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Le1f - Blue Dream EP Music Album Reviews

Le1f - Blue Dream EP Music Album Reviews

Dropping the club-centric vibe of his previous work, the New York rapper shifts toward trap and Top 40 rap sounds—an unconventional move that might be more progressive than it seems.

Just as Le1f’s energetic, experimental debut album lived up to its title, Riot Boi, the name of his new EP is fitting. Gracing the cover with middle fingers raised to his bloodshot eyes, the genre-busting rapper (aka Khalif Diouf) titled the record after a particularly relaxing strain of marijuana, and—surprise!–dropped it on 4/20. But Blue Dream isn’t just a not-so-subtle reference to weed culture; it’s also a sonic departure from the club-influenced, dancefloor hip-hop Le1f is known for. While still drenched in his trademark flair, shade, and rapid-fire bars, the record’s beats and production feel more like part of the contemporary rap landscape.

“Blublockers” opens with a hollow, steel-drum-like hook that could be straight off an early Gucci Mane mixtape. A signature trap beat shuffles in before Le1f turns the whole thing on his head, rhyming a mile a minute instead of giving into the track’s syrupy tide. “They wanna cut-copy-paste/I hit delete, I don’t even see ‘em” he spits, with the cockiness he’s effortlessly showcased his entire career. “Yo,” the EP’s opener, feels even more like a new direction, but not necessarily an exciting one: A truly straightforward trap number, it seems rushed next to the type of meticulously produced music that has kept Le1f relevant all these years. His voice sounds weirdly out of place, almost a hair ahead of the beat, as if his speedy rhymes are too intelligent for the woozy beat.

That being said, this definitely isn’t a case of a popular underground artist abandoning their sound for a mainstream bid, and Le1f’s dedication to the genres that shaped him still shines through. “Fatty Acid” is driven by an effervescent beat that’s almost reminiscent of New Orleans bounce, or that sweet spot in pop/dancehall fusion right before Major Lazer took over the airwaves. “Ay yo, New York/The sales is goin’ down at Trader Hoe’s, y’all!” yells Le1f as the track begins, expertly walking the line between banjee realness and hard-edged Brooklyn swag, a space he has rightfully claimed as his own over the years.

While the EP lacks some of the immediacy of, say, his jittery club banger “Koi,” it’s a worthy stab at something slower and darker than the party vibes he’s known for—which may be a more progressive gesture on his part than it seems at first glance. Although rap still has its issues with inclusivity, some of the most innovative players in hip-hop right now have made a name for themselves by aesthetically redefining their masculinity (think Young Thug or Lil B’s fashion choices, or even Migos’ obsession with Versace silk). This may have helped create an environment where the indiscriminate “gay rapper” headline has lost some of its newsworthiness, and in 2018, that’s a good thing. It’s a position that Le1f himself has always seemed wary of: “I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with it,” he told The Daily Beast back in 2012. “As a child, I used to imagine that I would be shot on stage or something just for being a gay rapper. Now I feel it’s more and more probable that there are going to be several cool, mainstream gay rappers in the next few years.” Moving his own music toward the mainstream is one way of making good on that prophecy.

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