It was always kinda unlikely that Tekashi 6ix9ine would be able to maintain interest for more than a couple album cycles, and indeed, 2020 has seen Daniel Hernandez flame out in a major way. It always seemed like 6ix9ine’s career was built upon borrowed time — his ascendancy self-attributed to his alignment with the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods and their legitimization of his aggressive brand. Still, credit where it’s due: 6ix9ine was sort of a dazzling media figure without a gang endorsement, amassing a very young, passionate fan base who responded to his anime villain persona and his deft subversion of traditional media rules. 6ix9ine could be a thrilling interviewee, with those who took him on (The Breakfast Club, The New York Times) generally coming away looking foolish, their inability to perceive their own complicity in promoting the rapper weaponized against them. But, complicit as they may be, the media’s shock and outrage over 6ix9ine’s success wasn’t unfounded, his very recent past marred by accusations of domestic violence that he doesn’t dispute after all. But this was never a deterrent for his fans, nor for other high profile rappers who hopped on his tracks with little hesitation.
It’s possible that 6ix9ine might’ve kept his winning streak up had he not snitched on his Nine Trey compatriots. Yet, here we are with the snidely titled TattleTales, a zestless album hastily assembled in the wake of his early (COVID-influenced) release. Mostly a placeholder release designed to bring the spotlight back on the Dummy Boy rapper after spending a year in prison, TattleTales offers a watered down take on Hernandez’s watered down take on the Members Only aesthetic. The continued commitment to playing heel does little to provoke here, mostly because 6ix9ine refuses to deliver on the premise of his own title, not offering us any genuine tales about his tattling. There’s a throwaway reference in the single “GOOBA” (“Tell me how I ratted, came home to a big bag”) that implies feelings of indifference, but it’s hard to glean anything beyond that. Indifference is arguably TattleTales defining feature, summarized by barely considered lyrics — “Play me like a dummy, like bitch, are you dumb? / Are you dumb, stupid, or dumb, huh?” — and half-hearted stabs at genre pivot (there’s an OK reggaeton song).
The album is pretty depersonalized on top of all that, bizarrely opening on “Locked Up Pt. 2”, a remix of Akon’s iconic 2004 single “Locked Up.” Akon shows up again later on the album’s tenth track, “Leah,” interpolating Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” (the man is evidently taking a break from building the city of the future); it’s an appealingly gonzo pop culture car wreck, yes, but also the sort of desperate gimmick one pays for when Kanye and Gunna stop taking your calls. Nicki Minaj, ever the loyal friend, is the one bright spot here, her verse on the hit single “TROLLZ” the least perfunctory moment on the album; The Barbz is likely the only reason TattleTales didn’t completely bomb. But it was indeed a flop, selling one-third of first week sales projections. It’s hard to imagine 6ix9ine recovering his audience’s interest after such a dire album drop, and based on the songs collected here, one suspects his interest in his own project has waned. M.G. Mailloux
Nas is, for lack of a better term, washed; this isn’t to clown on the man who’s certainly earned his place within the pantheon of hip-hop GOATs, but to more accurately chronicle just how much of a WOAT his recent behavior has been. Where does one even begin to start with the litany of Ls this man has taken over the years? The anti-vaxxer stuff, the blatant attempts at stirring up controversy in order to push record sales, his IRS issues, his awful 2012 album; really, his only moment of clarity from the past decade seemed to manifest on 2018’s Nasir, a project practically destined to be labeled as a failure by a media who were more than willing to write off Kanye West’s Wyoming project as an artless exercise in vanity.
