Oh shit it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? We’ve been dropping meatier pieces on the site, so hopefully you didn’t miss Bells & Whistles too much. The column is back this week with an essay that’s been stewing in my brain for a while about Weiland.
Already, fans have hailed Weiland’s Vices as album of the year, the album that the Weeknd was trying to make, and the album you should “grow tf up and listen to” instead of plugg music. This is all a little overblown. Vices is not a particularly great or even good album. But it is a daring one: a 21-year-old hard-pivoting from a genre he helped create, pluggnb, to powdery Mike Dean synth pop. For all its mediocrity, this record presents a fascinating medley of influences—Chief Keef and Speaker Knockerz, Kanye and Daft Punk—that could only be possible through Extremely Online Rap. It reveals a mind moving faster than a voice, a young artist interested in building worlds on his own terms, however corny they turn out.
Weiland may have first popped up on your radar as a white rapper who claimed to have Autotune implanted into his vocal cords. Like your average teenager rapping about Xans on Xangang beats in the late 2010s, Weiland came from the World Star school of thought (and Tampa, FL) faking insane stunts to bring attention to himself and his music. He had a specific goal in mind, to score a viral hit by any means necessary, and ultimately, he didn’t land one. But after dropping his 2017 mixtape Packrunner, a joyous distillation of got your bitch trash, pure, irreverent plugg music dripping with cyborg Glo Gang melodies, he gained something even better: a loyal following.
Although Weiland cannot actually tap his tooth five times to activate his Auto-Tune, he can make the recorded voice come to life. In an interview with Internet Hippy, he describes how he got started in music by engineering vocals for a friend. And later, Weiland would bless his friend and collaborator Yeat with his own vocal mastering template—basically, the secret sauce on Yeat’s otherworldly voice.
In the years after Packrunner, Weiland would creep away from rap music and the SoundCloud spotlight. He began working on electronic music with a producer he met online named Fish. Sometime in 2020, he signed with Steven Victor’s publishing company Victor Victor.
Nobody was ready for his transformation. In a rare 2021 interview with Kids Take Over, Weiland looks like he was plucked from the liner notes of a Pet Shop Boys album. He has a Rick Rubin-like Zen about him as he cites Imogen Heap and Aphex Twin as inspirations, and speaks softly about postmodernism and repurposing the world’s ideas as his own. He also explains why he didn’t put out music for two years between his self-titled album and his latest record Vices: He needed a break from the internet, and needed to overhaul his entire sound.
Pluggnb is in an interesting place, surveilled by the majors, yet thriving in plain sight. It seems like a new kid is blowing up on TikTok every other week via a stock Goyxrd beat and chirped melodies. As for the OGs? Summrs has become a specialist, fine-tuning the lovelorn formula, rewarding enthusiasts with tightly-crafted bodies of work. Yeat’s gotten looser, translating his ragey sound to a real shot at Rapper Of The Year. Autumn negotiated a sweet balance between these styles on his new album Antagonist.
Weiland said to hell with all of that. There isn’t a single compromise on Vices. Recorded primarily with Fish and Mike Dean, aka the “I’m A Real Artist Now” stimulus package, it’s a complete left turn into chintzy pop music, full of sweeping arrangements and soaring guitar solos.
A lot of this is not good by the standards of any genre. Weiland does a godawful Dave Gahan impression on several tracks including the opener “Slipping Into The Void.” But for some sick reason, I can’t stop listening. I’m drawn to the strange moments when Weiland’s gooey Packrunner vocal runs are shot through a time machine to the ‘80s, like on “Dangerous Woman” and “Better Place.” “Broken Ego” is a perfect hit of internet-rap-meets-drum’n’bass; I’d gladly take a whole EP of that.
Weiland could play a Travis Scott role for the underground if he was truly interested. He’s not a particularly singular or charismatic vocalist, but he has a producer’s intuition for how ideas turn to reality, how the whole transcends its parts. In a stunning leaked collab with Yeat called “Temptation,” Weiland abruptly cuts to a gorgeous Slowdive sample, then pushes Yeat’s swampy crooning into psychedelia. On records like this, Weiland reminds me a bit of quinn or even Makonnen in how his breadth of ideas functions as a marker of personality. (It’s worth interrogating how quinn, a Black trans woman, and Makonnen, who was blackballed by hip-hop after coming out as gay, do not have the same shot at traditional success making the art they want to make.)
Does hip-hop need another white dude coming up off rap then abandoning it? No, probably not. But within the realm of internet rap, where stars are signed, sanded down, stripped of their quirks to make POLLEN and RapCaviar sludge, I can’t help but admire how Weiland took a real risk with this record. He seems aware of the stakes and perceptions of his industry status, too. In his music video for Vices single “Mellotron,” he sullenly performs the strange song in a studio while corporate suits gleefully bop around behind him.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this 2012 Noz interview with Mike Will Made It. They talk about Gucci, they talk about the big Future collabs, but Mike Will’s most excited to expound on the R&B style he’s been developing. When asked about whether fans will be ready for Future’s new single “Turn On The Lights,” Mike Will says, “They’re gonna have to get ready for it.”
For all the fans claiming Vices is a masterpiece, there’s a small but mighty contingent that wants Packrunner Weiland back. A few of them are convinced the label pushed Weiland in this direction. This seems to me exaggerated, considering Weiland was already experimenting with this sound pre-signing. Whatever may have influenced Vices, to me, it feels honest. In that Kids Take Over interview, Weiland describes how, with Vices, he hopes to create a “domino effect” in the pluggnb scene, motivating artists to borrow from other genres to push the sound forward. This record should raise questions about how the internet underground chooses its auteurs, and who gets to sign a deal to fuck around with a bunch of synthesizers and studio time. But it’s also a work of artistic resilience, a serious attempt at shaking up an oversaturated scene and dialoguing with the powers that determine its future.