Young Scooter, The Recipe
The magnetic and prolific Young Scooter comes from Atlanta’s Zone 6. If you knew nothing else about him, he’d be remarkable just for his close associations: He grew up with Future — Scooter was the only feature on last year’s Beastmode 2 — and five years ago, he shared a prison cell with Gucci Mane. But at the beginning of December, a song by Scooter called “Sushi” caused a firestorm on rap blogs and on Instagram for addressing the lack of new collaborations between him and Gucci. It wasn’t the simple fact of the opening line (“I’ll probably never do another song with Gucci,” then a pivot into Scooter’s new appearance fees); it was that, three lines later, Scooter raps about people who “be snitchin’ — they got Ralo in the feds,” a reference to the fellow Atlantan who is out on bail after pleading not guilty to federal drug charges. (Ralo has been denied bond twice and is awaiting his trial at a facility in Georgia.)
Scooter explained more than once that the Ralo line was not meant to implicate his former mentor, but that did little to paper over the perceived rift. The irony, of course, is that despite Gucci’s broad and deep influence over rap this decade, Scooter is his most direct stylistic descendent. “Sushi” itself is a good case study, from the way he draws out the vowels in words to the tight, innocent word games that crop up to illustrate things that are much more sinister. Scooter’s not rehashing Gucci’s catalogue — those faithful component parts add up to an on-record identity that’s a little less mythic and a little more workmanlike — but he’s carrying it into new, exciting territory.
The first two-thirds of The Recipe, which was technically Scooter’s second mixtape of 2018, is the strongest batch of work he’s ever released. Beyond “Sushi” there are razor-sharp duets with Kodak Black (“No Features”), G Herbo (“No Flaws”), and Youngboy Never Broke Again (“Never Broke Again” — really), and a soaring intro where he turns the post-Zaytoven piano into a villain’s theme. The tape falters slightly toward its end, but makes a serious argument for Scooter as a sort of no-frills album artist who can stitch together bits of 2010s rap ephemera in a confident, crushing way.
21 Savage, i am > i was
As bizarre as it is to see, 21 Savage seems to have elbowed his way onto the conveyor belt that turns popular rappers into genuine stars. This is strange because just a couple of years ago — or today, really, if you hear any one song in isolation — the thin Atlantan’s voice cast him as a sort of specialist with a style specific enough that it could have been alienating. But with Post Malone and a gang of memes in tow, 21 has quietly put together an excellent catalogue (including 2017’s underrated Issa Album) that shows a wide range of abilities and a personality with depth, humor, and self-assuredness.
i am > i was finds 21 perfectly in balance: He’s a gifted technician who doesn’t let songs disappear down the rabbit hole; he sounds current without sounding like anyone else. The dynamic range he’s able to squeeze out of what is essentially a whisper continues to be remarkable. “a&t,” which features Yung Miami of City Girls, will be a durable strip-club anthem into the spring. On the album’s bonus track, Travis Scott spins his Giant Wheel of Theft and lands on “Valee.”
Shoreline Mafia, OTXmas
Like JPEGMAFIA or the Grand Canyon, you need to witness it in person: Shoreline Mafia concerts are almost unbelievably raucous, effective for all ages but especially potent with rap fans who can’t yet rent cars. They’ve been mostly a singles’ outfit so far; their breakthrough mixtape, ShorelineDoThatShit, had their biggest hits tacked unceremoniously onto its back end, and “Bands,” which became a phenomenon out West last year, is taken from what is essentially a sampler project from one of the group members. OTXmas is not the group’s highly anticipated debut album, which is due out some time next year on Atlantic, but is an effective stopgap that hones on the group’s strengths, from Master Kato’s controlled chaos to Ohgeesy’s raw charm.
One strange thing about music-streaming platforms is the way they appear to flatten things; a new EP from Cormega, with lush production and a feature from Mobb Deep’s Havoc, doesn’t feel as if it should be popping up in your New Releases feed, packaged and boxed off next to tapes by rappers half his age and worlds apart, literally and stylistically. But here we are: Mega exists and is full of raps — occasionally labored, occasionally thrilling — that are put together with Mega’s characteristic verbosity and quasi-crypticism. Some of those take a slightly different shape, for 2018 and for middle age: “My darkest thoughts conform to my enlightened conscience / Align my chakra with the higher power I acknowledge” (“On Everything”).