AK Bandamont: Soul Controller

At the end of 2020, if someone asked you to explain to them what was so great about the Michigan rap scene, you could shoot them links to “Free Joe Exotic,” “Wack Jumper,” “Coochie,” and “Movie,” and they would have a pretty good idea. While the Michigan sound continues to trickle outside of its borders, things have splintered within, making the prospect of isolating specific sounds more difficult. However, there are now new scenes within the state that have made it exciting in a whole new way.

This is true of AK Bandamont, a rapper who does not reside in hotspots like Detroit or Flint; he is based in Grand Rapids, and patience is not in his vocabulary. He is a shit talker in a rush, stumbling over his words yet powering through anyway. He raps like he snuck into the recording studio, and he only has a couple of minutes to speak before security drags him out. It’s a freewheeling style that is reminiscent of instant Michigan rap classics like Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon’s “Dynamic Duo” and Rio Da Yung OG’s “Legendary,” except that Bandamont brings this energy every time he finds a working mic.

However, this ferocity can easily lead to burn out, and by the end of an AK Bandamont single, you might be bent over with your hands on your hips as if you just completed a 5K. This made his previous mixtapes so exhausting and one-note that they were hard to get through. However, his newest, Soul Controller, is a sustained rush of adrenaline. Produced by Enrgy, the 10 tracks here will make you sweatier than an ’80s action movie hero; the drums pound like heart palpitations and the incessantly ringing church bells seem calibrated to bring about headaches.

Backdropped by Enrgy’s pummeling 808s, Bandamont’s stories, which I take with a grain of salt, feel almost cinematic. According to him, life in Grand Rapids is a lot like a season of Narcos: Girlfriends smuggle drugs across state lines, dope deals end in shootouts, and there are extremely detailed heists. On “More Then Paper,” he runs through memories of doing business in the school hallways and going on the run from the cops. He chases a dude through the mall and comes up with about a dozen different ways to say he’s selling white on “Heat Out.” He’s funny, too. “My white boy say, ‘Bro your music hard I go fishing to it,’” he raps on “Heavy Metal,” and though that definitely never happened, the image of someone fishing to his music is hilarious.

When Bandamont’s energy takes a slight dip, the songs lose steam. This happens on “Gretzky,” which is a shame because it features a few of the mixtape’s most fun moments—he accuses this dude of only wearing an outfit once, and then returning it back to the store (maybe it just didn’t fit right.) Similarly, he sounds bored on “Stick Wit Me,” and it’s not helped by the uninteresting Enrgy beat. The only time slowing down the pace works is on “Tragic,” and that’s because the tone is more somber; as a string sample swells in the background, Bandamont strips away relentlessness of his tales, replacing the action movie intensity with a sense of desperation.

No song or mixtape is definitive of the year in Michigan rap, and any fan of the state’s street rap wave will likely point you in a different direction. AK Bandamont’s Soul Controller is not a snapshot of the moment nor is it indicative of the bigger picture. It’s a fun and messy mixtape from a rapper in his sweet spot.

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