Blue Chips: June 2020 in New Hip-Hop
Blue Chips is a monthly rap column that doubles as a scouting report. Each month, SPIN selects a new starting five, a group of rappers who could be Rookie of the Year candidates turned Hall-of-Famers or forgettable flashes in the pan. Only the passing seasons (and the number of streams) will tell. To read previous columns, click here.
Bfb Da Packman – “Northside Ghetto Soulja”
Like ODB before him, Bfb Da Packman raps the way he likes his sex: raw. His antipathy for condoms is rivaled only by his love of donuts. On “Fuck Condoms” from his 2019 album Std, he combines his carnal desires with his preferred pastry: “Kinky n****, stick my dick through a donut, tell her suck it.” Compared to the rest of his catalog, this is tame. The Flint, Michigan native writes every verse to shock the listener into laughing, the line between absurdity and sincerity, fact and fiction, both irrelevant and the thrust of the joke. Does he moonlight as a credit card scammer? If you believe his collaboration with scam rapper Teejayx6 (“ScamYouLous”), yes. Does he have an STD? We only know that no one has ever sounded so elated copping to one via adlib: “I got drip (chlamydia!) / I need a doctor” (“To Go Plate”). This quasi-troll rap for fans of Eric Andre and Zack Fox, people who want to see how far someone is willing to take the joke.
Bfb has been rapping since at least 2014 (see “Lemonade”), but he was relatively unknown until he released the Sada Baby-assisted single “Free Joe Exotic” last week. The video now has over 1 million views. Listeners were likely drawn in by Sada, the Detroit rapper responsible for combining comedy and Draco-toting menace to make some of the best rap music in recent memory. But they probably stayed for Bfb, who makes self-deprecation sound hard and raps lines like, “I’m super healthy, mixing syrup with the Jamba Juice / you ever got head from a fiend that was snaggletoothed?”
In the “Free Joe Exotic” video, Bfb wears a hoodie that reads “Still HIV Positive.” This is a running joke that began with the video for “Northside Ghetto Soulja,” which might be Bfb’s best song and the best distillation of what makes him so hilarious and appealing. Here he dons a crew neck that reads “HIV Positive” and raps about everything from growing up in public housing to having sex while listening to Vince Staples. Personal revelation and ridiculousness coexist. It’s a low budget video where Bfb struts in socks and sandals while calling himself the next Biggie, no Diddy co-sign necessary. The video and some of the more earnest lyrical content (e.g., his father leaving his family) might offer a peek into his real life. Or maybe he rolled up to a random apartment building to rap about imagined (or not?) phone calls with Drake. Without a Netflix documentary, we may never know. But there’s no denying how much fun Bfb is having while he makes us guess.
Chito Rana$ – “North Sac Baby”
California Penal Code Section 186.22. This is the multifaceted gang enhancement law that the state should’ve abolished years ago. The law’s definition of a gang is so loose that it could be applied to tagging crew as easily as members of the police. Historically and today, prosecutors use this absurdly punitive law to add years to the cases of suspected gang members or gang affiliates. L.A.’s deputy DA used this law when prosecuting rapper Drakeo the Ruler and his group the Stinc Team, which the DA claims is a gang. They’re not. Now, Chito Rana$, one of the most prominent rappers in northern Sacramento, must beat his case and a set of enhancement charges. (We could not find charges for Chito’s original arrest, but you can listen to him talk about the case here.)
Like Drakeo, like Mac Dre, and countless other rappers, Chito got locked up just as he was beginning to blow up. Before the arrest, Chito was briefly affiliated with King Lil G. When their relationship soured, he founded his Mala Records label and released songs like the bilingual “Patrullando” and the ominous “Riches,” both of which have over one million views on YouTube. “North Sac Baby,” though, remains his biggest song and continues to gain traction while he awaits trial. The beat and his flow are indebted to the sound of L.A. street rap. The former is dark but bouncing, the sound of trying to turn up while paranoid and forever looking over your shoulder. With numbed nonchalance, Chito raps about riding around with a military-grade arsenal. Hopefully, unlike Drakeo and far too many rappers, his lyrics won’t be used against him in court.
ovrkast. – “Try Again”
Oakland, California-based producer/rapper ovrkast. has been dropping instrumental releases on Bandcamp since 2016. Full of jagged, quietly knocking, and sometimes jazz-heavy beats with layers of clipped and distorted samples, most of his projects call to mind the work of prolific producer Knxwledge. If you didn’t discover ovrkast. on Bandcamp, though, you may have heard his beat for “El Toro Combo Meal” on Earl Sweatshirt’s Feet of Clay. Earlier this year, ovrkast. released his first rap project, Try Again.
