There was a moment in the middle of the last decade where just about every mainstream rap song took place in the club. That moment is over, but it’ll never end for Alabama bulldozer Jackie Chain. “Rollin’,” Jackie’s breakout underground hit, might just be rap’s greatest-ever ode to ecstasy, and it has plenty of competition in that respect. And from that moment on, Jackie has stayed steadfastly in a very narrow lane, rapping almost exclusively about subjects within the clubs/cars/girls/drugs axis but sounding utterly overjoyed whenever he gets to talk about this stuff. Jackie is no great rap technician, and he usually uses the same basic flow, a hammering all-caps reveler’s bellow. But he rarely gets boring because there’s so much excitement and wonder in this voice; every time he steps in the club, it apparently feels like the first time. And the new mixtape After Hours is the best full-length he’s ever done because it’s the one where the aesthetic finally matches the subject matter completely.
For After Hours, Jackie hooked up with Nick Catchdubs, who started out as a blogger and DJ before co-founding Fool’s Gold with A-Trak and helping to put Wale on the map with their series of collaborative mixtapes. Catchdubs is someone who spends a fair bit of time in nightclubs, and he knows how dance music works. I wouldn’t have even realized this if my dude Brandon Soderberg hadn’t pointed it out, but many of the tracks on After Hours involve Catchdubs tweaking samples of cheesed-out Euro-dance hits from guys like David Guetta and Avicii. That could, of course, result in a massive shitpile of a rap mixtape, which is basically what the last Lupe Fiasco tape was. But Catchdubs also understands rap, especially Southern rap, so he knows to make sure to slow this stuff down and inject plenty of boom into the low end. So if you’re a dance-music ignoramus like me, it’s easy to hear the tape without noticing any of its Euro-house pedigree. Instead, it just feels like a collection of rap tracks that moves, and that’s a rare thing.
Jackie absolutely thrives on the sorts of beats that Catchdubs and collaborating producers like Block Beattaz and DJ Burn One throw at him. On the right sort of track, his thunderous voice becomes just another part of the beat, and all his talk about getting shitfaced on booze and pills makes a lot more sense when it’s over the sort of beats that you might actually hear in a club. He sounds absolutely at home throughout the tape, keeping awesomely dumb exhortations stacking up, one after the other: “Drink this, sniff this, hit this, swallow that / Pop this, shoot this, smoke this, holla back.” On “Molly,” Jackie claims that “this venue’s like a painting made by Salvador Dali,” and I’m pretty sure he just means that there are hot girls in it. There aren’t a whole ton of guest-rappers, but they’re all on point. Freddie Gibbs double-times all over a blinky Jersey-house beat on “Night Is Young,” old Three 6 Mafia associate Gangsta Boo sasses the everliving fuck out of “Don’t Violate,” and various Huntsville buddies jump on to show why the small Alabama city has one of the country’s most-touted rap scenes. Jackie departs his comfort zone a few times, awkwardly sing-songing on “Molly” and getting reflective about jailed friends on “Writing On The Wall.” Mostly, though, he just blearily barges on ahead, and the end result is a total blast.
Download After Hours for free at Fool’s Gold.