The chances of Los — a Baltimore rapper once signed to and quietly dropped from Diddy's Bad Boy Records — being named one of XXL's 2012 Freshmen aren't good.
Like most of the hip-hop-only magazines on stands, XXL's clout in rap-circles has diminished greatly over the years. Yet somehow, its annual issue of up-and-comers generates heated debates online, and thus, we still care when Baltimore rappers are included. (Congrats, also, to Mullyman, the only other Baltimore MC included on the ballot.) But let's be real — Los will likely not beat out the likes of French Montana, A$AP Rocky and Machine Gun Kelly. Even drivel such as Kreayshawn and Sam Adams have better shots. Like it or not, these are rappers making serious impact both online and in the streets. The same can't eb said for Los or Mullyman. If Los or Mully somehow make it, then I will happily eat these words...
But really, who cares? A rap career isn't made by an XXL Freshmen cover (even if it significantly helps it, there are plenty of examples of Freshmen falling flat post-cover — remember Blu or Charles Hamilton?). Without a major-league co-sign or a trendy regional sound, rappers exist on their own social-media-driven islands, free to creatively push themselves and release material how and when they see fit. It must be frightening ("How many freestyles do I have to release to get noticed?") and liberating ("Screw it, I'm going to go in over this weird, indie-rock-sampling beat"). To make any dent nationally, most rappers must make their movements seem interesting/different/cool enough to get picked up by national tastemakers (Hi, A$AP crew, MGK's Lace Up, Odd Future, etc.).
Or they could be like Los, who seems determined to do this the old-fashioned way: rapping very well. His latest "freestyle" (please no comments about what a freestyle *truly* is — we're aware Los likely didn't come up with all of this on the spot) finds the Baltimore MC rapping over "Lord Knows," Drake's boisterous battlecry produced by Just Blaze. It's a standout from Drake's "Take Care" because there's no chorus; it's simply a backdrop to showoff over. For nearly five minutes, King Los does just that. Early on, he makes simple rhymes sound powerful:
"Now I'm in that Maserati
Driving like a kamikaze
Diamonds on me kinda rocky
Blind you like the paparazzi"
When the beat changes, so does his flow. He adopts a double-time with ease when the vocal sample arrives, spitting "Nutty Professor" references alongside more regal ones. Bragging in rap — no matter if the subject is being the best rapper, driving the fastest car or sleeping with the hottest women — never gets boring as long as you say it in an interesting way. So while there's plenty to unpack in "Lord Knows (Freestyle)," Los will reward you with crammed-in, wonderous imagery. "Flossin' bad, pop the top look like I got the drop in the Boston Crab" turns an unspecified convertible into a classic wrestling manuever. Even when he shows signs of laziness ("It's goin' down, it's goin' down like the bungee pop") he quickly follows it with "Play me? I let the animal out like the Jumanji box." Will Los' keen eye translate to nationwide tours and more fans? It can't hurt.
Download Los' brand new mixtape, "The Crown Ain't Safe," here.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun