PITCHFORK REVIEW: PAYROLL & CARDO - BIG BOSSIN' VOL. 2
The Detroit rapper and the Dallas producer team up for another satin-smooth album of street hustler stories.
Two years ago, Big Bossin Vol. 1 was a revelation: a luxurious gangster rap album made by a producer living in exurban North Texas and a rapper from hollowed-out, post-industrial Detroit. Cardo and Payroll Giovanni transcended geography for something sun-kissed and glowing with rude, vibrant health. They weren’t hand in glove, they were convertible on Pacific Coast Highway, or silk on skin. Vaguely coastal and entirely sumptuous, their sound was exciting enough to bring about a deal with Def Jam for the next edition of the world’s most extravagant leadership seminar.
As with the first iteration of Big Bossin, Cardo—whose name should be written in turquoise velour, amethyst neon, or maroon suede—is greatly responsible for the second volume’s indefatigable glamour. As always, his beats are unhurried, lush, and somewhat placeless. Cardo’s core influences are the golden triangle of the East Bay, Los Angeles County, and Houston. He synthesizes the menace and bounce of mobb music, the “Funky Worm”-style wail and whine of G-funk, and the slow, mellow churn of mid-late ’90s Houston rap into a sound that’s simultaneously reverent and refreshing. The guitar sample on “5’s and 6’s” belongs on the television menu of a Hawaiian hotel. His “So Young” instrumental could’ve backed ’80s R&B ballads by Dennis Edwards or the Whispers. The saxophone on “Rapped My Way” belongs in the too-orange sun of Biscayne Bay or Newport Beach. Like palm trees in cool ocean breezes, Cardo’s beats bop and sway.
If Cardo’s instrumentals are an unbuttoned, eleven-color Reyn Spooner Hawaiian shirt, then Payroll Giovanni’s rapping is the inevitable glowing sunburn. On Vol. 2, he shows little outward interest in, say, presidential elections, police brutality or gender inequality—topics which typically garner other rappers serious critical consideration. Rather, he keys in on a solitary concern: the realpolitik of drug sales and its material and social rewards. From a scholarly remove, it’s well-trodden territory, but, honestly, fuck scholarly remove. Or, as Payroll raps on “In Me, Not on Me,” “Bloggers be like, ‘He talked about the drugs almost the whole song’/But you ain’t from where I’m from, so get the fuck on.” What Raymond Chandler was to steely-eyed bombshells or Denis Johnson to sodden burnouts, Payroll is to Detroit hustlers. He has a relish for quick cash, an intimacy with the metric system and an affinity for Cartier frames, and that’s a rich enough palette.
Big Bossin Vol. 2’s particular splendor brings to mind an oxymoronic aphorism: There’s hardness in softness. More specifically, it takes overwhelming self-confidence to project oneself as a tough guy while also appearing vulnerable, often by enjoying styles or sounds considered feminine. (Some examples: pimps with flowing, permed locks and glowing manicures; Rick James’ flamboyant outfits and sometimes violent behavior; Ice Cube’s Jheri curl; rappers’ enduring affinity for Sade.) For Cardo and Payroll, that means the contrast of lyrics about gangster derring-do and selling pounds of opiates, set to pastel-hued beats that aren’t far removed from boogie and R&B.
Ultimately, Cardo and Payroll Giovanni’s mastery of their self-defined genre is Big Bossin Vol. 2’s greatest artistic strength and its biggest potential weakness. On its own merits, it’s excellent, even if it doesn’t significantly expand the duo’s oeuvre. If you enjoyed Vol. 1, then you’ll surely enjoy Vol. 2. It isn’t meat-and-potatoes rap, but surf ‘n’ turf rap. It’s rap that’ll make your wheezing subcompact feel like a fine-tuned German coupe. It’s the sound of sipping palomas poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel, or shucking oysters beside the silvery crash and hiss of the Pacific, or yachting on crystalline waters.