Kamaiyah made a song with Travis Scott. She made a song with Quavo and Tyga. She made a song with Schoolboy Q. None of them worked out. It’s easy enough to see why Kamaiyah, a rap artist with a major-label deal and an internet buzz, would make those moves. There’s a playbook. When you’ve got major-label money behind you, you’re supposed to make potential hits, and you’re supposed to elbow your way into the rap mainstream. But those past singles didn’t do anything to showcase what makes Kamaiyah special. And that’s why her new mixtape Got It Made works so well. It’s exactly the record that Kamaiyah needed to make right now. It’s everything great about her distilled into one mean, fun, breezy half-hour listen. It’s nothing but slaps.
Four years ago, Kamaiyah came bursting out of Oakland with A Good Night In The Ghetto, a perfect mixtape of old-school bass-rolling Bay Area shit-talk. Ignoring every prevailing trend in rap music, Kamaiyah took the sound of mid-’90s Too $hort tapes — angrily funky synthetic basslines, drum-machine whomps, negative space — and made it her own. She talked tough shit, bemoaned the inadequacy of the dudes in her life, sang absurdly catchy melodies, and took her place within her hometown’s rich musical tradition. It was an ideal debut. How do you follow that? It’s never an easy question.
Kamaiyah’s 25 now, and the past few years have been turbulent ones, both in her career and her personal life. She’s had triumphs. She was a XXL Freshman, she was on a YG song that also featured Drake, and she’s rocked tremendous festival crowds. But she’s also been through deaths and arrests, and she’s spent a whole lot of time ignored on the label shelf. In 2017, she released Before I Wake, a strong and personal mixtape that mixed gorgeous barbecue music with unguarded talk of struggles. Ever since then, it’s been one non-starter single after another. So it’s glorious that she’s come back so hard with Got It Made, a triumphant piece of music that takes us right back to her debut.
Got It Made is short and stripped-down, full of bubbling keyboards and drum-machine handclaps. Absolutely nothing about the tape attempts to replicate current rap trends, or even to engage with them. Instead, Kamaiyah takes us into her world, making the sort of music that works with her style and sensibility. It’s mostly produced by people like CT Beats and Trackademics, collaborators that go back to her first mixtape. The most prominent guests aren’t current hitmakers. Instead, they’re legends and influences: Too $hort giving a profane monologue about how you should fuck more like you dance, Trina promising to piss in your mouth. One song has a DJ-scratch solo, the type of old-school touch that you never hear anymore. And most importantly, Kamaiyah is as cool and tough and confident as she’s ever been.
Got It Made is a retrenchment and a reminder. On the intro track, Kamaiyah rides a chilly piano line and a skeletal melodic thud, telling us explicitly that she’s determined to carve out her own lane: “Fuck a A-list, I’m tryna make a playlist/ Get a home that’s spacious and never make a payment.” Elsewhere, she frames past struggles as motivators: “I done took plenty losses/ It’s why I feel I deserve to keep flossing.” There are moments on the tape where she’s as sensitive and inward-looking as she was on Before I Wake, but she sounds just as sincere when she’s talking about nasty sex. It’s an effortless-strut piece of music, a windows-down bass-rattle record, a document of one person’s confidence in her own sound and charisma.
Major-label A&R types aren’t as powerful as they once were, but they’re still fully capable of stuffing a career when they convince an artist to go for streaming placement and to make the same songs that everyone else is making. Got It Made works as a rebuke to all of that. I don’t know if it will make Kamaiyah any more famous than she already is, but I do know that it bangs hard, that none of its 10 tracks is worth skipping. Anyone can make a song with Travis Scott. Nobody else can sound like Kamaiyah.
Got It Made is out 2/21 on GRND.WRK/Empire.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Grimes’ Miss Anthropocene, which we’ll discuss in greater depth soon.
• King Krule’s splintered, ruminative Man Alive!
• Best Coast’s sparkling return Always Tomorrow.
• Bib’s grime-encrusted hardcore punk onslaught Delux.
• Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli’s solo debut Random Desire.
• Ozzy Osbourne’s grand, guest-heavy, ultra-produced comeback Ordinary Man.
• Guided By Voices’ revved-up update Surrender Your Poppy Field.
• Six Organs Of Admittance’s psychedelic folk exercise Companion Rises.
• The Body/Full Of Hell side project Sightless Pit’s experimental metal debut Grave Of A Dog.
• Too Free’s pulsing debut Love In High Demand.
• Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree’s full-length collaboration Names Of North End Women.
• Wilsen’s reverb-heavy debut Ruiner.
• Woods/Purple Mountains member Kyle Forester’s solo album Hearts In Gardens.
• Banoffee’s collab-heavy debut Look At Us Now Dad.
• BTS’s certain-to-be-huge Map Of The Soul: 7.
• Califone’s dance-piece soundtrack Echo Mine.
• Shady Nasty’s Bad Posture EP.
• Draag’s Clara Luz EP.
• The first of two parts of Moses Sumney’s grae.