G-Side rappers Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz have made it no secret that they read their own press, so it’s probably not a coincidence that the second track on their latest album, Island, is titled with the word critics have most used to describe their sound: “Cinematic.” A sci-fi/spaghetti-western overture bustling with trip-hop drums, turntable fits, and a ghostly children’s choir, the song is massive even by the Huntsville, Alabama, duo’s standards—a fittingly epic opener for an album that marks yet another exhilarating expansion of their sound.
Island is the duo’s fifth record in five years, and it dazzles even more consistently than their first release of 2011, The One…Cohesive. While that record featured some typically opulent production, much of it from G-Side’s longtime producers Block Beattaz, its beats were so soft and inward that the drums sometimes got lost amid all the stargazing ambiance. That’s not a problem anymore. On Island, the beats are as evocative as ever, but they also thump hard. Even the album’s most psychedelic tracks, like the glitchy “Atmosphere” or the shimmering, Tame Impala-sampling “Getting It,” were crafted to make trunks rattle. If you’re streaming the album through Bandcamp over computer speakers, you’re missing half the experience.
As usual, there’s a galaxy’s distance between the Block Beattaz’s widescreen productions and G-Side’s grounded rhymes. There are hundreds of rappers dwelling on the same themes of hustle and determination as Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz, including some that do so with nimbler flows and sharper wordplay, but there are few that match the duo’s personality and conviction. The two outline their modest dreams of quitting their day jobs and keeping food on their tables with a mix of humor and defensiveness, as if they’re all too aware that rapping might seem like an impractical career path, and even when they brag about the fruits of their labor—recognition from blogs, magazines, and neighbors, mostly—their raps rarely feel glamorized. They never act like their lives are movies, even as they make albums that sound like one.