DJ Drama and Young Buck
Welcome to the Traphouse
hereas most of the G-Unit camp these days sound like bored, rich, overfed, and pampered pop stars, Young Buck sounds like a pit bull straining at its leash, itching to tear you to pieces. On Welcome to the Traphouse, his DJ Drama “Gangsta Grillz” album, he sounds almost completely unhinged, spit spraying in all directions in the mic booth, phlegm rattling in his throat as he spews maniacal shit like “Put the potato on the end of the barrel, make the sound quiet down / The block don’t eat if a nigga not around.” It’s the best mixtape G-Unit has put out in ages (although the recent G-Unit Radio had some pretty impressive freestyles from the G-Unit CEO himself) and the only reason I can think of to care about G-Unit at this stage in the rap game.
Buck doesn’t have much range—he goes from sulky and brooding to crazed and homicidal—but he completely owns that particular territory here. He brings a natural storyteller’s ear to conventional thug-rap scenarios, detailing what happens when “death’s in the air / When the wind starts howling and the moonlight glare” and zeroing in on small details in gangsta rap’s cartoony imagery: “Pistol-grip pump / You should hear it when it dump / Gotta hold it with rubber gloves / When you shoot it, it jump.” He convincingly borrows Scarface’s lived-in world weariness, sighing on “Thuggin Till My Death Date,” “We don’t cry in the hood no more / Ain’t really that much I ain’t seen before.” These days, when even Lloyd Banks, a sullen also-ran, is bragging that the diamonds in his ear are “clearer than HD,” the believable desperation in Buck’s pungent, wet rattle is a welcome antidote.
In Buck’s world, everything is comparable to warfare: “Tell the sergeant I think I see the target / I would hit them niggas up, but I don’t know where they car went,” he rhymes on “Prepare for War.” On “Cmon,” he declares, “Ain’t no rules in this war shit, fuck my enemies / I got a couple suicide bombers that’s kin to me.” Like a lot of the best gangsta rappers—Infamous-era Mobb Deep and early DMX, Beanie Sigel and Scarface—he skips right past the allure of the glamorized gangsta lifestyle and digs into the bleak, paranoid landscape of mutually assured destruction against which it takes place.
DJ Drama’s chosen tracks match the atmosphere; tense, ominous piano chords edge into crawling guitar lines, while mortar and gunfire erupt in your headphones seemingly every three or four seconds. The beats are state-of-the-art, trunk-rattling street bangers, with chopped-and-screwed voices often providing the hook. There is no artificial sweetener R&B; mush, no disingenuous jams “for the ladies,” no expensive club beats. Just hard spitting matching hard beats, from front to back. In this pitiful mainstream year for rap, DJ Drama has been releasing the only rap full-lengths worth leaving in your headphones for the duration. Thematically and sonically unified, they allow rappers at the top of their game, like Lil Wayne and Buck, to stretch out and settle into their personas without having to do the demographic slice-and-dice shuck-and-jive required of rappers releasing official major-label albums.
The mixtape is a run-up to Buck’s own major label record this fall, the perfectly titled Buck the World. The fate of this record is uncertain; G-Unit has not been selling for nearly a year now, after Mobb Deep’s nosedive with the godawful Blood Money and Tony Yayo’s drink coaster Thoughts of a Predicate Felon. 50 Cent has thoroughly oversaturated the market with his obnoxious singing voice and has accumulated years of bad karma with his idle sniping at smaller rappers and blatant laziness. This tape is a success mostly because it doesn’t sound like a G-Unit project in any way, shape, or form—50 doesn’t even make an appearance until the final track, and he’s doesn’t rhyme or (thank heaven) sing; he’s there to play Buck’s hypeman. It’s a reminder that if 50 had done what he had promised with Blood Money—kept his hands off—he could have renewed his credibility amongst heads. For now, Buck is the only one left.