ATLANTA UNTRAPPED: Why ‘777’ is the hit of the summer

Key! and Kenny Beats are sad as hell, but they turn up the heat

Photo credit: Courtesy Hello!/D.O.T.S.
HEAVENLY DAZE: The Atlanta rapper, Key!, and the Los Angeles-based producer, Kenny Beats looked deep within themselves to create '777.'

In May, Key! and Kenny Beats released a joint album, titled 777. Although it hasn’t received the same hype as other recent hip-hop collabs such as Quavo and Travis Scott’s Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho and Big Sean and Metro Boomin’s Double or Nothing, it’s the soundtrack to my summer — easily my favorite hip-hop album of 2018.

The Atlanta rapper, Key!, and the Los Angeles-based producer, Kenny Beats, say they’ve recorded at least 60 songs together, 15 of which makeup 777. From beginning to end, never once does a song go on for more than three minutes, and that’s OK. The short song lengths stand as testament to Key! and Kenny Beats’ shared ability to edit their production and rhymes to the core, drawing out the essential parts to deliver only what’s absolutely necessary for the song — no filler needed.

In a recent interview with XXL, the pair talked about working together on the project. Key!, a founding member of Atlanta rap collective Two-9 who was previously known as FatManKey, opened up about his ability to create songs dealing with more serious topics, such as 777’s “It Gets Better,” while still making fun music.

“I'm an adult now, so I got a real responsibility,” Key! told XXL. “When I was young and everything was more party-based, you don't be wanting to tell everybody about what's going on with you. I was just getting more open because I'm getting older and I know how to express myself now. Finding ways to express the shit I wouldn't usually express.” 

In the same story, Kenny Beats went on to say that “It Gets Better” came from: “two hours of us sitting there, both sad as hell about shit we have going on in our respective lives — with our families, with money, with whatever — and we're sitting there, mad.” 

The album’s highlights, such as the deceptively upbeat “Love On Ice,” a song about a tumultuous relationship, follow the introspective “It Gets Better.” “Kristi Yamaguchi, your love got me goofy,” Key! raps over over synths before diving into “Dig It,” an ominous ode to a time when Key! was committing home invasions while his peers were busy watching “Run’s House,” the MTV reality show that followed the lives of Run D.M.C’s Rev Run and his family, including his son Diggy. 

Braggadocious cut “Hater” stands out with Key!’s brash lyrics, the booming bass that necessitates involuntary head nodding, and the simple but effective hook, “you my biggest hater.” 

777 arrives on a long list of new releases from Atlanta rappers in recent months. Young Bans, Lil Reek, and Lil Baby all released solid projects that proved they’re artists worth watching, and Future returned with the Zaytoven-assisted Beast Mode 2. However, my favorite thing about Key!’s project is its unassuming nature. The album is vulnerable. It’s fun. It’s uninterested in fitting squarely into any current rap conventions, even if that means falling short of the viral or chart success of their peers.

Play 777 for anyone and I promise it’ll go just as hard as the aforementioned projects. It’s the perfect companion to the remaining summer nights and all of the uncertainty the season might bring. 

Read Jewel Wicker’s Atlanta Untrapped column every week at www.creativeloafing.com/ATL-Untrapped.