Main Attrakionz - "Take 1 (feat. ASAP Rocky)" (808s & Dark Grapes II)
Hazarding a guess at the future of San Francisco’s Green Ova crew was a fun but futile game when we last mentioned them in early April. At that point, there was Squadda B’s I Smoke Because I Don’t Care About Death, a few month-spanning compilations, and a whole lot of potential loaded with the combustibility both of the Bay Area rap scene’s national legacy and rap vis-à-vis the Internet hype machine’s goldfish memory and voracious appetite for that new new. Maybe they’d make an album built on Warsaw samples, a la BLKHRTS. Maybe they’d hit on an Adderall opus (Danny Brown must’ve told them he had it covered). Maybe they’d do nothing, disappearing in a haze of rising mist, unnoticed in the long shadow of Lil B’s Christ_the_Redeemer.gif stance. The disorienting pleasures of The Shady Bombino Project were great, yet they felt worryingly fleeting.
They’ll say they didn’t plan it this way, but disheartening impermanence has come to be their strongest trait. The Green Ova crew went from minnows in the tank to money in the bank in an astonishingly short time: Their minds, once tunnel vision teenage wastelands, have rapidly taken on a distorted form where topics smear into one another and complex emotions ride roughshod over tracks produced by everyone from Main Attrakionz member Squadda B to Tumblr-rap producer du jour Clams Casino. I don’t know exactly when cloud-rap became a thing, but late April’s Blackberry Ku$h might’ve had something to do with it. There was MondreMAN’s surprisingly addictive trap-hop on Dope Since ‘91. There was Squadda’s ode to the beat on Rappers Ain’t $#!% Without a Producer. There was whatever the hell Chandelier was about. You’re getting the idea, but let me drive the point home that we’re up to something like 10 or 11 albums now. It’s a long night on Bandcamp for the uninitiated.
And then there’s 808s & Dark Grapes II. The Main Attrakionz duo (Squadda and Mondre) has emerged as ringleaders of the posse and their latest freebie released (I guess?) through Mishka is one of rap’s bright spots this year, driftwood thoughts from all corners of their collective psyche swerving between the half-awake beats of Clams and likeminded cohorts AHYVE, Floyd Waybetter and other up-and-comers from the Bay scene.
Like the artwork, the addictive New Age melody of opener “Bossalinis & Fooliyones pt. 2” nails the mood of this album. Easing you into it, the slightly nasal, out-of-breath Squadda and the more gruff Mondre trade verses at the forefront of the mix, which shifts as you move through “Diamond of God” and the deep, surprisingly soothing “Chuch.” Whether they’re right up front (“Vegetables”) or toward the back (“Take 1”), the deftness with which vocals trade places with the music is one of the real highlights of this album. Whether it be a Heatmakerz high-pitched cop like “Paperwork” or the deeply soulful “Perfect Skies,” both Squadda and Mondre make themselves at home no matter the style of beat or amount of reverb.
About what those voices are saying: Here Squadda and Mondre have completed the transition from focused one-trick-per-album hustlers to emcees loosened by lexicon and topic alike. They’ve shown an increasing vulnerability and willingness to turn outward as the year has gone on, but Squadda rapping, "Doubtin’ myself cause I don’t think the world can relate / To my surprise everyone does so have faith" on “Take 1” hits both on the wider scope of issues and the impact they’re having. 808s & Dark Grapes II talks weed and girls and shunning responsibility for a good time, but it also talks a lack of direction, incessant self-doubt, and life in a less-than-glamorous neighborhood and what that means as a spectator, of which both Attrakionz seem keenly aware. It’s the synthesis of everything they’ve chipped away at this year, proper palaver as transcendent worldview.
The conflict manifests itself in show-off braggadocio wrestling questionable faith all over these tracks. You enjoy it, but you worry for the outcome. "And that’s assuming I’mma live that long / If I don’t, don’t cry / ‘cause I ain’t live that wrong / just an artist in the purist form / I live that song." This line follows Squadda’s announcement of a record coming in November. Dark grapes and details seem to put a damper on every moment of hope here, which makes the experience all the more compelling.
“Nothin’ Gonna Change” is the sixth of 15 tracks, just off center. It feels intentional since life is pivoting slightly off in a whirlwind of evolving styles and attitudes for these guys – by the time this review goes up, this record will be out of date. They’ll already have had another YouTube video or Tumblr post or demo mp3 on Twitter or Bandcamp. Everything will have changed. The upside to this disheartening impermanence is that Main Attrakionz’ creativity feeds off it. They need to feel eternally behind, eternally out of place, eternally losing the battle with the present. Whether they ultimately reject the responsibilities of the adult world or not doesn’t matter right now; watching them work it out in their verses as time slips away is the best gift they can give.