Liveblogging Los’ New Mixtape With DJ Drama
Earlier this week, I logged onto the popular mixtape hub DatPiff.com to listen to some of hip-hop’s latest underground releases, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the banner at the top of the site counting down the day’s big new release was from Baltimore’s own Los. The eagerly anticipated The Crown Ain’t Safe is the Maryland freestyle master’s highest profile release to date, co-hosted by DJ Ill Will and mixtape legend DJ Drama (who first featured Baltimore rappers in his prestigious Gangsta Grillz series with 100 Grandman’s 2009 Welcome To Baltimore and Tony Austin’s 2010 The Influence). I often think back to the afternoon five years ago that the young rapper sat in my living room for an interview in this very paper and marvel at how far he’s come since then. So I decided to listen to the mixtape as soon as it became available this afternoon and offer some reactions in real time to what could very well be a breakout moment for Baltimore hip-hop’s most realistic hope for the mainstream right now:
1. “Make You Fly” featuring Jazze Pha
After a brief monologue by DJ Drama, Los comes out swinging with a hilarious gag about one of hip-hop’s biggest current stars: “I ain’t never change like Drake’s singing key.”
2. “Living My Dreams”
A cracking snare drum from producer Mike Cash backs this early highlight, in which Los recounts how his greatest successes have come well after an abortive stint on Bad Boy Records: “Six years ago I signed a record deal with Puffy Combs/ I told my city pop them bottles off, I’m comin’ home/ They see me fail so I hope everybody watchin’ this/ A champion’s only as good as the ones he missed.”
3. “King Los” featuring Lola Monroe
One of Los’s most frequent collaborators these days is LoLa Monroe, the female rapper from Washington, D.C. who first found fame in the hip-hop world as the eye candy model Angel Luv in countless popular rap videos. Her bars are nothing to write home about, but you can’t fault Los for hanging around with her, I suppose.
4. “Money Loud”
The producer of one of the biggest bangers of 2011, Meek Mill’s “Ima Boss,” contributes a track here, but it’s unfortunately a little closer to a generic Lex Luger track.
5. “Stroke Of Genius”
A short, aggressive song that ends with a dick joke.
6. “2 Vs 1″
The Young Boyz produce the first track of the mixtape that sounds like it has radio potential, with Los darting around a bleeping, thumping club beat with a playful flow reminiscent of the Trey Songz hit “Say Aah.”
7. “Wait For It”
Jazze Pha returns to produce a catchy, skeletal track that retains some of his signature claps and booming bass but little else to great effect, letting Los sprint around the track with a double-time flow.
8. “Biggest Fan” featuring Sean Hayz and Kid Ink
The mixtape’s first whiny R&B hook, courtesy of South Africa-by-way-of-Atlanta crooner Sean Hayz.
9. “What’s Good”
Things get back on track with one of the mixtape’s most relentlessly punchline-heavy tracks. So many quotable one-liners that I didn’t manage to catch one to quote.
10. “Shine” featuring Phil Ade
Regardless of whether the so-called “DMV movement” is actually uniting D.C., Maryland and Virginia or just expanding the territory of Washington artists, it’s always fun to hear rising Baltimore and Washington rappers band together, especially Phil Ade, who also collaborated with Mullyman earlier this year.
11. “Finally Here” featuring Twista
Los occasionally raps fast, but it’s more like another skill in his toolbox than his defining trait. Still, it’s fun to hear him paired up with the Chicago star widely regarded as the fastest rapper in the world (seriously, he’s in the Guinness Book). But instead of a speed rapping competition, “Finally Here” is a more serious track, with both MCs keeping it solemn and lyrical and mostly holding back on the pyrotechnics.
12. “All The Way To Church” featuring Jazze Pha
Once again Jazze Pha rears his head, shoehorning some of his circa 2005 obnoxious ad libs in between Los’s verses over the organ-heavy Battleroy production.
13. “Get It” featuring XV
This bombastic anthem feels like perhaps the best point of entry for Los offered on The Crown Ain’t Safe so far, showcasing both Los’s rapping and his underrated hook-writing abilities, while Lifted’s impressive production moves in peaks and valleys, mellowing out for a few bars just before the chorus explodes.
14. “Make You Proud” featuring Sean Hayz and DMX
Of all the big name artists lending Los a hand on this mixtape, easily the most surprising is DMX, the late ’90s New York rap superstar (who, we’re eager to point out, was born in Baltimore) currently making his latest comeback attempt after years of personal struggles. X spits some vintage grimy introspection, but the track is sunk by another limp Sean Hayz hook.
15. “Fast Lane” featuring Ernie Gaines
Ladies and gentleman, I am not pleased to inform you that there is a singer worse than Sean Hayz on this mixtape. In recent years, rappers have begun treating mixtapes more like albums in terms of songwriting and production values, but the downside of that is that they feel compelled to fill up these so-called “underground” releases for diehard hip-hop fans with wimpy R&B crossover tracks.
A lush, soulful track that puts the focus back on Los’s lyrics, as he fills up the first verse with a flurry of internal rhymes and alliteration. Like most mixtapes The Crown Ain’t Safe is undoubtedly frontloaded, so it’s good to hear a song this exciting this far in.
17. “Never Say Never” featuring Sean Hayz
One of the few Baltimore-based producers on the mixtape, J. Oliver (known for work with Greenspan and on Los’ Shooter mixtape) turns in a great track full of warm, brooding synths that almost make another Sean Hayz chorus bearable.
18. “Vintage Rolls Royce Interior”
It bears mentioning at this point that Los suffers from the same affliction as many of the new generation of mainstream rappers like Drake and J. Cole that he’s hoping to join in the mainstream: most of his lyrics are not just about his talent and riches but about how he’s destined for greatness, forever attempting to raise his commonplace music industry setbacks to some kind of epic drama. It’s not much more compelling coming from Los than from those guys, but he at least has a little more of a sense of humor about himself, which in addition to his raw lyrical talent may ultimately be his saving grace.
19. “Outro” featuring Sean Hayz
For the first time since the intro, we hear the mostly absent DJ Drama speak at length, although Los quickly takes the track over for one last self-aggrandizing rant about his up-and-down career. We got a fourth and final appearance by the annoyingly ubiqutious Sean Hayz, and then Los closes down the “album disguised as a mixtape” that is otherwise of a high enough quality that it just might be what takes his career to the next level in 2012.