Crooked I’s C.O.B. camp is one of the rare loci in the Golden State where that West Coast relic tradition is still being tended, and while youth like Pac Div, the OFWGKTA collective and Black Hippy outfit rewrite and refine style for the Digital Age, Horse Shoe G.A.N.G. drive forward with a combative method reminiscent of the standard set by Westside Connection and Compton’s Most Wanted.
In their latest DJ Far-hosted mixtape Ambitions Az A Writer, the Shoe G.A.N.G. treat instrumentals from artists like J. Cole, Big Sean, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar like lyrical treadmills, tromping through meter after meter with an effortless variation of flows and relentless series of cyphers, freestyles and lyrical goliaths. The four work with a punch line-heavy lyrical philosophy, dropping bars saturated in similes amidst unpredictable double-time runs and raw chop-screw hits, backing their claim as Crooked I’s “younger brothers” and producing a product similar to what you find on a Slaughterhouse record.
The title of the tape is mostly told in the “Intro” and “Outro,” which cover the topic of endurance and passion amidst socioeconomic oppression, leaving the remainder of the track list as nothing short of a verbal massacre. Records like “Shoot Game” and “Right Amount of Wrong” exhibit Shoe G.A.N.G.’s aptitude for maintaining equilibrium in their velocity without sacrificing effect, and despite the amount of content fired throughout the tracklist, redundancy is a stranger.
The magnum opus of Ambitions Az A Writer is the eight-minute battle rap Iliad “Team 6” set over the instrumentals of Drake’s “Lord Knows,” and alongside the spitfire ten emcee mega-cypher “C.O.B. Cypher” and a capella closer, the Shoe G.A.N.G. turn the proving grounds into an ash-coated crater.
The crack in the mixtape’s Kevlar are the hit or miss hooks. The tempo of “C.O.B. Motto” and softer sides of “I Need To Take A Break” work fluid harmonies reminiscent of early Bone Thugs, but the breaks on songs like “King Kong,” “Beat Jackin’ 2011,” “No Hoes” and “My Dick’s A Super Hero” seem nothing more than collections of perfected verses forced together around a sloppy center.
You’re not going to find traditional hits on Ambitions Az A Writer because it’s an introduction, not a dealmaker. Horse Shoe G.A.N.G. already have their label family in C.O.B. and have established their mode, so while they’re working out their follow-up to Firing Squad, this one’s simply roaring out that West Coast tradition of acidic lyrical prowess. It’s aggression music, more about revival than revolt, and with lyrical skill on this level, it’s hard to believe we won’t be seeing something exceptional in the Shoe G.A.N.G.’s future.