Shady Blaze - "2. Dirt On My Name (produced by Squadda B)" (Shady Bambino Project)
I’ve been thinking about hip hop again recently in lieu of Kanye West’s media blitz, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All’s post-Jimmy Fallon ubiquity, Wiz Khalifa’s Super Bowl anthem, and the seemingly endless string of delays endured by Pusha T’s Fear of God mixtape. This feels like an interesting time to be a fan and it’s hard to go a day without hearing about a new Lil B mixtape or what Curren$y is doing or who Wiz is teaming up with next. After three months of listening, though, an emptiness has set in. This sort of excitement is being drummed up for what, exactly? Yeezy aside, why are these guys considered the pinnacle of the genre right now?
It would be easy to blame this on my fondness for coke-rap, whose crystalline paranoia and glittering glass houses invited analysis as much as chintzy, easily duplicated 808s and incessant hi-hats. But it’s not just the production, it’s the actual rhymesayers themselves. Days spent treading through legions of hastily assembled Datpiff rips net exactly what you’d expect from spliff-fueled spitters: scores of funky, feel-good weed-rap anthems full of mind-numbingly base jokes and giggling wastelands. The alternative isn’t much better: blockheaded brute force courtesy of Waka Flocka Flame and equally degrading antics by adolescents who hoodwinked the media into believing we haven’t seen this before.
The Shady Bambino Project, a new mixtape from the Oakland-based Green Ova posse, offers an alternative to happy-go-lucky weed-rap and underwhelming shock tactics. Helming the “chapter”-based clan is duo Squadda Bambino and MondreMAN as Main Attrakionz, but here Squadda B teams up with Velocity Shady Blaze as Green Ova Undergrounds. Squadda, who raps with Main Attrakionz, sticks to producing and lets Shady do all the talking. The result, up for free on their Bandcamp page, is the most memorable mixtape I’ve chanced upon this year.
That Squadda produces all 10 tracks works heavily in the tape’s favor. Unlike a typical outing of this nature, The Shady Bambino Project sticks to a tight aesthetic that feels like it’s stepping out of the weed-rap comfort zone. Instead of an obscure funk loop copped from the latest Numero Group reissue, the beats avoid hard-hitting horns and boom-bap stylings for a slippery ethereality. Rather than eccentric soul, then, you get Annie Lennox on “We Rollin.” The chorus of “Green Ova Takin Ova” sounds like Mount Kimbie screwed. The atmosphere’s spacious throughout, with “Ridin Wit G.O.” employing a radar “ping” as its melody and half of “Feelin Good” playing as though it’s coming from another room. That use of space, of distance really, keeps things uneasy.
That it meshes so easily with Shady’s deceptive delivery is the secret to The Shady Bombino Project‘s success. The album starts with Shady literally lighting up, but the copping of other rappers’ sounds stops there. Having learned from his influences – Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Twista, Busta Rhymes, E-40, and others were named in a recent interview – Shady can slow to a Houston snail’s crawl before picking it up to hit double-speed, an ability one wouldn’t expect from a guy who starts the mixtape by flicking his lighter. I was reminded of a less violent, more nasal Freddie Gibbs or Shabazz Palaces in his delivery. Even so, as with the music, Squadda triple-tracks Shady’s vocals to take the sharpness off his voice and keep him at arm’s length. The trick has the opposite effect, making Shady appear as if though he is rhyming everywhere around you at once.
If only that were the case. Instead, breathless anticipation for a probable disappointment and life in a semi-coherent haze carry most of the attention. Same as it ever was: The last time the Bay Area attracted national attention was the 15 minutes of hyphy, which ultimately got swallowed by coke-rap. The limelight was short-lived, but the long-term dividends are more handsome: With a separate and largely ignored rap culture to grow from, The Green Ova Undergrounds and the Green Ova posse at large, are free to make the most interesting music in the genre right now without the weight of Twitter on their shoulders. That’s something to be excited about.