Nothing out of the Bay this year sounded quite as joyful as East Oakland’s Trill Youngins did on their debut, Rich This Summer. The banner single from RTS was “I Look Fly”, a twinkly, insanely catchy summer anthem about investing in your wardrobe so you can snatch away some other dude’s chick. To my mind, it’s one of the best singles of the year, and as of this afternoon, it’s closing in 400K on YouTube, though it’s received minimal-to-no push from any local outlet not named Thizzler.
Across 13 tracks, produced in-house by TY’s LayEmDown, RTS boasts a sound that’s polished and cohesive, all silky R&B hooks, glimmery synth textures, and HBK-via-Mannie Fresh clap. It’s the kind of record that’s so good at sounding fun, it probably caught the short end of the stick from writers looking for more “serious” LPs to review, or artists with more obvious narratives attached to them. Trill Youngins, a five-man squad comprised by members ClearItOut, Mitche, Sonniebo, Capolow, and LayEmDown, channel a particular brand of R&B slap that’s Oakland-specific and tied to the mid-’00s. It’s not as aggressive or thizzed-out-frenetic as hyphy, though it’s certainly still indebted. It’s a sound that’s contemporary as hell, connected at least tangentially to everything from Nic Nac and Bobby Brackins’ radio smash discography, to HBK, to Zaytoven, to Chicago bop, to a handful of Pretty Ricky records that are starting to feel weirdly timeless to me.
Aside from sounding good, though, Rich This Summer is also just a solid coming of age album by some college-age kids from East Oakland. Think of it like 93 Til Infinity for kids who have no reason to care about ’90s boom bap. That the album opens with “Be A Man” – in which the trio trade stories about helping a single mom pay rent as a teenager or turning 18 with a felony on your record – feels purposeful. Interspersed between casual flex bars are sharp observations from a few young dudes navigating adulthood and self-reliance and relationships and capitalism and all that good shit that comes at you way too fast right around the start of your 20’s, assuming you’re lucky and get to wait that long.
As with most great rap music, Rich This Summer isn’t even close to being deliberately political, but the factors that continue to make it tough to be a young black man in East Oakland, California, or like, anywhere in America, form a backdrop that’s central to understanding the music. It’s a joyful collection of songs, but that bliss is more hard-earned than the music lets on. The idea of money and success surfaces all the time in TY’s music, but for basically all the same reasons it does in “CREAM” or “Juicy”. In other words, RTS is joyful, but not exactly triumphant. It’s a record mostly about celebrating small victories or, in the case of the title track (“I’ma be rich this summerrr”), imagined ones off in the future somewhere, even when your circumstances are telling you those wins might be hard to come by.
Will Bundy is the Editor-in-Chief at Wine & Bowties and the Creative Director for FEELS, a music and art thing that happens in West Oakland. Argue with him about rap stuff at @wineandbowties. Wine and Bowties is hosting a New Year’s party in Oakland with Young L, Nic Nac & Alexander Spit. Get your tickets here.