Baltimore’s King Los may be your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. When dozens of big-name artists recorded responses to Kendrick Lamar’s galvanizing verse on Big Sean’s 2013 song “Control,” King Los’ remix was singled out for praise by K Dot himself, who said, “Los killed it out of everybody.” In 2020, Lupe Fiasco said, “King Los is better than me. … He’s better than everybody.”
Despite impressing some of the most revered MCs of his generation, King Los has never become a household name in his own right. His on-again, off-again tenure at Bad Boy Records between 2006 and 2014 never produced an album. And when he bounced to RCA for his only major label album to date, 2015′s star-studded “God, Money, War” stalled out at #68 on the Billboard 200. But widespread respect for King Los’ lyrical skill has kept him relevant, landing him in high-profile spots like the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards cypher. And while hip-hop has largely moved away from the kind of freestyle-driven black-market mixtapes that turned Lil Wayne into a legend in the mid-2000s, it’s still a format where King Los thrives.
King Los’ latest effort, “Goat Tape II,” has a few original songs, but largely consists of him attacking instrumentals from popular songs by other artists. The mixtape, released directly to more sampling-friendly platforms like Soundcloud and YouTube instead of iTunes and subscription-based streaming services, tackles an array of 2022′s biggest hits, including Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” and Future’s “Wait For U.” And given King Los’ history remixing Kendrick Lamar tracks, his version of “Silent Hill” is unsurprisingly a highlight as he works gradually up from a relaxed flow to a densely arranged web of internal rhymes.
With 22 tracks running over an hour, “Goat Tape II” is twice as long as its predecessor, 2017′s “GOAT,” as if Los simply had too much to say pent up after a few relatively quiet years. “I’m sorry for the long wait, had a long walk through a dark place, / Found the light inside, and got my soul straight,” he says on the tape’s version of Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” His last full-length project, 2018′s “410 Survival Kit,” was the return of the prodigal son, King Los filling the mixtape with other Baltimore rappers like Young Moose, YBS Skola, and his early mentor Skarr Akbar. This time around, there are relatively few guests, just a verse from California battle rapper B Dot The God and a couple of hooks from singer Kye Thompson.
King Los is known more as a clever rhyme technician than as an introspective lyricist, but he casually reveals details about his life throughout “Goat Tape II” before quickly moving on to another subject. On “16,” which borrows the beat from Jack Harlow’s “Churchill Downs,” he mentions that he was 16 when his father was murdered and mentions that both of his brothers are in prison. On “Love All,” Los mourns Atlanta rapper Trouble, who was shot and killed in June, and recounts a time they worked together in the studio. But sometimes it feels like he’s just having fun over songs he likes. On “Who You Dealing With,” which uses the instrumental from Pusha T’s “Just So You Remember,” King Los tries his hand at a menacing near-whisper flow like Pusha. And it’s intriguing to hear him briefly build an ominous mood over a minimal sample-driven Kanye West production with no drums.
Jay-Z’s 2006 single “Show Me What You Got” is also known for inspiring one of Lil Wayne’s greatest mixtape freestyles. On “Goat Tape II,” King Los jumps on the beat to boast that he’s the “best rapper after the two Carters before me,” but the track is also a fascinating time capsule of his youth, revealing a personal connection to late Baltimore drug kingpin Little Melvin: “Here’s another thought that lives rent-free in my head, / The legendary Melvin Williams was my landlord, he used to let me and my mama live rent-free at the crib.” Later, he remembers kicking around New York City in the early 2000s at the beginning of his career with amusing anecdotes like “I was at Baseline when Just Blaze had dreads” and “Gloria Velez put her number in my Sidekick.”
In typical mixtape host fashion, DJ Justin Credible doesn’t do much but shout unnecessary intros on “Goat Tape II,” but the recurring ‘Goat Radio’ interludes feature King Los surprising some of his biggest fans with a phone call. After one self-proclaimed stan gushes about how long he’s followed the rapper, Los sounds moved by the conversation: “This is an amazing experience for me, bro. Honestly, for some reason, my fans and my supporters have just been by my side.” Some of King Los’s fans are famous, but he seems genuinely grateful that enough people have taken notice of his incredible rhyming talent to sustain his under-the-radar career for two decades.
Al Shipley is a Maryland-based music and culture writer.