YFN Lucci Ray Ray From Summerhill

[Think It's A Game; 2018]

Styles: rap, eulogy
Others: Meek Mill, Migos, Lil Baby

Ray Ray From Summerhill is YFN Lucci’s second project named in tribute to a dead friend (following last year’s Long Live Nut), and there’s no reason in particular to think that it will be his last. But who’s counting? Tragedy, to paraphrase Stalin, is a prime example of the “one, two, many” number system. Accordingly, Ray Ray is an album less about wallowing in grief than living with and beyond it, the integration of a gaping void into one’s ongoing existence. The tribute, then, is not explicit remembrance but the mere fact that the album was made at all.

Even as tracks from Ray Ray rack up streams, however, Lucci’s not out of the woods. Emotionally, lines like “Can’t believe my cousin died before the deal came” are irreducible into individual vectors of good/bad/sad; for Lucci, loss is less a discrete occurrence than a permanent caveat to his own ever-growing success. This is exactly what makes lines like the above hit so hard; just like a memory, they dot the albums with little regard for the mood they might interrupt. “Down,” a remake of the all-time Cam’ron and Kanye collab “Down and Out,” is as joyous as expected until, suddenly:

“I hate they shot my brother (down, down) /
Lord knows that shit took the family (down, down) /
Lord knows I gotta hold this shit (down, down) /
Lord knows that’s what I’m thinkin’ bout /
When I’m loadin’ every round”

It’s completely at odds with the rest of the song, yet inevitable: for someone like Lucci, every reminiscence is in danger of trailing off suddenly.

In terms of emotionally-laden content, I don’t mean to present Ray Ray as any sort of exception; whether or not its presentation makes for an eye-catching press release, the genre is rife with weighty subject matter. It’s not unique to Lucci, nor is it his commercial identity. He’s got considerable mainstream clout, in large part due to runaway hits “Heartless” (with Rick Ross) and “Key to the Streets” (with Migos and Trouble), both from Long Live Nut. He occupies a space in the mainstream somewhere between Meek Mill and Migos, doing more crooning than the former (“whoa whoa” and “yeah yeah” are signatures at this point) while lacking the three-headed bombast of the latter.

As rap continues to get weirder, his isn’t a particularly crowded lane, and Lucci has ridden obvious radio appeal to massive underground popularity that is unfortunately ill-suited for crossing over into true superstardom. His style is decidedly within a long lineage of marginal trap radio stardom, not quite Paper Trail (T.I.) but born of the same major label impulses that brought it upon us. Akon and Young Jeezy’s classic “Soul Survivor” may have birthed the genre, and a little over a decade later, Lucci has fused the two performers into a single entity.

Even as trap production is accused of growing staid, Lucci’s voice and his choice of beats stand out. Throughout the album, somewhat rote Atlantan rhythms are ornamented by a considerably widened palate of instrumentation beyond the usual piano and synth. The opening track features a saxophone, and it seems like every other track centers around a bluesy guitar figure of the sort that constituted some 90% of Big K.R.I.T.’s appeal (conversely, it’s incredible — and commendable — how immediately “Street Kings” is identifiable as the song with the Meek feature by beat alone).

YFN Lucci, in all likelihood, has reached a commercial and critical peak. However, his creative trajectory has always and will continue to operate entirely independently of any sort of third-party validation, the connection between himself and his fans the only real plane on which his success can be measured. As far as I can tell, Ray Ray’s made its biggest splash during 24-48 hours of inane litigation of Offset’s use of the noun “queer” in his feature on “Boss Life,” itself brought about only by Offset’s elevated profile as Cardi B’s fiancée and the middle member of Migos. Lucci’s music has nothing to offer that type of media environment — one focused on the translation of rap C U L T U R E into the terms of traditional celebrity — and so he will continue to persevere at the periphery, realizing, I hope, what his music means to those ears it manages to find.

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