Trippie Redd is at the helm of emo trap, or what I call nonsense trap. It’s a style whose affiliates are young enough to have been breastfed by the Internet, and are personal mouthpieces for the social media generation. They’re apprenticing philosophers who find pleasure in nonsense contradictions; they denigrate the current generation of kids for not being able to “see the positivity in our world” while bragging about blowing people’s brains out, and whine about how “girls are impossible to please” while abusing them in real life.
Trippie’s slightly different from other emo-tistical rappers like Juice “All Girls Hate Me” WRLD and XXX “I Beat My Pregnant Girlfriend But I’m Improving (Improved)” Tentacion in that most of his peace-and-love ballads aren’t processed through the sort of hyper-digital studio phasing that has given some of the biggest emo trap releases like X’s ? its trademark pristine (yet artificial) quality.
Instead, the alt-rock inspired riffs he ululates over lend a certain rawness, so when he raps about losing a lover he cared for so, so, so much, we almost sympathize for a second and forget he’s been detained for pistol-whipping a girl. It’s this toned-down approach that has given his music some semblance of idiosyncrasy over the past couple years, and kept it from slipping into total decrepitude like that of other SoundCloud crossovers (ahem, Ski Mask the Slump God and Lil Yachty).
On top of that, there’s his vocal style. Trippie always sounds like he’s had a really bad day, like he left his sandwich at home or stepped in a puddle. Whether he’s shrieking with the shrillness of a Fortnite-playing prepubescent or crooning with the confliction of a society-disenchanted girl from 2007 covering a My Chemical Romance song, his inflections are always somewhat off-kilter and dissonant. There does seem to be something real in his feelings-oriented lyrics, but also something very pseudo-romantic, an attempt to pander to this new generation of boys who feel like they’re being ripped off just because a girl won’t hook up with them.
As if his lyrical edginess needed corroboration, Trippie’s music video for the lead single “Topanga” off his latest tape A Love Letter To You 3 features him in satanic getup. It’s unclear whether he’s seriously trying to give off Charles Manson vibes or it’s just an attempt to provide some fodder iconography for his brand, but either way it was met with critical disapproval by his younger demographic. One YouTuber comments disdainfully, “I love Trippie but man I ain't mess with that satanic shit. You better than this Trippie.” What’s ironic is that the song itself sounds blameless, full of ChopsquadDJ’s heartfelt strings and gospel samples as Trippie sings dreamily about taking a girl to Topanga, the beautiful Los Angeles canyon.
It seems like Trippie’s feeling the pull of two currents, forced to choose between pop wholesomeness and his public housing roots. The undercurrent of sin and depravity that runs through “Topanga” and some of the other commercially slick tracks on the album feels like a last ditch effort to stay true to the bleariness that once defined him.
Indeed, in the past my favorite tracks of his have been the ones where he scratches the quasi-romanticism all together and goes straight off-the-wall, like on the Travis Scott-assisted heater “Dark Knight Dummo.” That song came off his last album Life’s A Trip, which I thought was a killer set of both psychedelic and sensitive tunes. “Dummo” is not a track that would ever see daylight on the radio (although its squelchy bass would sound fantastic on the subwoofer), but it is unique, aggressive and ear-catching.
“Topanga” and the rest of ALLTY3 are a complete pivot, ditching the breakneck bangers for more “middle school dance playlist friendly” options. I just don’t understand how he can seriously make this sort of stuff. Watch any interview with Trippie, and you’ll see that he is an absolute nutball. If he were to ever get in a gunfight, he’d be the type of guy to ad-lib every AK shot (“Bang!”) for kicks. He was born to go off.
Tracks like “Topanga,” “Toxic Waste” and “Love Scars 3” all sound nearly homogenous, each featuring the same half-inspired sentiments about loving some girl over low tempo, piano-driven instrumentals with lots of wispy background echoes. I can imagine Trippie pow-wowing with his sound designers like, “guys, we need to up the vibes. Beautiful romantic songs gotta have people moaning in the background.” It’s almost like his biggest influences were Tricky and Portishead, not the Kurt Cobain and Lil Wayne whom he identifies with. The latter are two artists whose music features aggressive, noisy soundscapes where the vocals dominate. On this album, meanwhile, Trippie’s architecture is spacious and calculated; there’s no unusual noise, no special beats, and none of the carefree and truculent spirit that had given Trippie the edge over others in the past.
