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.
The most unbelievable aspect of Euphoria isn’t that everyone goes to school dressed like they’re in the “I’m a Slave 4 U” video or that a middle schooler got away with brutally attacking two drug dealers with a hammer, à la John Wick, in last weekend’s season two premiere. It’s that literally everyone on the show is obsessed with rap that came out before they were born. Turn off those Roddy Ricch croons, silence that Playboi Carti noise, close the tab on that Megan Thee Stallion video—these kids are busy rewatching the Snoop Dogg vs. DMX Verzuz battle on YouTube.
There might not be a scene where Zendaya’s Rue posts about the Makaveli bootlegs on an online forum, but it is extremely noticeable that ’90s or ’00s rap is constantly playing in the background, especially in group settings. It first caught my attention during the school dance in the season one finale, where Rue and Jules mean mug and rap along to Too $hort’s 2006 song “Blow the Whistle.” OK, that song isn’t that old, but I imagine in real life the DJ would have been drowned out with boos until they played Lil Baby.
I suppose the real reason this is happening is that the show’s creator, Sam Levinson, is a 37-year-old guy looking to make his teenagers seem a bit cooler to people who are 37 years old. So ’90s and ’00s rap it is. This isn’t to say that today’s teenagers can’t love some rap throwbacks—they can and they should. But the Euphoria season two premiere pushes the idea to its limit.
First there’s a scene where Rue is in the back of a car, zooted out of her mind, rapping Tupac’s “Hit ’Em Up” word for word, like she also feels that Biggie and Junior M.A.F.I.A. were some “mark-ass bitches.” Later she arrives at a house party where the dancefloor is packed with kids grooving to Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” At the same party, Rue does more drugs, this time with a new character played by human algorithm Dominic Fike, while Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” rings off in the background. Then Lil Meech, the son of real-life mafia kingpin Big Meech and star of 50 Cent’s Starz show about that kingpin, BMF, grinds with Maddie to DMX’s “Party Up (Up in Here).” I know these are all major rap songs that have stood the test of time, but how do you explain the flashback scene of drug dealer Fezco counting money to the mid-’90s Sonny Skillz deep cut “What Time Is It”? You can’t. Stay tuned for next week, when Rue snorts coke off her collection of vintage The Source magazines.
This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.
At the end of the year, Tony Bontana released P.O.V, a collection that pairs the Birmingham, UK musician’s thoughtful raps with his woozy soul and spaced-out funk productions. Opening with bleeps seemingly ripped from a ’70s sci-fi movie, “Nah Son Shits Actually Crazy” stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it. As the abstract beat morphs into a dirty, head-knocking groove, Tony raps hard, like the words have been buried inside him for a minute and needed to get out: “I was tryna eat some lunch/Days in the cold I was smokin’ on some runtz.” It lives up to its title.
Sample drill beats are mostly played out (unless your name is Shawny Binladen), but Zoeiana’s “Don’t Know My Name” is fun enough that it rises above the cheesy trend. The Harlem native calmly rides a clean flip of the Alicia Keys classic and confidently delivers threats with an eye roll. In a drill scene currently dominated by gruff voices and growling flows, her laid-back energy feels like a breath of fresh air.
World Tour Mafia are trying to have a good time and stack a little bread in the process. After putting out solid posse cuts, the young rappers that make up this Midwest crew have begun releasing solo mixtapes like DaeMoney’s Slae Season and Scoob’s Scoob & Sydney Tour the World. Next in line is WTM Milt, whose tape Dog$hit & Ammunition pairs his lethargic flow with a mix of woozy and hard-hitting beats. An early highlight is “Do Better,” where Milt raps over a beat chill enough for a Larry June tape, drenching his words in swag. Yes, the lyrics are pretty basic—but all that matters here is that he sounds cool.
Even if you’re a BabyTron skeptic, you have to admit that the dude really loves Michigan rap. On “Prince of the Mitten,” he pays homage to the last decade of the scene by hopping on 19 different noteworthy Michigan instrumentals in the span of four-and-a-half minutes. Though most of the beats are from the last two or three years, he also flips classics like Doughboyz Cashout’s “I Dog Hoes,” 80’s Baby and Peezy’s “A Week Ago,” and BandGang’s “Slippin.” He’s not just more than a meme, he’s a scholar.
When I click on a new Mach track I usually expect a drumless loop or a seamlessly flipped soul sample; ticking hi-hats are not usually part of his recipe, but he sounds right at home as a guest on Atlanta rapper Big Cheeko’s single “Spin Off.” In a short verse, Mach bounces between slickly delivered raps and that soothing singing voice he showed off on Pray for Haiti and Balens Cho. (The Cheeko verse is pretty good, too. I’ll check for his upcoming album, which is executive produced by Mach.) It opens up the possibilities for Mach moving forward—I bet he’d sound great on one of those thumping Black Noi$e beats you can find on Earl Sweatshirt’s new record, Sick!
jaydes shows love to the first wave of plugg on “Scam Likely.” Over a quintessential mid-2010s Mexikodro beat with all the fixings—Trap-A-Holics tag, money counter sample, ATL trap drums, twinkling keys—he tests out an emotionless delivery that makes him sound like a lost member of the Goth Money Records collective. It’s far removed from the lush, melody-driven take on plugg featured on jaydes’ SoundCloud page, but it’s an interesting glimpse at a subgenre that’s constantly being reinterpreted and revived.