Willie the Kid, ‘Aquamarine’ – Mixtape Review
Willie the Kid's ‘Aquamarine’ drops in a week that Juicy J’s loud and club ready ‘Stay Trippy’ and Lil Wayne’s hashtag-inspiring ‘Dedication 5’ also released. The Michigan native's latest project is the antithesis of those two radio-ready releases. The pleasures here have more nuance.
The glaring differences between ‘Aquamarine’ and the other two releases doesn’t mean Willie the Kid is completely removed from radio-style rap. The rapper gained a lot of attention when he appeared on DJ Drama’s ‘Gangsta Grillz’ series and Lil Wayne’s second and third ‘Dedication’ mixtapes.
Willie doesn't thrive off affiliations though, as his latest effort is mostly without big name features or producers. ‘Aquamarine’ is essentially focused on wordplay, bars and solid production.
The production is actually the best aspect of ‘Aquamarine.’ The beats aren’t strictly jazz or boom-bap influenced. They incorporate a variety of flavors, but somehow the 13 tracks still feel easygoing and free flowing just like Willie the Kid's delivery. There’s the rhythmic , ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’-sampled ‘Glasses of Water,’ produced by Soundahfekz; the minor chord violins of the Audio Unit’s ‘Goodness Gracious;’ and even production from OutKast’s ‘Mainstream’ -- a song from their 1996 classic, ‘ATLiens.’ It’s a bit of variation, but the beats feel more cohesive than a simple collage of sounds.
The problem here is how there isn’t much else differentiating the tracks on ‘Aquamarine.' Willie the Kid does spread his wordplay, tumbling flow and solid rhyming technique throughout the length of the mixtape, but it feels like he’s so focused on delivering his verses in this fashion that he forgets to inject at least a little bit of personality into them. The cadences in his bars feel too similar at times in each track as well, causing his stanzas to bleed together.
This isn’t helped by how his lyrics only loosely follow the ‘Aquamarine’ theme, so consequently, there doesn’t feel like there’s too much focus in his rhymes besides backpacker-approved braggadocio either. Smoke DZA, who’s the mixtape’s biggest feature, just comes and goes on ‘Goodness Gracious,’ which doesn't help out Willie the Kid's cause.
These flaws make ‘Aquamarine’ feel thrill-less, even though there are a few to be found throughout the tape. Willie ends ‘Glasses of Water’ with an accessible bit of wordplay: “I’m trying to be the black Bill Gates / Will not the Fresh Prince but I will fill Banks.”
‘Sea Foam’ plays near the end of ‘Aquamarine’ and you get a sense this is what the project could be if it had this level of sharpness throughout. The horns in V Don’s production recall a certain level of majesty, while Willie paints these hazy pictures of desperation and scandal in a breathy cadence that feels both claustrophobic and enthralling.
His ‘Mainstream’ freestyle also feels passionately delivered as the lyrics are thrown at the listener with blistering speed. The rhymes come with a bit of biting substance too: “Sequoia dreams, diplomacy became the main thing / I seen n----s burn bridges and drown in the mainstream.”
There are a few other moments that’ll leap out to the listener as well, but ‘Aquamarine’ as a whole feels all too inclusive because of how steady and unchanging Willie sounds throughout the effort. This is despite how well done his rhymes are from a technical standpoint. It would’ve been far more interesting to hear Willie the Kid explore this aquatic environment he surrounds himself with rather than stoically submerge himself into its waters.
Listen to Willie the Kid's 'Aquamarine' Mixtape