Every week, Vulture runs through the best, most interesting, and sometimes most confusing rap releases. In this installment: Jacksonville’s Foolio has a breakout moment, Tree and Vic Spencer release a career-defining album, Robb Banks, with the help of Wifisfuneral, has another moment in the sun, and Big K.R.I.T. collects some loose gems onto an album.
Foolio, Never Wanted Fame
While South Florida is being constantly combed through for young rap talent by executives and critics, Jacksonville goes largely ignored. There are pockets of the American South (Baton Rouge comes to mind) that have full, rich, self-contained and -sustaining rap scenes, but the promising young artists from other areas often fizzle out before they catch on with regional promoters or score a cash infusion from New York or Atlanta.
Never Wanted Fame, the new mixtape from Jacksonville’s Foolio, looks askance at that kind of careerism — it’s preoccupied with death and jail visits, ailing family members and creeping paranoia. And when Foolio addresses the tape’s title head-on, on the painful “Souled,” he’s also, ironically, doing his best audition for the majors, sounding for all the world like a hungry, radio-ready Kevin Gates or a more polished YoungBoy Never Broke Again.
At several different points on Never Wanted Fame, Foolio circles back around to references and allusions he’s made before: the incarcerated Tay-K pops up multiple times, as does his family’s voodoo practice. It gives the tape a fascinatingly flat feel, not flat as in dull, but flat as in all these things — the murder charges and the joyous moments — sound like they’re happening at once. The tape is bookended by two of its best songs, but suffers from iffy sequencing on the front end, namely the loose experiment “Glockstar,” which comes second and briefly stalls the momentum. The highs, though, take your breath away. Check “M1,” where he adopts a rigidly technical flow and, as if to taunt his less gifted contemporaries, uses that flow to deploy his most evocative writing.
Never Wanted Fame establishes Foolio as one of the most gripping, irresistible rappers working today, and while his name recognition outside of Jacksonville and the depths of the rap internet is still low, it would not be difficult to imagine a song like “Party Pack,” with the right music video, becoming a regional phenomenon. He’s an exceptionally malleable vocalist, comfortable barking out the ends of bars like Detroit street rappers or the kids from SOB x RBE, or of sliding into the smooth, post–Kodak Black flows you hear all over Audiomack today. His songwriting is refreshingly unpolished, and is broken up with jarring moments, like when he lashes out at his lawyer for losing a case, or when he pays tribute to his incarcerated friend and collaborator, the also-promising Soulja K.
Wifisfuneral & Robb Banks, CONN3CT3D
When we think of people misplaced in time, we usually imagine brilliant scientists who could have prevented plagues, or would-be inventors born before electricity was harnessed, or Republican primary candidates who would have snapped an Austrian baby’s neck. Our minds don’t go immediately to underground rappers from Florida who might have been bigger underground rappers from Florida if their careers had started, like, four years after they actually did. But that’s Robb Banks, a rapper from Broward County who — despite being just 24 — seems to have existed many internets ago, back before not only the SoundCloud boom, but before Young Thug and Mitt Romney. His album, Calendars, which came out in April 2012, was radical in its time — a record that was steeped in all the internet’s cryptic bullshit and bad-faith obfuscation, but had the texture and emotional stakes of great street rap.
Of course, a half-decade after Calendars, major and indie labels began treating South Florida like California during the gold rush. While Banks may not have been a chief influence for the XXXTentacions and Lil Pumps of the world, his music and theirs shared some stylistic DNA. For CONN3CT3D, Banks teams up with Wifisfuneral, a 21-year-old from the SoundCloud boom who’s managed by one of the dudes who throws the Rolling Loud festivals. On paper, it’s an interesting pairing: Compared to his contemporaries, Wifisfuneral borrows more from the Lord Infamouses of the world, making him a sort of bridge between the present day and the heyday of Raider Klan.
CONN3CT3D is intermittently successful. The atmosphere is right, and feels carefully chosen, but there are times when it seems to anonymize both rappers by pulling them toward an arbitrary middle ground. Fortunately, there are distorted, skull-rattling cuts on the back end (“Carro”) and perpetual motion machines like “Ea” up front.
Tree and Vic Spencer, Nothing Is Something
Like his frequent collaborator Chris Crack, Vic Spencer has maintained a steady churn of new music, his low growl cutting through the warm, lived-in beats he favors. By contrast, Tree, a fellow Chicagoan, who seemed at the beginning of this decade to be earmarked as his city’s next indie-rap star, has become more elusive. (The Tree EP from 2011 and the first Sunday School are absolutely essential listens: messy, daring, worthy of the “soul trap” tag he gave them.) Nothing Is Something is a tour de force, sure to be one of the year’s most rewarding, replayable rap LPs, owing its success to the gruff interplay between Vic and Tree’s voices, but also to the way its seemingly narrow scope opens up to reveal ambitious narratives and probing searches of each writer’s soul and upbringing. Bonus points for Crack, in a cameo appearance, rapping: “Shit, they thought I was dead like chivalry.”
Big K.R.I.T., TDT
Discussions of Big K.R.I.T. are necessarily framed by the artist’s influences. The Mississippi native has always been a capable stylist, and occasionally an exceptional producer, but sometimes his music too readily recalls his predecessors (mainly classic southern mainstays like UGK, pre-Aquemini OutKast, 8-Ball & MJG, among others). This is not entirely unfair — his own work is faithful to a fault — but it undersells how willing K.R.I.T. has been, since his 2010 breakout, to mine his past and his psyche in unexpected ways. TDT compiles songs from three surprise EPs he dropped at the end of 2018. It’s a smartly distilled peek into a now-veteran auteur’s work in progress.