He doesn’t deviate from the formula much, but when he does it works well. “Elevate & Motivate” features a faster-paced beat courtesy of Swiss producer OZ. The song title is actually a double-entendre similar to the mixed-message of his “Topanga” video, where Trippie’s “elevating and motivating” is actually code for flying planes and shooting people from the sky.
On “Wicked,” my favorite track, a spacey yet speedy beat propels Trippie like a nitrogen jetpack as he switches between his trademark boisterous chorus style and a more controlled flow for the verses. The textured melody shifts periodically to reflect Trippie’s intonations, and there’s enough reverb on his hook lines that they appear dazed, almost smeared in your ears like how super fluorescent lights overwhelm your eyes, taking a while to fade away after you look at them. It’s this sort of almost-psychedelia that made Life’s A Trip so successful in my mind.
Besides a few highlights, Trippie’s A Love Letter To You 3 manages to find the most dissatisfying equilibrium possible between campy quasi-expressionism and actual originality, resulting in a 99 cents store grab bag of middle-of-the-road songs that wouldn’t be worth putting on either your hype playlist or your sad boy playlist. Trippie needs to pick a mission statement and commit to it!
RATING: 1.5/5 LACKING IN MANY WAYS
TOP: "Topanga," "Fire Starter," "Wicked," "Elevate & Motivate"
BOTTOM: "Toxic Waste," "Can't Love," "A.L.L.T.Y. 3," "Emani Interlude," "So Alive," "Diamond Minds," "Camp Fire Tale"
Most hip-hop fans know super producer Metro Boomin. His tags “Metro Boomin want some more,” and “If young Metro don’t trust you he gon’ shoot you,” have become holy engravings, the tell-tale signs that the song you’re about to listen to will bang. When he announced his resignation from the music world earlier this year, it shocked everybody.
For the rap scene, it was like dad went AWOL. All through the 2010s, Metro had nurtured and guided the trap scene, growing to be somewhat of a father to it. But then he abandoned the household when it needed him most, at the key transitionary point when people began to ask, “what’s after trap?” And he left us under the care of inferior, second-rate uncles like Murda Beatz and Ronny J, who know a bit about parenting but have never had any kids themselves. It was disappointing.
It turned out to be a gimmick, a lash back against the flak he caught last year for oversaturating the basic trap beat formula that he had mastered on outstanding hits like Migos’s “Bad and Boujee” and Future’s “Mask Off.” When mysterious billboards appeared last week in New York City and Atlanta with a portrait of Metro posted along with the subtext “MISSING HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN,” it became clear that it was some sort of a campaign, and Metro had left us for a while just so that we would appreciate him all the more.
NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES makes Metro more deserving of a cape than any superhero I’ve seen this year. It’s as transcendent as a trap album could be, with as distinct and enjoyable an imprint as the most forward-thinking and idiosyncratic rap producers, like Travis Scott’s Mike Dean: you can tell it’s Metro Boomin from the get-go, basslines smooth as silk and drums crisp and punchy. But it’s an evolution, too: Metro has mastered the art of sampling, weaving them in like no trapper before, using samples as illustrious time machines to elevate each song above simply “trap.” When Metro mixes 80s star Patti LeBelle into a 21 Savage track, it sounds like they actually recorded in the studio together.
Even with a World Series-winning roster, it is Metro, the coach, who’s the hardest hitter. Each instrumental is different, but linked by a sublime consistency. He contours every soundscape with a myriad of sound effects, like reverb-dipped laughs and unintelligible exclamations that cocoon around each rapper’s verses and ad-libs artfully. And the album is one whole, a nearly perfect 13-track collection complete with slick transitions between songs and the sense that even though every track is special in its own right, they could still be played alongside one another.
Normally when you hear elegant strings or intense brass sections in rap tracks, it feels overornate. But Metro makes it work, finding the perfect equilibrium so that each arrangement is not too serious or corny but fun and has a purpose, whether functioning to underline a rapper’s tone or reflect well against the bassline or melody.
In “10 Freaky Girls,” for example, Metro sets up a glorious horn section by charging it up, a low hum that grows and growls as the hi-hats click off and 21 Savage stampedes forward with his threatening, "Hangin' off my earlobes is a rock (A rock)," "Hangin' off my waistline is a Glock (Pop, pop)" hook. Then the volume of the horns rises above the vocals and it feels made-to-be, like 21 Savage is Darth Vader marching through Atlanta, and this is his imperial anthem.
