Review Summary: As subtle as a sledgehammer and as powerful as the sun, Flockaveli is a defining release.
Everyone has known “That Guy”.
“That Guy” worships at the throne of Nas and A Tribe Called Quest. He hasn’t truly loved a new rap album in over a decade. He spent 2008 complaining about auto-tune, 2009 complaining about skinny jeans and 2010 complaining about Drake. He leaves YouTube comments about “bringing real hip-hop back”. He will spend entire parties going on about the garbage they play on the radio. He hates weirdoes like Future but rushes to prop up half baked revivalists like Joey Bada$$ and Troy Ave. He speaks in depth about “lyricism” and “bars”. “That Guy” thinks he is saving rap music.
“That Guy” is killing rap music.
1997 saw The Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur dead and millions of rap fans buried with them. The result is a huge contingent of listeners that whine and moan whenever someone comes around that doesn't sound like The Notorious BIG and Tupac. These people affix “lyricism” like a noose around the neck of rap music and are desperate to kick away the ladder. They think they’re the enlightened ones when really they’re rap’s “classic rock radio” segment, only interested in the sounds that are safe to them. They’re the grouchy relics of an era, confined to the sounds pioneered by the eternal spectres haunting hip hop, the east coast’s Notorious BIG and the west coast’s Tupac Shakur.
But rap has a third coast, the south. The south didn’t produce a 90s martyr like the east and west did and, thus, wasn’t trapped in a nostalgic “golden era” prison. For the last decade and a half, the south has been constantly producing the most imaginative rappers and producers through its main hub Atlanta, Georgia.
When punk rock legends The Clash stepped through the door in 1977 they did so with a song that declared “No Beatles, no Elvis, or the Rolling Stones”. The message was clear, it was The Clash’s intention to overthrow rock ‘n’ roll’s old guard and establish a new legacy. Rap hasn’t issued a declaration quite this formal yet, but on Atlanta bred Waka Flocka Flame’s apocalyptic debut Flockaveli
it comes damn close. The album’s title repurposes Tupac’s nickname Makaveli, after a few seconds of pistol reloading and gun shots Waka Flocka Flame opens the album by quoting The Notorious BIG, he then spends the next 72 minutes making music that sounds like the polar opposite of everything Tupac and Biggie now stand for. He is pissing on the shoes of their legacy.
is well over an hour of some of the most viciously loud, stupid, ignorant rap music ever committed to tape and it is perfect. There is no filler to speak of here, each song has a very clear and definable goal and accomplishes it in the most efficient way possible.
Rock has its fair share of signature opening riffs. From “Purple Haze” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, rock is filled with the sounds of artists kicking the door in on millions of listeners with something so immediate and raw its influence could be felt immediately. Now rap has one of its own. The opening titanic swell of “Hard in da Paint” will come to be remembered as a turning point for rap productions. An entire aesthetic compressed into a 10 note riff that hits like thunderclouds filled with crackling energy. Over the blustery beat comes Waka Flocka, with a stone cut frown and a gift for brevity. “In the trap with some killers and some hood niggas, where you at? Where you trap? You ain’t hood nigga.” he declares over a bevy of ad libs. Other rappers would build a whole song around that one section, Flocka just moves on to the next instant quotable.
Waka Flocka Flame thinks you can take your lyrical rap and shove it. He takes to every beat here with the subtlety and grace of a mortar round, yet Flocka turns in a universally great microphone performance that would fly right under the majority of rap fans noses. Criticizing Waka Flocka Flame for not being “lyrical” is like criticizing a painter for not using a pencil, you’re completely missing the point. What he might lack in traditional rap skills he more than compensates for in raw adrenaline and a less-is-more mentality when it comes to writing. His declaration “When my little brother died I said *** school
.” hits with such an impact that it expresses an entire universe of emotions in 9 words without lingering on the subject for one more line. But variety is the spice of an album and Flocka has maybe 3 flows at his disposal here. This is where the guest verses come in. Instead of weighing down the album with no-names emailing in desperate last minute verses, everyone that shows up on Flockaveli
feels like they’re on the same page. Everyone is contributing to a vibe here, so nobody tries to steal the spotlight.
Lex Luger produces the majority of Flockaveli
and the sound he perfected here is still so influential that it hasn’t aged a day. Assembled on the ultra-accessible production program Fruity Loops, Luger’s methods laughs in the face of million dollar studios and extends a hand to basement producers all over the world. “You can do this too,” he says while gesturing to the massive pumping pistons of Flockaveli
’s beats. The operatic intro to “TTG (Trained to Go)” could be used to welcome conquering kings back from battle. “Karma” could send them into it. When the album finally relents, which it does only once on “For My Dawgs”, the result is eye-of-the-storm levels of eerie tension. Elsewhere, L-Don Beatz turns in a bit of nu-ringtone rap for the deliriously fun “O Let’s Do It” while Drumma Boy crafts the militant club demolisher “No Hands”. But Purp’s dazzling “Homies” lays claim to the best non-Luger beat on the album, a woozy brew of synth washes that suddenly focuses up for a hard-as-nails organ coming up out of nowhere on the verses.
Even if Flockaveli
’s classic status will continue to go unheralded by the greater rap public, its influence speaks for itself. Immediately upon impact Flockaveli
triggered a sea change in rap productions as it vaulted Lex Luger to the most in demand producer in town while damn near every mixtape that came out in 2010 sounded like Flockaveli: The B-Sides
. Tyler, the Creator lists Waka Flocka as one of his favorite artists and has regularly expounded on the qualities of his music. New York City finally produced a viable radio star in A$AP Rocky but only after he embraced non-regional Houston and Atlanta sounds. The Chicago drill movement wouldn’t exist without this album. Recently, producers like Metro Boomin and Young Chop have taken Luger’s sound in sparklier directions, shifting focus from bass to melody. Even more recently, the heavy trap of Flockaveli
has become intertwined with EDM, with Flocka himself becoming an in demand festival performer. Flockaveli
’s fingerprints are everywhere, more than any other rap album released this decade. But all of that history just melts away when its on. Flockaveli
’s near total lack of acclaim has left it weightless. It remains a singular item of perfect brutality with the mental cleansing power of a industrial strength power washer.