Most big-name producers have a tag — a quick soundburst that lets you know who you’re listening to and, ideally, makes the song a tiny bit more exciting. You know them when you hear them: “Just Blaaaaze!,” “If young Metro don’t trust you I’ma shoot you,” “Murda on the beats, so it’s not nice.” Usually, they come at the beginning of the song, right around the time the beat kicks in. They’re part of the architecture. But for Pi’erre Bourne, the South Carolina-born producer currently reshaping the way trap music sounds, the tag is more of a rupture, a wrecking ball. Bourne sampled his tag — “Yo Pi’erre, you wanna come out here?,” coupled with a vocal screech like a door creaking — from an old episode of The Jamie Foxx Show, which isn’t exceptional in itself. But it’s the way he uses it: jarringly, unpredictably, thrown into the middle of the song, interrupting everything. It sounds like chaos.
Chaos is key to the way Pi’erre Bourne works. For the most part, Bourne doesn’t work with great rappers. (That’s including himself, when he raps over his own beats.) Instead, he works with rappers who know how to subordinate themselves to his beats, which sound like what might happen if mid-’90s Aphex Twin made tracks for circa-now Atlanta rappers.
Sometimes, Bourne will use the musical language of his day — handclaps, hi-hat tics, heavy and ominous pianos, enormous swells of digital bass — but he’ll use them in ways that seem just slightly off. Bourne’s snares sound truncated, like you’re only getting half of the drum sound. His globular sub-bass tones sound like they’re humming nursery rhymes to themselves. And he’ll combine those things with disorienting alien sounds: ghostly drowned-vocal samples, eerie tingling lo-fi acoustic-guitar plucks, a bassline that sounds like a monster eating you in an early-’80s video game but played on blown-out speakers. Everything fits together in ways that don’t make sense, a jigsaw puzzle made out of broken glass. Listen to his beats for long enough, and you might find yourself staggered sick, feeling like you’re not properly processing the world around you.
Certain rappers know how to make that sound exciting. Playboi Carti, who uses a ton of Pi’erre Bourne beats, doesn’t rap so much as he real-time ad-libs. He enthusiastically cheers on those weird rubbery Pi’erre Bourne beats, punctuating the tiny silences with his own chaotic noise. That works. But it also works to stay out of the way of those beats, to minimize your own voice in the maelstrom. That’s the approach taken by Young Nudy, Bourne’s other most frequent collaborator. Nudy, the first rapper of any note to rap over Bourne’s beats, has been working with Bourne since his first Slimeball mixtape in 2016. Nudy is a profoundly limited rapper, but he and Bourne make sense together because he knows how stay quiet and blur in with all the remarkable things happening around him. He does that beautifully on the new collaborative mixtape Sli’merre, which is why the tape sounds as good as it does.
Nudy is a strange case: a tough-guy rapper who never says anything but who always sounds good. Nudy is best-known for a bad reason, being arrested for aggravated assault and criminal gang activity in the same sweep that led to ICE locking up 21 Savage. His rapping will never be as famous as that. He’s got a quietly menacing rasp, but he never uses that rasp to say anything that you might remember. The best thing about Nudy is his ear, and while he might’ve figured out his whole style while working with Bourne, he does it even when he’s working with other producers.
Sli’merre is full of flat, generic tough-talk lines: “Bitch I’m cold for real / Heart so cold for real,” “Off top, you gotta suck the dick / Whole lotta money, so you love this shit,” that kind of thing. His wordplay never gets more inventive than “he talk about me in a fucking rap / you might wrap it up, your life a wrap.” And yet Nudy always sounds good, thanks to the way he flattens out his scraggly voice, delivering these tiny little singsong melodies under his breath.
Sli’merre really shouldn’t be on the short list of the year’s best rap albums with a rapper as inert as Nudy at the helm. And yet it is, mostly because Nudy is so inert that he ends up showcasing those strange and incredible Pi’erre Bourne beats. Every once in a while, a more-charismatic guest star like Megan Thee Stallion or DaBaby shows up, seizing attention and briefly changing the tape’s focus. On “Extedo,” Lil Uzi Vert, sounding weirdly like Kendrick Lamar, gives a total command performance and gives some sense of what happens if Bourne suddenly starts working more regularly with great rappers. (I can’t tell whether Uzi has suddenly gotten a whole lot better or whether I’ve just learned how to hear him, but he’s lights-out right now.) Most of the time, though, Nudy is content to be a supporting player on his own album, lightly ornamenting these otherworldly beats, making sure you hear them for what they are.
Pi’erre Bourne makes strange decisions. (Consider: He’s one of the few rappers with access to Pi’erre Bourne beats, and yet he spent an entire recent mixtape rapping over someone else’s beats.) But his off-kilter sensibility is still worming its way into the popular consciousness. These days, you can find a whole lot of things when you search for “Pi’erre Bourne type beats,” but none of them sound like Pi’erre Bourne. Right now, all anyone can do is scramble to catch up. In a perfect world, Bourne’s influence will appear in different ways. Maybe, hopefully, other rappers and producers will hear what he’s doing and realize that they don’t have to keep doing the same things — that they can get bizarre with it and keep people along for the ride.
1. Maxo Kream – “She Live” (Feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
It has been 17 years since Trina and Ludacris made “B R Right,” so it’s really about time we got a horny rap-skill display on that level.
2. Calboy – “Caroline” (Feat. Polo G)
“Pills got me tripping, I pop X when it get boring / Now I’m hearing voices in my head like Randy Orton.” God bless the new generation of mesmeric, threatening Chicago sing-rappers and all the numb, beautiful, alarming music that they make.
3. GoldLink – “Zulu Screams” (Feat. Maleek Berry & Bibi Bourelly)
We haven’t yet heard a seamless combination of American rap music and Nigerian afrobeats. But we’re getting there.
4. Method Man – “Drunk Tunes” (Feat. N.O.R.E. & Joe Young)
Of Mics And Men, the new four-part Wu-Tang documentary on Showtime, is a great and inspiring thing, and it firmly establishes something that we should’ve all agreed on already: The Wu-Tang Clan are one of the greatest things ever to happen to American music. So if Method Man just wants to make goofy drinking songs with his aging-rapper buddies, he has more than earned that right. Bonus points if they’re catchy as all hell, as this one is.
5. Philthy Rich – “Troublesome 59″
Right now, Mozzy and Philthy Rich, two of the best and hardest rappers in the Bay Area, are going at each other’s necks for obscure reasons. And it’s always a peculiar thrill to hear rappers absolutely tearing into each other while referencing things that you don’t understand at all.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— andy (@aboynamedandy) May 15, 2019