Larry June’s style couldn’t be more straightforward: Aspirational flex raps and checklisted wellness routines delivered with such serenity, it’s like he’s a walking valium pill. It’s an adaptable approach: Whether he’s gracing his trademark West Coast post-hyphy beats, dreamy disco-pop, or velour sample loops, he rarely sounds out of place. He’s able to flex this versatility with the hyper-malleable Texas producer Cardo, with whom he’s made five projects in the last four years. Unlike June’s work with production duo LNDN DRGS or the Alchemist, which tend to marinate in one sound for an entire project, his team-ups with Cardo boast more song-to-song variety. The Night Shift, their fifth album, maintains that spirit with warm and sultry beats to cruise to.
Cardo has produced stadium-ready megahits for Travis Scott and Drake, contemplative ballads for Kendrick Lamar, and frenetic beats for Pi’erre Bourne and Baby Keem, all of which are tied together by an enveloping sense of scale. The best Cardo beats are the epitome of surround sound, landing around you like a dome. On previous collaborations, Cardo gravitated towards the wavy rhythms of hyphy; The Night Shift more or less sticks to that script, with lush, swinging rhythms on tracks like “Chops on the Blade” and “Pop Out.” June’s mellow confidence normally keeps things from getting dull, but his boasts can sometimes go from charmingly basic to eye-rollingly cliche. Take the first verse of “Glasshouse Knockin’,” which sounds like it was penned during one of his many stock portfolio meetings: “My numbers is different, my hoes is brilliant/My snow Sicillian, I’m countin’ a million” he says, a scenario we’ve heard him describe hundreds of times before.
Cardo’s hyphy work is smooth—the distorted swing of ”GRGP” inspires Bay Area legend Too $hort and Detroit street rapper Peezy to get loose, and when Cardo pushes June offshore musically, things perk up. Early highlight “Ocean Cuisine” mixes a string sample and tinny hi-hats with a bouncing drum line as June plots to fill his garage with several different kinds of coupes. It’s peppy without knocking June out of his BPM comfort zone, and enough to give guest 2 Chainz room to run off with one of his most memorable features in a minute (“Told him it was chess, not checkers, like an A-cup”). “Love of Money” keeps up this momentum with jazzy saxophone and booming 808s that could soundtrack a night a a 5-star Michelin restaurant. The right beat will make even the most cliche Larry June bars sound first-time fresh.
Like his Bay Area forebears $hort and E-40 before him, June has built a legacy on dependable homegrown lifestyle raps. And while The Night Shift doesn’t contain anything too surprising, his music with Cardo remains among the most fluid and fun in his catalog. The pleasure in a body of work like The Night Shift comes from its configurations, the constant tinkering that can unearth new dimensions within a classic formula.