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You Need Mozzy and Gunplay's 'Dreadlocks and Headshots' Tape More Than You Know

The collaborative project feels like a throwback to mixtapes of the past.

Many of today's rap conversations are focused on two extremes: Either fans are arguing whether artists introducing unconventional elements to the genre are polluting it or moving it forward, or they are debating if revivalists are properly leading our youth down a path that upholds the favored qualities of hip-hop's glory days. In this exhausting back-and-forth, little space is provided to talk about artists who just plain rap well—not ones that are here to save the day or here to soil tradition. Fortunately, Mozzy and Gunplay, two of this decade's hardest-spitting talents, don't give two shits about this conversation as long as there is room somewhere for them to rap circles around their peers.


Mozzy has released over 15 projects, both solo and collaborative, since 2015, all comprised of storytelling with inventive wordplay On 2016's "Cold Summer" he rapped about the cause-and-effects of miscalculated street life: "Self incrimination from your statement. Shouldn't have told them shit / Sleeping in that pissy ass holding tank cold as shit / Food hella cold and shit. Ain't no hanging on the fence." The Sacramento rapper often places you square in the middle of what he's seen first-hand, giving an equal amount of detail to both his highs and lows. Sometimes, that's all you need; rap that admits to having real life issues and doesn't double as advertising for often out-of-reach retail items. It doesn't lead to Twitter argument threads, but it makes for great music.

"Nigga passionate about this shit. You can hear a nigga cry in that muhfucker…a nigga been foaming at the mouth," is how Mozzy described his manic drive in a skit on most recent project, Dreadlocks and Gunshots. A 12-song collaboration with MMG's Gunplay, who has been off most people's radar in recent years, the album may not make the most sense from a commercial perspective. But that's exactly why it works. Gunplay is another artist who gained the interest of a wide audience due to his ability to share his experiences in an innovative and intricate fashion. On Dreadlocks and Gunshots, the two complement each other as if they've been collaborating for years.


On the reflective "Never Had Shit" both rappers revisit their humble beginnings. Gunplay raps "Momma poor, power off. My auntie cooking that powder soft. Every hour times is hard." Mozzy also looks back on wilder days where capers were his best bet on a come up: "Taking field trips, bend a right. Fuck you thought? We finna do it tonight/ We good as gold if niggas do it right. It's a gang war, I'm doing two a night." On album opener "They Know" both are razor sharp. "Gunplay in my residentials, blood that's evident / You know what niggas charging for a body, shoot a estimate / Rubberband choking the mozzy, we gon' forever grip," Mozzy raps. "Pulling cold cash capers. Nigga, no damn favors / Whip full of conspiracy, nervous shit from the mirror / Never smiled as a child. Save the jokes for the children / Fuckin' cell blocks and courtrooms colder than Philly," Gunplays follows.

In sound, Dreadlocks and Gunshots lacks any true uniformity, which works in the favor of both artists, who tend to rap over a range of production styles. Both "Never Had Shit" and "Chain Gang" sound like they are taken out of the DJ Paul and Pimp C production handbook, using gloomy 70s R&B samples. "D-Boy Fresh," with its repetitive voice-altering hook, sounds like a flashback to Gunplay's more active years at the start of the decade. "We Ain't Going Broke," which is over Mozzy's go-to Bay Area-leaning production style, is the only of its kind on the tape, showing that while the overwhelming bulk of his listeners are in the West Coast, he's more than capable of delivering on non-regional sounds.

As we're currently in a period of rap where the line between mixtapes and albums is hardly distinguishable, there is a refreshing throwback quality to the lack of direction in Dreadlocks and Headshots. There is no central theme, no interludes or skits that help surrounding songs make more sense conceptually. The project is purely a collection songs that the two recorded together and, in true throwback mixtape fashion, a couple Mozzy solo throwaways that he probably couldn't fit anywhere else. Most obvious is "So Gone," a minute-long Mozzy freestyle that is clearly a product of 2016's viral challenge in which people took their best shot at Monica's Missy Elliott-produced smash from 2003. Mixtapes in the scattered 2000s style that helped both of these artists find an audience are increasingly looking like a thing of the past as artists lean into more marketable business models. But as long as artists like Mozzy and Gunplay are continuously dropping records in the name of fun and lyrical exercise, the format's expiration date may be extended.

Photo: Screengrab via Mozzy and Gunplay's "Out Here Really" video.

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