the week in rap

This Week in Rap: Lil B Still Loves the Internet, Juice WRLD Finds His Voice, and More

Lil B loves the internet more than anyone else on the entire planet. Photo: Lisa Lake/Getty Images

Every Wednesday, Vulture runs through the best, most interesting, and sometimes confusing rap releases of the week. In this installment: Lil B, Roc Marciano and DJ Muggs, Open Mike Eagle, and a collaboration between Future and everyone’s favorite emo rapper Juice WRLD.

Lil B, Options

This is a video from 2011, shot in Austin, Texas. Over the course of nine minutes and 11 seconds, Nardwuar, the bizarre interview savant from Vancouver, asks Lil B — then at the height of his digital-native powers, dressed head-to-toe in camo — about dance minutiae from MTV’s Making the Band 2, about the possibility of one day purchasing Myspace, about playing basketball in Berkeley, about La Chat. Like all of Nardwuar’s interviews, there’s a never-ending exchange of gifts and eerily specific detail from the artist’s past. But there’s this great moment near the beginning when Nardwuar, crouching, notes that B often thanks the internet for its support of his career. B lights up and turns to face the camera:

Shouts out to 4Chan, all the internet hackers, man. Anybody that’s on the internet all day, and you’re slouched, your back hurts. You know what I mean – carpal tunnel. I love you. Internet all day. We’re hurting. Radiation from the computer is hurting my eyes. I love it. I will not stay off the net.”

He’s beaming while he says it — he understood, from the minute his freestyles started bubbling on MySpace, the exact combination of subversion and shimmering positivity that would play online — but in his work, Lil B had already rendered online life as a physical state. 6 Kiss, which he uploaded at the tail end of 2009, is still B’s best-regarded LP, often for superficial reasons: it plays more like a traditional album than, say, Evil Red Flame, and its songs bend toward a slightly more conventional structure. But 6 Kiss is one of his truly extraordinary records, full of moments where B raps about his face frozen in the glow of TV and computer screens, or where he was sustained by the interaction he got via his rickety modem while his mother struggled at work and he wandered around Berkeley on foot.

Of course, at the beginning of this decade, Lil B was metabolizing and warping the internet at a pace that was absolutely breakneck. But it’s not 2010 anymore; last year’s long-awaited Black Ken came after an uncharacteristic period of near-silence, and found B experimenting behind the boards as well as in the booth (or, more likely, a closet somewhere in the Bay). It was rewarding: the album sounded like it came from 1987 and also from the far future. It re-contextualized some of the longest-running threads in his work, including the earnestness that those both outside and within his cult seldom seemed ready to engage with.

Options is Lil B’s second full-length release of 2018, after May’s self-produced Platinum Flame. Here, though, he revisits his beat-jacking glory days: there are stabs at “This Is America” and a take on YBN Nahmir’s “Rubbin’ Off the Paint” that very nearly recaptures the Based Freestyle bounce. But B’s digital life feels different now. The pace has slowed — he freestyles over Tay-K’s “The Race” and 6ix9ine’s “Gummo,” both of which made thunderous impacts when they were released, but have fallen far out of the news cycle. Options makes you reimagine Lil B’s internet as the jungle that was there before Facebook and Spotify, where the artist would find stray shards of commercial goods and repurpose them for his own means. And then there’s the fact that these extremely unlicensed songs are allowed to pass through, unchecked, to streaming services: the rest of the jungle creatures recognize the old lion and give him his space.

Open Mike Eagle, What Happens When I Try To Relax

Since last fall, when Open Mike Eagle dropped Brick Body Kids Still Daydream — a feverish elegy for the torn-down Chicago housing projects where some of his ancestors once lived — the Los Angeles transplant has been slipping new songs into his live sets. Some of the new work is about policing his own behavior before the gun-and-badge police can do it for him; some find him imagining what he would eat if he were rich: flat-screen TVs, tiny bottles of cologne, Michael Jordan rookie cards. None of that work appears on his new, six-song record, What Happens When I Try to Relax, which largely ditches Eagle’s familiar high-concept bent for insular, sometimes startling self-examination.

Eagle’s music can be heady, but it’s seldom inaccessible. He has far better pop instincts than the other rappers who made full songs about Ben Bernanke. The music on Relax — synth-y and full of air — feels as if it’s been informed by Eagle’s live show: there are new points of entry every couple of bars, and verses that build heads of steam toward big, effusive payoffs.

By far the most captivating moment on Relax is “Southside Eagle (93 bulls),” a grim, slightly menacing look at Mike Eagle’s money: how much there is, where he gets it, what he will and won’t do to lock down more. The second verse in particular is essential: it opens with his elbowing enough space for his laptop at an airport bar, hoping he can make enough money to keep his close friends employed; it unspools, toward its end, into an uncomfortable reckoning with the subject of his last album:

Good dude, good dude, who kidding who?

It hit me like a ton of bricks at the interview:

I made an audio mural you can walk through

About my auntie that I don’t even talk to.”

Between 2014’s Dark Comedy and Brick Body, Eagle has mined some of the darkest corners of his psyche; a sort of meta-step into the light to talk about the baggage that comes with being professionally vulnerable feels like the inevitable, impossible leap that has to come next.

DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano, KAOS

Though his disciples don’t quite dominate rap radio, Roc Marciano is without question one of the 2010s’ most indispensable stylists, his influence tentacles out of the tri-state and through SoundCloud feeds from coast to coast and across oceans. His major work (2010’s Marcberg and 2012’s Reloaded) is likely behind him, and he’s turned a bit mercenary — not late-period Ghostface mercenary, but in the 18 months prior to KAOS Marci had dropped three full-length records — culminating in September’s Behold a Dark Horse — each one engrossing in its way and intermittently excellent. KAOS is a ten-track album meant to soundtrack an upcoming film that centers on fictionalized versions of the two men who made this record. It’s the kind of convoluted origin story that unflinching New York rap thrives on. Muggs’s work here, full and fleshed-out, is refreshing, especially when so many of Marci’s children have shirked drums and dynamics of any sort in their production, and will go so far as to rap on untreated loops without a second thought.

Future & Juice WRLD, WRLD on Drugs

Juice WRLD is easily explained by the economics of the major-label rap world in 2018, but that doesn’t make it any less strange to consider that one of the biggest new stars in rap is a teenager from Chicago who sounds like he’s from Atlanta and who blew up off of a song that samples the same Sting song that was flipped for “The Message” from It Was Written. Here he teams up, somewhat confusingly, with Future, a megastar who has been sort of depressingly willing to churn out projects with autopilot-ish scraps between more inspired moments. WRLD on Drugs doesn’t fall to either extreme, but feels frustratingly inessential for both artists. More than anything else, it begs the question of what Future might sound like across a collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert — an even more extreme contrast in voices, and one where the load could be shouldered more evenly.

Paul Thompson is a writer and critic who lives in Los Angeles.

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