Drake ft. 2 Chainz & Big Sean, "All Me"
Weird how all the talk about rap lyrics and their detrimental effects never falls back on Drake, who releases anti-#posi songs like "No New Friends" and empowers suburban pricks with "Started From the Bottom." Here, the former child star and nephew to funk legend Larry Graham continues to further this stupid-ass story that he got here on his own and just plain gets his Ayn Rand on. One sign of "maturity": He no longer even knows how much money he's making, so he isn't whining about having to pay taxes, as he did two years ago on Take Care. Baby steps, Aubrey, baby steps. Then again, the song begins with a knowing sample of Aziz Ansari's clueless Randy character from Judd Apatow's Funny People, and the beat by Key Wane (Big Sean's "Guap," Meek Mill's "Amen") humbly hums and nods off, much more unsure of all this success. But yeah, yeah, yeah, you know all this stuff already. This is what Drake does, and it sounds great, and it will sound even better all over the radio in a week. Plus, 2 Chainz lights up like he hasn't since "Mercy," and Big Sean tries really, really hard and still fails.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib ft. Karriem Riggins, "City"
Jazz drummer, fragment-fueled producer, and close J. Dilla collaborator Karriem Riggins raps on this Adult Swim-sponsored single, sounding like he's been shot out of a cannon on some early-2000s Kanye West mixtape awkward-in-a-good-way flow, using the act of touring to explain just how screwy the United States and its awful economy is in contrast to other places on the planet. Then again, is there any other way than "awkward" to ride one of these lumpy, jumpy Madlib beats that seemingly loops a jumble of noise for a couple minutes and calls it a day? The sample here is "Evil War" from Shark Move, an early-'70s Indonesian prog-pop group who sound like the Byrds by way of early King Crimson; Madlib takes that song's hearty bass and banging-on-a-cardboard-box drumming break and barely keeps it together. As for Gibbs, now free from Young Jeezy (and, consequently, relieved of any hope of getting on the radio), he gets inside the broken beat and delivers a nervous, angular flow. He sounds, well, free. Gibbs and Madlib are an unlikely, always-exciting combo.
Go Dreamer ft. Big K.R.I.T., "Electro Phonk"
Over a nice beat you can't dance to that nods to OutKast's "Spottieottiedopalicious" and feels like an acid-trip take on Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" (it's got that same retro shuffle, and the versatility to handle twangy raps and slowly molting singing), Atlanta rapper/producer Go Dreamer boasts, "Been a trippy kid since high school / Being weird ain't new to me." He's allowed to boast. As part of Hollyweerd, he was continuing the street-meets-the-astral plane tradition of OutKast before "New ATL" was a buzzword and flying your hip-hop freak flag was back in vogue. Meanwhile. Big K.R.I.T. grounds the song by performing a spot-on Big Boi homage. Somehow, it all doesn't feel aggressively retro or takin'-it-back obnoxious. These guys should work together more; K.R.I.T. needs someone to push him right now. When this song fades out, you wish it kept loping and buzzing along, or broke out into a Eddie Hazel-esque solo or went George Duke dork disco or something. The rest of Go Dreamer's TheOuttahereproject takes care of that psychedelic sprawl, thankfully.
Jay Jizzle ft. Gunplay, "Insomnia"
Not sure who Jay Jizzle is, but his ability to sound like a Big Sean/Drake hybrid on this very good, just-desperate-enough grind-hard hook is impressive. Even more so because his rapping style is a kind of sub-Rap-A-Lot goon shout-grunt that touches on the Midwest menace (Jizzle's from Indiana, apparently) that circles around Bone Thugs, Do or Die, and Freddie Gibbs. You know, that thing where regional weirdness and closed-circuit sincerity bolster what would otherwise be just another rap about not wanting to go back to jail and being from a city where nobody makes it. And after a typically fervid verse from Gunplay, Jizzle returns to reclaim the song, summoning even more raw-nerve rage over the din of producers Walker Boy and Young Shun's reverse-rave synths, glitches, and Luger booms, expounding further on his all-too-typical though no less compelling story, and even providing a glimmer of hope: "I could've bought a Benz / Instead I made a mixtape."
Travis Scott ft. Migos, "Quintana (Remix)"
Good to see the young dudes who made Kanye West's Yeezus so sonically interesting getting their profiles raised! Here, producer Travis Scott (credited on "New Slaves" and "Guilt Trip") gets remixed by Migos, who just kind of add to the maximalist din, piling on their chirps, skrrts, woof woofs, and other Jodie Foster-in-Nell adlibs to a prog-trap party of explosions, gunshots, dogs barking, women screaming, Ratatat-ian guitar stabs, MIDI opera synths, and purposefully poorly mixed Lee "Scratch" Perry-like sound effects. Scott was also credited on Kanye's important if unnecessary remix of Chief Keef's "I Don't Like," which removed the song's simplistic charm and replaced it with busy, baroque moves. Now, though, he goes even further with the production pile-on, and it feels less stitched-together. There's a sensitive use of quiet-loud dynamics and almost post-rock buildup-and-comedown here. The result, along with fellow Yeezus collaborator Arca's new &&&&& tape, suggests that maybe Kanye just needs to be totally hands-off these days.