Every Young Thug tape in recent memory had moments where auto-tuned yelps, yowls, ad-libs and double-time raps lit your headphones up, requiring a fire extinguisher. These advances in style and technique reached a pinnacle when Thug teamed up with Rich Homie Quan last year to record “Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1.” Quan provided a rich emotional substrate for Thug’s experimental approach. The pair’s chemistry on the track approached the sublime. With Rich Gang since dissolved, Thug is again responsible for both atmospherics and fireworks. Because of the rapid mutation of Thug’s style, Barter 6 (released during a spat between the artist and progenitor Lil Wayne) feels like a plateau. He ably reprises ideas and sounds he’s worked with before, and the sonic textures become more interesting around the halfway point, but it’s neither an essential record nor an ideal starting point for the uninitiated.
Cherry Bomb is maximalism done well and a lesson in how a seasoned antagonist can find new rules to break. Familiar rock and funk influences from N.E.R.D. span the album, but there’s way more jazz and soul here than in Tyler’s previous work. Longer tracks do a UTEP two-step in new directions several times like mini-suites. Cherry Bomb is confident, self-referential, long-winded and mixed to the rapper’s taste, not the listener’s; all these qualities are preferable to the wan, sallow products of industry assimilation you hear late at night on the radio. The rap track that stands out, “Smuckers,” has Tyler, Kanye and Lil Wayne in the pocket, sounding like they wrote it while waiting for a ride to the skate park. Finding the album’s other songs in a conventional rap playlist would be like finding Crunch Berries in your oatmeal.
It’s not surprising at all that Yelawolf’s Kid Rock-turn happened when I wasn’t paying attention. I imagine that most people who are only familiar with Yelawolf as a rapper must share my consternation. Instead of double-time raps and engaging storytelling, this album is full of pandering ballads that appeal to the same people whose favorite Eminem songs feature Skylar Grey. Yelawolf has a pleasant singing voice, but neither his voice nor lyrics ever prove strong enough to carry even the first third of the album, much less its entire 75 minutes. Making things worse at exactly the point you start to tire of listening, the venerable Eminem himself shows up to rap for a couple minutes, moments that cause you to wonder why exactly you ever chose to listen to this album. This is ideal music for signaling to party stragglers that it’s time to go home.