Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.
It’s a miracle: Kendrick can still (sort of) hang
Even as a Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers booster, I must admit that “fun” is not how I would describe Kendrick’s double-disc therapy session. Messy and provocative? Yes. Introspective? Of course. A pushback against followers who want to platform him as some sort of voice-of-a-generation rap god instead of a flawed human who cheats with white women and is a dickhead to his auntie? Absolutely. But fun? Nah. Sure, there are lighter moments here and there, specifically when he channels Drakeo the Ruler on “Rich Spirit” or the way he laces up “Purple Hearts,” but for the most part it’s been a minute since there was Kendrick verse I could play on the aux cord at a house party without splitting the room.
But this week all that changed. Kendrick and Baby Keem’s “The Hillbillies” is three minutes of the two cousins going through more flows than DaBaby does trends (side note: Lord, please save us from the summer of “Shake Sumn”). Whereas the duo’s previous team-ups, “Family Ties” and “Range Brothers,” from Keem’s mediocre The Melodic Blue, saw them telling us they’re fun more than actually showing it, this song is a legitimately good time.
The beat’s rhythm is inspired by the thudding drums of Jersey club, yet the song doesn’t reek of desperation like so many other recent trend-hopping tracks. This is largely thanks to producer Evil Giane of the underground New York crew Surf Gang, who has deconstructed club sounds about as well as anyone outside of Jersey, Philly, and Baltimore.
Baby Keem sets the tone. His ornate delivery gives each line the space to stand out on its own, and you could practically memorize his opening verse after one listen. Kendrick’s gig is to follow his lead, like they’re in the gym playing a game of HORSE. At first, Kendrick plays it safe by either just mimicking Keem or rapping about standard rich guy shit, but then—finally—he reminds us that his theatricality can be legitimately funny. He takes on a role as the devil on Keem’s shoulder, slotting in sly comments after each bar. “Shawty said she’s celibate, I’ma keep hoping,” raps Keem, before Kendrick excitedly interjects with “She’s not.” Then Keem claims, “Shawty said she in love with me, I’ma be open” right before Kendrick lets out the least interested “I’ll try” I’ve ever heard. By playfully trolling each of Keem’s bars, Kendrick gives us what we’ve been missing from him over the last few years.
Fulcrum blurs the line between YouTuber and rapper
Fulcrum is a Bay Area rapper who is probably more well-known as the vlogger Damian Luck. On YouTube he roams around restaurants, department stores, and his college campus, not doing much other than ripping a vape and dictating motivational monologues to his audience, dubbed the “Yodie gang.” In one video, he strolls through the aisles of a Walmart checking out a Twilight Zone DVD box set and getting zooted, as the shoppers in the store hardly even notice that he’s there.
As for his music, it’s all right but secondary. Last month he released his mixtape All at Once, made up of cut-rate melodic pluggnb. Like other music made by YouTubers, the appeal is especially reliant on Fulcrum as a personality, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the vibe would be at his headlining show at the Brooklyn DIY venue Market Hotel. Would he be vlogging the show? What is a Fulcrum fan even like? Would anyone even be there?
As I arrived at the door, a group of about 10 were already heading out, complaining that the kids inside were too weird for them and that “the music sucked.” This made me even more excited. The crowd was modest but into it as they jumped around to openers Kaspergem, Xaviersobased, and Bear1Boss. The fashion was a mix of Bushwick kids doing their 2000s-revival thing and fratty-looking dudes with jerseys and backwards fitteds. When Fulcrum finally took the stage, almost everyone instinctively pulled out their vapes, a nod to his smoked-out vlogs. To my left, a couple of young girls seemed like they were about to spontaneously combust from excitement; they looked at Fulcrum as if he were doing some of the magic tricks from The Prestige instead of just lighting a blunt.
Whenever Fulcrum said one of his vlog’s catchphrases—like “faded than a ho”—the crowd would chant them back at him like they were on The Jerry Springer Show. As ever, the music sounded fine, and my favorites were “Podrace,” because the beat is cool, and “My Way Out,” because his voice hits a high-pitched register on that one. Every now and then he would stop the show for a few minutes to do the type of inspirational speech found in his vlogs. He would start with “listen up Yodie gang” and then bounce around ideas about how we all have a purpose and to never give up. It’s real championship-game-in-a-sports-movie shit, though he seems pretty earnest about it. Even a guy in a furry head-to-toe husky dog costume nodded along to the words of wisdom.
Kenzo B: “Hazard Lights”
While much of the New York drill Uptown and in the Bronx gets harder and more bruising, Kenzo B is differentiating herself by occasionally throwing out a soft, breezy bent on the style. On her 2022 EP Top Dawg, songs like “Make It Lit” and “Hood Love Story” flickered instead of blared, with sweet vocal samples that satisfyingly complement her no-nonsense shit talk. Similarly, on “Hazard Lights,” Kenzo moonwalks on a beat with a faded, sped-up sample that sounds like something R&B Drake would have had a meltdown over years ago. It’s forceful yet extremely unbothered rapping, like she’s getting these bars off as she does her nightly skincare routine.
Mixtape of the week: SME Taxfree and Dai Ballin’s House Party
Milwaukee duo SME Taxfree and Dai Ballin have the wrong movie on their mind. On their new tape House Party, an homage to the 1990 Kid n’ Play flick, Dai is supposed to be Kid and Tax is supposed to be Play. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, though, considering neither of them is a dancing goofball whatsoever. Instead the mixtape is more like the 1985 fembot fantasy Weird Science, as Tax and Dai croon about building their perfect woman through lots of Auto-Tune. So essentially, it’s about how much they love and worship BBLs. Yes, you read that right: The driving idea behind this mixtape is that “all the BBLs they fuck with us.” Sometimes it’s a little weird, almost like it’s a love letter to plastic surgeons rather than the women. But highlights like “Ari” and “K Michelle” push the theme to a glorious extreme, as they wail about getting to kiss and go on trips to Tuscon, Arizona with a woman with a BBL over the prettiest Milwaukee beats.
1100 Himself: “Baby D”
The greatest rap song titled “Baby D” is most definitely track nine on Too $hort’s Gettin’ It (Album Number Ten), where the Dangerous Crew’s Baby D lays down two minutes of the best raps by an elementary school student ever. I’m sure that Oakland’s 1100 Himself dropping a song of the same name is no coincidence; his intricate neighborhood storytelling makes it clear that he has marinated in the catalog of his hometown’s original rap star. Naturally, 1100 Himself’s block tales start out with an interaction with a local kid: “A younger fan see me out like, ‘11 sign my hoodie’/And I’m the type to pass the weed when yo’ mom not looking.” For the rest of the track, he sounds unfazed by the beefs and inconveniences lingering in the background as he tries to make money and hang out with his friends. It’s a slow-moving snapshot of his life, with enough details to make it worthy of its name.
Austin, Texas’ Wiardon made his name years ago as a teenage producer with woozy beats for the likes of Lucki and Baby Smoove, but he has really found his groove rapping over his own instrumentals. “Trackhawk” is a single from his self-produced album Road Music, where he raps in a style that mixes post-Prodigy East Coast tradition with the slurred flows you can find everywhere from Detroit to Houston. Sometimes his lines trail off as they go, a stylistic flourish that gives his songs a particularly naturalistic feel, as if he’s just having a conversation on the porch.