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.
Over the holidays, Big Sean was on my mind. Not because of the recent song where Chief Keef raps about picking Big Sean up with a chopstick. It was because I learned that he has a recurring role on the BET sitcom Twenties as a zen, vocally unplugged photographer named Tristan. It’s a mediocre show—helmed by Lena Waithe, who is not new to mediocrity—that the algorithm has been putting in front of my eyes for months. I finally gave in. Given its mid-ness, Twenties is the perfect fit for a rapper whose music only inspires shrugs followed by someone saying, “It could be worse, I guess.”
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The series, which wrapped up its second season last month, is a low-stakes comedy about three women who are navigating professional and romantic obstacles (shades of Insecure, but less fun). Big Sean is the love interest of Nia, an aspiring actress. They meet in a yoga studio, where he uses the pickup line, “Thank you for deepening my stretch.” Then comes the worst first date proposal since Common tried to woo a woman on “Break My Heart” by telling her she would have to do the dishes: “I’m going to the helipad tonight to look at some stars tonight if you wanna roll?” Big Sean delivers the dialogue in what he believes is a smooth and sexy R&B-album-monologue voice, but it’s actually about as creepy as J. Cole’s sex raps. In later episodes, his subplot involves Nia being unsure if she wants to date a man who is difficult to communicate with because of his refusal to go back on the grid and buy a cellphone.
To be fair, though, Big Sean is far from the worst rapper-turned-actor. But the bar is low; I’ve sat through the Game in the cursed Belly 2, which, despite the title, is not actually a canon sequel to Belly. The real issue in Twenties is the writing, which gives Big Sean dialogue so cringey that I’m not even sure a more charismatic actor could have pulled it off: There’s one episode where he says he’s so “different” from other Black dudes because he wears moccasins, and another where he whisper-screams at Nia, “I don’t wanna be a slave to technology!” Maybe the next time I watch Sean it’ll turn out better, though given what he’s been working on, that doesn’t seem likely. According to a recent interview, his next role just might see him reprising his role as a pampered animated pooch in the sequel to the 2019 Netflix movie Dog Gone Trouble.
In which Rylo wails, “Everyone I love, they leave/Make me want to kidnap trees.” It makes no sense, but I feel him.
The Dijon album is OK, but this one had me hypnotized.
If you’re like me and have spent the last year and change with Amaarae’s “SAD GURLZ LUV MONEY”on loop then you are familiar with the sweet-voiced Moliy, who has some sick songs of her own.
E-Wuu is decent, but skip to the 1:05 mark. Lee Drilly is one of the coldest rappers in the BX.
I found carbine after digging through the SoundCloud page of Leroy, the dariacore alt page of New Jersey digicore artist dltzk. I’m grateful.
I’m tired of scouring leak pages for new Veeze songs. Someone please inform him about this new thing called streaming services.
When you work at Pitchfork.com some things are inevitable.
I watched actor and director Takeshi Kitano’s 2000 yakuza bromance Brother for the first time and my main two takeaways were 1) Omar Epps is cool as hell and 2) the sleek and orchestral Joe Hisaishi soundtrack might be one of my favorites.
Am I tripping or is this the best Rx Papi tape?
A classic rap album.
Jugg Harden—a pseudonym that must have been spit out by a rap name generator—had a few noisemaking singles in the Michigan rap scene last year. For me, though, he’s been hit-or-miss, delivering his punchlines in a steely monotone that can come off boring. But the laid-back flow works on “Necessary,” the last track on his new tape Rookie of the Year, where he glides over a Helluva groove that feels like it’s moving in slow motion. It’s like he’s giving a leisurely sermon on how to properly chase the bag.
If you’re looking for a fun mixtape, try Tae Dawg’s Oozin Dawg 2. The flow-switching rapper has an ear for distinct DMV-area beats only rivaled by Lil Gray. No matter whether the production has shades of moody R&B or synths bright enough for a Yeat tape, it’s paired with the blown-out percussion that’s fast become the region’s specialty. On “Mil Ticket,” those characteristic drums ride over brooding piano keys, as Tae Dawg whisper-raps diabolical punchlines (“Hollows slide through yo’ Canada Goose yo’ feathers gon’ get plucked”) and references “ooze” more often than the first Power Rangers movie.
The Detroit duo Los and Nutty’s Panagnl4e, Vol. 3 belongs on the shortlist of the city’s best mixtapes of the last half-decade. Though I’ve given more of my attention to Los, whose weathered voice and solo tapes with Topside particularly stand out, WB Nutty is no slouch. Fuck What Ya Heard isn’t his first solo tape, but it’s the one that’s made it clear both halves of the pair are essential pieces of the Michigan rap scene. “Taxin” might be his best solo record to date. Over a beat that could be played by a marching band, Nutty delivers his trademark blend of rap dreams and colorful trap tales. I won’t leave him out of the conversation any longer.
This New Year’s Day, Johnny Cinco released Hood Drake 2, and it’s good enough to forgive his attempts at making the tape’s titular nickname stick. “No Stunts” counts as an early standout, with the monotone Atlanta crooner in his comfort zone over a moody trap beat. Johnny Cinco won’t wow anyone with his singing, but it’s more about the #vibes as he rattles off lavish scenes with the nonchalance of a spoiled prince: riding in a luxury car with tons of women and running up the bill in Louis Vuitton for no reason except that he can. It just might give you sweet dreams about what your day would look like with a fatter bank account.
Lord knows what he would have done if they called him Khalid.