Feb. 22

Baddie Recordings

Rap fans are like people stuck on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Hear me out.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of driving on New York City’s most useless road, imagine eight lanes of perpetual gridlock. If you don’t stay in your lane, you’ll miss your exit and get stuck in even more agonizing traffic.

Rap fandom is similarly saturated with enthusiasts, scared to switch lanes for fear of looking “soft” or “basic” or (gasp) like a “poser.” The beatmaker’s lane might be the hardest to navigate, already choked with big-name talents, whether it’s Dilla, The Neptunes, or DJ Premier. Even fans can admit it gets a little monotonous.

Now, imagine in the middle of all that cross-Bronx traffic, a motorcycle cuts past you, nimbly switching from lane to lane as if the roads were clear. This is what Thomas Kevin, aka FFFOOLERY, does with his debut beat tape, Raleighwood.

Departing from the usual sample-laden sound his listeners have become accustomed to via his prolific work with Kooley High, FFFOOLERY brings us on a voyage through G-funk-inspired melodies and drums, shimmering lo-fi synths, and cleverly placed vocal snippets that sprinkle subtle social commentary and philosophy into the mix. The project is experimental for a hip-hop beat album without going off the deep end into weirdness, taking on a very familiar West Coast vibe. There’s a little bit of Dre, a little bit of The Gap Band, and yes, a little bit of Dilla (for the culture).

A prime example is “For Philando,” which sounds like something from the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack, complete with a vocoded vocal in which FFFOOLERY laments Philando Castile’s death, saying, “You couldn’t survive just taking a ride in your own damn neighborhood.” It’s a fascinating intersection; G-funk’s rise to prominence was fueled by the unearthing of police brutality in Los Angeles thirty years ago, and the issue hasn’t disappeared from our cultural identity.

Though West Coast inspiration may seem odd for a producer based in the South, the cradle of trap, Raleighwood is a smart beat tape which never feels repetitive and has a captivating ability to induce both constant head knocking and a euphoric sense of calm. If you’re looking for an instrumental album to get lost in as spring approaches and to free yourself from the gridlock of contemporary rap, this is the soundtrack. Check the “$Death” premiere at indyweek.com.