Something is amiss in Based World. Lil B’s apartment building caught fire last week. His teenage neighbor pounded on his door as the flames spread, and he escaped. He seems okay, but it’s hard to ignore the impulse to view the incident as a harbinger of some greater metaphysical ill, a hint of cosmic misalignment that can only be communicated through the Based God. And though Young L, the mastermind of B’s old group the Pack, has been known for his video game bloops and indulgent bass throughout his nearly 10-year production discography, his music has turned inward, his larger-than-life productions hunching in on themselves, reflecting a preoccupied mind rather than a packed function. His latest mixtape, Final Fantasy, continues the melancholy path he’s been forging since 2013, one on which he’s never stopped to rest for too long.
It’s easy to forget, these days, that Lil B was never really the most essential member of the Pack. That honor went to Young L, the quartet’s in-house producer as well as a rapper, in whose home studio they recorded their first two mixtapes, the stuff that got them signed by Too $hort. It’s clear he’s always been the idea guy, and his production choices shaped the Pack’s aesthetic: rubbery, hyphy-indebted knock, but looser, rougher, with enough empty space for sounds to vibrate off one another, in many ways an early glimpse at the turn-up efficiency of the minimal club sounds that have dominated not just West Coast rap but radio in general in recent years. Post-Pack, as Lil B has grown into his role as swag-rap shaman, Young L has quietly pursued his own solo career, and while he may not wield his influence as visibly as Lil B, he’s usually a couple steps ahead of the game.
Young L’s early 2010s solo projects were informed by video game sounds, Bay Area house party tunes, flat, bright, anime slickness, and an alien truther’s stoned commitment to cosmic unpredictability. Underwritten tapes like 2011’s DOMO-KUN or 2012’s split with Soulja Boy, Mario & Domo Vs. the World, were early success stories within the intersection of rap and EDM sounds. Raucous bangers like “Loud Pockets” and “All Gold Everything”, with their destructive bass and glitchy video game bloops, beat EDM-trap at its own game, slightly ahead of guys like TNGHT and Baauer, and often with more finesse. But something snapped for Young L in 2013: he had his 808s & Heartbreak moment, or probably more accurately, he got older, hitting the point at which “swag” is no longer an appropriate response to the gamut of life experiences. His YFGOD mixtape explored neon-lit, night-driving cinematics, somewhere between Kanye’s “Robocop”, Justice’s †, and the Drive soundtrack. Months later, on his Convulsion EP, he abandoned rap altogether and sunk into the murky melodrama of Clams Casino-style instrumental beat-making, the most depressive stuff of his career.
Final Fantasy isn’t as sharp of a departure as Convulsion—at the very least, it’s recognizably a rap tape—but it shares a similar headspace: anxious, bittersweet, nostalgic for something vague and possibly nonexistent. Over a concise seven tracks, Young L probes light-headed cloud-rap balladry, blown-out trap scuzz, and somber, liturgical R&B. Its introductory suite traffics in the wistful Imogen Heap-core of many of Lil B’s most gut-wrenching Clams Casino collaborations, that unlikely sweet spot between swag rap and “The O.C.” soundtrack. Things get more interesting from there: a pair of staggering, bottomless trap songs, “Doors Open” and “U Know What I Mean”, provide counterpoints to long-standing allegations that Young L’s tepid rapping is dead weight to his innovative production. Tape highlight “$ugar Ray” wallows in last night’s pastel afterglow: over two-and-a-half minutes, L channels Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” pimp waking up in a puddle of drool, DJ Khaled surveying his kingdom, unmoved and with Four Loko in hand, in the “I’m on One” video, and DJ Screw’s Late Night Fuckin’ Yo Bitch tape. There’s the detached menace of “Slam Dunk”, the tape-closing Lil B collaboration featuring the hardest based freestyle in recent memory, shouting out fellow Pack brother Stunnaman.
None of this represents any sort of bigger-than-itself artistic statement, and it probably won’t stand the test of time, but all that’s besides the point. There’s been a planned obsolescence to Young L’s work from the very beginning, a byproduct of a music career inextricably tied to the Internet (“Vans” would be nothing without MySpace). It’s a survival tactic for continued relevance as an independent artist whose music exists primarily in a digital space, and it’s perfectly suited for restless idea guys like Young L. These songs don’t need to exist for years down the road so much as they need to exist right now, in this specific moment, as snapshots of time, place, and mood, and then they need to move on. There’s no need to linger for too long—everything happens too fast for that. It’s no coincidence that Young L drifted away from explicitly West Coast sounds around the same time that stuff had begun to blow up nationally, thanks to DJ Mustard, YG, and HBK Gang. For a guy like L, who doesn’t rely on music financially (he’s got a successful clothing line, Pink Dolphin), there’s no need to stress over the pursuit of hits or pump out 20-track mixtapes in hope that something sticks. He’s free to follow his impulses, no matter how ephemeral, and though it may not have rendered him the most visible of his Pack brethren, it’s resulting in the most reliably intriguing solo catalog. Young L’s sound may have evolved, but his strategy hasn’t: Set the trends, keep it moving, and watch the wave crest behind him.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1CEcEWX