A couple weeks ago at David Bazan’s living room show in northwest Oklahoma City, the Seattle singer was asked what he thought about Kanye West. Bazan quickly replied, “After those first two albums, he lost his [redacted] mind.” For better and worse, this couldn’t be more true.
“Yeezus” is a Dead Prez record on steroids, but with an explosion of id in place of raps that tell any kind of story. So for those who’ve already grown tired of listening to Kanye go scorched-earth on ex-girlfriends, it’s a long 40 minutes to plod through, even if the production is otherworldly (it is) and probably ought to come with a textbook. But despite what he'd tell you, West is far from the end-all, be-all of modern rap, a genre that currently offers as many different voices and characters as Nicki Minaj has outfits in her closet. Here are a handful of excellent recent rap releases, each of which you can scoop up for free online — legally.
Run The Jewels, “Run The Jewels”
El-P and Killer Mike have constituted hip-hop’s biggest bro-mance since the Company Flow mastermind produced the Atlanta emcee’s snarling, terrific "R.A.P. Music" last year (El-P’s own “Cancer 4 Cure” was great, too, and featured Mike on one of its better tracks, “Tougher Colder Killer”). So the general rap-listening public probably grinned a little bit when Mike said “Producer gave me a beat / said it’s the beat of the year / I said El-P didn’t do it / so get the [redacted] outta here” on the Big Boi-featuring single “Banana Clipper.” “Run the Jewels” is exactly what you’d expect from these two veterans: Aggressively anti-cliché, enjoyably obscene, free of the usual back-patting of industry collaboration-via-email, and amply stocked with top-shelf smack talk.
Bangladesh, “Ponzi Scheme”
Producer Bangladesh’s body of work is impressive and catchy. Lots of early Ludacris songs, Kelis’ “Bossy,” Lil Wayne’s “A Milli" and its underrated sequel “6 Foot, 7 Foot.” Even Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade.” Well over a decade’s worth of hip-hop connections is what brings in guests like 2 Chainz and Pusha T to rap over his twitchy, insane beats. The standout “100” is backboned by a guy just saying “100, 100, 100, 100” over and over, and it works. And wait ‘til you hear what Bangladesh does to Rihanna’s “Cockiness (I Love It).”
Katie Got Bandz, “Drillary Clinton”
Remember Trina? She was fun, right? Katie Got Bandz is a southside Chicago teenager with Trina’s sass, plus a great sense of humor. I mean, c’mon, that title. She doesn’t separate herself from the pack with interesting raps (most of her patterns are the same here, which is too prevalent in Chicago’s much-discussed drill scene at the moment) but she’s got catchy hooks and a distinct personality, one that isn’t scared to call out industry successes like Future, as she does in “On Me.” It’s that confident toughness in her delivery that keeps you wondering (and a little bit scared of) what she's gonna say next.
Migos -- "Young Rich — — s"
One of my favorite mixtapes last year was Rich Kidz’ “Everybody Eat Bread” and Migos do a lot of the same things here that made that set of songs so much damn fun: speedy, nonsense rap patterns, absurd sounds and repeated shouting (see “Versace” and “Hannah Montana”), and busy, explosive production that’s loud and incredible in your car. Categorize Migos as super-fun “Flockavelli” fallout, made complete by a RiFF RAFF appearance.