Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Young Thug & Bloody Jay - "Black Portland"

Young Thug is blessed with one of the weirdest voices in contemporary rap – a kind of manic yelp that perfectly fits his tightly-wound flow, careening between staccato assault and drunken lurch. You’ll be marvelling over it for a while before you actually start paying attention to his stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Having slowly infiltrated hip-hop conversations last year with his excellent mixtape 1017 Thug, he teams up with Atlanta rapper Bloody Jay for Black Portland, an 11-track effort which, in its relative concision and collection of great beats, actually comes out on top as Young Thug’s best project yet.

Looked at from the right angle, this could be quite a conventional tape – there are some genuinely memorable hooks/choruses, and the beats, if tinged with that distinctive Atlanta weirdness, are satisfyingly high-octane and ready for the club. It’s to these two rappers credit then that Black Portland never really feels like a normal affair – their aesthetic is just too damn weird, throwing in demented ad-libs all over the place and interrupting each other’s lines.

It’s mastered better than 1017 Thug, but the fidelity is still slightly off, to the point where Thug’s voice at its most intense can actually be quite grating, especially on headphones. Whether this proves to be annoying or part of the appeal will depend on the listener. Thug and Jay’s voices are pretty interchangeable for the most part (Jay’s is lower but just as urgent), and that’s fine, it’s more like a personality overload than a clash of heads. I must emphasise that this tape is fun over pretty much everything else. It’s almost impossible not to imagine these guys having a blast in the recording booth while listening to Black Portland, and thankfully its brevity means that this isn’t one of those 20+ track efforts that run out of energy halfway through.

Anyone who’s been paying attention to Atlanta rap recently will most likely know the hit ‘Danny Glover’, a song that bears a striking resemblance to A$AP Ferg’s ‘Work’ and has had both Drake and Kanye singing Young Thug’s praises. The real keeper here though is the melodic ‘4 Eva Bloody’, which goes in straight out of the gate with its indelible chorus and a yo-yoing beat that sounds like an old Sonic the Hedgehog game.

There are two more chilled-out tracks here – ‘Florida Water’ is the major changeup, with its woozy, almost tropical vibe (it sounds surprisingly like Vic Mensa’s ‘Tweakin’), and later on Future turns up for ‘Nothing But Some Pain’ with one of his trademark hooks. Honestly, there are no bad tracks here, and loads of great ones. It’s that rare hip-hop mixtape where you’re not just combing the tracklist for keepers, everything earns its place.

Bloody Jay explained the name of the tape to the FADER – on one level it’s a funny stoner pun on Portland’s basketball team (the ‘Trail Blazers’), but more interestingly, he conceives of ‘Black Portland’ as an imaginary place, a state of mind for creative artists who aren’t afraid to break outside of regional contexts (Portland has one of the lowest black populations in America and, unlike Atlanta, isn't really know for its hip-hop scene...) Sure this tape conforms to the ‘Atlanta sound’ to an extent, but it always feels like a springboard for the two rappers rather than a net.

We learnt recently that Young Thug has done a couple of songs with Kanye, so hopefully we’ll see those in the future (damn, Thug would sound great on a Yeezus sequel). In the meantime we can look forward to confirmed projects with Rich Homie Quan and Chief Keef, and keep on bumping Black Portland. Grab it here.

Highlights: 'Signs'; '4 Eva Bloody'; 'Danny Glover'

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