Review Summary: Merely half-hearted
For all of its triumphs, which predictably manifest in the form of bass-heavy, half-whimsical cloudy R&B ballad-bangers, D&G feels altogether frustrated. Inconsistency and incongruity are inadvertently emphasised; D&G feeling more a collection of disjoint “loosies” (much like the bootleg “Rip Bladee” that surfaced at the end of last year) than a clearly thought-out project. Admittedly, D&G does as the label reads (so far as it provides a nice cross-section of drain gang and its various enigmatic personas
), but it does so merely adequately. Bladee’s uncharacteristically half-baked contributions meander around recycled material (see: Scarecrow) and barely half-catchy hooks (as opposed to the virulent [I hesitate to use the word infectious, as it implies a sense of upbeat poppiness that really mischaracterises the drain gang ethos] earworms of his previous work); his flows seemingly lazier and more lethargic than ever (admittedly this may be perhaps deliberate, but irrespective of that fact a lot of his contributions lack the lulling grip of the Romeos and MJs of past). Put in perspective, Bladee’s highlights lie in his features (or co-writes) with Ecco, although, even then, the eminent half-assedness of his work threatens to derail those otherwise anthems-to-be (Cinderella being the most notable case: Bladee’s sombre, near-monotone verse quite the underwhelming segue to Ecco’s perhaps career-definingly note-perfect follow-up). That being said, when he does get it right (see: Suffocation’s reprise; which paints a beautiful contrast between his angelic, autotuned warbling and the more devilish lyrical themes [“punch your face in//make your face pretty again”], and No Life Left), it does remind us why he holds the title of (self-proclaimed) “Drain Gang CEO”, but his inconsistency (as the main figurehead of Drain Gang no less) nonetheless characterises all of the problems with D&G.
Thankfully the two other autotune-abusers hold up their end much more effectively; Ecco2k proving and reproving why his fanbase is made up of the most dedicated devotees, while Thaiboy turns up consistently as ever, despite being forever lost in that no-man's land between truly great (see: Climbing and Can’t Trust) and merely remarkable (see: Wrong). Ecco’s performances -- in particular his impassioned, voice-crack heavy verse on Nosebleed and the almost-catchy-enough-to-chart Black Boy -- stand as the tapes main highlights; his soothingly effortless half-croon contrasting nicely with whitearmor’s predictably crystalline ethereal-trap bass-bumpers. Sadly though, many of his performances too feel incomplete, perhaps as a side-effect of the awkward ebb-and-flow of D&G’s almost hodge-podge tracklist, or maybe even the monotony of whitearmor’s production (that, at times, saps the energy from some of the more up-tempo performances -- his percussion lacking the skittish rapidity of the respective Blank Bodies and Rippsquadds of the scene), and thus D&G feels forever stuck in a rut. Thaiboy’s explosive power-pop reminiscent hook on Can’t Trust is wasted on a beat that feels altogether too empty for such bombast, and Bladee’s sombre, balladesque performance on Botox Lips is set against a synth line so awkwardly upbeat that the song ends up little more than a confused mess. Due to this, D&G feels at most a collection of missed opportunities -- the big name tracks all ultimately falling flat despite their boundless potential (First Crush the greatest waste: Ecco, Bladee and Yung Lean all phoning-in their respective efforts).
In a lot of ways it feels symptomatic of the clique’s shift towards a more straightforward sound; Ecco trying his hand at straight-up contemporary R&B (see: Black Boy, Happily Ever After), Thaiboy rerouting his post-apocalyptic Soulja Boy-isms through more laidback, mid-DJ-set electronic romps (as he did with last month’s S.O.S.), and Bladee dialling down the alien to, in turn, recall familiarity instead. In this sense, it wouldn’t be totally remiss to call the misfires “growing pains”, but even then the dull shadow of disappointment remains, not only because there’s developed this expectation of quality (this perhaps the group’s first great misstep), but also because a lot of D&G’s issues seem avoidable. At 17 tracks, with more than a handful of misfires, D&G could have easily been trimmed down and rearranged to present something more in line with the successes of 2016. But alas, we are left with a bloated, oddly content-light, and seemingly smashed together compilation that sounds little more than a sample tape you’d send around to record companies when chasing a deal.
Chemistry is all but absent, consistency is nowhere to be found, quality is bipolar, and thus the experience is one overwhelmingly disappointing. For a tape that was being heralded as a kind of defining statement, D&G hardly meets the standards of a template-made cover letter. It still feels too soon to call it the end of what has been an incredibly strong run, but the taper off seems more apparent now than ever. It’s not quite a cry for help, but a prayer to be reborn it is more than just.