Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, “Real”
Before we celebrate the artful way in which this song dissects the increasingly troubled and useless Jeezy, let’s just make it clear that diss tracks don’t really matter anymore, and, when they do, it’s only because they lead to very bad things. Still, when one is as rhetorically rock solid as “Real,” off Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s collaborative album Pinata, it’s worth indulging. So here is Gangsta Gibbs explaining to his former boss, Jeezy, in a very public forum, why he’s happy he doesn’t have to be burdened by the T-r-a-p-s-t-r’s major label money, over a stumbling and stoned track from ultimate undergrounder, Madlib. This is precisely the sort of thing a Gary, Indiana gangsta could never get away with under the Panopticon-like watch of a major label like Def Jam. Content and form coalesce brilliantly here.
Jay Electronica feat. LaTonya Givens, “Better In Tune With The Infinite”
Yeah yeah yeah, and a Michael Scott-like “yeppers” as well: This is yet another disappointment from Jay Electronica. He’s become an expert at exactly this sort of boner kill rap, so much so that it encompasses a larger part of his career now than the buzzy raps he arrived with in 2009. It’d be wise to realize that what Jay Electronica — who really hasn’t lost any of his lyrical spark, just deferred it — does now is simply make murky, stitched together tracks about being overwhelmed by the pressure to save hip-hop from itself. “Better In Tune With The Infinite” is brilliant by those sloppy standards: Elijah Muhammad audio next to Wizard Of Oz clips, with a woozy, Ryuichi Sakamoto sample from the score to globetrotting Oscar bait Babel that builds to a beautifully crooned coda from LaTonya Givens. It has one simple, modest message: “I’ve got something to say.”
Reef The Lost Cauze, “I’m On My Phone”
Reef the Lost Cauze declares his dedication to his smart phone, backed by early 00s soul sample wailing that’s usually associated with wounded romance rap or a life’s lonely lessons type of track, by way of producer Emynd. So essentially, it’s a gimmicky cut that works because it plays by all of the rules of a love song, which means it must get creepy and obsessive. Reef seems increasingly lost in the instant access of the Internet and the codependent relationship he’s got with Twitter is left yammering on like a 2014 version of Gene Hackman in The Conversation: “Hey girl, you look good, let me like your photo / I never talk to you in real life, but I’m just gonna be a creep and look at all your pictures / If that’s okay with you, it’s better that way / I’m not very good at social interaction.”
Skrillex feat. Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment, “Coast To Coast”
Chance the Rapper gets all jazzy wazzy and skat-rappity while lifting some classic lines from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa,” over a house-ish thumper off Skrillex’s Recess that kind of recalls something from the last record by North Carolina cyber-soulsters The Foreign Exchange more than, you know, a rap-fusion party track from the king of American dubstep, Skrillex. What is this? A tossed-off, structure-less lark designed to be dropped into some larger, maximalist hot mess maelstrom aiming for the EDM-fusion-fueled Hot 100 — that’s what it is. Somehow, it feels ready to breakthrough in a big way as is, immediately conjuring up images of vibing festival-goers who get the same thing out of Chance the Rapper’s manic raps as they do Skrillex’s wobbly wubbing, asking, “Do you wanna fuck do you wanna fuck do you wanna fuck.” Yikes.
YG, “1 AM”
Worker bee experimentalist DJ Mustard’s jerk-meets-twerk-turnt-hyphy “ratchet music” fuels YG’s masterful My Krazy Life, though key dramatic moments are handed over to likeminded producers to up the emotional stakes a little more. On “1 AM,” neo-trap hero Metro Boomin, best known for Future’s “Karate Chop,” puts together a slapper that adds loping boom-bap by way of “Deep Cover” drums, Bernard Hermann strings (and Psycho screams!), and a thick layer of digital hiss to the Mustard formula (and oh yes, it is a formula) to soundtrack the decisive moment on this concept album. By the end of “1 AM,” YG’s fate is sealed when a feckless street dude screws him over during a robbery, setting up the machinations that put him in jail, and lead to the touching conclusion (of the standard edition at least), “Sorry Momma.”