s boyfriend. The fact that Tyga even let that line appear on his album says things. He’s like a rap Billy Zane — not just the Titanic Billy Zane, but also the terrifyingly creepy Billy Zane of Dead Calm. And when Tyga tries to play a good guy, as on the relationship song “Hard For You” or the ill-advised sung number “Down For A Min,” it goes over about as well as it does when Zane played a good guy in The Phantom. (That went badly. The Phantom is a bad movie.) But that leering evilness helped make “Rack City” work, and it makes a lot of The Gold Album work, too.
The album also works, of course, because it’s one of the best collections of rap beats you’ll hear all year. Kanye West didn’t actually produce any tracks, but his right-hand man Mike Dean had a hand in at least one. And the album has some of the same chilly focus that Yeezus had. The Gold Album is 11 songs and 44 minutes long, short for a major-label rap album, and it vacillates between moody, sparse post-dubstep neon-streaks and absolute monster bangers. A track like “Pleazer,” with its demonic, widescreen take on the old Too Short bounce, or “Hollywood Niggaz,” with its strutting bass-bombs, counts as the latter. There are so many reasons to hate The Gold Album, but I can’t bring myself to hate an album that has tracks like that on it. When the sample of the “thou shalt not kill” song from The Lost Boys came in on the Lil Wayne collab “4 My Dawgs,” I just about punched the air. That’s exactly the sort of thing Tyga should be rapping over right now. And it doesn’t even matter that Lil B just used that same sample not that long ago. Sample-thievery is, after all, a slimy villain move. Tyga’s just staying in character.
1. RetcH – “Guz Gon Blow”
I am oddly enthused to see the return of the classic East Coast rap style where someone’s voice is so guttural that you can barely understand a word he says. Turns out it works beautiful with that psychedelic Tumblr-rap production style.
2. Kehlani, G-Eazy, Iamsu! & Lil B – “Champion”
The whole “our team just won a national championship so fuck you” local-pride song is such an underrated mini-genre. Also: Kehlani got bars! And Lil B is actually rapping, like he was back in the Pack, rather than just declaiming airy wisdom! Get G-Eazy the fuck out of here, though.
3. Fetty Wap – “Boomin”
Now that he’s a bona fide hitmaker, Fetty Wap could be forgiven for making frothy pop music. Instead, he’s making something that sounds like 2011 Chicago drill and continually shouting out Gucci Mane. That is a decision I support one thousand percent.
4. Future – “News Or Somthn”
“It’s a full moon in the middle of the day.” Future is back in emotive-crooner mood and still talking about killing people. God bless him.
5. Kap-G – “I Came Up”
Another one for the “eerie Atlanta banger that’s been out for months but I’m only hearing it now” column. Most lovably dorky boast since forever: “My Honda all black like Darth Vader.”
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
if Kanye is gonna exec produce rap albums for his in-laws' boyfriends I think I'd rather it be Scott Disick than Tyga
— Al Shipley (@alshipley) June 23, 2015