By Jamel Smith
October 10, 2021
Photo: Marcus Miller
After a year of minimal activity from the Dreamville squad, the hip-hop super label is back in full swing with new singles from Earthgang, J.I.D., Bas, Ari Lennox, and an album from the head honcho himself, J. Cole. Despite the litany of recent releases, Dreamville fans have been clamoring for new Lute– the Charlotte native and proverbial underdog of the roster who released his Dreamville debut with West 1996 Pt. 2 (the sequel to his 2012 independent mixtape, West 1996) in 2017.
Four years later, Lute is back with his second studio album, Gold Mouf— a self-reflective sonic experience that resumes where we left off in 2017. The album starts with a soul-dripping opening track, “100” (produced by Coop the Truth, Jsmash, and KingCeez). However, it only takes a minute to notice that Lute is a different person this go ‘round. This is not the same guy from 2017 who was slummin’ and juggin’ just to get by. Lute’s life circa 2021 has undergone a 180-degree rotation.
Despite his fame, Lute is still “keeping it 100.” He is still hungry for success, like a man haunted by the possibility of going back to where he worked so hard to leave. His fear of impermanence is now in the driver’s seat. He faces this fear head-on by acknowledging the fleeting nature of money and friends.
It’s a tale as old as time in rap music: Black man leaves the hood and does everything in his power to prevent going back to the hood– a conundrum that makes the politics around “making it” delicate and difficult. Minutes into the new LP, we find Lute balancing survivor’s guilt with basking in the feeling of deservedness. After all, the West Charlotte native worked hard to get where he is now.
The second track, “GED (Getting Every Dollar),” produced by Jsmash, MixMP, and Patrick “Guitarboy” Hayes, makes the case for his value system. He sees himself as, or is rather told by others that he is, an inspiration to those he may have left in his past. And with that inspiration comes a personal responsibility for him to win by turning his pain into prosperity– a tenet of hip-hop itself.
Musically speaking, every track on Gold Mouf possesses the “golden touch,” a comfy balance of soul and hip-hop that never goes out of style and that Lute has come to master in his artistry. With production from a rolodex of newcomers– Coop the Truth, Jsmash, King Ceez, MixMP, Guitarboy, Trox, Diego Ave, Swish, The Nukez, Suburban Plaza, Blakk Soul, Matthew Crabtree, Mell, ROMderful, Christo, Marco Polo, Dom, Tigallo, Zo!, Diamond, KQuick, and Ronald Gilmore– no song shares the same producer. Despite its varied personnel, Gold Mouf maintains its soul throughout the entire album.
Embedded in a musical DNA that harkens back to the stylings of Organized Noize, Dilla, and early Kanye West lies soul and jazz instrumentation, gospel-tinged choir vocals, and smooth grooves. There are even skits on the album, which add a grounded, comedic element. In its most pastiche moments, the skits are capped by a chorus of men shouting “Gold Mouf!” as if to signify breaking a huddle.
Gold Mouf’s humor may point directly to Phonte Coleman of Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange, who sequenced the album. Coleman offers his comedic timing and voicings to the skits while fellow Little Brother member Rapper Big Pooh is Lute’s manager, as well as the album’s executive producer. Lute, Phonte, and Big Pooh’s connection on this album makes apparent that Gold Mouf is also a testament to the lineage of North Carolina rap.
The breaks of comedic relief come in handy when juxtaposed against some of the album’s more somber themes. Lute’s braggadocio is immediately sidelined by the revelation of his underlying anxiety and depression. This isn’t a topic from which he’s shied away. In 2019, the rapper revealed to GQ that “his anxiety was starting to heighten.” In his digital series, Gold Mouf Chronicles, he spoke about multiple family members having anxiety, his experience with open-heart surgery in his youth, and having anxiety attacks on stage.
On the track, “Be Okay” (produced by Diego Ave and Swish) he opens up a Pandora’s box about his budding anxiety, citing the loss of his close friends and the near loss of his father: “N****s want more music; I ain’t right within.” Where has Lute been? He’s been dealing with life. We all have. And he’s demanding grace and comfort where it hasn’t been offered: “Even when the light goes dark, I confide in you; tell me it’s gon be okay.”
Through the course of the album, it becomes more evident that this body of work is a form of therapy for Lute. He’s generous enough to offer and share his safe space with everyone who’s willing to listen. The album is considerably interactive in that way. With every revelatory statement he makes, he looks for a witness who can relate.
Lute brings his own fair share of witnesses on the album, as well. Out of 13 tracks, seven of them have features, including fellow Charlotte native DEVN, his Dreamville home team: JID, Cozz, and Ari Lennox; soul singer BJ The Chicago Kid, Saba, Westside Boogie, Blakk Soul, and North Carolina legends, Little Brother.
Community and conversation is at the heart of Gold Mouf. The most pointed example of this is “Birdsong” featuring JID and Saba (produced by Christo), a posse cut that spends its three minutes exploring personal freedom. Lute desires to be free from the charades of the rap game. He hints at early retirement with lines like, “I’m just rapping til’ I’m somewhere chillin’” and “collect my coin then I’ma dip off.” Ultimately, his idea of freedom is having agency to live as he wants: “Live how I wanna, cause I’m freer than a bird.”
Somewhere between acknowledging the weight of his influence and contemplating his long game, Lute uses Gold Mouf to be openly honest about who he is, how he feels, and what all he desires to accomplish in his long-awaited follow-up to West 1996 Pt. 2, and it certainly does not disappoint.
Listen to Lute’s latest album Gold Mouf via Dreamville/Interscope Records.
In this article
- Charlotte Music
- ari lennox
- BJ The Chicago Kid
- Blakk Soul
- Coop the Truth
- Diego Ave
- gold mouf
- hip hop
- King Ceez
- little brother
- Marco Polo
- Matthew Crabtree
- north carolina
- Ronald Gilmore
- Suburban Plaza
- The Nukez
- west charlotte
- Westside Boogie