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Bells & Whistles: LAZER DIM and the Trap of Novelty

Bells & Whistles with No Bells

Exploring the diminishing returns of meme rap.

By No Bells


(Art by Tyler Farmer)

Millan: A new rapper from Atlanta named LAZER DIM 700 has been climbing the ranks of the internet and industry. He raps memeable punchlines over blown out beats with even more blown out vocals. He leans into the crude vocal chain that Glokk40spaz helped popularize, but sacrifices the musicality that prevents such music from being harsh noise. LAZER DIM’s songs are harsh noise. And they are very annoying. They sound like a turret going off in my head, but work perfectly when chopped into 10- or-20-second clips and repurposed onto social media. Alongside his outlandish personality, which has some people laughing at him, this is where his popularity comes from. 

It is not good or serious music. Anyone who thinks so probably has a screen time of 15 hours a day. It’s novelty rap—a bit, a laugh. That’s fine. Good for him. I hope he gets rich off it. To his credit, he is a good rapper without the gimmick. The problem I have is that his music is exactly what the market wants. It’s not something that was pushed back on then slowly accepted over time. It’s something that caught the algorithm.

We saw this in 2020 with 645AR, a once-serious rapper from Cobb County who came up alongside Tony Shhnow and 10kdunkin, but then pivoted to using a cartoonishly squeaky autotune voice on the track “CRACK,” which led to global infamy with the “4 Da Trap” song and video. He signed a massive deal with Columbia Records off the meme, went global again with “Yoga,” then fizzled out. There was serious pushback in Atlanta at the time. Rappers in his scene were pissed (jealous, too, I imagine) that he cashed out on a gimmick. In the wake, LAZER DIM’s ascent seems totally ordinary and acceptable. 

“Given the pace of the music industry today, you must do something to stand out as an artist,” is what I imagine people in boardrooms pitching LAZER DIM are saying. His music does stand out, but as a product that generates significant social media traffic. Yet I’m sure it will work in the short term, thanks to the “everything-is-ironic” post-quarantine ethos held within zoomer communities. (Why should anything be serious? The world is collapsing.) 

If 645AR (and RMR, too) is any indication, then I’d say LAZER DIM 700 will be known for using a blasted voice off kilter and delivering spastic punchlines. If he tries to switch his style and make serious music, it’s likely he’ll flop. People will want what they came for. It’s a one-time thing unless he can adapt his meme (like Lil Pump successfully did for a few years), take control of his meme (like Lil Nas X so smartly does), or cultivate a fan base that views him as an artist, not just a purveyor of distortion. People enjoy his songs because they are funny and shocking. What needs to be considered is what happens when the novelty of that wears out.

Cr1tter - “Lately i…”

Mano: So long as rap music exists, there will be kids iterating on the wispy digital emo of the late Lil Peep. That’s usually Cr1tter’s bag—and she’s got a perfectly haunting voice for it—but here she filters that malaise through wafting drum ‘n’ bass. I’m into it. “She a scene girl but she ain’t in the scene.”

Millan: Good hook here, been stuck in my head all week. 

Townes Van Zandt - “Waiting Around to Die” from (Heartworn Highways)

Millan: Watched Heartworn Highways over the weekend. A sparse documentary that follows pioneers of Outlaw Country like TWZ and Steve Earle and The Charlie Daniels Band. This song here is one of the greatest ever written. Talks about how doing things in your life is better than just waitin’ around to die. But then he found codeine. And together, they’re gonna wait around to die. 

Mano: In college, one of my friends was a white rapper who I met through philosophy class. He put me onto Townes one night after my radio show. I’m normally not into this type of bluesy folk, but I immediately got it. He achieves the rare feat of writing lyrics that resonate just as much in the recordings as when you read them like poems. Devastating music.


Osamason & boolymon - “trees”

Mano: Osamason this, Nettspend that, even I’m getting a little bored of having thoughts on the latest hyped-up SoundCloud rap. But I just wanted to highlight “trees,” off the latest Osama/boolymon tape, which finds a way to make the frantic, tinnitus-inducing bass of this era sound almost…cute? It’s giving Sailing Team/Kodie Shane. Also am I tripping or does Osamason sometimes literally rap like he’s trying to get kids on your For You Page to emote: “Gang…free ‘em!”

Kenny Mason - “LUMINOUS” 

Millan: Best rapper in Atlanta—here’s the final track off his new project, 9. On the whole, 9 is underwhelming because “FACTS” and “PULP FICTION,” both released in December 2023, are perhaps the two best songs he has made. But still, Kenny is in a league of his own. Every song is good and intentional. “SLIP” with Toro Y Moi has Kenny walking the alt-rap line as well as anyone. “LUMINOUS,” like “Get An Idea,” is Kenny in his notebook rattling off a monologue. “I am the crucifix / Lord, liar, a lunatic / Leave it to you to pick.”

Saturn - “Spiral smile”

Mano: A pioneer of the digicore scene, and certainly one of its purest pens, these days Saturn doesn’t release music as much. So every time he does drop feels like a life update. On “Spiral smile,” Saturn lays out his feelings and expectations for a love interest, his voice cutting like a knife through buttery synth pads. It’s almost nostalgic for me to listen to stuff like this now, especially when he starts making those video-game-inspired threats, but Saturn’s been evolving his sound plenty. 

Joe Henderson - “Inner Urge”

Mano: It is always a small miracle to see young musicians absolutely shred over Joe Henderson’s dodgy, challenging 1966 tune “Inner Urge.” Such was the case earlier this month at a jam session at Ornithology Jazz Club in Bushwick. Eyes closed, a saxophonist spat out riffs in terse, sneering gestures, mirroring the tune’s anxious chords and rhythmic hits. As the pianist started his solo, the bass and drums shifted into a high-octane double time. The drummer (I wish I knew any of their names) seemed to burrow into his own head of hair as he played, delivering an ocean of sound.

Now a jazz standard, “Inner Urge” is a song of discord; its form strange and cyclical, its chords frustratingly difficult to catch as a soloist. In the liner notes for his Inner Urge album, Henderson says he wrote the tune as he “was coping with the anger and frustration that can come of trying to find your way in the maze of New York and of trying to adjust to the pace you have to set in hacking your way in that city in order to just exist.”

Neno Calvin - Can I Vent

Millan: Real out-the-gutter rap. Neno admits his flaws and doubles down on them, making the conflicts he wrestles with especially hard to stomach. 

Sierra Ferrell - “American Dreaming”

Millan: The bombshell opener of her new (and best) album Trail of Flowers. The songstress who cut her teeth busking in the French Quarter encapsulates the ghost of Mark Twain and the spirit of Emmylou Harris all at once, reflecting here on how the wheels of progress can leave the past in real bad shape: “I’m losing touch with all my friends, the ones who remind me who I am / If I could just get back home to pick up where we left off / I’d take better care of myself, I’d stop drinking from the bottom shelf / But my old wheels keep spinning and I cannot make them stop.”

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