21 Savage has always been in it for the memes, and his work on “Don’t Come Out The House” pushes new boundaries. He literally whispers an entire verse. I watch a lot of ASMR, but I’ve never seen a video where someone mentions, “Slaughter Gang so I keep a knife.” It did send tingles up my spine, but not in a relaxing way. It’s a little disappointing because when the beat picks up for real, it actually does slap, and it’s also the first collaboration between Metro and up-and-comer Tay Keith, which is exciting. But the whispering makes it hard to listen to in full, effectively reducing the song to joke status.
Along with 21 Savage, Travis Scott is another recurring guest on the album. He features most prominently on “Overdue,” the song that probably best exemplifies Metro’s sampling skill. Metro uses the chorus of Annie’s “Anthonio” (Berlin Breakdown Version) from the film The Guest. The faded, misty-night female vocals are sped up, injecting them with a sort of unreal desperation that sounds sensational supporting Scott’s slower musing.
The strings on the second half of the song sound ripped straight from Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time, and it makes me long to be a kid again playing video games, as if that was the greatest time ever. I’m sure it reminds other people of other things, and that’s just it: Metro has managed to recreate that dreamlike feeling, when you’ve fetishized the past so much that you feel nostalgic for a time that never existed, an impossibly happy state.
Scott is also great on “Up To Something” and “No More.” The former features Young Thug as well, and the masterful duo rises to the stratosphere thanks to Metro’s excellent production. Metro provides snaky synths and gummy 808 glides, and along with the deep humming in the background and the wonky atmospherics (distorted ad-libs and wordless reverberations), the track feels like a close relative to Scott and Thug’s 2014 classic “Skyfall.”
On “No More,” Scott teams up with 21 Savage and Kodak Black over a brooding dark trap beat. It sounds like they’re sitting around a campfire, each telling their Alcoholics Anonymous story in turn as Metro strums on a guitar in the background. All three contribute sobering verses and the beat hits hard. It’s more of a slow burner than a club banger, though, stuffed with haunting laugh effects, lean pouring sounds and atmospheric background rumblings.
What’s really impressive about the album is its stamina, constantly changing up the mood and flow so that it never feels boring. Even on Metro’s legendary 2017 album with 21 Savage and Offset, Without Warning, there were only ten tracks, and it did seem to run out of steam by the end. In this saturated trap field, with albums from Migos, Young Thug, Trippie Redd, Playboi Carti, et al seemingly dropping every other week, it’s nearly impossible to keep a trap-trained ear entertained anymore.
But Metro does it flawlessly, and his work might highlight the next step for trap as an artform: samples, which would actually mean going back to hip-hop’s roots.
In fact, hip-hop came to be through "sampling." DJ Kool Herc created the first breakbeat by looping the break section from The Winstons’s “Amen, Brother.” The sample-based approach of producers like Prince Paul, RZA, DJ Shadow and more used to be a mainstay of hip-hop through the 80s, 90s and 00s. But it has faded in the modern era, with only a few producers, most notably Kanye West, centering their music on samples.
Instead, most of the Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and Los Angeles producers use the same kind of gear and software as EDM producers, drawing from a tired bag of programmed beats, synthesizers and effects. Samples are used rarely, if at all, and when they are, they are fairly subliminal so they don’t announce their recognisability. This is why a lot of the top Billboard hits feel interchangeable, and why trap music especially seems to be in a slump of oversaturation. That’s why Metro’s new album stands out so much.
Metro is paving a path where trap songs can “escape” the now-tiresome structure by artistically rendering samples so that the tracks become almost cinematic. Trap has already developed in the late 2010s into a highly melodic form, with a major focus on beats over vocals, and this album pushes it further. Metro’s world is less about how the lyrics make you feel, but about how the entire soundscape paints a picture in your mind.
Metro Boomin wants some more... and I'm glad.
RATING: 4/5 GOOD VARIETY OF SOUNDS
TOP: "Overdue," "10 Freaky Girls," "Up To Something," "Lesbian," "No More"
BOTTOM: "Only You"
Yung Lean was once an internet icon. A 13 year-old boy’s wet dream, a man from a meme world where only Arizona Iced Teas, old video games and Zooey Deschanel existed, he rapped in such a lovably half-assed flow that it felt happy and dopey. He was always someone who, if you liked him, you’d have to cover up with half-ironic statements, like, “oh, yeah, Yung Lean’s a weird dude,” as if he was a guilty pleasure, like loving Alvin and the Chipmunks. But now, it’s normal to listen to Yung Lean. And that’s what’s scary.
