Key Glock’s Memphis Rap Bangers And The Restoration Of Faith
Is there a rap music community? There was. For decades, as rap grew in popularity, it sprouted different strains and sounds and subgenres. Rappers feuded bitterly with each other, sometimes with deadly results, but they all seemed to belong to the same general world. Since rap music has become the dominant form of global pop music, that’s been gone. I’ve been thinking about this after the Astroworld atrocity. The way the Astroworld Festival was put together was about branding, not about community. Travis Scott built his own brand on raging-out catharsis and corporate partnership, two things that seem like they should be mutually exclusive. He came from Houston, and he threaded his music with nods to Houston aesthetics, but he never seemed like a Houston rapper. Instead, Scott seemed to spring fully-formed from the circa-2013 rap-internet zeitgeist. He translated his own branding into pop dominance. But Scott and the money men behind him didn’t put enough money and effort into caring for the people who came to his festival, and now people are dead and dying.
Kanye West was part of a rap community once. He probably still thinks that he is. Maybe that’s why he went on NORE’s Drink Champs podcast a few days ago. At its best, Drink Champs is an example of rap community at work. It’s NORE, a rapper with a whole lot of history, having goofy bonding sessions with his peers, telling stories and talking shit. Kanye West tried to join in with that whole thing, and he got there sometimes. But if you listen to Kanye on Drink Champs, you will hear a man who has proudly detached himself from anyone else’s concrete reality. West speaks in vainglorious historical great-man narratives, and he puts himself at the center of them, blathering about how his only real peers are Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos right before he shits all over his old associates. Maybe West is right. Maybe he belongs to the billionaire world now. Maybe that’s his community.
The bedlam at Astroworld and the ongoing spectacle of Kanye West’s public life are two very different things They aren’t even remotely equivalent. But both of them have had me depressed and pissed off. Rap is superhero music — music that’s all about transcending terrible circumstances and turning yourself into a colossus. But if you become a colossus, then what? You break bread with corporate overlords and stamp your name on sneakers? That’s the end goal? Sincerely: Fuck that.
So yeah, I’ve been having a crisis of faith. Maybe that’s why the rap record that’s speaking to me the most right now is Key Glock’s Yellow Tape 2. Key Glock is, by any serious metric, an incredible success story. He is a young man who was set up to fail. He grew up with his aunt and his grandmother because his mother was in federal prison for virtually his entire childhood. But Glock made a name for himself in Memphis. He linked up with his cousin Young Dolph, and the two of them made two hugely entertaining collaborative mixtapes, Dum And Dummer and Dum And Dummer 2. They’ve toured. They’ve built up an audience. Glock has never had a national chart hit, but he’s made enough rap money that he owns the fleet of cars on the Yellow Tape 2 cover. He’s doing well for himself.
But Key Glock isn’t so successful that he’s left behind all notions of community. Instead, Yellow Tape 2 is very much the product of community. Other than Dolph, Glock doesn’t work with too many rappers. On his own mixtapes, Glock takes the unconventional step of rapping everything himself; Yellow Tape 2 is 20 tracks with no features. But Key Glock is still a Memphis rapper who makes Memphis rap music. He’s rooted in a sound and a tradition. He walks all over beats, swerving in and out of the pocket. In his charismatic shit-talk, I hear echoes of Project Pat’s strange elocution and Yo Gotti’s hefty hypnosis. (Dolph and Gotti’s camps famously don’t get along, but you can still hear that they’re coming from similar cultural places just in the ways that they approach beats.) And Glock also has a great ear for the sorts of beats that fit his voice. Those beats, by and large, are Memphis beats.
A lot of different producers have beats on Yellow Tape 2, but two of them stand out. Key Glock went to high school with Tay Keith, the Memphis beatmaker who’s become a chart-topping producer. When Glock is on a Tay Keith beat, he makes perfect sense. And Glock makes even more sense when he’s working with BandPlay, a Nashville producer who doesn’t yet have a national profile. BandPlay is so good. His tracks are simple and direct and hard. BandPlay beats are full of sly little hooks and smart flourishes, but they still work as elemental Southern neck-snap music. And when Glock jumps one one of those tracks, he goes crazy.
BandPlay has done a lot of work with Young Dolph in the past few years, but Glock has said that he’s actually the one who discovered BandPlay. It wasn’t from clicking through type-beats links on YouTube, either. In this interview, Glock said he heard about BandPlay through his uncle, who was throwing parties in Nashville. Glock and BandPlay started making music together, and they clicked. That’s community.
Key Glock doesn’t divulge a lot of personal details in his music. He’ll talk about how his aunt, who helped raise him, died in her sleep, or how he drinks lean to cope with stress, but those are offhand references. Mostly, Key Glock talks shit. By the same token, Yellow Tape 2 isn’t exactly an artistically ambitious work. Instead, Glock makes music for the people who are already fans, or for potential new fans who might like bone-hard down-the-middle Memphis rap music. That’s an honorable pursuit. As someone who loves Memphis rap music, I can say that Yellow Tape 2 hits hard. It gives me everything that I want from it.
Rap is a competitive genre, and attention naturally goes to the people who look like they’re winning the competition, the towering stars who have advanced to the center of popular culture. But those stars often come unmoored from the communities that nurtured them; Kanye West is a textbook example of that. For those of us who feel ourselves increasingly alienated from those rap-star narratives, someone like Key Glock can really restore faith. Key Glock isn’t doing anything radical or challenging or new. He’s just making music that can make you feel like you’re invincible when you’re in your car. That’s important. Sometimes, it’s the most important thing.
1. Young Roddy – “Out The Hood” (Feat. Conway The Machine)
Young Roddy, longtime member of Curren$y’s Jet Life crew, hasn’t been on my radar in a while. But this song is so hard and so pretty that I’m thinking I should put him back on that radar and make sure he stays there.
2. Bizzy Banks – “Still Into You”
Is this even a good song? I honestly don’t even know, but I’m drawn to it. Drill tracks built around obvious samples are becoming a New York staple, but that doesn’t mean that I was mentally prepared to hear Bizzy Banks spazzing all over a Paramore love song. It sounds like absolute chaos.
3. Sauce WoodWinnin & Sauce Gohan – “Ketchup Mustard”
It just feels good to see the extremely Houston TSF crew wilding out in New York. Sauce Walka is one of our greatest active rap voices, but everyone in his extended team can go off, too, and that’s what happens here.
4. Drakeo The Ruler – “Hundiddy Bop Bop”
Somehow, Drakeo’s power increases when his voice gets quieter and raspier. When he first shows up on a track and he sounds like he just woke up after spending a whole night drinking cocktails of lava and broken glass, you know you’re in for a ride. This song is a ride.
5. Latto – “Soufside”
Latto didn’t exactly put a lot of energy or creativity into her name change, but she’s been sounding more confident ever since she switched it up.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO