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Mixtape Review: Casino – Casino Royale

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Mixtape Review of Casino – Casino Royale courtesy of Meaghan Garvey

Earlier this year, a brotherly prank landed Casino on the tail end of one of the year’s best songs. Unbeknownst to his big brother, Future, he playfully snuck a verse on the end of the Pro Tools session for his star-powered single “Move That Dope”; ultimately, Future decided to leave them on the album version (a wise choice—I’d still argue that Casino stole the song). It was by far the biggest look of the Freeband Gang underdog’s career, but even without the benefit of fam in high places, Casino has the skills to back it up. His debut mixtape, 2013’s Ex Drug Dealer, was exhaustingly long but showed glimmers of obvious potential—in particular, “Killin It,” an absolute steamroller of a track that presented Casino as something of a less lyrical (but just as potent) Gunplay to Future’s Rick Ross.

 

It was February’s FrankMatthews, though, that cemented Casino as a force to be reckoned with. Any concerns raised on Ex Drug Dealer—that he was one-note, that he poured all his energy into volume and neglected his lyrics—were effectively addressed here. Of course, 2014 Casino is still by no means a traditional lyricist; his style is somewhere between Lil Jon’s crunk catharsis and Future’s emotionally evocative vocal gymnastics. But on Frank Matthews, he’d clearly invested more effort into his lyricism, though he still favored loudness above all else. Sure, most of his subject matter has been done a million times before—cocaine! diamonds! cocaine!—but subtle eccentricities distinguished him from the pack (take his hilarious flex, “Casino dead fresh, look like a Photoshop!” on “You See That”). Still, Casino’s hallmark remains his sheer brute force; sometimes, the most effective means of communication is simply screaming your face off.

 

Casino Royale is Casino’s second tape of 2014, and it presents a drastically different side of him. The tape is defined by uncharacteristic restraint; Casino uses his indoor voice here, a mode of his I wouldn’t have guessed existed at all. He generally opens his tapes in a deafening, indignant blaze (see shouty “Ex Drug Dealer,” and even shoutier “You See That”), and by contrast, Casino Royale intro “I Swear” sounds utterly tame. On previous collaborations with reliably mopey Young Scooter, the two exist in stark contrast to one another; here, on “Shut The Streets Down,” the disparity between their voices is barely noticeable. It’s good to know Casino can extend himself further than he’d previously let on. But though he’s proved here that he’s got more up his sleeve than simply bellowing into the void, that manic clamor is exactly what I look for in a Casino song; Casino Royale leaves me wishing for more of that unbridled release.

 

That isn’t to say there aren’t great songs here, though few are on the level of Frank Matthews’ highlights (“Pocket Watching,” “White”). “Cash Money” is boisterous and thoroughly entertaining, hinging around an extended metaphor of YMCMB members as success signifiers, a la “Birdman bricks, I got ‘em flying east and west!” It’s a fairly goofy concept, but it’s fun as hell, and you’ve got to commend him for running with it. (“I went to Africa and bought a Tyga!”) And on “Bitches Talkin’”, Casino continues his streak of winning collaborations with Diamond of Crime Mob; the two have an easy chemistry, yelling in tandem, “Fake handshakes, fake hugs, I been peeped you out,” and it’s great to see their unified dynamic that isn’t based in the typical he-said, she-said format of most male-female duets. Best of all is tape closer “Show Money”; it’s a return to form of Casino at his absolute wildest, and a reassurance that the Casino we know and love is still very much at large.

 

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