Today’s release of Migos’ Culture II marks the start of, what will hopefully be, another year of refreshing and inventive mainstream trap projects. Last year was very content heavy for the genre, yielding more than a few projects that provided optimism in the sound’s longevity and continued progression.
From his last few projects since DS2, it was clear that Future’s extreme comfort in mainstream hip-hop were bringing a complacency and repetitiveness to his sound. HNDRXX however, was Future’s attempt at changing up his chart-topping formula whilst achieving the same results by focusing more on singing and melody. And, for the most part, the project delivered. The production is often sweet-sounding or playful with Future slowing his flow appropriately, coming off more introspective and humble (‘My Collection’, ‘Coming Out Strong’, ‘Neva Missa Lost’, ‘Sorry’) or happy-go-lucky (‘Incredible’, ‘Testify’, ‘Fresh Air’). Of course, this wouldn’t be a Future project without a handful of forgettable filler-tracks and, in places, it is very evident that the singing thing isn’t exactly his forté (it gets particularly bad on ‘Use Me’). However, at its best, HNDRXX raises hopes for melodic trap.
Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho Travis Scott and Quavo
This collaborative effort between trap’s heavy weight champ and its current poster child was highly anticipated. The project as a whole is solid, held back by a few moments where the pair lack chemistry or an idea sounds unfinished. However, at their best, Travis and Quavo each ride the beat seamlessly and complement each other nicely with ad-libs and vocal layering. The stand out feature of this project is its production. Mike Dean comes through with some of the most effective trap beats of the year (‘Huncho Jack’, ‘Go’, ‘Saint Laurent Mask’, ‘Moon Rock’, ‘Where U From’). ‘How U Feel’ samples ‘The World II’ by Shigeo Sekito, recognisable immediately from its use in Mac Demarco’s ‘Chamber of Reflection’. This is a particular stand-out moment and accurately demonstrates how the sound of modern day trap can truly transcend its stereotypes. Quavo’s triplet flow really shouldn’t work over this sample…but it just does. It really does.
The Booty Tape Ugly God
It would seem that memes and hip hop are becoming increasingly symbiotic. Ugly God stands as testament to that. This, his debut project, is packed full of hilarious punchlines and ridiculous musings. Something about the project makes each song sound like the intro track of a debut Ugly God album that this is not. That is not even meant in a bad way, and it is clear that Ugly God meant for this, ensuring that the project does not overstay its welcome at a brisk 23 minutes. The dream trap production and purposefully stupid subject matter make this a very entertaining project, perfect for winding down to. It has been evident for a while now that there is room in trap for music that is not at all challenging to listen to, with lyrics that flow past listeners, leaving no lasting impression. Take this scenario and make the artist self-aware to the point that they feel comfortable sharing their weirdest and most immature thoughts (without going full Lil Dicky) whilst making beats similarly loose and nonchalant, and you might just have something. Better to rap about stupid shit than to rap about shit stupidly.
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music 2 Chainz
If Views was a trap album, this would be it. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music was one of the most accessible and coherent sounding hip hop albums of 2017 and serves as a testament to what a no-brainer the mellow trap sound is today. Indeed, it feels as though, despite the production being decidedly trap influenced on most of these songs, it was very necessary for 2 Chainz to remind us in the title that this is indeed a trap album. The big-ticket features on this thing all deliver very agreeable verses or hooks, giving the mainstream hip-hop listener exactly what they would expect and prefer from each guest – Quavo, Travis and Swae Lee each come through with a catchy hook as opposed to fire bars; Nicki and Drake each confidently deliver a relaxed yet boastful verse; on ‘Bailan’, Pharrell does his ‘Happy’ thing as opposed to his left field N.E.R.D. thing. This really pays off for the most part with the album staying consistently listenable, but never boring (with the exception of ‘It’s A Vibe’, which sounds like one long hook). The production does many favours for this album, creating a coherent, cool mood with switch-ups and intricacies that keep the listener on their toes. The album is a perfect example of what a high quality pop-trap album should sound like.
Culture serves as a masterclass on how to make trap bangers. Song after song on this album, Migos use their triplet flow, perfectly timed ad-libs and watertight back and forth to create memorable hooks and catchy verses. Their versatility is also proven on this album; the three-headed beast that is Migos can go from aggressive and braggadocios (‘T-Shirt’, ‘Bad and Boujee’, ‘Slippery’, ‘Deadz’) to more reflective and subdued when the beat guides them that way (‘Big On Big’, ‘Brown Paper Bag’). This album sounds like a glory lap from Migos, and a well-earned one too. Since they achieved major commercial breakthrough with the release of ‘Bad and Boujee’, they have only honed their craft for topping charts whilst still placing emphasis on the trap culture they helped to shape. The album title says enough.
