New Music Tuesday :: The Rise and Fall of Two Rap Empires by Danny Madion
Looking Back on What Made Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator’s Entourages So Great
2015 has been an unparalleled year for rap music, blessed with genre-pushing albums from Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Big Sean among others. The year is only going to get better, with highly anticipated projects from Kanye, Lil Wayne, and Drake (again). However, with what seems to be the pinnacle of rap music since the early 2000’s, comes the crumbling of two of rap’s greatest entourages: Young Money/Cash Money and Odd Future.
Young Money/Cash Money
Around age 11, Lil Wayne was discovered by New Orleans rapper Bryan “Birdman” Williams and eventually signed to Cash Money Records. From this point on is history–Wayne dropped out of school at age 14 to pursue his rap career, progressively gaining notoriety and breaking through to mainstream with his song “Fireman” from Tha Carter II. Now, after starting his own recording company with Cash Money Records called Young Money Entertainment, Wayne is in a very public legal battle with his lifelong mentor, Birdman. Suing for allegedly withheld royalties of $51 million, the Young Money/Cash Money alliance has come to an end. Drake, another YMCM figurehead, is currently transitioning out of his record deal. Meanwhile Wayne continues to trash Birdman in the media, blaming the delay of his album, Tha Carter V, on Cash Money Records.
With the future of YMCM largely uncertain, I reminisce on some of my favorite songs, separated by artist:
Lil Wayne: A Millie
With a classic beat by Bangladesh, for 3:41 Lil Wayne spits continuously, not even stopping for a chorus. This sort of chorus-less rapping has become fairly standard nowadays, but “A Millie” was one of the first songs to popularize the technique. Wayne rolls out pun after pun, each time I listen I seem to find another (ex: Even Gwen Stefani said she couldn’t doubt me…literally just got that)
Nicki Minaj: Monster Feature
Perhaps one of the greatest rap verses of all time, Minaj overpowers seasoned veterans Rick Ross, Kanye, and Jay-Z on “Monster.” Showcasing her alter egos of Roman Zolanski and Barbie, Minaj flawlessly rap battles against herself, leaving ‘Ye and Jay in the dust. The video, posted above, was removed from all major music video streaming services for its abundance of blood and gore. Minaj, who’s often compared to Eminem for his alter-ego Slim Shady, has a track together with Marshall titled “Roman’s Revenge” where they simultaneously flaunt their alter-egos.
Tyga x Chris Brown: Ayo
More famous at the moment for his “scandalous” relationship with Kylie Jenner, Tyga is another staple of the Young Money brand. Having established himself as a charting rapper with the song “Rack City” in 2012, Tyga has yet to match his breakthrough success. That’s not to say that Tyga hasn’t put out some quality rap since 2012–one of my favorites comes from his collaboration album with Chris Brown, titled “Ayo.”
Drake: Tuscan Leather
Drake, yet another figurehead of Young Money, has had an amazing year thus far. His “mixtape,” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, broke Spotify streaming records and supposedly freed him of contractual obligations with Cash Money, allowing the Toronto-based rapper to release under his October’s Very Own (OVO) label. Having recently signed another contract with Sprite, Drake is clearly one of today’s hottest rappers. Tuscan Leather is the opening track from his 2013 release Nothing Was The Same, sampling “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. Like “A Millie,” the track lacks a clear chorus, focusing more on lyricism over catchiness, even closing with a Curtis Mayfield sample.
Okay, I know that drawing a comparison between Young Money and Odd Future (OF) is a stretch, but in their short-lived career Odd Future made a huge impact on rap music. Started around ’07 in LA by Tyler the Creator and friends, the label really began to gain traction when Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean signed in the following few years. Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of Odd Future’s music, but respected what they did for the rap game. Odd Future was a lot more than a rap group, they were a brand. Tyler managed to appeal to a younger demographic who otherwise didn’t listen to much rap, actively connecting with fans through mediums like Tumblr, Twitter, and Vine time (to this day, Tyler primarily tweets in all caps). Teenagers regularly donned Tyler’s designs and imitated their use of an upside-down cross. OF made rap punk by spitting vulgar lyrics and holding mosh-pit ridden performances. In their short seven or eight years, Odd Future released extremely diverse content, ranging from Frank Ocean’s soulful R&B to Earl Sweatshirt’s almost grungy rap. Unlike Young Money, no large events broke the friends apart, it just kind of slowly happened. Below are three of Odd Future’s headliners and some of their best songs:
Tyler, the Creator: Yonkers
“Yonkers” is likely Tyler’s most famous solo song, due partially to the notoriety of the video. The song is classic Odd Future, featuring comically absurd lyrics like “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus” …lyrics many critics had a hard time reviewing Tyler’s songs, unable to grasp his jokingly crude lyrics. In the video, Tyler dons entirely black contacts, something both Kanye and Kendrick have done in recent years—showcasing the influence of Odd Future’s creativity in the industry.
Earl Sweatshirt: Sunday ft. Frank Ocean
Earl is perhaps the most critically acclaimed rapper from OF, but also the most elusive. His first single album Doris debuted to widespread praise and featured a very different sound than his Odd Future friends. Earl, fresh from a forced trip to correctional boarding school, raps about a saddened view on life and strained relationships with his girlfriend and mother. “Sunday” is brutally honest and features a rare guest appearance by Odd Future member Frank Ocean.
Frank Ocean: Pink Matter ft. Andre 3000
Frank is my personal favorite Odd Future member and, like Earl, very different from his counterparts. Before signing with OF, Ocean ghostwrote for artists such as John Legend and Justin Bieber. His debut album Channel Orange dropped a week earlier than expected on iTunes and was quickly regarded as one of the best albums of the decade. Armed with an exceptional ability to write, produce, sing and rap, Ocean’s album is an incredible piece of work and I encourage you to take the time to listen through–there is no way you’ll be disappointed. Here, I highlight my favorite track, featuring an elusive Andre 3000 of Outkast. Look for a new Ocean album sometime this summer, rumored to feature more rapper-Frank than R&B-Frank.