“Who do we have to sacrifice for MF DOOM to get a Gangsta Grillz!?” —Yoh, "What Happened to Authentic Gangsta Grillz Mixtapes?"
J.I.D’s “Off Deez”—the second single from his highly anticipated album, DiCaprio 2—begins with a sample of Atlanta’s crunk maestro, Lil Jon, repeating “gangsta” three times in his big, boisterous voice. Anyone familiar with DJ Drama’s famed Gangsta Grillz mixtape series will hear the short tagline and recall a bygone era of Datpiff downloads and LimeWire viruses. If “Off Deez” found J.I.D rapping over Drake’s “Nonstop,” Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE,” or Cardi B’s “Money” instead of original production from ChaseTheMoney, it would’ve been a nostalgic throwback to when rappers proved their prowess over the beats of peers and legends.
To have a Gangsta Grillz in the aughts meant your pen committed acts of arson. The mixtape brand wasn’t for the industry’s most popular songwriters, but for the insatiable and fervent rappers who were skilled in wordplay and punchlines.
DJ Drama brought the best out of—and made underground classics with—Lil Wayne, Fabolous, T.I., Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, Pharrell, and countless others. Gangsta Grillz were the projects released in-between albums; an offering for the streets untouched by commercial expectations and label pressures. When J.I.D released his freestyle over Eminem’s “My Name Is” at the top of 2018, it was only right to tweet DJ Drama with a request for the East Atlanta MC to have a Gangsta Grillz hosted by the mixtape legend.
J.I.D made an album instead of a mixtape. DiCaprio 2 isn’t his version of Dedication 2, even though DJ Drama is featured. The two made an experience fitting of 2018 rather than reviving the format of old.
However, the stylistic approach of having rappers rampage over notable instrumentals would still fit J.I.D and a range of other rappers who weren’t able to contribute when the series was in vogue. Rap’s true mixtape phase may be behind us, but the thrill of gifted lyricists blacking out over beats and Drama drops will always have a soft spot in hip-hop’s heart.
So, since it worked out so well when I suggested J.I.D and Drama connect for an entire project, I'm putting out into the universe 10 other suitable suggestions for rappers worthy of upholding the storied legacy of Gangsta Grillz.
Belly is a rare breed of rapper who is at his most compelling when freestyling. His visits to Funk Flex and the LA Leakers were victorious appearances that showcased a lyricist filled with words and the prowess to string them into captivating rhymes. It’s a different energy than what’s found on his studio albums. If Belly were placed in a setting where he's encouraged to do nothing other than blackout, he could take what he's accomplished during radio freestyles and channel that execution into a project that forces people to understand that Belly can rap his ass off.
Black Thought & Royce da 5'9"
The joint album craze wasn’t as commonplace during the Gangsta Grillz era of mixtapes. If the series returned today, Drama would need two heavyweights who would make their union a lyrical spectacle. Two gladiators that instantly come to mind are Black Thought and Royce da 5'9", top-tier veterans who prey upon instrumentals the way lions prey upon gazelles.
Having two wordsmiths of their caliber in a setting strictly torching beat after beat has the potential to be hotter than a bowl of molten lava rotating in the microwave. If you're skeptical of their ability to share a space to eloquently spazz, revisit PRhyme’s "Wishin' II," Royce’s “Rap on Steroids,” or Statik Selektah’s “The Imperial.”
Dreezy's placing Nicki Minaj and G Herbo’s “Chiraq” in a lyrical casket boosted her buzz significantly in 2014. It was only a freestyle, but one that attracted a massive amount of attention for being as exciting if not more than the original. Look no further than Dreezy’s 2017 appearance on the LA Leakers, her killer guest appearance on Smino’s “FENTY SEX,” or the standout verse on “Spar,” her 2017 single that features 6LACK and Kodak Black, to see how she has consistently been delivering noteworthy, bar-filled performances. With a pen potent as rattlesnake poison, there’s no question why Dreezy is a worthy candidate.
What Kendrick Lamar did to Childish Gambino’s “You Know Me” was an act of larceny and murder. He borrowed the beat, increased the bass, titled it “Look Out for Detox,” and went on a blistering, nearly four-minute onslaught that completely eclipsed the original. Lamar’s words, as lethal missiles, were launched into Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” and Kanye West’s “Monster,” both equally vicious, and most of Wayne's Carter III album as well. As one of music’s biggest stars, it’s easy to believe mixtapes and freestyles are outside the orbit of a Pulitzer prize winner, but don’t forget Kendrick is a competitor from the school of Kobe Bryant and Lil Wayne.
