Archive for the ‘Mixtape Breakdown’ Category

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.


From the opening left to right fading vocal sample followed by mischievous laughter, and humming bass and finally crashing into the peaceful singing of Sea of Bees, on “Automated Oceans,” it’s clear that Young L has not brought his listeners the traditional rap mixtape.  Conceptually, Enigma Theory primarily revolves around themes of struggle, depression, pain, and perseverance.   In contrast the production is airy, lighthearted, and ethereal, often driven by bassed-up vocal samples and synths.  With the exception of a handful of tracks, the drums on the album are sparse timekeepers, occasionally non-factors in the equation, bringing more emphasis on bass, vocals, and fading effects to accentuate the rhythm and tempo of the music.

While the production on the mixtape has already drawn comparisons to the work of Clams Casino, and there are similarities, it’s important to notice that the work of the two is distinct in a few ways, and has developed in a similar time frame.  Clams has become known, due to his work with Lil’ B on songs like “I’m God,” and “Motivation,” A$ap Rocky’s “Wassup,” “Demons,” and “Palace,” as someone ushering in a new phase of airy vocal sampling.  While Young L may be more noted for his more hyphy relevant work with artists from the Bay, including his group The Pack, Young L has encorporated elements of this approach for a few years as well, Mike Dash’s “Sides,” Lil’ B & Young L’s “Randy Moss,” Freeway’s “HAM Extreme,” Mac Miller’s “Diamonds & Gold,” Steezy Steve’s “Shit You Read About,” (which flips the same Enya sample as The Fugees’ “Ready or Not“) all showcased his interest and adeptness at executing music in this vein.  However, here Young L takes his approach to the next level, and rather than bringing in a guest emcee to benefit from his skills behind the boards, he uses the mixtape as a billboard for his own notoriety, much in the same way that some of the great producers with mic skills have done in the past (eg Jay Dee, Madlib, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Oh No, Diamond D).