Beautiful Thugger Girls Young Thug
Young Thug’s cadence has always been one of his main selling points. On Beautiful Thugger Girls, his vocals really shine. The instrumental and often country-influenced trap beats are very sweet and intoxicating and these vocals perfectly complement them. The range in pitch and the often beautiful melodies he brings to songs, whether in his singing or rapping or the thing in between that he does so well (‘Family Don’t Matter’, ‘Tomorrow Til Infinity’, ‘Do U Love Me’, ‘You Said’, ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Take Care’) often builds in a way that is sensual and exhilarating. Even on the more downbeat and sober sounding tracks (‘Daddy’s Birthday’, ‘Feel It’, ‘Me or Us’) Young Thug creates a simultaneously accessible and intimate atmosphere for the listener where trap can often be neither. This project demonstrated exactly why Young Thug is a pioneer of the melodic trap sound as he continues to push its boundary, something that an album like HNDRXX will only go so far in attempting.
Playboi Carti Playboi Carti
This, Playboi Carti’s debut mixtape, exemplifies how simplicity, repetitiveness, and ambience can make cloud trap immediately hypnotic and addictive. Everything is minimalistic, including Carti’s vocals. He fills pockets in the spacey production with adlibs or a line repeated five or six times. The stand out tracks on this project, ‘Magnolia’ and ‘dothatshit!’, both perfectly encapsulate the “Carti sound” that this project owes its success to. Carti’s rhymes float effortlessly inside, rather than on top of, fluid beats that were designed to be indescribably incomplete without his presence. This results in a blissful daydream aesthetic, painting the backdrop to the ultimate trap utopia of sex, money and drugs with no accountability to ruin it, only charisma and entitlement.
Droptopwop Gucci Mane
As the undisputed godfather of trap, with upwards of 70 projects since 2005, one wouldn’t blame Gucci Mane if he were all but out of new ideas. However, as proven by Droptopwop, this is not the case. There isn’t a moment on this project where Metro Boomin doesn’t lay down a flawlessly cold and often sinister sounding production. On each track, Gucci Mane rises to the occasion with his bars, sounding confident and calculated. His flow consistently occupies a lot of space, somehow sounding slow and kind of graceful even when fast paced and aggressive. When rapping about the gang lifestyle he knows so well, Gucci shows us that lyrical content in trap can be insightful and mature. He takes this a step further on tracks such as ‘Helpless’, ‘Finesse The Plug Interlude’ and ‘Dance With The Devil’, sharing the darkest corners of his insecurities and perversion, laying himself bare in a way that makes the listener almost uncomfortable considering his butch image. This project is the sign of a huge second-wind in Gucci’s career.
Without Warning 21 Savage, Offset, Metro Boomin
Without Warning is probably, technically speaking, the best trap project of 2017, brilliant for many of the same reasons as Droptopwop. One of these reasons is Metro Boomin, the essential powerhouse of almost all top quality modern trap albums. With this project, he comes through with similarly chilling and gruesome production, making 21 Savage feel right at home as he delivers mercilessly menacing and murderous bars. That is not to say that this project is so fierce that it is off-putting, indeed the cut-throat sound is sufficiently off-set by Offset, who brings a more upbeat energy and flair to the table. Still, there is surprising cohesion between all three forces. The rigorous craftsmanship in the production is obvious all through the project but particularly shines on the ominous sounding ‘Nightmare’, complete with what sounds like a xylophone melody from a child’s haunted toy box. 21 Savage and Offset are both similarly uncompromising in each of their verses, making for a project teeming with bangers.
Luv Is Rage 2 Lil Uzi Vert
Simply put, this is the most futuristic sounding trap project to have been made in recent years, packed full of ideas that exemplify the infinite potential for trap to bring a unique sound to the hip-hop landscape. On Luv Is Rage 2, Lil Uzi creates a universe, of which he is the superhero. With unforgivably theatrical production that challenges the listener and an inimitable vocal style that rides it in the most unconventional and beautifully carefree manner, Lil Uzi takes us soaring above the homogeneous trap sound played to death in clubs and on the radio. The first high point of this album comes in the form of ‘Feelings Mutual’; a show stopping production builds to a magnificent apogee of orchestral synths, cutting and dropping to perfectly match Lil Uzi’s impassioned cries that mourn the unspeakable pain of a lost love. ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ is similar but this time the track serves as a more unhinged and reckless sounding ballad. The lyrics are heavy, focusing on love, life and death, immediately cathartic to scream out the way Uzi does, his vocals bouncing off the beat. Simply put, this project is experimental, tragic and triumphant but passionate all over. In places, sounds and lyrics become imaginative to the point of obnoxious (‘Early 20 Rager’) but that can be forgiven in a heartbeat when the genius of the album’s best moments is considered.