A Kendrick Lamar Gangsta Grillz would be the perfect playground for him to let loose and devour beats like his rapper-eating forefather. Don’t forget what happened when J. Cole sent him “A Tale of 2 Citiez.” Get Top on the phone!
Rico Nasty raps with raw attitude, verve, and gusto. There’s a magnetism to how each song touched by the 21-year old rapper crumbles underneath her punk energy. She’s a bulldozer; bars topple trap beats like ants in the path of a giant. The diversity of a Gangsta Grillz beat selection and the intensity of Rico’s style would be a winning contrast in showcasing her gift of transforming songs into her own. Her remix of Tay-K’s “The Race” only scratches the surface of what mixtape Rico could be.
Sylvan LaCue’s Florida Man is a 10-track resume for why DJ Drama should call him into the Aphilliates office to collaborate on a mixtape. Florida Man isn’t a street album, but a return to how mixtapes were before the industry pivoted toward only releasing original music. Hearing Sylvan rip Lil Baby’s “Yes Indeed,” Smokepurpp’s “Do Not Disturb,” and Trick Daddy’s “Thug Holiday” was a reminder of how a free project could be so fun and rewarding. The recent “Cuemix” over Bas’ “Tribe” exhibits how his fiery passion for wrecking beats that belong to his peers is still burning strong. Pairing Sylvan with DJ Drama would be natural as joining peanut butter with jelly.
Tory Lanez said it himself: “My best music lives in the mixtapes.” He’s right—rapping Tory is a different beast when rhyming without the worry of making a hot song or single. There’s a quality to how he delivers his bars that’s reminiscent of Cassidy’s celebrated freestyles. The Philadelphia-born rap veteran accused him of plagiarism in 2017, but the theft always seemed like the result of the student mimicking a master rather than an armed robbery. If Tory can bring the penmanship that torched Funk Flex, Sway in the Morning’s “5 Fingers of Death,” and Drake’s “4PM in Calabasas” to the booth for a Gangsta Grillz, the mixtape would be one to remember.
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator’s strength as a rapper has always been apparent when not overshadowed by antics, but he truly outdid himself with freestyle versions of Monica’s “Knock Knock,” JAY-Z’s “4:44,” and Jacquees’ “No Validation” this year. And DO NOT forget what he did to Kanye’s “Freestyle 4” in 2016. After presenting an album with the critical acclaim of Flower Boy, Tyler has the room to have fun, and who better than DJ Drama to give him a mixture of beats to allow the biggest fan of Pharrell and Lil Wayne to do as his idols did before him. If Tyler did a Gangsta Grillz, it would be this generation's In My Mind: The Prequel, Pharrell’s mixtape from 2006. Not in terms of style or quality, but in its unexpectedness.
YBN Cordae’s "Old N*ggas" was the first time his name and music came across my Twitter timeline. The viral video was a thoughtful response to J. Cole’s “1985 (Intro to “The Fall Off”),” firing back with commentary from a 21-year-old rapper’s vantage point. Embedded in the record is penmanship sharp enough to impress even the oldest hip-hop ears. The second time was when the young wordsmith took his talents to the L.A. Leakers and went on a five-minute tirade. Each of the beats is strung together with strong wordplay and effective punchlines. Gangsta Grillz was a rite of passage that acknowledged the gifted and rousing. Cordae doesn't have a large discography, but he's the perfect new-generation talent to join the Gangsta Grillz pantheon.
Young M.A is a toe-tagger. The Brooklyn spitter mixes humor, charm, and clever bars with an effortless charisma. Similar to Dreezy, Young M.A’s freestyle over Nicki Minaj and G Herbo’s “Chiraq” was a starting point, an undeniable display of slick lyricism that amassed over 13 million views on YouTube. Prior to the release and explosion of the hit single, “Ooouuu,” M.A was consistently uploading freestyles to her channel. Before and since her rise to fame, Drake’s “10 Bands,” Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm,” and Gucci Mane’s “I Get the Bag” have all received the smooth bar-fest treatment. Doing a Gangsta Grillz would be a return to roots of sorts, the perfect middle project before Young M.A releases her long-awaited debut album.
By Yoh, Mr. Yohsgiving, aka @Yoh31
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