Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Washington DC rapper Yung Gleesh, who we featured on our guide to some of the city’s brightest talent, calls his style “shitbag music”. It doesn’t have the immediate appeal of recent “vital” or “thrilling” micro-genres like cloud rap (an ambient style developed by a nebulous group of producers and focalised by the Oakland duo Main Attrakionz) or drill (the bleak style borne out of Chicago’s volatile gang violence, coined by older rappers King Louie, Pac Man and Big Homie Doe and really embodied by charismatic newcomers like Katie Got Bandz today) but it’s a starkly visceral and honest approach; a hyper-specific term adopted from a local hustler that Gleesh explained to the City Paper as: “Be a shitbag, be the worst type of person there is even though it’s not really permanent, it’s just for the time being. It’s for a reason.”
Gleesh spent his first two solo mixtapes, ‘Cleansides Finest’ 1 and 2, doing precisely that: jacking beats from other songs to tell sprawling accounts of everyday life and get his rep up. This free approach to appropriation coupled with his drawled nonchalant flow drew initial comparisons to Lil B, but a closer listen shows that he’s far more than a mere disciple. He recently spent some time in Atlanta recording with Gucci Mane and 1017 Brick Squad protégés like Young Thug and has released two new songs, Please in March and now Lazyness, that are some of his clearest expositions of “shitbag music” yet. Produced by Zaytoven, who – despite mostly featuring on local mixtapes and album tracks – is a factory of delirious beats, he tones down the frantic melodies and squashes them under a thick layer of bass to complement Gleesh’s tendency to unexpectedly fall back or jump forward on a track.
These idiosyncrasies are probably closer to Gucci Mane himself than Lil B, but where his inventive wordplay can go on endlessly, Yung Gleesh is liable to throw it all in the air and slouch. He’ll take on the character of a pleading junkie for a hook, for example, and whilst rampant multiplication is everything to most trap rappers he’ll openly admit that he’s fatigued. He knows it’s the antithesis to the grind and he’ll chastise a “a lazy bitch” or someone “50 years old, still drinking 40’s” but “it’s too early in the morning” and he’ll send a worker to run an errand instead of doing it himself. It’s a kind of simultaneous boast and effacement that’s typical of him, like describing his watch as a LaserDisc: big and shiny but also clunky and obsolete. Weighed under by a lifestyle he’s inherited, it’s more than just doing the wrong things for the right reasons, he has to be the wrong person too and it’s a slog.
His humour and love of DC’s impenetrable slang vividly colour his outlook, but that shouldn’t obscure the core importance of what Yung Gleesh is doing. Fat Trel, the defacto leader of the Slutty Boyz crew he is closely affiliated with, is often cited as a DC’s biggest rap hope because he is a highly proficient writer and a powerhouse rapper, but Lazyness shows that Gleesh has not only emotional range and charisma but the ability to make great standalone tracks too. A young street rapper putting everything down and stopping to say that life can be really difficult and exhausting? When so many are blindly celebrating their shine, that’s another kind of anthem to get behind.