But the once great is back into his modern ways on King’s Disease, a project built around the idea that a man, who only a few years ago eagerly bragged about eating the finest pasta the world has to offer, still has something relevant to say about our current political moment. And perhaps he does, but he executes it in the easiest ways possible: constantly referring to black men as “kings” and black women as “queens,” calling for unity without any of the who or how of said unification, and attempting emotional gravitas by reuniting with The Firm — only for them to complain about poor life choices. In short, it’s neoliberal Nas thinking he has the authority to criticize others’ choices when he has a few questionable skeletons himself; he even has the gall to close out a track seemingly dedicated to single mothers with some Steve Harvey-level advice — “Women, stop chasing your man away” — when just a few tracks previous, he reveled in mocking Doja Cat’s lightened skin tone — “We goin’ ultra black, unapologetically black/The opposite of Doja Cat, Michael Blackson black” — over one of Hit-Boy’s most nondescript beats. Even when Nas cuts the holier-than-thou act, he still finds a way to stumble: closer “Spicy” attempts to bridge a generational gap between regional talent, by featuring both Fivio Foreign and ASAP Ferg, but the end results are listless and awkward. “Replace Me” features one of Big Sean’s corniest verses in a while, which is saying something — “You talk a little sweet about me, a lot of sour/I know that you believe in stars/ And just like stars, you know your words got a lot of power” — and Nas delves into relationship advice nobody asked for. Really, he has no business at all trying to act half his age, but it’s still slightly more tolerable than when he enters elder statesman mode — which is the paradoxical issue at the center of King’s Disease, an album named after gout as a reference to the idea that even though Nas is hip-hop royalty, he doesn’t get lazy (or he drinks a lot of alkaline water, who knows) with his craft. The ultimate irony here seems to have completely escaped him. Paul Attard
Logic (a.k.a Bobby Tarantino, a.k.a Young Sinatra) is the sort of artist whom it can feel fruitless to criticize, appreciation of his music not exactly running along a spectrum, but a binary; his Hip Hop reverence and geeky “authenticity” inspires either self-serious passion or cringing rejection, and not much else. Logic speaks the same language as his audience, and to his credit, like his one-time collaborator J. Cole, it’s an audience he initially fostered independent of traditional PR or industry backing. But unlike Cole, who has managed to chart territory that could be legitimately described as “his own,” Logic’s success hinges on his relatability above all else. He’s an aspirational figure with an air of accessibility — the hip hop head who actually got to work alongside some of the genre’s most notable voices — but it’s hard to tell if his music is fueled by anything other than a very earnest appreciation of rap music.
No Pressure won’t dissuade one of this suspicion, and as it’s apparently Logic’s retirement album (which is so Bobby), we may not get another chance to decide otherwise. This album serves as a sequel to his first, Under Pressure, and like that one, it’s designed to be pure, unfiltered Bobby, no guests in sight. Executive produced by No I.D. and with appearances from an “AI Assistant” akin to Midnight Marauders’ album tour guide, one immediately understands that this is meant to be a prestige project of sorts. But while this has the shape and dimensions of a rap album in the most canonical sense, Logic’s obsession with writing himself into hip hop history mostly leads him to clichéd bars delivered with some proficiency.
No Pressure does, blessedly, skip out on the sort of laborious genre narrativizing that burdened 2015’s The Incredible True Story and 2017’s Everybody, and the lack of guests is for the best when you consider that Logic has proudly featured Ansel Elgort, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Chris D’Elia in the not so distant past. But without the fanfare of special guests and hard sci-fi theming, the proceedings feel distinctly thin, more like a series of skilled impressions — there’s a song where he sounds like Andre, another where he sounds like Eminem, Q-Tip, Kendrick, etc. — positioned amongst strong production and samples of Orson Welles radio shows (there had to be some sort of gimmick). This sort of approach proves a bit disorienting, transforming the experience of listening to the album into a game of “spot the influence.” If there is anything particularly admirable about No Pressure, it’s in the album’s acknowledgement of Logic’s maturation and recent step into fatherhood (his impetus for early music retirement). In true Bobby fashion, a lot of this is corny — “Heard Em Say” has him bemoaning the fact that Kanye never worked with him, “A2Z” finds him taking on the poignant challenge of assembling the “ABCs” into a cogent rap for his infant son, with “DadBod” summing all that up into a faux-self-deprecating, Macklemorian anthem — but one can admire an artist who knows when to call it a day. Admittedly, It’s hard to buy that this vacation is permanent, but it’s also hard to imagine Logic having much else up his sleeve. M.G. Mailloux
Wunna is a masterpiece — or, to be more accurate, it’s Gunna’s masterpiece. Or, if we’re getting really specific, this is probably the closest Gunna will ever come to releasing a masterpiece; it’s difficult to imagine the formula being improved upon from here, and that’s OK. By this point in Sergio Giavanni Kitchens’ career, he has a firm enough sense of his abilities and limitations to know how best to approach his craft: get Wheezy (no, not that Weezy) to produce every track, have a few of your closest pals show up (Lil Baby, Travis Scott, Nav, etc.), and generally try to sound as wavy as possible whenever on the mic. Sure, it’s a formula — but Gunna is, if we’re being terribly honest here, a formulaic MC in every sense of the word, one who brazenly skipped his XXL Freshman freestyle on the basis that he’s not actually that good at this whole “rapping” thing. But one doesn’t need to be a proficient wordsmith to make good rap music, a fact that has been proven time and time again, and Gunna here proves himself to be rather skillful at making good rap music.
