ALLBLACK’s New Album Is Fun Even When It’s Sad
There’s a moment on TY4FWM, the new album from the Oakland rapper ALLBLACK, where ALLBLACK says some stuff that sounds like a vulnerable confession: “Off these uppers, 3AM, swervin’ lane to lane/ Been up fivе days, don’t fuck with goin’ to sleep, I’m too afraid.” The song in question, “War Stories,” is a team-up with the hardbitten Sacramento rap veteran Mozzy and with the surging Detroit underground star Peezy, and from all that information, you might expect this to be a bleak slice of reality-rap. And “War Stories” is that, at least to an extent. It’s a group venting session about living in a world where a young Black man’s life is not valued. But that’s not the tone. ALLBLACK isn’t confessing anything. He’s talking shit. He’s celebrating his own dangerous hedonism. At the end of his verse, ALLBLACK says that, on his next birthday, he’s putting a bomb inside his own cake.
ALLBLACK is an energy guy, a rapper who radiates unstable charisma and outsized ridiculousness. He doesn’t make rap life sound too glamorous or unattainable; there’s a whole story-song on TY4FWM about the time a couple of girls robbed him: “Oh yeah, before this freaky fine bitch skated/ Broke-ass bitches stole my laptop and Playstation.” But ALLBLACK keeps things fun and breezy and funky. TY4FWM is a short good-time rap record. It never interrupts the party. It never gets heavy or boring. It just works.
ALLBLACK has been doing stuff like this for a while now. When his football hopes didn’t turn out, ALLBLACK turned to pimping, which brought him to rap. For a while, ALLBLACK was a hypeman for 100s, the luxuriously maned Bay rapper who seemed poised to blow about a decade ago. (100s now goes by Kossiko, and he shows up on the opening track from TY4FWM. He still sounds great.) When ALLBLACK first broke out about three years ago, appearing on records from California rappers like 03 Greedo, I thought he was a star in waiting, a striking and recognizable figure who brought something to the table every time he jumped on a record. But ALLBLACK doesn’t make playlist-friendly sing-rap, and at least right now, he doesn’t have a place on the national stage. He’s not a brand. Instead, ALLBLACK makes fun, high-energy music that fits in squarely with Bay traditions. He’s not a national star, but he’s a California star, and that’s a pretty great thing to be.
ALLBLACK basically puts out a full album every year; TY4FWM is coming out only seven months after the No Shame 3 mixtape. There’s a bit more noise around the release of TY4FWM, which is at least partly because a bunch of famous rappers appear on the new album: E-40, Drakeo The Ruler, Sada Baby, Guapdad 4000, G-Eazy. Most of these rappers have at least one foot in the underground, and most of them have been working with ALLBLACK for a while, but it seems like the headliner probably called in some favors for this one. (The title stands for “thank you for fuckin’ with me,” something ALLBLACK habitually tells his guests and producers on record.) Vince Staples has been relatively quiet lately, so when he shows up on “We Straight,” talking about “pussy wet enough to riverdance,” that makes the album feel like more of an event. And there are some great guest-verse moments on TY4FWM; I love the bit where Sacramento’s ShooterGang Kony brags that he’s got “so much money I could leave the house and not turn off the heater.” But TY4FWM is ALLBLACK’s show, and nobody should take him for granted.
ALLBLACK isn’t out here going for universal domination, and he’s not trying to tell searing truths, either. Instead, he’s a master at talking low-stakes shit. He’s a character, and his music has personality. ALLBLACK’s got a ferociously strong ear for beats, especially for rubbery basslines and hammering drum patterns. (Bay Area beatmaker DTB, a longtime collaborator, produced most of TY4FWM.) ALLBLACK’s voice is hoarse but agile, and he raps in jagged clusters, letting syllables rain down all over the beat. He can turn a memorable phrase: “When I mob, I really mob, it look like City Of God/ When I work, I work alone, this a one-man job.” But he’s also good at ridiculous flexes, like when he says he was late for his aunt’s funeral because he was trying to decide which Louis shoes to wear.
The best moment on TY4FWM doesn’t involve any guests. Instead, “Cobra Kai” is a tense and brittle solo track where ALLBLACK just runs wild. The beat keeps switching — icy synth-squeaks to minimal piano-plinks and back again. ALLBLACK never loses track of it; he takes every new turn as an opportunity to get even more loose. His punchlines go all the way over the top: “Don’t leave your bitch round me, I’m a kleptomaniac/ Way I’m sinnin’, I’m gon’ be where Anton LaVey be at.” I love that line, and the way ALLBLACK pronounces “LaVey” (like it rhymes with “wavy”) makes me love it even more. Only one rapper is going to give you a line like that. Don’t sleep.
1. YTK – “Let It Off”
Whether she’s joking or not, Mariah Carey tweeted about lawyering up over this one. She should be thanking this young Baltimore sing-rap goon for helping usher “Shake It Off” into gun-talk infamy.
2. Young Nudy – “2Face” (Feat. G Herbo)
This song is obviously hard, but there’s something so woozy and reassuring about that psychedelic beat. It sounds like a subtle high on a sunny afternoon. It might even be beautiful.
3. YehMe2 – “Dog Eat Dog” (Feat. Duke Deuce)
Duke Deuce’s big moment this week is bringing a hard, excitable counterpoint to Isaiah Rashad’s comeback single “Lay Wit Ya,” which isn’t in this section because you’ve presumably already heard it, right? But Duke Deuce is just as effective bringing low-key menace on a wheelhouse banger like this one.
4. Pouya & Lu Baby – “Walk In”
These Florida kids are just doing their Three 6 flows all over the “Ms. Jackson” beat like it’s public domain. The bangers of my younger years might as well be folk traditionals now.
5. EBK Young Joc – “Mark Me Tardy”
A baby Bay Area up-and-comer is out here rapping over what sounds like a hyphy remix of the Jaws score, rhyming “sharpie” with “Jeff Hardy,” “tardy,” “party,” “Barbie,” “harm me,” “Prince Charming,” and “Cardi.” This generation is going to be just fine.