Trap music is undergoing an evolution that defies Darwinian theory. It has disregarded its previous, innate adaptations in favor of a freakish transmutation. Natural selection should be churning out more artists like Fat Trel – guys in the direct lineage of the straight forward, no nonsense brand of drug peddling Rap monetized by T.I. and Jeezy, but instead the subgenre has opted to back its oddballs, characters with fine-tuned idiosyncrasies. Both Young Thug and Bloody Jay are members of this new trap subspecies, one that demands individuality above all else, and they unite to form Black Portland: a duo focused on upping the quirk quotient. Their debut mixtape, a brief, 11-track offering, provides a glimpse into their superbly bizarre perspectives, but no matter how intently you listen you will leave completely and utterly confused.
Listening to Young Thug or Bloody Jay individually is disorienting. Thug’s presence and animated delivery are the antithesis of his hyper-generic pseudonym, he’ll often sing in a wobbly pitch that completely disregards octaves and time signatures, and Bloody Jay raps like he’s trying to convey a message to someone in another room (with little success), tapering off lines by flattening out a single syllable in a word. Imagine, then, what it is like when they’re trading bars in a hook or ad-libbing each other’s verses. It’s tantamount to being trapped in an elevator with members of a traveling circus. When you compact their extremely distinct brands of elucidation into a confined space there isn’t much operating room. They don’t cooperate well. It can become somewhat claustrophobic. Collaboration is a tough task for an eccentric mind.
Black Portland is what you get when you take two such eccentric minds and ask them to come together and attempt something moderately coherent and relatively cohesive in tandem: it is absolutely, positively weird and entirely scatterbrained. There isn’t much sonic continuity. Many songs on the tape have moments that can be described as nothing short of magical, but they are quickly followed or joined by elements that are completely off-putting. Some come in the form of uncredited cameos; others are simply aesthetic missteps. At one point, Young Thug literally mumbles through an entire verse (“Movin’”). Whatever the case may be, Black Portland both triumphs and fails as a derivative of its own crazed genius.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the eerie “No Fucks,” which is both brilliant and incredibly frustrating. Young Thug showcases his panache with the wacky bridge, “We ain’t Klu Klux Klan but that jet hold three Ks,” a parallel only he would draw or even have the audacity to attempt, and his verse magnificently follows suit – “Casting ‘Kong’, for this porn I need a leading lady.” Bloody Jay’s verse, however, is a lesson in futility, barely breaching elementary rhyme standards while falling short of his own lofty standards for fluidity. The song closes with a terrible, uncredited feature and, by the end; you’re so far removed from what made the song great in the first place it’s hard to revisit it. But, it could be argued that it’s less about Bloody Jay being underwhelming and more about Thugger being overwhelming. There is never any doubt who the main attraction is. More often than not, this is an underlying narrative that drives the tape: Young Thug is unquestionably the star of the show.
Thug and Bloody Jay aren’t much of a tag-team partnership; in actuality, they function almost entirely independently of one another. The two traverse through varied trap landscapes in separate vehicles like a savvy motorcyclist with a sidecar operator, though they are connected ideologically, there is only one driving force, and that’s Young Thug. Jay is simply along for the ride. He unwittingly plays the role of sidekick for the duration, and though he often attempts valiantly to make his presence felt he is always swatted aside by the indomitable charisma of his more finessing counterpart. After a while, the dynamic becomes a reasonable nuisance: the mixtape basically feels like 11 Young Thug songs with 10 Bloody Jay features. This shouldn’t be viewed as a slight under any circumstances; it is simply impossible not to gravitate to the YSL stoner, who seems destined to redefine trap a la Future.
Despite its shortcomings, Black Portland serves as a fitting barometer for what may come to be a complete redesign of trap’s infrastructure. With artists like Peewee Longway, Jose Guapo, and Que waiting in the wings, and the magnetic trio, Migos, already set to make a play for trap supremacy, it’s hard to imagine we aren’t seeing a transition with this next generation of trap stars; weird and atypical are the new norms. Young Thug continues to build his base with effortless manifestations of his unexplainable charm, and Bloody Jay does, too, just by being in the vicinity of such star power. Black Portland is a testament to new trap that sets the tone for a new direction while simultaneously trying to work out the kinks, and though you leave confused you aren’t entirely sure you didn’t like it, either. Your Rap purist heart might tell you you didn’t, but your play count will probably suggest you did.