This wasn’t an easy day to pick Mixtape Of The Week. Most weeks, Waka Flocka Flame’s ridiculously fun, satisfying Lebron Flocka James 3 would’ve been a lock for that particular distinction; I may still name it next week’s Mixtape Of The Week if nothing else comes along in the meantime. By the same token, Philly standby Freeway dropped the rock-solid The Intermission, which featured the heartwarming State Property reunion track “666,” just yesterday. But the tape I’ve enjoyed most this week is one that could’ve easily turned out massively annoying.
Plenty of rappers are kicking verses over indie rock instrumentals these days, but most of them are doing it the Theophilus London/Chiddy Bang way. They’re grabbing easily-recognizable mainstream-indie tracks that don’t work at all with their deliveries, and they’re doing it in a way that feels cheap and attention-starved, like it’s the only way they can think to get on various blogs. No More Golden Days, the new tape from Philly rapper Lushlife, could’ve easily turned out that way. After all, it features Lushlife flexing over Clams Casino instrumentals and Gang Gang Dance songs — of-the-moment indie-psych jams that seem guaranteed to land Lushlife a spot on a blog like this one. Old Roots-associate hardhead Dice Raw guests, but so do guys like Das Racist’s Heems and former Titus Andronicus guitarist Andrew Cedermark. The cover art is made to look like a cassette cover, and there’s actually a limited-edition cassette version coming out. It’s all very cool, to the extent of raising suspicions. But as it turns out, Lushlife has given us a dense, dizzy rap full-length, one that succeeds on virtues that have nothing to do with its cool factor.
Consider, for example, the Heems collab “Adult Goth,” which finds both guys going over the Gang Gang Dance track of the same name. But Lushlife’s opening line is some classic snarly rap shit: “I don’t remember if I ever had a troubled youth / I just remember sitting pretty in the bubble goose.” Lushlife’s delivery is a raspy but technically fluid East Coast growl. On the basis of flow alone, he reminds me of hardcore underground stalwarts like Cormega and AZ. Except he uses that delivery on beats like this one, a floating mystical synth-buzz that actually works pretty well as a rap instrumental. And half the time, he’s kicking punchlines that mean nothing but sound cool anyway: “I be half DeLorean, half rap historian.”
One of the big stories in underground rap over the past few years is what the blog Space Age Hustle calls “cloud rap,” a zoned-out, lo-fi subgenre that encompasses everyone from Main Attrakionz to, in his most meditative moments, Wiz Khalifa. All the indie samples and signifiers on No More Golden Days work because Lushlife has done well in picking tracks that pack enough atmospheric haze and rhythmic focus to work as actual rap music, especially in this environment. And with his polysyllabic, hard-rock delivery, Lushlife has enough traditional rap ferocity that he can ground these tracks without letting them float off into the ether, a mistake that too many of his cloud-rap peers make too often.
One of the indie tracks that Lushlife uses on the tape is one that’s already found some high-profile rap love: Jai Paul’s “BTSTU,” which Drake already used for “Dreams Money Can Buy.” Lushlife sounds nothing like Drake, but it raises an interesting parallel. Drake rapped over a lot of indie-pop on his breakout 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, and he was canny enough to know that stuff like Lykke Li’s “Little Bit” would work a lot better with his approach than, I don’t know, Arcade Fire would’ve. Lushlife displays those same good instincts on No More Golden Days, and he uses them to deliver a wordy and incisive rap record that deserves its own kind of attention. (I’m not quoting more of his lyrics mostly because I’m not done parsing them.) It’s not impossible to imagine Lushlife pushing those instincts harder and completely developing the aesthetic that this tape hints at.
Download No More Golden Days for free at Lushlife’s Bandcamp page.