By Jeffrey Deiss
If you follow mainstream rap music at all, you probably know that Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake was one of the most anticipated albums of 2020. I waited for it. My friends waited for it. It seemed that everyone on reddit, Twitter and Instagram was waiting for it too.
Although hardcore Lil Uzi Vert fans were quick to praise the album, I saw many people confused and disappointed by Eternal Atake initially. I was one of them. There was something… off about it. It didn’t sound like old Lil Uzi Vert. Songs like “Silly Watch,” “POP” and “Lo Mein” lacked the infectious melodies of previous Uzi projects. Instead, the beats were primitive, hard-hitting and had extremely fast tempos.
Eventually the album grew on me, and I came to love the production style of these songs. I became intrigued by the producers behind the Eternal Atake project — especially Brandon Finessin and Oogie Mane.
Brandon and Oogie, along with Loosie Mane, F1lthy and the recently outed Forza, are members of the Philly based Working On Dying collective. As I delved deeper into the history of Working On Dying, I saw how these producers were carving out their own niche in the trap genre. In fact, I think Working On Dying are responsible for some of the most interesting rap music of the last five years.
WOD was making waves in the underground far before getting picked up by rappers like Lil Uzi, Playboi Carti and Drake. The collective has been so prolific in recent years that many critics believe they have created their own subgenre of trap music — “tread.”
Rapper and frequent collaborator, Bootychaain, coined the term tread as a reference to a treadmill because Working On Dying’s beats are breathtakingly fast. Listen to WOD-produced tracks from DC rapper Wifigawd like “Money Dancing” and “Check.” Your ears are instantly assaulted with a flurry of speaker knocking bass, producer tags, random pauses and record scratches. Or listen to tracks like “Black Punk Rock” and “Goin Buku” by Philly-based rap group Five Finger Posse. Instead of typical melodies to carry the beat, WOD layers dissonant effects over a similarly fast and complicated rhythm.
WOD has gone international too. Infamous Swedish cloud rapper, Bladee, released a full-length collaboration titled Working On Dying with the collective. Whereas older music from Bladee relied on atmospheric beats, songs like the “Cherry Bracelets” sound like a… futuristic Mario Kart soundtrack? It’s kind of hard to explain. Meanwhile, Korean rapper Keith Ape used a Forza beat for the extremely sporadic and aggressive “Xen.”
In an era where trap beats are notoriously woozy, repetitive, and slow, there is something refreshing about WOD’s instrumentals. WOD’s beats never stray into the realm of the avant-garde – this is still trap music – but the distinct production is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
I hope Working On Dying continues to find commercial success following the release of projects like Atake. They deserve it for the hard work they’ve been doing for half a decade. Yet I also hope they don’t put their experimentation and ties to the underground behind them.