Album week: Lil Keed – Trapped On Cleveland 3
Out of all the Young Thug children, Lil Keed may have the biggest potential when it comes to stylistic development. The Cleveland Avenue native has one foot firmly set on his home turf and his other foot on the necks of the industry. His new album Trapped On Cleveland 3 is equal parts an ode to his origin and a diary detailing Cleveland’s true narrative. It’s a special moment for Keed. Not only is it the third installment in a series that helped him gain recognition from Thug, but it comes at a time where he’s earned a coveted spot on the XXL Freshmen list. It’s undoubtedly going to be his most high-profile release to date, so I guess you could say things have gone full circle for the up-and-comer.
The fundamental design of a YSL album usually requires a myriad of things, whether it be material fetishizing, oddball sexual fantasies involving spit, erratic vocal chops, incremental anecdotes, and the universal slime language. Keed hits on all of them without sounding derivative or conventional. If anything, he sounds more confident and resourceful than he’s ever been. “Back then, I was talking about stuff like typical rappers: shooting, killing, just saying shit because that’s what everybody wanted to hear,” Keed said in a recent interview with Complex. “Now that I done grew from all that and I done moved myself out of that situation, I’m just letting folks know why I was so trapped on Cleveland, as far as me going to the hood everyday and all the shootouts.”
Keed sticks to this blueprint for the most part. Not so much romanticizing the surrounding violence, but merely explaining how it affected him on a personal level. “Gave my lil partner hundred years, god damn when the fuck he coming home” Keed sorrowfully croons on “Obama Coupe.” He’d love to completely escape the trauma if not for the system’s complete lack of empathy, or the unconditional love he shows for his people.
Compared to most of Keed’s projects, TOC3 dips into more accessible-sounding territory. Superstar acts like Ty Dolla $ign and Travis Scott contribute a pop-rap sheen, while Thug operates in splintered R&B mode on “Kiss Em Peace” (an aesthetic he hasn’t left since that Chris Brown collab tape). Despite the obvious pull for a mainstream crowd, Keed never sounds out of place. He name checks underground upstarts like Yung Mal and Lil Gotit, thereby highlighting the team-like spirit of the area. According to his new short film, the majority of this album was recorded in his own home, adding intimacy to the signature Atlanta sound.
Outside of well-known hitmakers like T-Minus and Supah Mario, Keed mainly sticks to underground producers like Bloublood, Ferno, and longtime associate YoungBoyBrown. Collectively, the squad creates a landscape where synths zoom past each other like protons in a nucleus (“Intro” and “She Knows”), 808s mimic a curbside stomp (“Tighten Up” and “Grandparents”), and pianos bask in the menace of Cleveland Ave’s darkest corners. The world is complete when Keed’s high-pitched squeals and grunts are added to the mix. The 22-year-old rapper is occasionally introspective about the prospects of his daughter’s illustrious future (“Yeah, my daughter so good, she gon’ have a milli”), and briefly cognizant of this parallel between increased wealth and family well-being (“Yeah, I got a big bag, flood my mouth and mama them too/Yeah, my daddy had a stroke, we ain’t givin’ up, yeah, that’s two”).
What really stands out beyond the periodic reflections is Keed’s stout vocal performance and dependable YSL lingo. He raps with the bottom of his gums fully visible on “Trippin;” twirls his way through various threats on “Tighten Up,” and sings to the sky on “Grandparents.” The choruses are tightly-wound but also free of any banal repetition. He switches the flow so much, it’s hard to even pinpoint what type of structure he’s looking for. The album just sounds like that Mind Eraser ride at Six Flags New England; pure vacillating acrobatics. He not only stays above water (unlike Gunna), but he floats and splashes in it until his skin turns wrinkled.
Melvoni – “Stackhouse”
New York has been home to more forms of hip hop than any other region of the country over the past decade, and yet, Melvoni may carry one of the most promising voices out of the state at this very moment. The Brooklyn native is not your typical drill stylist or auto-tune crooner-or even lyrical traditionalist for that matter. If anything, the 16-year-old travels somewhere amongst those sub-genres.
Based on songs like the stadium-ready “No Man’s Land,” Mel has gone through more bullshit than any high school teenager should have too (“I was in the trenches with my soldiers, had to stay poled up”). Because of this, “Stackhouse” inherently feels like a cathartic moment of clarity. Melvoni raps about going from the trap to the bank with the authority of a grizzled veteran. It’s honestly going to suck when his voice becomes deeper. Much of his draw comes from his punctured singing and unbridled composure. His music will undoubtedly play before high school sporting events. It’s got that type of underdog energy.
Babyxsosa – “Keyshia Keef”
Much like the Brooklyn protege, Babyxsosa harmonizes in an atmospheric setting. Both rappers possess conviction in their respective lanes, but sosa trades Melvoni’s unhinged realism for utopian sanctity. The Richmond native’s soothing approach can make you uncontrollably emotional on the drop of a dime. Her spongy cadence protracts time and space, only allowing her world to be the main focus. “Keyshia Keef” is a continuation of this cloudy aesthetic thanks to soaring synthesizers and sosa’s wafting premonitions.
OMB Bloodbath – “Bolt”
Alexandra Nicks is on the brink of breaking out. The Alamo native first caught my eye with her Maxo Kream collab “Dropout,” a creeping back-and-forth hit that mustered close to a million views on YouTube. The video came immediately after signing to Interscope Records in early May. She reminds me of a more melodic Dirty Tay with similar street sensibilities.
Bloodbath is now seemingly in album mode, hoping to continue her regional momentum off of mix-tape series like A Few Forevers and Nothing But the Moon. “Bolt’s” brash humor and stylistic versatility makes it an excellent start on the path to superstardom.
645AR and FKA Twigs – “Sum Bout You”
The “avant-garde classicist” meets viral glass-shattering upstart. This is almost as ridiculous as a washed-up country star pairing with a 20-year-old phenom. The world’s been weird man.