OG Maco The Lord of Rage

[Quality Control / OGG; 2016]

Styles: New Atlanta, teenage post-apocalypse, grunge-trap
Others: Skippa Da Flippa, Wake Flocka Flame, Bad Brains, Ibn Inglor

Writing about hip-hop, it’s pretty easy to disappear down the wormhole of persona. Just ask Brooklyn Russell, who wrote up our Thugged Out Pissed Off review. It doesn’t make it easier when the subject is as visibly self-aware as OG Maco, whose growing fame is to an extent predicated upon an elaborate troll. Maco has spoken on Twitter and in interviews about how “U Guessed It,” the bass- and braggadocio-heavy single that launched him into the gaze of the panopticon in late summer 2014, was a deliberate finesse, designed to garner attention with base, lowest-common-denominator bars and unsubtle, ham-fisted production.

If we are to believe Maco’s retroactive explanation, his intended commentary went beyond the public’s thirst for trifling content into less comfortable truths: that people would assume upon hearing the song that he was inarticulate, ignorant, and a confirmation of stereotypes — hence, the secret tongue-in-cheekiness of the refrain, “Bitch, you guessed it.” And while the single has been a difficult shadow to get out from under, the alleged ruse went precisely as planned. The song and accompanying video introduced OG Maco to a wider audience, landed him a deal on rising Atlanta indie label Quality Control (the 2015 XXL Freshman Class member traded up for a major label deal with Motown/Capitol Music Group, allowing him to manage his own subsidiary OGG label in spring 2015), and, most presciently, summoned up legions of incredulous haters from the erratic vicissitudes of the cloud/hive/shitfuck.

Quality Control co-owner Pierre “Pee” Thomas has gone so far as to call Maco a “black punk rock artist,” and the comparison is not without basis. We’ve already addressed his decidedly fuck-you approach to PR issues, and like a singer in a hardcore band, Maco’s vocal performances revel in the entropy of base emotion, a clamorous performance of the enraged, contradictory subjectivity that emerges when your only route to self-expression is through a culture of living memehood that co-opts your experience and relates it in a way that alienates you from your own experience. Maco is not immune to the flex escalation and fascist aestheticization emanating from his home city, but he pushes the emotive boundaries of that selfsame scene from within its constrictions.

The Lord of Rage mixtape, surprise-released on New Year’s Day 2016, finds OG Maco navigating between autonomy and collectivity in a sea of split selfhood: spitting triplet-studded bars to rival labelmates Migos and Skippa Da Flippa, divining full-throated, slab-rattling Flockaveli choruses, channeling Gucci’s drawling smart-dumb meditation and even Future’s melodic slant rhyme, Maco sounds like the twisted polyphony of Atlanta, yet he always sounds like himself. He can’t decide between the self as a closed entity and the self as a conduit for collective mobilization. Opener “Sound The Trumpet” touts a classic self-sufficiency narrative: “I need it now/ On my lonesome/ I made my own/ I’m a lone wolf.” Three tracks later, “Champions,” with its Queen-apeing chorus and neofuturist grunge-trap production, finds Maco turning hip-hop’s exclusionary squad-love sentiment inside-out, expanding his circle to envelop a shared global struggle: “And all I want is all the world/ For all my niggas in my city.” Universal expansion through solidarity is the movement: “We’re reaching new heights… we’re linking inside.” Ambitious as it is contradictory, The Lord of Rage breathlessly infuses colloquial Atlanta hip-hop styles given to mechanistic posthuman stylization with a punk sense of base, profane fleshiness, as well as a sweeping, cinematic style uncommon in modern hip-hop — less “my life is a movie” and more “all of human endeavor is one gigantic feature film.”

Speaking of gigantic feature films, The Lord of Rage invokes the shit out of them, locating Phresh Produce and Dolan Beatz’s biomorphic tracks firmly within the atemporal, youth-driven endtimes scenarios so preeminent in Hollywood today: we’ve got lyrical nods here to I Am Legend, Game of Thrones, King Kong, Star Wars, even fucking No Country For Old Men — larger-than-life, neobiblical visual tomes that narrate our experiences of deterritorialization, regime change, and cultural alienation through a gigantic scope and scale. Indeed, young adult post-apocalypse seems to have overnight become the most salient film genre in Hollywood, and I personally can’t imagine a better opening sequence for the next Maze Runner joint than one featuring “Sound The Trumpet” or “Ape Shit.”

And if we are indeed living in a transhumanist new-world-order scenario, Maco’s disposition therein is that of a dystopian optimist: “Live Life” is his frequent mantra and choice ad-lib on TLoR, punctuating the most detached street truisms and disaffected braggadocios with an ebullience for imperfect, profane life unheard of in the music of his closest peers. When Maco screams “We the fuckin’ greatest!” on “Talk To Em” or invokes the always-rousing, “Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em! Yeah, yeah!” on opener “Sound The Trumpet,” it impacts as a snotty fuck-you and an invitation to join him on the plane of imminent arisal. There are strains of “nihilism” here as critics so often associate with “trap” or “drill” styles, but it’s never the end point, rather a jumping-off point for solidarity and pure potentiality.

The only downside toThe Lord of Rage is that it rescinds some of its skyward momentum toward the end of the tape; the final three tracks, while still strong taken on their own accord, don’t support the fantastic thesis laid out by the first two-thirds of the record. The Gucci-referencing”Often” seems to wander into the collection at a sideways amble, jarring for its lack of energy after the stellar “Talk To Em,” while”Outa Here” completes its titular mission with much more of a whisper than a bang. The tape comes in foaming at the mouth like a feral lion and slinks off with an ambivalent sidestep. Still, this incomplete feel only serves to leave us primed for more Maco, and one gets the sense that this project is a warm-up run in what will be a banner year for the 23-year-old rapper. Nitpicks aside, The Lord of Rage is a refreshingly genuine, exulted listening experience that manages to locate untapped autonomy in the schizoid persona-orgy that is hip-hop being alive in 2016. As OG Maco himself put it in a Tweet on the eve of The Lord of Rage’s release, “I made it ok to be mad again. I made it ok to say ‘Fuck you and that weak shit’ again. I made it ok to rage again.”

Links: OG Maco - Quality Control / OGG

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