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Freddie Gibbs/Madlib - Bandana Music Album Reviews

On their second album as a duo, Madlib and Freddie Gibbs pull themselves deeper into one another’s worlds.
On paper, Freddie Gibbs, a straight-shooting street rapper, and Madlib, an eccentric tinkerer, are as mouth-watering a combo as licorice and pickle juice. But their collaborative 2014 album Piñata succeeded because the two are equally uncompromising: Madlib tailors beats to his eclectic ears alone, while Gibbs insists that he can rap over anything. Kindred spirits, the pair bonded through mutual gumption.

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BlocBoy JB - Don’t Think That Music Album Reviews

BlocBoy JB has a habit of starting or promoting things that become more popular than he is. This seven-song mixtape is his attempt to combat that.

Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB’s most important contribution to pop culture may never earn him the credit he deserves. He created the now-viral “Shoot” dance for a song of the same name. Fortnite ripped it off, Usain Bolt performed it as a celebration during his soccer debut, and it appeared at the World Cup this summer. A microcosm of the ways rap culture dominates culture at large without concomitant representation for the people who create it, “Shoot” will likely leave BlocBoy JB behind as its originator. BlocBoy’s year-capping, seven-track mixtape, Don’t Think That, feels like an overture made with relevance in mind, an effort to stay seen amid a fast-moving attention economy. Its songs are good but mostly inessential.

Don’t Think That isn’t as strong as Simi, JB’s Drake-cosigned May breakout stacked with vivid off-brand quips and threats so bizarre they seemed only half-serious. He was respected in the hood like a preacher wearing Gucci and Louis sneakers, and you were dancing with the devil while he danced with Cinderellas. Bars about guns seemed almost whimsical; the songs themselves, fun. But these new tracks don’t press zonked-out shoot-’em-ups into minor-key thumpers. This is due, in part, to fewer Tay Keith beats. No beatmaker had a better year than he did, from “Look Alive” to “Nonstop,” but he produced only two songs on this tape, “Club Rock” and “Bacc Street Boys.” BlocBoy sounds best scooting through them, his voice sloping perfectly into their gaps. JB and Keith share an undeniable chemistry, one not even Drake could replicate in several attempts. His absence here changes the tenor of the entire tape. Beats from Babyxwater, DMacTooBangin, and Kyle Resto box BlocBoy into the sounds of the rap moment—spaced-out trap and Auto-Tune—and his songs lose their signature.

The hooks aren’t as catchy here, either, and the verses aren’t as snappy as those of Simi. Like many of those songs, these only have one verse, too. But Simi’s verses were more purposeful and conscious of their economy, creating a 48-minute jaunt with a nice arc. In this 15-minute run, though, getting eight or 16 bars a pop means getting short-changed, especially with JB’s tottering rap style. The writing is less imaginative, plucking the lowest-hanging fruit for punchlines. He even recycles one such line—about “pulling cards like Yu-Gi-Oh”—from Simi. For a stopgap release, Don’t Think That is serviceable, producing at least one daring maneuver in “Crip Lit,” a left-field half-ballad that slathers Auto-Tuned croons onto guitar licks. But nothing about these songs indicates even lateral movement, much less progress.

Still, BlocBoy can quickly seize momentum. Even when the songs are inert, his fitful performances suggest forward motion. “Rich Hoes” sounds like the scooped-out guts of G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” but BlocBoy salvages it with flows that fold where they shouldn’t. He jerks them out of pocket and then thrusts them abruptly back on beat. His greatest strength is that his raps are almost casually slapstick in performance and execution. And his sense for swing is almost as pointed as his comedic timing. He likes to drag out rhyme schemes, changing up the pace to throw you off. Stretching a scheme like this is an underrated skill that requires patience and finesse, like lining up dominos in an array. It’s one that BlocBoy regularly deploys.

JB is at his best when he uses these lurching flows to construct lasting images. During one sequence of “Club Rock,” he spends $20,000 on soap while reminiscing about taking his gun to school and wearing matching Dickies. But he gets even better on “Bloc”: “Shots in your stomach, bitch, how you gon’ eat?/I’m gettin’ head while I’m brushin’ my teeth/Walk in this bitch like my name Mr. T,” he raps, sketching out a caricature. Such moments drive his songs, but there just aren’t nearly enough of them on Don’t Think That. This is BlocBoy JB’s attempt to stay as current as the things he helped make popular but are now more popular than he is—the “Shoot” dance and Tay Keith’s production, namely. In so doing, he only widens those gaps.


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