On Tuesday, Gangsta Boo and Beatking released Underground Cassette Tape Music, a mixtape I imagine many will describe as “one of the best mixtapes of the year” and some will describe as “maybe the best mixtape of the year” and several will describe as “definitely the best mixtape of the year.” On it, the two interlace the best parts of Memphis rap and Houston rap, eventually squishing them together into a blobby amalgamation that is new without being foreign and familiar without being old. It’s gorgeous; an exciting, invigorating, new iteration of Southern rap; musical grey literature for the new generation.
The tape is very good. Gangsta Boo is very good. Beatking is very good.
Gangsta Boo is a 35-year-old rapper from Memphis. She’s best known for having been a member of Three 6 Mafia, though, really, she should be best known for being one of the most intimidating, most entertaining, most aggressively postured current rappers, female or male. Her voice, often layered over itself in songs to play bigger than it actually is, is incisive and lasered, a one-inch-wide switchblade that she wields proactively, only ever aiming for the center of your forehead or the center of your chest, and usually both. Her writing is almost always pragmatic (“I mashed out in my drop top, I got my bra top on and a bankroll on me”), which is perfect because she almost always raps over the swampy nightmare production often associated with Memphis rap. But her writing is also occasionally coy, like on UCTM’s “Dirty Hoe,” where she disassembles loose women by rapping, “I ain’t judging you sluts,” and that’s perfect, too, because that’s a ha ha ha line.
Beatking is a 29-year-old rapper from Houston. He’s best known for making one-off mini-songs based on things that go viral on the Internet. His most recent, uploaded two weeks ago, is called “Ebola Freestyle,” and in it he slips audio clips from the Pimp Squad, Baby viral video into a one-verse freestyle about Ebola, mostly as it pertains to Dallas strippers and Beatking’s relationship with them. The meme song is a fun angle, and one that he flaunts,1 though, really, he should be best known for his efforts in creating and legitimizing a subgenre of rap called gangster stripper music, which is basically club rap + punch lines + heavy, heavy bass and has earned him regular play on radio stations in the bottom half of the United States. He’s good when he’s trying to be funny, and he’s good when he’s trying to be ratchet, but he’s unstoppable when he does both at the same time. The best example on UCTM: On “Slab Crusher,” when talking about the six TV screens he has in his car, he remarks, “During the week they show pornos, on Sunday they show Joel Osteen,” referencing the mega-televangelist and leader of the largest Protestant church in the country.
Each one begins with him asking, “Y’all ain’t figured out my strategy yet, hmmm? I sit at home and I watch Scandal and I wait for dumb shit to happen.”
I spoke with Gangsta Boo and Beatking about their new tape. Gangsta Boo was in L.A., to which she recently moved, and Beatking was in Houston preparing for a trip to Washington D.C. this weekend to perform at Howard University’s homecoming.
When I asked Beatking how the tape happened, how they knew to put a whole tape together despite having never met in person (which Gangsta Boo mentions in the outro): “I just been going so hard lately. My music found its way to her.” That’s the kind of stuff he says when he talks about himself, and he says it without a bit of irony. When I asked Gangsta Boo about Beatking: “I’ve always been a ‘You sure?’ person. Beatking is really feeling himself right now, so when he was putting it all together he kept telling me how great it’s gonna be, and I’m like, ‘You sure?’ But he just kept saying it. And it is. That’s what you need. We fit. We balance each other out.” This extends past ideology and into the actual tape. On each song, Beatking, always blustery and big and overpowering, plays picture frame to Gangsta Boo’s dynamism.
When I asked Gangsta Boo about the tape’s symmetry, about how it flows without hiccup, operating like one long story rather than a series of short stories stitched together: “I never try to make radio songs anymore. That’s not what my albums are for. If someone wants to pay me, I can get on their shit like some radio shit. On my projects, I just wanna make music that makes me feel good. That’s how the albums end up coming out. They flow.” This one has an impeccable pace.
When I asked Beatking about why he sounds so different on the darker, frothier production on UCTM, as opposed to the more playful production he’s built his name around: “You know how Migos is rapping now? Lord Infamous invented that. I’m the biggest Three 6 Mafia fan. When Gangsta Boo and I first did a song together, I rapped like Lord Infamous and she liked it. She recognized it. [Laughs.] That’s how we ended up doing a project together. We knew we wanted it to be real dark, real hood. I can make the slow Houston shit, but now I got to mix it with the gangster pimp shit Three 6 Mafia did. I knew we wanted to make it not pretty. There wasn’t one time where I was like, ‘This is a song we’re gonna do for radio play.’ I didn’t have any singles in mind. I love rapping like that. I got to rap without thinking about that and with this very Memphis feel in mind.” Beatking oversaw the production of the album. It’s impossible to overstate how clever he was in piecing it all together.
We talked a bit more, about Lil’ Flip, who appears on “Like a Pimp 2015,” a track organized as an homage to David Banner’s 2003 hit “Like a Pimp,” which also featured Flip. There are lots of callbacks and tightly tied knots like that on the tape, indicative of the closed-off ecosystem that early Southern rap existed on for so long. It’s how UCTM feels instantly nostalgic, which is a powerful thing to be, particularly when coupled with pinning together two different rap regions.
We talked about Paul Wall, who appears on “Roll Hard,” a chopped and screwed track built around 2004’s “Still Tippin’” (which, incidentally, Wall was also on). His verse is amazing: a stutter-stepped fit of mania, energetic but measured, auspicious without exertion. Wall has quietly been guest verse–unbeatable since the end of 2012, when he shoplifted the unofficial “All Gold Everything (Remix)” away from Slim Thug and D-Boss. I asked Wall about “Roll Hard,” telling him how perfect it was. He didn’t even remember recording it. Paul Wall is a true king.
We talked about Danny Brown, who appears on “Rambunctious” with Riff Raff, and is just his beautifully pulverizing self. Beatking, when asked about how he met Brown: “Some people started hitting me up on Twitter saying he was tweeting my lyrics. I knew his music, I knew the hair, I knew the tooth. But I didn’t know those were all the same guy. We sent some DMs and he got it done. He said Riff Raff should be on there. I told him I didn’t really know him. He said don’t worry about it, that he got it. He reached out to him. Riff Raff went to Detroit to his house and knocked it out.” This is the essence of a tape like this — collaborative, but not precious.
Really, it’s all very simple: In 2000, Three 6 Mafia and UGK (and Project Pat) had a song called “Sippin’ on Some Syrup.” It was so lovely. It oozed with charisma and citizenship. And it hinted at what a full-time collaboration could look like between Memphis and Houston.
Fourteen years later, it’s finally here.