While most amateur critics seemed to detest the shallow, willfully stupid party rappers that cropped up around 2015 like Rae Sremmurd and Migos, many casual listeners and a surprising number of professional published critics tried to defend them with the argument that their lyrics (which is the most common complaint brought against them) aren’t the point and that their music is merely meant to be mindless fun. And while I would certainly buy the ‘lyrics-don’t-matter’ argument in regards to the more sophisticated melodic Hook-rap genre that would evolve out of this movement a year or two later, as far as the 2015 “Crunk Revival” itself goes, this is one of those times I have to side with the amateur critics.
It’s not that the ‘mindless fun’ argument couldn’t conceivably have merit…it’s just that it didn’t really apply in most of the cases where it was used. Rae Sremmurd’s first album was produced primarily by Mike Will Made It, who has somewhat redeemed himself since but who at the time was known for making some of the dreariest beats of the current decade, so arguing that the beats rather than the lyrical content is supposed to be the source of that record’s appeal doesn’t really help them much. And Migos’ early fondness for endlessly repetitive hooks of the “Imma Be”/”Whip My Hair” variety made their music from this time period about as much ‘fun’ as having a sharp stick jammed in your ear. And at least those two acts have improved since then…when it comes to the genre’s B-listers like Silento and T-Wayne, their beats weren’t any more interesting than anything else about them.
Contrast those acts against this album, the debut effort by a relatively minor Rap name who only has one Top Forty hit to his name, and you’ll see an immediate difference. It came out a couple of years before the Party-Rap trend really caught on, and could be considered a direct ancestor of the Crunk revival, but in contrast to most of its successors in the field, it’s actually fun to listen to. The beats are consistently superb and really manage to create a genuine party atmosphere. The one hit, “No Hands”, is particularly good, combining its strong beat with a genuinely beguiling chorus.
The album has only one flaw: the actual Rapper at the center of it. Granted, this kind of Party Rap is not known for intelligent lyrics at the best of times, but Waka Flocka Flame is right down there with Soulja Boy and Insane Clown Posse as one of the worst lyricists in all of Rap. Perhaps the best way to describe him is to ask you to imagine if Shaquille O’Neal had actually had a legitimate Rap career. Frankly, even that is a bit kind…Waka’s lyrics are every bit as juvenile and simplistic as Shaq’s, but Shaq was at least trying to be clever. These are the kind of Rap lyrics that result from putting absolutely no effort whatsoever into your work, and they make the lyrics by acts in the Rae Sremmurd vein seem capable by comparison.
The reason for this is apparently that Waka Flocka Flame actually hates Rap, is only sticking with his Rap career because he can’t bring himself to turn down the money, and thus goes out of his way to put as little effort into his lyrics as possible. This accounts for this album’s closing track, “Fuck This Industry”…and no, contrary to what you might think, writing a song with actual content does not cause his lyrics to improve. This is a man who can still be completely simple-minded and cliched even when talking about his defining hatred for the Rap industry and paying tribute to his dead family members.
There are a fair number of featured credits on the album, but they don’t really contribute much to the lyrical quality. Most of the contributors are obscure nobodies, largely drawn from the rest of Gucci Mane’s ‘Brick Squad’ posse, and while, like most Rappers, they’re more capable than Waka Flocka Flame, they aren’t especially interesting in their own right. Of the few people you’re likely to have heard of, most are other famously terrible artists like French Montana and Gudda Gudda (best known as the “grocery bag” guy from “Bedrock”). Even Wale’s verse on “No Hands” (the only appearance by a genuinely talented rapper on this album) does not catch him in particularly good form.
One could argue that Waka Flocka Flame is a kind of modern-day version of the Crunk era’s biggest party “rapper”, Lil Jon…an act with no discernible skills as a Rapper who still managed to make genuinely enjoyable music. The only problem with this parallel is that Lil Jon was actually good at something…granted, that something was not Rap, but there’s no denying he had an utterly unique and outsized personality. Waka Flocka Flame seems more like a random no-talent who lucked into a good production team, and I understand the frustration some people feel about his largely undeserved success and the fact that he is not the one primarily responsible for what good qualities his work does possess.
All that said, the truth is that this album is still pretty enjoyable, even with the large flaw of the idiotic lyrics. The lyrics are enough to detract somewhat from the experience, but they’re not enough to ruin it, and the album still makes for a fun listen. If you really must listen to mindless Party Rap, I’d certainly recommend this over Sremmlife or any of the other albums in that vein…in spite of the near-rock bottom lyrical content, there are still no shortage of far worse Rap albums than this one.