By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
A boom. A click. A farty Kraftwerk synth so anorexic it makes the Fearless Four's "Rockin' It" sound apocalyptic. The most legally downloaded single ever, "Laffy Taffy" by Atlanta crew D4L is also the most brazenly minimal song to top Billboard since "My Ding-A-Ling." So-called snap music and the Dirty South Beach diet aren't exactly breaking news, considering that the hip-hop-reductionist pissing contestinstigated by "Grindin'," apotheosized by "Drop It Like It's Hot," alley-ooped by "Wait (The Whisper Song)"has been a four-year decrescendo playing itself out with platinum plaques. But with every song on D4L's debut sounding like a no-brainer ringtone in the making ("Taffy" was a ringtone before it was a single), they fulfill the unspoken promise to play post-punk jesters to Lil Jon's punk rock bluster, one-chord wonders as unadorned and stripped-down as Wire, and thankfully just as playful.
While Wire songs ended when the words ran out, snap-rap songs begin when there's just enough beat to support words at all. The desert-like expanses of space in between each pulse force attention to every curve and bump of D4L's shouted party chants and drawled pickup lines (both sound best from group wild card Fabo, who gnarls with Cee-Lo's animated steelo), making every boast sound more euphoric and validating. Four guys shouting in tandem clearly have something to prove, especially with songs like "Betcha Can't Do It Like Me" and "What Can U Do" (next line: "I can do it too!"). So they go to war backed by nothing more than a triangle's ping, a pan flute, an "O Superman" breath, or a "Man Machine" rip. The abyss is D4L's blank slate, a limitless playground to feel good on your own terms. Or as they say: "This ain't a dancefloor, it's a candy store."
While fellow Bankhead bruisers Dem Franchize Boyz claim intellectual-property rights to snappy stuff (they had the first microcrunk hit with 2004's "White Tees"), they play it far safer on their second album, On Top of Our Game, opting for the murky textures preferred by Three 6 Mafia and Lil Jon. Outside producers (including Jermaine Dupree, who claims to have coined snap) seem uncomfortable leaving the Boyz so vulnerable, so the snappiest tracks are the ones cooked up by the Boyz themselves. Trap-snap-rap "Bricks 4 the High" is just mysterious clunking (either stomping feet or gunshots), complemented by a theremin-styled whistle that winds around the verse like a crazy straw, hitting all levels of the spectral plane until twurking out into abrasive frequencies appropriate for an Otomo Yoshihide record. Between the echoey tom-toms on "I Think They Like Me (Remix)" and the chattering castanets of "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," the Boyz make instrumentals so grimy you can practically hear the knobs being tweaked.
With anti-beats only providing shapes and colors, the snap scene lives and dies on the infectiousness of its chants: Check Casiotone-addled next-at-bats Trap Squad ("Wha's Hann-na-naaan! Wha's Hann-na-naaan!"), deliriously singsongy K-Rab and BHI ("Give me that bubblegum!"), nimble-tongued Born Threat ("Juke-juke ya boi!"), Ludacris-ly naughty BRC ("I got this bitch named Blockhead! She got a blockhead!"), and underground-proven Throwback Boyz ("Stacks on deck! Stacks on deck!").
But the barren landscapes are also allowing old-fashioned Atlanta underground hustlers to have more room to breathe. Maceo, a 19-year-old graduate of Trap U, uses lo-fi bells and grimey sirens to add an extra level of paranoia when putting you "in the mind frame of a dope dealer. While the quirky "Nextel Chirp" nestles neatly with cute Hot 97 hits made from whistles and whispers, it's actually about phone tap anxiety. Airier tracks also let Atlanta's purported mixtape king Lil Weavah carry himself like an overenunciating, amplified Mike Jones, his lyrical acuity leaving snap stars, trap stars, and Lone Stars in the dust. While not exactly the motorik-on-22s of snap, Weavah backs himself with equally skeletal clock radio beeps and sunburned drones. Even when he says nothing, it's a beautiful use of negative space.