Come to Life
Digital Lows, the debut album from young, punk-schooled Memphis rapper Gavin “Cities Aviv” Mays, was my favorite local record of 2011. Iconoclastic but sincere (“I’m 21, this is the realist [expletive] I ever wrote,” he rapped on the opening “Black Box”) and unusually focused, the release made Cities Aviv a known underground rap commodity nationally, and Mays moved to New York the next year.
There have been some releases in the interim, but Come to Life is Mays’ first “proper” album since Digital Lows and if he’s no longer Memphis-based, the city’s still on his mind, with references to Poplar Avenue, Sam Cooper and North and South Memphis popping up on the album.
Come to Life is even more experimental than Digital Lows, taking that record’s blend of indie rock, punk and underground hip-hop and pushing into more electronic and dance-music territory (perhaps most strongly on the lead single “URL IRL” and its follow-up, “Don’t Ever Look Back”).
Here, Mays’ vocals and the album’s hazy, beautiful, alternately plush and skeletal music (much of it self-produced) form an equal partnership, with Mays as prone to shouted aphorism and free verse as he is to conventional rhyming. It’s not for all tastes, but I don’t know what is. -- Chris Herrington
At his best, Don Trip is the most compelling Memphis rapper since scene-starter 8Ball. But that best has tended to be animated by two things: the sobering impact of fatherhood, as on his career-launching single “Letter to My Son” and much of the music that immediately followed it, including songs that didn’t address the topic directly; and the sheer aesthetic delight of a vocal partnership with Nashville rapper Starlito, as heard on two joint Step Brothers albums.
This satisfying but comparatively minor 10-song mixtape — named in tribute to the late wrestling star, another raspy-voiced, energetic and idiosyncratic performer with Memphis ties — is animated, instead, by the disappointing but not surprising dissolution of Trip’s deal with major label Interscope Records, which came about after “Letter to My Son” went viral but ultimately didn’t amount to much but hassle and delay.
“Did you miss me?/Well ... I’m back with a vengeance/Spent three years in my lawyer’s office/Fighting for my independence,” Trip raps on the opening “Randy Savage Entrance,” the first but not last reference to the problems with Interscope. (“It’s my fault that I [messed] up/I’m the dummy that signed,” he raps on “Cream of the Crop.”)
The album features cameos from hometown influence Juicy J and production from Yung Ladd and Street Symphony, among others, but the partnerships that stand out are ones with Starlito (on “Road Warriors,” another wrestling reference) and Memphis contemporary Young Dolph (on “New Blinds”).
Randy Savage is essentially the sound of Trip receding into an artistic middle-class to which the lucky among us can relate (“I got too much dough to be desperate but not enough to be kicking back”). His future could head any which way, but one hopes that, as subject-matter goes, he’s now put the Interscope episode behind him. --- Chris Herrington