His best tracks, like the psychedelic “Yoshi City,” or the bass-heavy “Miami Ultras,” are definitely not pop. But ever since Lean’s U.S. manager Barron Machat died in a Xanax-fueled car crash in 2016, and Lean suffered through several mental breakdowns, it seems like he’s learned to take life more seriously, and his newer music reflects that.
In Stranger, his first post-tragedy album, Lean upended every musical stake he’d previously laid claim to, and which had made him somewhat unique. Lean’s vocals lost his signature “lazy” flair and took a more serious shape, with soulful croons about lost lovers and drugged-out disillusionment. His instrumentation, which always had been Clams Casino-flavored and felt cool yet crude (as if the beats were made in five minutes), suddenly became professionally atmospheric, sounding studio-made and radio-ready.
It felt like Lean lost his edge, but critics ate it up. The same ones who bashed him for cloning internet rap pioneers like Clams Casino, Main Attrakionz and Lil B suddenly praised his powerful, piercing emo anthems, some arguing he was carving out a new lane in music. What’s ironic is that this pivot made his music more derivative, as most of it is interchangeable with other watered-down emo SoundClouders like Lil Peep or nothing,nowhere.
Maybe I’m just frustrated at losing the reserved rights to the knowledge of Lean’s existence, but it does feel like his music has stagnated since aspiring to a commercial slickness. He descends further into pop territory on his newest album, Poison Ivy, and it only half works.
“Always down to make it happen, wrapped in plastic,” Lean raps on “trashy,” and it feels like an apt metaphor for the whole album. The title “Poison Ivy” and the sickly, green cover art couldn’t belie the contents more: the album is cherry-colored, ballads wrapped in pristine plastic and lathered in fruity pheromones.
After a while, it all fades into one mushy reverb sandwich. Executive producer Whitearmor’s sound is unique, but in itself it’s very samey, a mix of chime-like hi-hats and idyllic, futuristic percussion bits. It doesn’t benefit Lean that earlier this year, Whitearmor already executively produced Bladee’s Red Light, making nearly the exact same sort of fruity, bouncy beats for it.
Even though Poison Ivy is only eight tracks deep, it’s hard to differentiate between the blander ones like “silicon wings,” “trashy,” and “sauron.” I’m conflicted because from a certain vantage point, I can appreciate the delicacy of the instrumentals. But as a long-time Lean fan, they seem washed-out, and a serious step back from his past albums like Warlord and Unknown Death 2002 where every track was unique.
There are a few great cuts, though, like the album-standout “french hotel.” The track opens with some ear-catching, fast siren-like synths, and as Lean mumbles, “She’s off the pil-pill, we off the pills,” the beat comes to full fruition in a blaze of hallucinatory craziness. Stranger’s main theme was disillusionment, and the mood persists on this track. Even though Lean claims they’re off the pills, he just as soon observes that “she’s just marvelling, blood coming out her head,” and when his voice glitches in and out as he cries, “I’m off the drink, off the-” it becomes clear that he’s still stuck in the same nightmare, an endless Requiem for a Lean.
My other favorite is the closing track, “bender++girlfriend,” which has an especially magical second half. The beat mellows into sonic footsteps, gentle percussion pitter-patters like we’re walking through a Swedish forest glade. As Lean murmurs, “We cannot fall,” “She fell asleep on my arm,” and Whitearmor’s fairytale world drifts around us, it is borderline therapeutic, a sort of cross between Boards of Canada and meditation music. By the end, Lean’s voice crumbles into the microphone like a sand castle collapsing into the waves. It seems like he’s as tranquil as we are, and like he has finally come to terms with his own pains.
For his first album in a year, Poison Ivy is a little disappointing. But the album’s best tracks are some of Lean’s best work, and tracks like “french hotel” highlight a much-anticipated return to making higher tempo bangers. They were completely absent on Stranger, and now suggest that he hasn’t completely lost his former flair.
While Yung Lean isn't what he used to be, that might not be a bad thing. It might not be a good thing, though, either.
TOP: "french hotel," "ropeman," "bender++girlfriend"
BOTTOM: "silicon wings," "trashy," "sauron"