Viral rap music videos rarely feature layered, intricately written rhymes, but there’s been a few in recent memory that have propelled artists into the limelight. Usually, it’s instigated by nostalgia for something that no longer exists in the mainstream (ie. playful bar-trading), an impressive technical showcase you can’t help but share (the Black Thought freestyle), or a curious fascination with attractive women representing hip-hop (not surprising given the genre is primarily consumed by young men). You’ve also got underground favorite Oddisee with a bunch of videos with millions of views, although that capitalizes on the sheer amount of listeners and businesses that play hip-hop instrumentals. But it’s Clear Soul Forces, a group that was unfortunately disbanded, that springs to mind when I watch Coast Contra’s successful output. The back-and-forth approach to rap, the injection of character and humor, and the general sense of fun that the emcees are having definitely feel like we have been here before.
Coast Contra is also a quartet of emcees but benefits from being more distinctive. The four members are Bravado Ras and Taj Austin (the twin sons of Ras Kass and Teedra Moses, no less), Rio Loz, and Eric Jamal. They have been around for a minute but exploded on YouTube thanks to a video that uses JID’s “Never” beat. What separates them from standard freestyle videos is the way their performances are clearly heavily rehearsed and by their very nature, not freestyled, but they possess the energy of a true freestyle through the creative delivery, interaction between members, and willingness to jump in and out of different flow patterns. A lot of freestyles now are merely memorized verses from songs, but these provided something unique and specifically crafted. They showed character is as important as technical skill.
With Rio Loz being from Colombia, he can drift between languages at ease, while Eric’s animated style harks back to the days of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Busta Rhymes. It’s not just four dudes spitting bars, and they confirmed this with subsequent popular videos utilizing Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr instrumentals. Where the aforementioned Clear Soul Forces populated their lyrics with videogame titles and nerdy references, Coast Contra have a broader appeal that must be more marketable – that’s my only guess as to how they are on the new Ciara single (which you couldn’t imagine CSF ever doing). With 50% of the group growing up in the music industry, and their parents being well-respected if underappreciated in their craft by the masses, you start to see why Coast Contra’s new album “Apt. 505” distinguishes itself from anything by Ras Kass, Teedra Moses or a crew like CSF. It’s different, and if you come in expecting 90s New York it will likely disappoint. But Coast Contra are clear in their quest to strike out and create something new, and “Get the Worm” is an excellent showcase of their intentions. It’s catchy whilst remaining moody and hypnotic – you can nod your head to it and rap along to the hook. Another success is “Pimpin’ Benjamin”, a song that lets each member drop sixteen bars – Rio Loz in particular murders the final verse. It’s just a shame these moments are implemented sparingly.
“My Lady” and “Queen & Slim” both show a soulful side that adds some welcome adult energy amongst the more in-your-face energy displayed elsewhere. “Apt. 505” is strikingly different from their taste in beats to spar over, purposefully designed to wider audience’s ears with its trap and drill-leaning aesthetic. But it doesn’t make sense considering their millions of views came from spitting bars over hard beats, and it ultimately backfires. “On Tap” is just bad and doesn’t fit. Rio Loz is frustratingly cut short on “Coupe Dreams”. “Explicit” relies on a gimmicky delivery to maintain the listener’s attention, but is once again limited lyrically. In fact this is the surprising aspect of Coast Contra – four emcees that can rap well simply aren’t given the freedom to do so on an album that rarely has guest features.
There’s a reason I, and many others judging by the views, continue to return to their videos above this selection of tracks. They have actually added the “Never Freestyle” to streaming platforms, and on Spotify at least, it has already doubled any streaming figures of songs from their album. Part of this is due to the visual flair of their performances being diminished in audio form, increasingly so when paired with characterless music – “Legacy” and “2 Phone Jack” provide little longevity. These sound less like Coast Contra tracks, and more like Coast Contra doing their interpretation of another artist’s style. “Apt. 505” is named after the first apartment the guys lived in together, but it’s populated with unnecessary accessories that add no value. Their skill and character flourish primarily on “Get the Worm”, “Pimpin’ Benjamin” and the wild final track “Pangea” but their unquestionable talents are too often pushed aside in favor of a hook or ill-fitting beat.