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The Year’s Best Rap Album Wants To Take You To The Future

the album cover from #gigi

One thing that always annoyed me about Malcolm Gladwell's stupid 10,000-hour rule is that I can't imagine doing anything for 10,000 hours without having most of the joy sucked out of the experience. What you gain in expertise, you lose in surprise. Maybe if you become proficient in playing the saxophone you can learn how to experiment, but there's no such opportunity when you've spent your 10,000-plus hours listening to rap music. And without that ability to be surprised and swept up by something, you can forget how joyful music, particularly rap, can be.

#Gigi, the new album from the 23-year-old rapper and producer Skaiwater, put me under its spell, despite my unreal ability to resist such things. There's nothing completely brand new about Skaiwater—there's pieces of Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti, and Skaiwater broadly fits within that niche of club-meets-emo rap alongside Slizzy gang aficionados Cash Cobain and Chow Lee. Like every Soundcloud rapper before them, these artists were clearly just as influenced by Paramore and The Postal Service as they were Drake and Nicki Minaj.

What is impressive about Skaiwater and #Gigi specifically is how well and seamlessly the album combines Jersey club, techno, cloud rap, emo rock, and R&B into one potent stew. Even that description is selling it a bit short. There are further ingredients to be found on a song like "play," which uses New Orleans bounce, or "richest girl alive," where Skaiwater calls themselves the richest girl alive over a beat that would sound at home in a Florida jook playlist. "Shut up and drive," if you take the rapping off it, sounds like a loosie from Give Up. #Gigi seems to pull threads from the entire history of music, and somehow all those bits and pieces and samples resolve into something not just coherent, but magical.

Music at its best should make you feel something, and I'd grown comfortable without feeling, substituting intellectualizing in its place—like a guy who tells you a joke is genuinely very funny despite never actually laughing. The feeling comes in spurts and starts—there are still songs that connect on that level, but rarely whole projects. Skaiwater's "rain" might have given me the best feeling I've experienced all year in just under three minutes, a euphoric hit that matches its angelic piano notes and woozy, drunken autotune warble. This song might be the most indebted to someone like Carti, who I've expressed my appreciation for, but it transcends mere imitation to something more personal and spiritual. While "rain" is the obvious standout from the album, the entire project manages to achieve something primal in the listener that no other album, let alone rap album, has been able to do consistently.

So much of rap music this year has felt like an argument for returning to 2012. We have a new Schoolboy Q album, and Kendrick Lamar rapping over Mustard beats, and Future trying to recreate the magic of his mixtape run. I get it. It's hard to look to any kind of future right now, but at least someone is trying. I'm much more interested in Skaiwater's picture of the future than I am in anyone else's of the past.

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