You may have heard: Atlanta’s become an undeniable commercial force for rap over the past 10 years, producing huge stars and molding hip-hop’s core sound. A relentless microscope now fixates upon the city, waiting expectantly for the next 2 Chainz, Gucci, or Jeezy. Creative peaks and valleys are glossed over, a craggy history remembered as one long ascent, success a continually foregone conclusion. And so we end up with a “flourishing” young scene as rampant with speculation and opportunism as genuine creative talent. Although veterans (Nicki, Gucci) pop up on Mike WiLL Made It’s Ransom mixtape, it’s mainly a showcase for rookies (iLoveMakonnen, Young Thug) and aspiring stars (the various members of Two-9, Bankroll Fresh), eager to stake their claim on the city’s storied history.
Much as DJ Mustard‘s 10 Summers sat in the shadow of his work on YG‘s much more successful My Krazy Life, Ransom feels like a supplement to Rae Sremmurd‘s SremmLife. But where Mustard’s sound remained consistent across his two major projects, Mike WiLL’s Ear Drummers stable diverged sharply for this release. SremmLife is a jubilant pop record, packed with hooks and teeming with effervescent juvenile energy. But Ransom fits its stark black-and-leather cover art to a T. The production throughout, replete with minor-key piano loops and metallic textures, conjures up a sinister atmosphere, even when the rappers themselves pull away from this brooding mien.
Mike WiLL made a name for himself thanks to a counterintuitive taste for subtlety. In a time when clobbering, maximal Luger beats dominated the Down South mixtape circuit, Mike WiLL was drawn to subtle effects, like the way his use of EQ filtering and panning submerged listeners in the emotional space of a booming strip club record. On Ransom, the Ear Drummers production team is at its best when working towards a similarly crafted style, where use of space and attention to the details of timbre and atmosphere takes precedence. No other producers so precisely approximate tactile sensations. At their best, these beats evoke steam rising from steel.
The 21-track street tape can feel like something of an endurance test; the superstar-laden “Buy the World” displays the shortcomings of Mike WiLL’s approach, an example of how easy it is to lose track of the forest while focusing so intently on the trees. In fact, it’s the star vehicles which suffer the most; “I Lied”, which also appeared on The Pinkprint, aims for sincerity but feels like a detached approximation; Juicy J feature “Don’t Trust” has the grim obligation of a winter commute. And unfortunately, a fizzy carbonation of the “Choppin’ Blades” beat can’t redeem RiFF RAFF‘s loveless false advertising: “Jody Highroller, anything can happen.” Nothing does.
Opener “Paradise (Intro)”, an acrobatic feature for established star Big Sean, is a major exception. And Rich Homie Quan‘s “Hasta Lauego” conveys the kind of heartfelt candor that would have made an ideal closer. Future’s three appearances are all exceptional standouts from an artist not always remembered for his lyrics. But despite a spotty hit rate, it’s novice performers who dominate the highlight reel, glimmering in the tape’s portentous tunnel vision.
Newcomer Bankroll Fresh has been on the receiving end of a fair amount of hype, with Atlanta on the lookout for a new street rap auteur. Thus far, Bankroll’s dry, unadorned style has been easy to appreciate but hard to love. Thanks to dynamic production from Mike WiLL and Pluss, “Screen Door” transforms a familiar dope boy story into an unpredictable noir—a standout in the rapper’s diminutive catalog. On Yung Joey and Dej Loaf‘s “Possible”, Mike WiLL and JBo weave an enigmatic canvas through layered chimes, letting the stars move with confidence in an air of wavering uncertainty. And while “ethereal” might be one of music criticism’s most abused words, no term better captures the queasy anxiety of Swae Lee and Future’s “Drinks On Us”, the album’s best song.
At its best, Ransom feels like an album-length exploration of the sound Mike WiLL established with 2014’s “Move That Dope”. But with doubt and ambiguity as its primary tonal colors, Ransom is a tough recommendation front to back. Few will last the numbing trek through its extended running time, and some of its stronger moments are liable to fall through the cracks. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see a producer willing to go out on a limb for the new and developing generation at a time when a click-driven press is so attentive to established legacy artists.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yiQxrD