He comes close to making great rap music with “Dollaz on My Head,” one of his best collaborations with his mentor Young Thug, where the duo bend their vocals over the relaxed Mike Will Made It beat, culminating with some choice bars about their personal demons — “I got skeletons in my closets, and they scared of me and shit” — before leading into “Addies,” a song about, duh, taking a lot of adderall; it even has a chorus where Gunna just repeatedly mutters “addies, addies, addies,” and it’s honestly great stuff. “Rockstar Bikers & Chains” lives up to its hefty title (albeit, by sampling an opening theme to an American anime) and saunters with an offhand bravado, while “Top Floor,” with its exultant opening horn section, sounds like what one might hear on a heavenward ascent. This is all to suggest that Wunna is a joyous affair, and a largely easy listen; it’s inoffensive to a degree that makes it pleasant background music during its more low key sections — usually whenever there isn’t a guest feature — and exciting when things pick up steam. So, perhaps calling this a masterpiece is a bit of a stretch, but for an artist who has released some of the most generic trap music for the past few years, the album’s shift is something of a feat in and of itself. For now, Wunna is a certified classic — just so long as you add a few asterisks to that descriptor. Paul Attard
Fresh to the hip hop scene (and already boasting a viral TikTok track), 20-year-old Flo Milli’s debut mixtape, Ho, Why Is You Here?, is a work built on fantastic bars and a welcomingly bright flow that is a pure joy to spin. It’s an album of surefire club hits, effectively appealing to both modern and classic rap fans alike, a work of pure vibe where every line is an absolute flex. “Beef FloMix,” the mixtape’s first breakout track, wastes no time in getting down to business: “He love my confidence and that’s what you lack (You love it) / If you think I’m stealin’ swag, bitch, come and sue me (Sue me).” It’s a track that’s illustrative to the entire experience of Ho, as Flo Milli proceeds to stunt across every track about her levels of success. “Pockets Bigger” continues this assertion: “I know they mad ’cause I got money in the bank (I do) / I get a new hater every single day (Haha).”
This may sound like old hat, as hubris is a governing principle of hip hop, and yet Flo Milli still stands out for the degree of unadulterated confidence she exudes. Her very appeal, and that of her music, is that — beyond the catalog of superficial glories she documents — she already possesses what everyone wants: purpose, and a drive to be better and more. It’s not uncommon for such things to dissipate alongside aging and life’s labors, but Flo Milli makes it clear she has no intention of stopping: every track addresses her haters, those who try to bring her down, and the people who want to rob her of her success, and she clearly draws untold energy from such challenges to her queendom. Flo Milli is simply unsinkable against such assaults, shutting them down at every turn with effortless charisma (and counterassault). Barbs seem to fly out of her quick as a snap, an almost instinctual reminder of who she is and what she’ll make of you if you’re against her. But, more simply, in a genre too littered with weak posturing, it feels damn good to listen to rap this successfully sure of itself. It’s an ethos with an admittedly short-term expiration date, and so variance and growth of sound and soul will be necessary to remain fresh in the future, but Ho, Why Is You Here? is a solid debut effort that maps the blueprint of the rapper’s sure future success. At this moment, given the amalgam of her critical acclaim, massive fanbase, and unfaltering swagger, it seems nearly impossible for Flo Milli to fail. Andrew Bosma