“1 listen album reviews are fucking up hip-hop.” –J. Cole
That might be the realest shit Cole ever wrote, although I’d like to offer a small tweak: one-listen album reviews that pretend to be in-depth assessments of an album’s legacy and quality are fucking up hip-hop.
It’s not nearly as catchy, but it’s true. As someone who’s been reviewing albums on the internet since before the internet was THE INTERNET (aka 2006), I’ve watched the album review game change enormously.
In 2014, songs and albums emerge and are buried again beneath the digital waters at a torrential speed, and album review writers feel the need to keep up. Trust me, I know. An album will leak two weeks before its official release and a day later I’m getting hit with, “Where that album review at?” And that’s why we read “this album is classic/complete trash" reviews published so quickly after a project’s release because it must have been impossible for the writer to even listen to the album twice. It’s that lie, that one listen review masquerading as the definitive word, that’s fucking up hip-hop.
As a general rule, I try to remain allergic to fronting, so what if we did something different? What if we were completely transparent, listened to an album once—in fact, only listened to each song on the album once—and then wrote a first impression review? And then what if we followed up with another review a month later after allowing the album to truly marinate? What would the difference between the two reviews be? How good would our gut reactions turn out to be? What if I only wrote in questions?
It’s an experiment in internet music, I’m all about experimenting, and I figured there was no better place to try out a 1 Listen Album Review than with Childish Gambino’s new STN MTN mixtape. It’s a mixtape so the stakes are relatively low, and it’s Gambino so there will be at least some depth to make a follow-up review worthwhile. Boom.
I put Lucas on the case. One listen, absolute first impressions, Childish Gambino, STN MTN, let’s go….
1. Dream * Southern Hospitality * Partna Dem
Well, he made it pretty clear what this is. Chick-Fli-A won't open on Sundays, but at least now we have a Gangsta Grillz and Gambino mixtape. The word mixtape here is key. It's clear this isn't meant to be anything more than a fun project. Although with Gambino being one of the more creative emcees around, I'm excited to see how he puts his own spin on it. So far so good; I love all the beat changes on this one (and bonus points for the "Spottieottiedopaliscious" snippet). My biggest issue with this mixtape will be if Gambino has the "right" flow for the beats he will rap on. We'll see...
2. Fucks Given
I feel like this is a Young Thug song if Young Thug was, you know, a real artist. Gambino blends trap with flanged R&B. Normally, an artist doing an entire trap tape would bother me, but I think Gambino has earned the right to try some random shit out just because he can; it feels more natural and purposeful. Wish I could listen to this one again, but I'm not allowed. I think I like it (definitely way more than your typical cut like this) but I'm still hesitant. Beat goes though, that's for sure.
3. No Small Talk (ft. Kari Faux)
The production here alone is worth a listen. These beats absolutely knock! Granted this track is a little annoying with the cell phone-esque chimes, but the bass makes up for it. Fuck, it's really hard to speak to all these records after one listen; they are so unexpected. Also was Kari Faux on this more than Gambino? His verse felt really short.
4. Money Baby
Okay, I think I got the angle of this tape. Clearly he's going completely outside of his comfort zone and doing the whole ATL trap sound. It's crazy how well he fits this style - I like this stuff infinitely more than any Quan or Thug track. It's amazing what happens when you get someone who can actually rap. Sonically, it sounds, you know, good.
5. Move That Dope * Nectel Chirp * Let Your Hair Blow (ft. Young Scooter)
Young Scooter? Isn't that the dude who does stuff with Young Thug all the time? I see what he's doing with this tape. I feel like I would hate this kind of project normally, but something about Gambino makes it work. Gambino is light years ahead of Scooter, though. He has so much more command and power. It's not his lane and he's better than anyone in it.
6. AssShots (Remix) (ft. R O Y A L T Y)
I have been listening to Freaks And Geeks Gambino a lot lately and this reminds me a lot of that Gambino. He has some really great one-liners but what always bothered me was there was no cohesive feel; just a smattering of cool lines. Here that style works much better because it fits into the trap/mixtape feel. You could put this on a future EP and it would fit really well. I would rather have Gambino doing more of his damn thing than any input from this R O Y A L T Y fella, but he isn't bad. It's nice to hear this kind of Gambino still exits.
7. Childish Gambino @ Atrium
Even the DJ Drops on a Gambino tape are original.
8. U Don't Have to Call
Wait, isn't Magic City the pinnacle of ATL strip clubs? Have I been living and making decisions with insufficient data on ATL strip clubs? Also, Gambino can really sing. I'm just going to keep telling you he's one of the most diverse and unique emcees around until you believe me. How many people could do a "Move That Dope" remix and an R&B track and have both be so fluid? This is some spoken word shit, too. Goddamn, I'm really feeling this. It's like a mixtape if mixtapes weren't annoying.
9. Candler Road
I was worried his voice would be too soft for some real trap shit, but I was wrong. Gambino is way better at this than he should be; kind of scary when you think about it. I LOVE this track. I'm loving this way more than I expected.
10. All Yall
This is the most "Freaks and Geeks" he has been since "Freaks and Geeks." I didn't really listen to Because The Internet that much (it was too abstract for my liking), but I could really see myself getting into this project. He's so much fun to listen to. The energy and humor here are outstanding! Definitely a standout cut. That frozen line had me like...
11. Go DJ
NO THE FUCK HE DIDN'T?!! GO MOTHERFUCKING DJ?!? MOTHERFUCKER IS CRAZY!!!!!!! FUCK!!!! Sorry, had a mini freak out. I saw the tracklist and thought, "There's no way he will actually rap over the 'Go DJ,'" but Gambino doesn't care. Honestly, I listened to this one twice because the first time I was still freaking out over him rapping over "Go DJ." While he doesn't even come close to touching Weezy, I feel like he would make Wayne proud. I never realized how much Wayne he has in him (pause). He has that same undeniable energy and the clever one-liners too.
Wow. For a surprise Gangsta Grillz tape, I really dug this. I really didn't think he had enough bite to make this kind of thing work, but Gambino kills it. If 95% of non-trap rappers did this tape, I would leave feeling like they were trying to cater to what's hot, but for whatever reason, I don't get that vibe here. I can enjoy this and not feel guilty.
Honestly, I'll probably bump this more than Because The Internet.
I don't know how he did it, but he managed to create a trap tape that doesn't leave me with a headache. He created an original project using recycled beats and DJ tags. I'm telling you this man is one of the smartest emcees around.
So there you have it. It was like the internet rap version First Take, but instead of Skip Bayless yelling, you got Lucas rap nerding out over a "Go DJ" freestyle. What can we say? We aim to be less annoying than Skip Bayless, and I think we succeeded. The bar is high. Hit us with your first impressions of STN MTN too, and stay tuned for the follow-up review in a month. Come on, like you've got anything better to do with your time.