I just fell down a rabbit hole coated with codeine and promethazine and I think I kind of liked it. Whether you’ve been paying attention to contemporary hip-hop for the last five years or not, it is hard to overstate the role that ‘syrup’ has played on the scene; crippling Lil Wayne’s creative output, taking A$AP Yam’s life and also birthing a whole strange genre of vaguely nonsensical lyricism, potentially written while high, that has percolated its way up into the zeitgeist courtesy of some very interesting characters. Last month, lean gave us one of the more fortunate collaborations in recent, hazy memory as Young (Good Times) Thug, Travis (Antidote) Scott and Quavo (Versace) Migos teamed up to deliver ‘Pick Up The Phone’. So much of the Georgia/Texas hip-hop production is robbed of its potency by purple but occasionally, some confluence of factors means that we get a fully formed nugget of awesome. ‘Pick Up The Phone’ is one such nugget.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Purple Nation is how deeply inconsistent it renders some of its biggest stars. Some, like Wayne, are D.O.A., write-offs unlikely to breach the Top 40 ever again, at least not without the boost of a friendly feature. Others, like Thugger particularly, scintillate with flashes of brilliance before retreating into a bog of vaguely sketched music that doesn’t sound like it should have ever been released to the general public. My frustration with Young Thug was given its ultimate, microcosmic expression yesterday when, streaming live from Roskilde, Denmark, he delivered a blistering set punctuated by sections in which he notably recoiled, letting a hype man and pre-recorded vocals do the talking. A GQ profile earlier this year did well to trace the chameleon contours of Young Thug’s persona but failed to really shed much light on the man on the inside. Whether or not the same is true of Quavo and Scott is unclear but the new southern rap movement is seemingly giving rise to a whole host of ultimately unknowable characters.
That impregnable quality can be found on ‘Pick Up The Phone’ but is nicely obscured by a trend that has paralleled the emergence of the new southern rap squad: the mastering of auto-tune. Whether you believe T-Pain’s career was cut mercilessly short or not, and despite Jay-Z’s pronouncement a few years back, there is undoubtedly life left in the auto-tune movement, especially when it is used to such maximum effect. Scott and Thug trade verses and hooks in chameleon fashion, singing on the chorus together and effortlessly blurring the line between their two contributions to this song. Quavo’s voice, a little lower, is easier to pick out, but he gladly continues the campaign of abstruseness, using words like ‘discriminize’. Caught up in the wonky steel drum synths that track all this fun, the message of it all seems a little besides the point. Flaunting an ethos with prescription drug abuse and verbal experimentation at its core, sometimes suspending disbelief with the syrup crew pays.
Young Thug & Travis Scott – Pick Up The Phone Ft. Quavo