With his husky voice and murky selection of beats that sound best when the sky is gray, Los brings hard-boiled chronicles of Detroit’s underworld to life. In the west side-bred rapper’s tales of the drug game, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Lexington are regular pit stops; American-made SUVs and minivans are the preferred mode of transportation; and the grind never stops. His distinctly suffocating world-building has ear-to-the-street rappers in cities like Rochester (Rx Papi), D.C. (Paco Panama), and Tallahassee (Wizz Havinn) trying to capture their own regionally specific renderings.
Each mixtape Los drops, whether solo or with brother Nutty, further fleshes out this ominous milieu. On his newest project, War on Drugs 2, the sounds of television news clips and encroaching police sirens make the urgent mood clear. Los has enough stories to fill a coffee table book, but they’re almost always delivered in loose, bite-sized vignettes. “Lying 2 You” is a compact collage of sequences: the demise of a short-lived romance, the seedy alleyways where Los and his crew hang out for business purposes, the Ohio State frat houses where they move their product. The Blaxploitation-era funk of “Hip Hop Shit” is a slight step outside his comfort zone, but it gives Los’ descriptions of neighborhood turmoil the type of vivid montage treatment that characterizes so many of the dark and unforgiving flicks of that era, like Across 110th Street and Truck Turner.
A handful of other tracks on War on Drugs 2 expand what a Los song can sound like without feeling out of character. On “Priceless,” his weathered anecdotes of sleepless nights and 5 a.m. phone calls are a bit routine but don’t lose any steam thanks to Dat Boi Will’s G-funk synths. On “Cant Stop,” he rips a freestyle over a time capsule of a beat from Philly group the Young Gunz’s 2003 single, and though he leans on punchlines, those punchlines are pretty damn good: “Getting off pounds, welcome to my weight journey.” From the Young Gunz freestyle to a clever Boosie reference on the hard-hitting “Back 2 Ballin” to a Beanie Sigel namedrop on the breezy Topside-produced “Kick Game,” the tape nods to some of Los’ musical touchpoints, beyond the obvious: 2000s Atlanta trap, late-’90s New Orleans, Doughboyz Cashout-era Detroit.
The next step for Los is to thread together the vignettes into a full story. On “I 75,” a reference to the interstate highway that connects Michigan with Miami, he starts off hot, like he’s about to take off on one of those tense drives across state lines that he sometimes hints at—much like his brother Nutty’s “The Ride.” But after a few seconds, Los drops the thought and moves on to typical shit talk. You can see the potential for more ambitious storytelling, for narratives that last beyond a couplet or two. Still, within these tight frames, he is one of rap’s most economical storytellers right now. “I’m the type to put the marble floors in the vacant,” he barks on “Renovated,” and that’s all you need to picture a man trying to patch up his crooked past now that he’s finally got a little bread: pages of exposition in just one bar.