Waka Flocka Flame
(1017 Brick Squad/Warner Bros./Asylum; 2010)
By Colin McGowan | 29 October 2010
The irony in the Drumma Boy drop imploring the listener to “Listen to this track, bitch!” that plays before a blatantly misogynistic blowjob song is pretty thick in that I know few women who would enjoy giving this fellatio anthem a close listen. My hypocrisy is equally thick, because I have totally been walking around all week, headphones blaring, inconspicuously mouthing, “I’ma throw this money while you do it with no hands.” Flockaveli is an ugly behemoth: it is hateful, loud, angry, and singularly terrific, a complicated record whose creator is unrepentantly one-note.
Waka Flocka is a boisterous, pissy motherfucker. He transforms threats into shout-along hooks—“We in this bitch throwin’ gang signs, mayne!”—and he delivers his ad-libs in a sort of panting, manic fury. These incantations act as ancillary aggression, augmenting the primary aggression most of the music already provides in abundance. His approach as an MC parallels a psychotic’s approach to drinking—one goal: get fucked up. At the conclusion of Flockaveli, he hopes you enjoyed yourself, but also that you’re dazed and reeling.
And like at the conclusion of a particularly destructive intoxicant binge, you might not like yourself very much when it’s all over. Because Waka Flocka’s music is angry; not in the sense of an ephemeral burst of rage, but it treats anger as homeostasis. Our host reaches into the back of its throat and spews anarchic vexation at fucking everything: fake thugs, record execs, women, and most people who aren’t Waka Flocka or his affiliates. Despite how fantastic much of the execution is, it’s understandable that whatever vitriol doesn’t leave some disgusted might inspire weariness in others. Like, “Live by the Gun” is just morbid and heavy. A glut of synths plods along like an apoplectic giant, guest Uncle Murda expresses his morose joy at the slaying of “Omar gay-ass from The Wire,” and Flocka sounds like a hate-zombie on the hook: “Live by the gun, I’ma die by the gun / A nigga shoot at me so you know I’m shootin’ back.”
Though Flockaveli‘s spiritual antecedent from a production standpoint is definitely the opulence of Jeezy’s Recession (2008)—both albums’ beats take the trap-hop aesthetic and blow it up to colossal proportions—Flocka resides in a different wing of the trap house. Where Jeezy’s raps contain some degree of glee, Flocka is exhaustively animalistic; his raps are too frenetic and tethered to ski-mask goon-ism. Thus, Flockaveli lacks a “Put On” or “Word Play”; there is no time in Flocka’s universe for self-actualization or smirking humor in any quantity. He does not repent, he just flippantly asks his Lord to “get my back for all the crazy shit I did.” When the record concludes and he adopts the tone of a spent insomniac, he exhales, “Fuck this industry.” He is, in defiance of the laws of the universe, a one-sided coin.
Of course, these qualifications and laments are the product of a liberal self-awareness that only presents itself after the dumb high that Flockaveli induces subsides, and I realize that I am not, in fact, fucking the club up, but half-asleep on my futon with a wicked headache. The high this record emanates is sickeningly pervasive, though. Lex Luger and a handful of producers construct the most cohesively sonorous trap-hop record since Jeezy’s epic. I earlier noted that “Live by the Gun” is an avalanche of tumult; it’s also rich and forceful, the type of beat that moves heads with an invisible hand. The muted blips of “Homies” give way to a shimmering organ at its climax; for a moment Waka and company are laying down hood shit over moon-tinted ocean.
Flocka and the many guests this album houses, for their part, pilot these blessed beats capably. Clay describes this brand of hip-hop as “delivery-driven,” which is the most apt characterization I’ve yet heard. Few rappers who appear here are traditionally talented. They lack the lyrical dexterity of their contemporaries (Gibbs, Jay Electronica, et al.), but they lean heavily on infectious and/or dynamic flows that fit these productions in an almost metaphysically correct manner. Yung Clova of G-Side once told me that when he appears on a track, his approach is “laid-back and swagged-out.” He doesn’t attack a beat so much as complement it with an adroit flow and some straightforward sentiment for the listener to grasp. One can easily see this approach being employed by a good number of the guests here. Wale spits vague game with a slick tongue on “No Hands”; French Montana brings lighthearted gun-talk (if that’s a thing) to “TTG.” Verses like these are deceptively integral to the success of the album because they are crucial foils to Flocka’s madness. Flockaveli is delivery-driven, then, in the best possible sense: it is a chorus of proficient, varied flows, avoiding the pitfalls of impotent swag music and pugnacious garishness.
With all of this beneficial scenery surrounding him, Waka Flocka is permitted to do what he does best: seethe. He does so for nearly the entirety of the record, brilliantly. If there was a rapper put on Earth to deliver the Three 6 Mafia-esque refrain of “Fuck the club up!” and, through some form of twisted alchemy, metamorphose trite party shit into a religious chant, it’s Flocka. His heavy drawl resounds over each beat with elephantine force. When he snarls, “When my little brother died, I said ‘fuck school’,” it feels like a nine-word autobiography. Too unconcerned with lyricism to spit anything he doesn’t feel in his heart, Flocka functions as a sort of gangsta Chauncey Gardner, oblivious to how shit so hardheaded and simple shouldn’t cohere so beautifully.
There is one quiet moment on Flockaveli: he recites on “Grove St. Party,” “Broke two years ago, now I’m worth a million.” He states this with an uncharacteristically flat affect, growling ad-libs and a hint of awe simmering beneath the closest Flocka comes to reflection in 70-plus minutes. And then the crux of this album crushes the listener like a meteor. “O Let’s Do It” kicks in and, God, you’re gonna be hoarse by the time the hook drops.