In rap music, as in life, sometimes the best partnerships are the most unexpected. The odd couple, the unpredictable pairing that brings out new strengths in an individual and nudges the boundaries of their comfort zone. Baltimore’s YG Teck and Detroit’s Peezy are a tag team I wouldn’t have shipped, more like The Rock N’ Sock Connection than The British Bulldogs or The Young Bucks, who find strength in their respective differences rather than working as a completely seamless unit. Their joint mixtape Champain is a combination that’s novel enough to grab your attention and dependable enough to maintain it.
Teck and Peezy are each from regions with their own rich scenes and signature flows. Teck has the thickest Baltimore accent this side of Snoop from The Wire, a pronounced drawl on the vowels of words like “Do” and “Choose” that gives his frequently-sung flow a syrupy texture, oozing slowly like molasses. Peezy’s delivery showcases distinctive relentlessness of Michigan scam rap on opener “Like Dat,” but across Champain, he frequently takes his foot off the gas to more evenly match Teck’s crooner sensibility. On “Japanese,” he slips into more of an Auto-Tuned warble, imbuing his voice with a weary resignation — though he’s swaddled in drip and relishing his trophies, the atmosphere is dejected and sullen.
Despite their different deliveries, what the artists share is a similar sense of trauma and grief — the title Champain is surprisingly literal, as a project that splits the difference between opulent yacht rap and heartbroken pain music. For all the chipmunk soul samples and throwback flair on tracks like “Day I Die” and “Put Some Money Up,” there’s a sense of tragic gloom under the surface, a foreboding paranoia that ripples through tracks like “Pop Smoke.” Though he doesn’t opt for drill beats, that homage to a fallen icon makes the influence of New York drill on Teck’s delivery apparent, the up-tempo and forceful exuberance to his rap bars not unlike a distant cousin of Fivio Foreign, somewhere further down the East Coast.
When they’re at their most symbiotic, it’s easy to see why Peezy and Teck are drawn to each other — the classic R&B and soul flips beloved by Peezy and fellow Michigan rappers like BabyTron and Sada Baby are a natural complement to the soulful inclinations of a singing-rapper like Teck. On previous solo releases, Teck has favored the contemplative piano and classic guitar stylings associated with bluesy balladeers like Youngboy and Rod Wave, and while Champain still works in that palette on mournful numbers like “Goyard Money & Foreigns,” the sample-work and up-tempo energy so distinctive to Michigan rap pushes the Baltimore rapper into new directions. On stand-out tracks like “Have You Ever,” a pitched-up sample adds a glistening ethereality to the intense duet, foregrounded by a retro synth line that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ’80s Japanese pop record.
Champain strikes a unique balance, a fusion of styles that doesn’t lose any of the distinctive regional flavor that makes Peezy and Teck each both so compelling. There’s room to introspect, but the unlikely duo find much to celebrate through their mutual alliance, two ceaselessly grinding rappers coming for the recognition they deserve. A sense of triumph exudes from the best moments of Champain, as YG Teck and Peezy survey their respective kingdoms, but a hunger remains; neither man takes what they’ve built for granted.
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