Alley Boy doesn’t always make the best decisions. He once videotaped himself beating up a rival rapper, then posted that video on the internet. He let Young Dro jump on his song “Tall” and absolutely eat his lunch. He named his new mixtape Nigganati, a title I don’t feel especially comfortable typing. (His last two mixtapes were called The Definition Of Fuck Shit and The Definition Of Fuck Shit 2, titled that I love typing even though they aren’t really much more socially acceptable, so maybe the problem is me.) And perhaps most notably, he threw coded barbs at T.I. and Young Jeezy, maybe the two most prominent rappers from his city, on his mouth-foaming new track “I Want In.” He’s since said that he wasn’t dissing them, that it’s just his competitive rap spirit coming out. But those barbs still exist, and they’ll likely dominate the conversation around Nigganati, if there is a conversation around the mixtape at all. That’s too bad, since Nigganati is a heavy, visceral piece of work and probably the best thing Alley Boy has done yet.
There isn’t a lot of technique in what Alley Boy does. In a lot of ways, he’s the type of Southern rapper that East Coasters snort about when they snort about Southern rap. His accent is thick and his delivery imprecise. He uses Auto-Tune sometimes. He references his street credentials constantly, like those are supposed to mean anything in the Rick Ross Era. And yet all these potential drawbacks come out looking like strengths when you give yourself over to a mixtape like this one. “Passion” is a vague and nebulous term in music criticism, but that’s what Alley Boy has; it’s his biggest selling point. He slurs and screams and generally rages all over his tracks, letting his voice smash headlong into the beat and generally bulldozing everything around him. He sounds absolutely aggrieved at all time. He doesn’t talk about his money, exactly; he talks about how people will die if they fuck with his money, or about how the people richer than him are just “richer pussies” (his term). He is angry chaos personified, and that’s why his voice resonates.
Musically, Nigganati works because it’s the mixtape where Alley’s producers have figured out that his music has to be as rageful and intense and unruly as his voice. “I Want In,” the track where he fires off at more-prominent peers, is a great case study. Producer Will-A-Fool starts things off with a clip of Christopher Walken declaring intentions of domination in King Of New York, and then we get a decaying blare of a trance synth-line, like something Derek Miller might slap together for Sleigh Bells, except with chestpunch drums firing off in every direction and concrete-shattering bass subs. It’s a dense racket, and Alley has to roar to be heard over it, so he does. It’s a furious, exciting piece of music. Elsewhere “Cops On The Block” is urgent, insistent old-school minimalism, an 808 earthquake. “My City” is eerie minor-key strings looped up Lex Luger-style but with no booming riff coming in to resolve the tension. “What’s Going On” is a roller-rink organ used as a wrecking ball. There are a couple of boring toned-down tracks toward the end, but the tape is mostly content to bang frantically throughout, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that Alley Boy needs.
But the mixtape is also notable because it’s the moment where Alley Boy’s scope extends beyond his block. Alley’s rage here isn’t just for rival drug-dealers or rappers; it’s also for the society that forces people like him to become drug dealers if they don’t want to die poor. The tape opens with sampled black-nationalist speeches, and when Alley starts rapping, he’s talking about how he’s willing to go to prison to support his family but he knows it shouldn’t be that way. And on tracks like “Guilty,” his all-encompassing rage extends to himself. When he gets into macro-economics and systemic inequalities, all that exists alongside all the usual death threats, but it’s got an emotive urgency that most quote-unquote conscious rappers can’t muster when they talk about the same stuff. Suddenly, Alley sounds like a vital voice.
Download Nigganati for free here.