Mixtape Breakdown – Troy Ave – Bricks In My Backpack Vol. 3

Posted: June 14, 2012 in Hip Hop, Mixtape Breakdown
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Listening to Troy Ave should be refreshing for any fan of New York rap.  In an era where so much of New York rap is either golden age revivalism, or a bit left of center stylistically, it’s nice to hear a New York rapper who is neither beholden to a bygone era, still trying to develop his style and skills, nor caught up in the process of re-inventing the rap wheel.  Troy manages to effectively pick up on the tenants of New York City street rap, emphasize the cocaine dealer angle, and rap over production that manages to sound both current and comfortable within the confines of the Big Apple – an admittedly tough task in today’s rap game where NYC has been removed from mainstream rap dominance for so long that most of the identifiable New York rappers, are well over 30 and frequently rap over production better suited to Jeezy, Rick Ross, or some southern flavor du jour.

Vocally Troy Ave is vaguely reminiscent of AZ, a flow similar to 50 Cent, and elements of Pusha T’s witty coke don condescension.  While he’s pushing the coke rap angle hard in his music, Troy manages, like the Clipse on Hell Hath No Fury, to integrate his lifestyle as purveyor of cocaine into a reasonably wide array of subject matter and manages to create music conveying several moods effectively.  It is in this sense that Troy comes across more dynamically than many simple drug-related mixtape rappers, who focus primarily counting 38’s, referencing appropriate slang, and breaking down the favorable economics of their profession.  Let’s be clear, Troy Ave is not motivated by the concept of blazing a new trail in terms of content or format – the listener is not going to be exposed to a truly innovative approach to rap music – what Troy does do effectively, is add a polish and nuance to the coke rap sub-genre and exhibit the range and depth to suggest he has the ability to create a solid rap album.

Troy Ave has dropped several solid mixtapes over the last two years, including the other installments of his Bricks In My Backpack series and K.F.C. (Kilos For Cheap), showcasing his many strengths as a rapper, but this latest installment of his BIMB series is the best demonstration of his ability to create a complete rap album.  Much of this is due to subtlety of the slightly nuanced approach Troy takes on BIMB 3.  A lot of rap focused around the dealer of copious amounts of narcotics has a hard edge to it.  Whether that come in the form of sinister beats, gruff voices, aggressive energy, or contemptuous snarling, the tone is generally hardcore – coke rap is often the type of music one might go to when they feel like punching their boss in the face and walking out on a board meeting to buy a ki.  While Bricks In My Backpack 3 might convince the listener of the appeal of the elicit powder economy, what Troy Ave has put forth here is one of the smoothest, most laidback and posh sounding projects the coke rap sub-genre has ever seen.  Much of the mixtape is backed by the same vein of combination of elevator soulful meets extravagantly jazzy production Ski Beatz pioneered well over a decade ago, and more recently provided Curren$y on the critically acclaimed Pilot Talk albums that really helped the Jetlife movement takeoff.  While one could make an argument that such lush and elegant soundscapes are more befitting of the mildly psychedelic qualities of marijuana than the aggressive dirty high of cocaine, remember that Troy Ave is the pusher and not the user here.  After all, if selling bricks of hard white can’t afford one the finest things in life, why would it be worth the risk.

Piece & Love, Swish,” exemplifies this jetlife meets coke rap vibe on the album, and also showcases Troy’s star power potential.  Although the song isn’t likely to end up all over the radio without some label push behind it, it has that kind of quality and shows the same type of charisma that originally endeared New York to 50 Cent a decade ago.  “Red Cup” again exhibits this appeal as Troy Ave’s use of melody over the Dr. Dre-ish production of Sire & Jovonn of RMG, creates the type of song ladies can sing along to, and men can still bob their head to – an unusual combination for an album so focused on powder.  “Snow,” a perfect cold weather homage to the grind, in which Troy pays homage to Roc Marciano’s witty track by the same name from 2010’s underground classic Marcberg.  “Chiddy Chiddy Bang Bang,” is the album’s glossiest cut, typifying the powder-life aesthetic.

Lest someone get tired of this melodic and relaxing coke-don theme, and yearn for some of the aggression of BIMB 1 & 2, Troy Ave sprinkles in cuts like “F.U.B.U.” “R.N.S.”  “Nightmare on Fed Street” “Free Base,” “COKeAMANIA” featuring Avon Blocksdale shows that he’s equally comfortable over more rugged production.  After all part of being a coke don isn’t all about the finest things in life, part of the business is still knocking off rivals, dodging the feds, and warring over turf.

“COKeAMANIA” featuring Avon Blocksdale

“Free Base” Troy Ave

Troy wisely keeps the guest appearances to a minimum, using this project effectively as a showcase for his own skills, versatile appeal, and ability to create both songs with real single potential as well as a cohesive album.  The guest appearances Troy does call in all add to the overall vibe and show Troy’s positioning neatly between NYC’s underground and mainstream scenes, as Brooklyn coke-rap elder statesman Fabolous shows up on “Merlot Pt. Deux,” underground blog darling Action Bronson comes through on “Wheelin’ & Dealin’,” and frequent collaborators Chase N Cashe and Avon Blocksdale appear on “R.N.S.,” and “COKeAMANIA” & “NW yAy” respectively.

For the most part though, Bricks In My Backpack 3: The Harry Powder Trilogy, the defining project he’s put forth to date, is all about Troy Ave.  Unapologetic cocaine rap equally comfortable in the rugged confines of brass band backed bangers as it is in the glossier poshness of the albums more jazzy and soulful backdrops and the mixtape’s more chart ready moments.  Where Troy goes from here is anybody’s guess in today’s disjointed music industry, but he is worthy of our attention wherever he lands.

You can pick up all of Troy Ave’s material at Troyave.com or datpiff.com

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