Status Ain't Hood

ALLBLACK Carries The Bay Area Flame

“Thank you, Kenny.” That’s something the Oakland rapper ALLBLACK says over and over on 2 Minute Drills, his new collaborative EP with the producer Kenny Beats. “Thank you for fucking with me.” He sounds so sincere.

ALLBLACK is an explosive rapper, an ion charged with unstable energy. But whenever he expresses gratitude, I hear real warmth in his voice. On Outcalls, the EP that ALLBLACK released earlier this year, there’s a song called “Road Run” that features Shoreline Mafia, the young LA rap group who have become a word-of-mouth sensation. And at the end of the song, ALLBLACK thanks them in the exact same way: Warm, humble, plainspoken, “Thank you for fucking with me.” There’s also a moment on 2 Minute Drills where ALLBLACK thanks a stripper for dancing for him, and even then, the tone is the same — no snarl, all gratitude. I’ve never heard anyone say “thank you” on a rap song the way ALLBLACK says “thank you.”

ALLBLACK claims that he’s long made his money as a pimp. If that’s true, if he really is a pimp, then maybe it’s part of his job to fake warmth and gratitude and general all-around friendliness. Maybe it’s an occupational trick. But I’d prefer to think that those thank-yous are real, that ALLBLACK really looks at each new career advancement with that same combination of pride and bewilderment that I hear in those moments. He doesn’t rap like someone who is trying on a persona for effect. When he raps about pimping, for instance, he doesn’t make it sound cool. He makes it sound like a job, with all the attendant frustrations and responsibilities. He doesn’t sound like he gets off on dominating women. He sounds like he’s figuring out ways to keep his bills paid. And in rapping, he sounds like he’s found an escape.

As a rapper, ALLBLACK got his start as a hypeman for 100s, the ridiculously talented Bay Area rapper who had a moment earlier this decade. (100s’ excellent 2012 mixtape Ice Cold Perm gets a shoutout on 2 Minute Drills, and it’s been far too long since I’ve heard someone say the words “Ice Cold Perm” out loud.) ALLBLACK says that 100s (now known as Kossiko) was the person who convinced him to give rapping a try. He’s been rapping for a few years now, but I’d never heard of him until a few months ago, when he showed up on the Nef The Pharaoh/03 Greedo collab “Ball Out.” Since then, I’ve seen his name more and more often. I always get excited when he shows up on a new song. Every time his voice comes on, I know I’m about to hear something.

As a rapper, ALLBLACK is part of a proud lineage. His whole sound is distinctly Bay Area. Even thought their voices and personas are completely different, his delivery reminds me of Bay Area king E-40. Like E-40, ALLBLACK raps in dense clusters of syllables, his voice falling all over the beat. ALLBLACK never floats, and he never rides beats. Instead, he always sounds like he’s fighting upstream, trying to bend the beat to his own will. The post-hyphy beats that ALLBLACK loves are unforgiving beats. Especially in today’s climate, they sound out, a stark counterpoint to the Atlanta trap everyone else is using. ALLBLACK’s favored beats have harsh, scattered snares and nasty monster basslines. But ALLBLACK never lets those beats overwhelm him, and he never just ornaments him. He exerts his will over them. ALLBLACK used to play football, and 2 Minute Drills has a football theme. His rap style reminds me of that: One voice forcing its way through the track, constantly chopping and pushing and looking for holes.

As a writer, ALLBLACK shows a ton of personality. He’s always forthright about his own personal struggles, but he’s funny, too. I don’t really understand the pimping stuff. I don’t get the lingo or the dynamics, and maybe I’d like his music less if I always knew what he was talking about. But when ALLBLACK is making fun of rivals, real or imagined, that’s when he really comes to life for me. His insults are just beautifully specific. “Boy, you a joke, go get a job, I hear SafeWay hiring / And take that pimp shit out your bio, boy, you got me crying.” “You need to apply for JobCorps and leave them streets alone.” “Can’t wear your watch in the rain, it’s a fake / No diploma, and your phone bill late.” “Make sure you buy a tank from PetCo and go swim in it.”

ALLBLACK hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he’s collaborating with big stars, or with people outside his California orbit. But in the past year, he’s been teaming up with bigger and bigger regional stars: Shoreline Mafia, 03 Greedo, Nef, P-Lo, various members of SOB x RBE. He seems most comfortable when he’s working with close friends, especially a talented and husky-voiced rapper named Offset Jim. (A side note: Offset Jim? Can you do that? Is that allowed? Could I just start calling myself Bizzy Bone Tom?)

Thus far, ALLBLACK’s growth has been deliberate and manageable. And even though it’s probably not even the best ALLBLACK project of the year, the release of 2 Minute Drills feels like some kind of arrival. Kenny Beats is having a banner year, doing extensive work with some of the best rappers currently working: Vince Staples, Rico Nasty, Key!, JPEGMAFIA. His style is hard and choppy and lo-res, and yet he’s adjusted it for all these different voices. With 2 Minute Drills, he’s found a post-hyphy sweet spot, and ALLBLACK has rapped over those tracks with rare, inspiring levels of energy. Maybe Kenny should be thanking ALLBLACK instead.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Wiley: “Flip The Table”
Last year, grime godfather Wiley was making noises about retiring. Nope! Here, he goes after former protege Dizzee Rascal over a beat that sounds like something Wiley or Dizzee would’ve made on a PlayStation 15 years ago, and it’s either gloriously cranky or just gloriously immature. Maybe both!

2. Key Glock: “Yea”
I think Drake likes Tay Keith beats so much because they make such great vehicles for riled-up, barely-channeled energy. That helps Drake connect to some inner swagger. But when it comes to a real Memphis livewire like Key Glock, it goes somewhere else, and it just becomes riotous.

3. Kevin Gates & Moneybagg Yo: “Federal Pressure”
Gates and Moneybagg Yo are our best examples of how old-school guttural Southern street-rap can continue to thrive in a SoundCloud-rap era, so a song like this feels like two old, craggy gunslingers coming together to rob a stagecoach. (I don’t know whose fault it is that the song cuts off mid-verse like that, but let’s all pretend that a computer overloaded because of too much realness.)

4. Gucci Mane: “I’m Not Goin” (Feat. Kevin Gates)
This is a weird-ass beat. I like weird-ass beats.

5. 2 Chainz: “Girl’s Best Friend” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
Cardo and Dez Wright produced this, but I like to imagine that this song’s bassline, which is great, is just Ty Dolla Sign plucking at a bass in the studio while singing. We already know he can! And amazing basslines seem to be following Ty Dolla $ign around lately.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO