Tattoo misspellings are the worst
It doesn’t even come close to excusing crimes that, if true, are practically inexcusable, but the most interesting commentary about T.I.’s recent arrest for buying machine-guns comes from this Allhiphop interview with Project Pat. Starting in 2001, Pat served four years in federal prison on charges nearly identical to the ones that T.I. will likely be facing, and when Allhiphop writer Carla Aaron-Lopez asked him about those charges, he had this to say: “This real talk, the drug dealers and killers could be riding down the street and they could be signing autographs. They got the fan-base in my city. To a dude that’s coming from that, old habits are hard to break. You just gotta be smart, man. The robber got the gun to your back and the police got they gun to your face … And a lot of people don’t understand, they say, ‘He could’ve did this and did that,’ but believe you and me; I was in the same situation. I had bodyguards and all that but at the same time, my mind was, ‘Can’t nobody protect me like me.'” I’m not on board with Pat’s logic; there’s a lot of room between fearing for your personal safety and sending your bodyguard to buy you unlicensed machine-guns and silencers. Still, that interview makes for a revealing glimpse into the worldview that went into the creation of Walkin’ Bank Roll, Pat’s great and terrifying new album. In that interview, Pat goes on to suggest that T.I. or anyone else facing conviction “give God a try” and “turn your life over to Christ.” But the only track on Walkin’ Bank Roll that even mentions God is “Motivated,” which starts with a similar plea to put God first but which gives way to vivid, graphic death-threats within minutes.
Walkin’ Bank Roll is the second album Pat has released since leaving prison in 2005. The last one, Crook By Da Book, was released deep into the fourth quarter of 2006, and it got lost in the avalanche of rap records that came out around then. Pat is a longtime Three 6 Mafia associate (Juicy J is his brother), but Crook By Da Book made for maybe the most downbeat and depressed album that DJ Paul and Juicy J ever produced. The album found Pat deep in a hungover post-prison funk, and Paul and Juicy’s beats made heavy use of the organic Memphis-soul phase they were going through at the time. If anything, Walkin’ Bank Roll sounds even heavier and darker. Kelefa Sanneh has reported that Paul and Juicy used a studio band in recording it, and every once in a while, we’ll hear moaning rock-guitars or tinkling Fender Rhodes cutting through all the eerie synths. But the album sounds different mostly because Paul and Juicy have thickened their churning, atmospheric beats. Rather than going for the simplistic horror-movie keyboard-riffs they’ve long used, they layer up softer sounds: gasping choral vocals, church-bells, heaving strings. Some of these tracks sound so dark that they practically suck all the air out of a room; “Powder,” for instance, has the eeriest beat they’ve done in years. On that song, Pat raps about sticking people up while high on coke, which makes for some terrifying images: “Take a pause for a minute, heart beating through my chest / Simple robbery can turn into a true bloody mess.” Drugs figure heavily on the album; elsewhere, Pat talks about driving around popping ecstasy pills or spraying embalming fluid on his weed, and his vocals throughout the album seem to come through a drug-induced fog. And there’s some serious depressing nastiness on display here; on “Talkin’ Smart,” for instance, Pat and guest asshole Pimp C take turns dressing down “a smart-mouthed freak with a mouthful of cum.” But the scariest, heaviest thing about Walkin’ Bank Roll isn’t the stuff Pat says; it’s the obvious delight he takes in saying it.
See, Pat is funny. On what I saw of Three 6 Mafia’s regrettable fake reality show Adventures in Hollyhood, which I could bear to watch for more than a few episodes, Pat plays a withdrawn but willing participant in his associates’ buffoonery. But his own sense of humor is a lot sneakier. On “Bull Frog Yay,” for instance, Pat brags about the purity of the cocaine he’s supposedly selling, in the process painting a picture of a decayed, dystopian American city where dealers take turns robbing each other and putting bullets through each other’s windshields. But he keeps interrupting all the nihilism to yell “ribbit!” every couple of seconds, which is fucking hysterical. And his delivery is one of the straight-up goofiest in Southern rap. Rather than simply riding beats, he slides his voice around them; unpredictably shifting between a singsong low register and a squeaky high-pitched yip. He sounds like a cartoon character, and he loves the sound of his own voice. The haze of regret that hung over Crook By Da Book is all but gone now, and he sounds almost giggly when he’s telling his graphically descriptive tales of bloodshed: “Nine-millimeter heater cracked his skull like a watermelon / Naked in his blood, duct-taped on the floor I left him.” (The way Pat enunciates, “watermelon” really does rhyme with “floor I left him.”) There’s something deeply chilling and darkly compelling about someone so cheerful in his blatant disregard for human life. I’d like to dismiss all the heavy stuff on Walkin’ Bank Roll as empty horror-movie posturing, but the album doesn’t let us off that easily. It’s one of those troubling works that implicates as it engages.