Larry June & Cardo Release the Year’s Best Summer Project with ‘Cruise Usa'
Evan Dale // May 14, 2020
There are West Coast rappers, and then there’s Larry June. On a shortlist of modern California hip-hop godfathers alongside names like Dom Kennedy & Polyester the Saint whose music also shines with golden-hour sun, slow-rides with the top-down, and beach party anthems, Larry’s position in hip-hop is that of a staple, necessary, timeless artist. And from quarantine, he’s taking us on a much-needed journey: Cruise Usa.
The eight-track project never deters from an aesthetic of vibrant synth-laced beats, the most effortless of flows, and an air of positivity. Weaving in and out of productive lanes from the bass-heavy to those more driven by the keys, the entirety of Cruise Usa succeeds in its form as a custom-fit top-down anthem. Owed equally to the steady soundscape of the San Francisco rapper, and to the consistent force of project collaborator, producer, and engineer, Cardo, Cruise Usa is a cruise classic that could have come from any era of hip-hop as long as it came from the West Coast.
Its overarching texture feels silly at times, so strongly adhering to the antics that timeless vibe architects like Larry have made into a lane all their own. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Larry June has always been hilarious – one of the great punchline rappers of our time – fitted with a spoon-fed delivery that makes sure every light-hearted diss, absurd flex, and anecdote about going to pick up smoothies is heard word-for-word. The intro alone, Green Juice in Dallas sets the tone for the rest of the album to unfold as a carefree journey that’s first order of business is setting the stage for a casual, summer day drive.
Trenches, suburbs, even afghans fuck with me.
Biking, drinking smoothies, rolling up the best weed.
By the time Larry June opens Highway 5 Chronicles in unison with a classic West Coast synth riff from Cardo, whether or not a listener is actually out for a cruise is irrelevant. Cardo’s foundation and Larry’s flow ensure we’re all out for a sunny Sunday drive if nowhere else, at least in our own minds. The track is anthemic – as are all inclusion from Cruise Usa – but gives a more in-depth exploration into Larry as an adept wordsmith and a storyteller. There is no shortage of Summertime punchlines, but there is an exhibition of flow, cadence, and penmanship on Highway 5 Chronicles that would make any California lyricist through the ages proud, ensuring the EP’s second order of business is painting a vivid picture of the life and times that gave birth to Larry June: the rapper.
Only thing on my mind is I gotta make it out.
Shit wasn’t really for me, I started writin’ raps.
‘Bout the shit that I’m dealin’ with on daily basis,
Hotel to hotels, rentals to Vegas,
How I fucked up the trap, then Pleasant Hills saved me,
Eight hunid a day for two weeks, went crazy.
This around the time when I copped the 650.
Trunk full of Red Bottoms, pocket full of twenties.
With the juxtaposing, but cohesive forces of Cruise Usa’s opening two tracks bookending the aesthetic of the six tracks still to come, the album moves forward, always between the goofy hilarity of punchline anthems like Green Juice in Dallas and anecdotal lyrical bouts about Larry’s journey like Highway 5 Chronicles. It’s balanced.
And for even more balance, Larry & Cardo invite bookending forces of West Coast hip-hop legend into the mix. Meet Me in Frisco folds in the timeless aesthetic of Black C – a lord of Bay Area hip-hop history whose pre-solo work goes back to the founding of the RBL Posse. The result is a rare look into the evolution of Bay Area rap, where Larry June’s style, held against the light of Black C’s, is of obvious inspiration and root. Attaching himself two tracks late to the timeless Southern California styling of Dom Kennedy, the two rappers continue a long friendship tied to collaborative tracks with one another. Orange Juice is a fun-loving Summer anthem, worthy of their esteemed collaborative pasts; worthy of the underlying direction of Cruise Usa at large.
At large, Cruise Usa is an anthemic Summer project, so shining of a Bay Area aesthetic and that of the West Coast at large, that it will feel attached to the warmer months even in the dead of winter. It’s already underrated as the best Summer hip-hop project to come out in 2020 so far. But – like most of Larry’s work to this point, it comes from the West Side, it’s for the West Side, and it’s bound to be unendingly embraced in the history books of the West Side forever.