There’s an old joke about a lost-dog poster: “LOST: Male dog. One eye. Mangled ear. Paralyzed hind leg. Crooked tail. Answers to the name ‘Lucky.'” The Chicago rapper Lucki, formerly Lucky Eck$, was not joking when he settled on his rap name. Lucki’s rap name is his real name; he was born Lucki Camel, Jr. But if you spend enough time listening to Lucki’s music, you’ll hear that stark irony returning. Lucki does not sound lucky. He doesn’t sound happy, either. He sounds numb, reduced, defeated. His songs sound like front-line transmissions from a battle that he already knows he’s lost.
There is so much drug music in the world, yet so little of that music focuses on the way certain drugs can make you feel when you’re not coasting off of peak euphoria. There aren’t too many songs about bleary eye-crust mornings, about dry heaving in Dunkin Donuts parking lots, about stealing from your friends. Even Future, the leading fatalist of rap’s A-list, can’t help but sound triumphant when he’s talking substances. He turns them into mantras: “Percocet. Molly, Percocet.” That’s a frankly terrifying drug cocktail, but Future intones those words like they’re the coolest things in the world.
Lucki learned some things from Future. In a recent Pitchfork interview, he speaks a line that will make some of us feel about a hundred years old: “I remember my mom put me onto Future when I was in like eighth grade, she had it on her iPod.” Lucki started figuring out his aesthetic not long after that. He was 16 when he released his Alternative Trap mixtape — terrible name, roughly effective genre descriptor. On that tape, and on the ones that followed, Lucki muttered quietly internal ruminations over glassy sputters and Björk samples. People noticed. Over the years, Lucki has worked with big names: Chance The Rapper, FKA twigs, Danny Brown. And yet he has never threatened to become a big name himself. Lucki is too dense and knotty and personal and fucked up. He never sounds cool. He sounds like he’s going through it. Probably because he is.
In that Pitchfork interview, Lucki says that he’s gone on long hiatuses with music because he’s been going through withdrawal. He also says that withdrawal is the reason he lost the relationship that was saving him — the relationship that informs all of Freewave 3, his brutally sad new mixtape: “I guess the album is really about her.” It’s really about drugs, too. Freewave 3 is a gorgeous record, with Lucki’s sleepy-eyed grumble sinking deep into gluey, quiet, synthetic beats from producers like Valee collaborator Chasethemoney. (Earl Sweatshirt produces one track, but his song, “All In,” is a bit of an outlier.) And yet all that prettiness is there to describe ugly feelings, ugly thoughts, ugly urges.
When Lucki talks about his relationship on Freewave 3, he sounds like a broken person who’s only just figuring out ways to scrape himself together. He’s needy, but he’s suspicious, too: “I know she ain’t loyal, but she make me better.” He knows how pathetic he sounds, but he worries about himself mostly because she worries about him: “I was too stuck in my ways, my mama said you saved my life.” And he knows the drugs are getting in the way and fucking everything up: “Want me all to yourself, the molly want me too,” “Confess my love to you while on Percocet.” He’s so caught up in a toxic cauldron of codependency and addiction that he already knows how doomed his relationship is: “You ever thought you’d be in love with a fiend? / My dirty ho, I like to treat her like a queen / We in public, she addicted to the scene / How long will it last? Let’s see.” And when it doesn’t last, that almost just seems like another excuse for more drugs: “Popping Perkys ever since you left me.”
When Lucki talks about drugs, he’s not bragging. He’s confessing. The things that he says on Freewave 3 are squalid and gruesome and overwhelmingly sad: “Percs really hurt my stomach, but that’s how I feel free,” “Got my mama Googling lean, keep sending me kidney stuff,” “I need grandma picture with me, I won’t sip if she near me.” At one point, he admits that it’s not just the people in his family that are worried about him: “My fans worry about my health, so I ain’t sipping in public.” Absolutely nothing on Freewave 3 will make Lucki’s mother, or his fans, feel any better about what he’s doing. To listen to Lucki is to worry about him.
The crazy thing about these disclosures is that they come within the context of standard trap delivery, or at least Lucky’s version of it. He rides hi-hats and synth melodies, and he indulges in the ad-libs that we expect from everyone who makes rap music in 2019. The songs are mostly little sketches, clearly freestyled rather than written. Freewave 3 fits 15 tracks into half an hour, and most of them don’t have any hooks, any structure. Lucki is talking to us, but he sounds like he’s talking to himself. It’s cathartic, hearing someone so locked into his own dark place. But it’s stressful, too. Lucki is 22. I hope better days are ahead for him. But for now, he has created a beautiful, compelling, intense image of what it’s like to be in the shit. In America right now, millions of people are going through what Lucki’s going through. I’ve found very little art capture that feeling as viscerally as Freewave 3 does.
1. Juicy J – “Let Me See” (Feat. Kevin Gates & Lil Skies)
Juicy J is an old Memphis rap production legend. Tay Keith is a new Memphis rap production legend. And their sounds are really barely different at all, which says something about the ancestral power of that old Three 6 Mafia shiver-stomp. That sound still bangs, too.
2. Pivot Gang – “Jason Statham, Pt. 2″
Saba has been making so much emotionally wracked rap music that it’s a treat to hear him, MFnMelo, and Joseph Chilliams just having fun together — even if that fun involves going outside in Chicago during a polar vortex, like some psychos.
3. AzChike – “Strapped Up” (Feat. Mike Sherm & GBO Lean)
One of the best things about rap right now is dudes in California going in over drums that sound like car doors slamming. That’s not a new thing, but I hope the resurgence never ends.
4. Meyhem Lauren & The Alchemist – “Still Playing Celo”
Rap will always change, and that’s a great thing. But a certain type of Queens rap will always make you want to put crushed-up cinderblock crumbs in your morning cereal bowl, and that’s a great thing, too.
5. Z Money – “Millions” (Feat. Gucci Mane & Hoodrich Pablo Juan)
The way Z Money effortlessly surfs over seismic bass-waves is a thing to behold.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
i spent TOO MANY hours organizing my itunes library and deleting the phrase
"(datpiff exclusive)" from the title, artist, AND album field to ever enjoy a mixtape on a streaming platform
— tom sandoval’s braid guy (@rwxoxo) February 13, 2019