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A Year of Lil Wayne: The Key to the Streets and Hip-Hop's New Golden Age

Hint: We're living in it, and Quavo Ratatouille is the head chef.

Day 127: "Key to the Streets (Remix)" feat. 2 Chainz, Quavo, and Lil Wayne – YFN Lucci, single, 2016

Last week, I was filled with enthusiasm and optimism for the world at large as I watched Quavo Ratatouille, my favorite Migo, lean over a balcony and encourage a crowd of people to yell "Dat way!" in celebration of the upcoming Migos album, C U L T U R E. This week, we get that album. It's an instant classic, the long-awaited breakthrough moment for contemporary Atlanta trap, a front-to-back capital-A album segwaying on the trap and the zeitgeist. What zeitgeist is that specifically? The one in which Atlanta's center of gravity has shifted such that Quavo is a premier balladeer, 2 Chainz comes through with a reliably great verse, and Gucci's fingerprints are everywhere ("Good Drank," which features all three, being the pièce de resistance). YFN Lucci is one of the only newcomers who has comfortably slid into this scene, and last year's tape Wish Me Well 2 is a sleeper threat. The breakout single is "Key to the Streets," which features Migos and Trouble and which got an even better all-star remix. The latter features Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, along with Quavo, although it hasn't gotten the same burn as the original.

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A recent FADER article contended that this remix featured Wayne's best verse of 2016, and I'm not inclined to disagree. While I've argued that Lil Wayne has been playing with just as complex of flows in the last year as he ever has, there's no question that this verse has him putting in extra work. A lot of contemporary rapping—particularly on trap songs—is easily replicated, hence all the accusations of people stealing the Migos flow. The rappers who have successfully emerged from that scene tend to be more inimitable in the way they rap (think Young Thug vs. Cash Out), so it should be no surprise that Wayne, the most historically hard-to-imitate rapper, tears into this beat with the determination to do a verse that would leave anyone else reeling. He starts out simple enough, with a jokey line that could be ripped straight from a Drake song: "I told my bitch I'll get her a Birkin bag / I had no idea that shit was 30 bands!" But then he gets a little sly, dissing thirsty people, singing an onomatopoeia, weaving in social commentary, and riffing on YFN Lucci's label name while simultaneously flexing:

I got the key to the streets on my keychain
Like jang-a-lang, jang-a-lang
Niggas namin' names, doin' anything for a famous name
And these hoes the same
We were supposed to change since Dr. King
We shall overcome, we never overcame
I take over the game, and if you think it's a game
Then it's all about the final score of the game

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Now, regular good verse bona fides of punchlines, double entendres, and deep commentary satisfied, he veers off into the wild rhythmic territory of the following section, emphasizing the work he's putting in with a reference to Illmatic:

And I done broke every heart but yours
I just pulled off from the gun store
And the Azure was something that'll make you tuck yours
I got the keys to the streets
But I don't need nothing but my feet for your front door
Lil' daddy
'Cause I'm Illmatic, I'm still at it

The way that his voice punches new rhythms into those lines makes the verse so much more dynamic than the written lyrics would have you believe. I could hand you those lyrics written on a piece of paper and maybe, like a monkey at a typewriter, you would eventually land on the same rhythm as Wayne, but it would probably take a hundred tries. But even all of that doesn't get to the best line here, where, after boasting about drinking lean like it's a virgin daquiri, Wayne quips, "my insides feelin' like a lava lamp." For years we've joked about Migos being better than The Beatles, which is a great joke in part because the two acts actually have a pretty similar aesthetic, with bright colors, coke bottle sunglasses, and lots of weed mixed into their formula. And if Migos are the Beatles, then contemporary Atlanta trap can't be that far removed from the heyday of late 60s and 70s rock (I've also mentioned before that Auto-Tune is our electric guitar; we have our own Hendrix; etc.). All of which is to say: The lava lamp line is topical. Now listen to Quavo and Lucci float away with this song's melody, which is great, and be happy that you were here to witness hip-hop's true golden era, the era of the Migos et. al.

As an added note, since this audio track is a WorldStarHipHop exclusive, allow me to share my condolences about Q from WorldStar, who passed away yesterday. Nobody changed the game more than him, so let's stream some fire tracks in his memory.

Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.