Review Summary: Backed by solid production, Kodak Black’s latest project is a study of rap tropes, offering both unimaginatively hollow reductions and authentically sensitive statements.
2016’s been a big year for Kodak Black. The nineteen-year-old South Florida rapper reached a global audience in October 2015 when hip-hop titan Drake posted an Instagram video of himself dancing to Black’s 2014 single “Skrt.” The jolt in popularity has sustained Black through this year, with chart appearances on French Montana’s “Lockjaw” and the Drake-endorsed single, a spot on XXL Magazine’s 2016 Freshman Class, and his first charting mixtape, Lil B.I.G. Pac. Backed by solid production, Kodak Black’s latest project is a study of rap tropes, offering both unimaginatively hollow reductions and authentically sensitive statements.
Lil B.I.G. Pac features ten producers on its thirteen tracks but sticks to a rolling, swaying, and often homogeneous unremarkable Southern trap aesthetic. A few tracks stood out, however: the opening horns on C Clip Beatz’s “Gave It All I Got” were refreshing after five tracks of generic trap beats. Similarly, YodaYae1k’s soft bossa nova-inspired horns on “Today” made the track memorable. However, “Too Many Years” has the mixtape’s best production. Not only did J. Gramm craft an infectious synth hook reminiscent of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” but the producer overlaid PNB Rock’s reflective chorus and Black’s introspective verses on top of a beat in sync with each lyricist’s consistent accents.
Despite the buffet of producers, Lil B.I.G. Pac was meant to showcase Kodak Black. All eyes were on the young man from Pompano Beach to deliver a project fit for an XXL Freshman Class member. Black played it safe, sticking to the time-worn tropes of modern hip-hop: women, money, weed, braggadocio, and social commentary. The formula didn’t always work. On opener “Everything 1k,” Black applies a whiny and immature tone to socially-conscious lyrics: “I understand the ups and the downs, street niggas gon’ relate / It’s a struggle man, I’m with you all the way / This for all the soldiers fell victim to the system / Every day that goes by they so close to losing faith.” With the right tone, the verses could’ve been great. But Black’s juvenile delivery made him sound insincere--a problem that plagued several other tracks. “Slayed” and “Big Bank” illustrated why “getting pussy” wasn’t a deep enough theme to make a track worthwhile, and “Purp” was spoiled by Black’s attempt to milk a single end rhyme for over two minutes.
When Black stopped rapping about what’s around him and turned to himself, the results were rewarding. “Gave It All I Got” and “Letter” both drew from Black’s own experiences and offered a glimpse into his personality. “Too Many Years” united a chorus lamenting wasted time with Black’s musings on his place: "I’m too street for the industry / But I think that’s where I need to be / 'Cause verbally, mentally, and physically I keep that heat" Unfortunately, only these three tracks were graced by Black’s individuality. The others suffered, however severely, from the crutch of generic hip-hop subjects.
If you’re into party hip-hop or are satisfied with hearing the same modern hip-hop tropes, you’ll probably enjoy Lil B.I.G. Pac more than I did. If that’s not you, you’ll have to listen more closely for the production and lyric standouts. Regardless, you should keep an ear open for Black’s next project, as he is sure to mature his tone.
Strong tracks: "Vibin In This Bih," "Gave It All I Got," "Too Many Years," "Today," "Letter"
Weak tracks: "Everything 1k," "Purp," "Can I"