Photo: Eli Watson/Flickr
Photo: Eli Watson/Flickr

MATTHIAS AISEDU YEBOA

‘STN MTN’ refers to Gambino’s hometown: Stone Mountain in Atlanta, Georgia. Appropriately so: Gambino represents it all over this thing, which you may have heard before in some ways and not so much in others.

You’ve probably heard rappers say: ‘I ain’t no snitch, cops I don’t trust ‘em’, but not after a shout-out from Steve Smith from American Dad (heard on ‘Southern Hospitality’).

You’ve probably heard rappers talk about ‘two gold chains’, but not bragging that ‘I still don’t ever wear ‘em’ and making way for a female rapper to dominate the rest of the song (‘No Small Talk’; the female in question is Kari Faux).

You’ve probably heard Future’s so-bad-it’s-almost-good track ‘Move That Dope’, but not reinvented as well as Gambino does, with multi-faceted lines such as ‘I’m on acid, this bitch is basic’, which refers to LSD, hood parlance, and the pH scale.

Now there are bones to be picked: cringey lines (‘Semen on her stomach / That’s the second coming, Jesus’ – too far, Gambino, too far); forgettable tracks (‘Go DJ’, except for the last line that ties into the opening monologue ‘Dream’); and unoriginal subject matter (throughout, but ‘Money Baby’ in particular, even though it’s well-executed).

Here’s the thing though: those bones is what makes the mixtape kind of good. See his self-affirming, albeit cocky, closing verse on ‘Let Your Hair Blow’, and his beautiful cover of Usher’s ‘U Don’t Have to Call’, which is intertwined with a thoughtful rap-monologue à la his great album Because the Internet. Gambino’s not trying to make a point, you see. In the words of ‘Fucks Given’, and ‘Let Your Hair Blow’, ‘he came here to do his own shit’, and ‘make culture… say the realest shit and hope it don’t insult you.’ Let’s be honest, the best art is always anything but inoffensive. Plus, this art is authentic: it’s about representing where he came from, and he’s not making it sophisticated for you to find more merit in it. He does kinda achieve the latter though: a lot of the beats - some of which he produces himself - have enough of the trendy trap vibe to merit mainstream radio play, but sounds that just about alienate them from getting it. Gambino’s a normal guy, but in a different way, and you can tell that he knows this.