Try Again features some of ovrkast.’s best production to date and features from Earl Sweatshirt collaborators Mavi and Navy Blue. Ovrkast. doesn’t rap with the same confidence as his compatriots, his delivery low and sometimes mumbled, but this seems like an artistic choice to complement the production. “Try Again” is the heart of his debut, the impetus for its release and a mission statement. Over a halting beat with a melody of blue piano notes, ovrkast. raps to combat every anxious, self-defeating voice in his head. Like much of Try Again, it’s about perseverance in the face of your greatest obstacle—yourself. Whether his next project features beats, raps, or both, ovrkast. will likely sound more assured.
Saviii 3rd – “Walkin Licc” (feat. Shordie Shordie)
“You gotta read the labels.” GZA’s dictum has been true since the ink dried on the first recording contract in history. East Long Beach rapper Saviii 3rd learned this lesson twice over. After things fell apart with Long Beach forebear Warren G, Saviii signed with Cash Money West. Unlike Blueface, who will probably be paying for Birdman’s hand lotion long after he finds the beat, Saviii got out of his contract after 2019’s All Eyez on 3.
Deal or no, Saviii remains one of the biggest rappers in Los Angeles’s accepted rap renaissance of the last several years. (Long Beach is the southernmost point in L.A. county.) Snowboy 2, the avowed Crip’s first independent project post Cash Money, features other renowned members of that L.A. class, including 1takejay, Rucci, and Almighty Suspect. Throughout, Saviii raps and croons about life on 21st and Locust in his strained, slightly raspy voice. His voice gives every word greater resonance. You can hear the pain he felt in losing friends to gang life and losing years of his life in prison. And you can understand the urgency that courses through every verse as much as you can his intolerance for IG thugs.
Snowboy 2 dropped in December, but Saviii’s receiving another deserved wave of recognition with the release of the video for “Walkin Licc.” Arguably one of Saviii’s best songs, Saviii sounds elated flexing his Cuban links and Givenchy. With an assist from Shordie Shordie— Baltimore’s answer to 03 Greedo, who’s appeared on songs with LA rappers like Shoreline Mafia and Azjah—it also ranks as one of the catchiest tracks in Saviii’s catalog. Ideally, “Walkin Licc” takes off and Saviii never needs a label again.
Vince Ash – “Vito”
Artists outside of L.A. will continue to borrow Dr. Dre’s hydraulic bounce. Three 6 Mafia’s shadow will extend beyond Memphis forever. But rap will never be entirely post-regional. To varying degrees, lyrics will always be rooted in the areas that shaped the person writing them. The 219 doesn’t have a nationally recognized sound, but Vince Ash and his music were molded by his life in Hammond and Gary, Indiana, two significantly impoverished (see here and here) and consequently crime-stricken cities that share the area code.
Ash’s 2018 debut Do or Die (POW Recordings) was a document of the 20 odd years that preceded it, the struggles he inherited and the life-threatening hustles necessary to survive an itinerant childhood as one of six children with a single mom. This was grim, funereal trap music complete with haunting choral samples (“6 Feet”). Numb to the sound of gunshots and police sirens, Ash narrated fatalistic rides through enemy territory up and down the I-80 (“Pull Up”). 2Pac comparisons were inevitable, but you hear it mostly in the tone of his voice, the passion and bass therein. The writing hewed closer to Scarface. Ash didn’t apologize for the sins he was forced to commit, but he did consider the eternal ramifications.
“Vito” is the first single from his recently released sophomore album of the same name. Here and elsewhere (“Mafia Music”) on the short but powerful project, you can hear shades of the Three 6 Mafia. Over quaking bass and clipping percussion, Ash switches between half-whispered, half-sung rhymes about surveying the opposition and booming declarations that he’ll pull up when necessary. With “Vito” you can hear how Ash has improved since Do or Die. His cadences are more in the pocket, his delivery more assured. The tropes remain the same, but so does the 219.