Arca, a.k.a Alejandro Ghersi, a Venezuelan producer who made the beat for Mykki Blanco's "Join My Militia (Nas Gave Me a Perm)" and records for post-whatever label Hippos in Tanks, made his first mainstream impact by working on Kanye West's Yeezus ("Hold My Liquor," "I'm In It," "Guilt Trip," and "Send It Up," plus a general credit as "production consultant"), which lends some validity to the theory that the superstar rapper has been mining weird corners of art-damaged Tumblr rap (and that Mykki Blanco is only one degree removed from 'Ye). Anyways, Arca is riding the Yeezus wave on his own terms: &&&&&, a new 14-track mix of his own productions, continues the doesn't-go-anywhere, music-from-Myst drag-and-hiss that peers like James Ferraro knock out as snarky larks, and Nguzunguzu has turned into some of the most transcendent dance-not-dance shuffle of the Soundcloud era. Arca rests somewhere in between there.
Antwon, "Dying in the Pussy"
Another thing to consider about hip-hop and misogyny in 2013: Which rappers offer up male-centric yet feminist correctives, or inject a little bit of dude-specific vulnerability into hip-hop? And by that I don't mean J. Cole or Drake or Kanye being sad that girls don't always do exactly what they want. Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and Lil B exhibit a sympathy for female characters in their songs, and admit to their own flaws, and earn it. In particular, though, Antwon seems worth celebrating. He's one of the few rappers wrestling with physical intimacy; he never frames sex, even when he's boasting, as a simple conquest. The women, who are given actual personalities, are enjoying themselves, and he's thinking hard about that. But anxiety floats around the edges of his songs, and his content bounces between doin' it and how horrible he feels inside. On "Dying in the Pussy," his anxiety of intimacy is clear: "She gave me head all in the Lexus coupe / I'm her boyfriend now in designer suits / What's up with your girls? Because my niggas want to die too." O.G. goth-sounding production makes it clear that this is not a celebratory song, but something more realistic and sensitive.
Jason Derulo feat. 2 Chainz, "Talk Dirty"
This pretty much has the same hook as a 1987 Poison hit, and is yet another beat that cannily mimics Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop" honky-horns (see also Jay Z's "Somewhereinamerica"). It also attempts a stitched-together, international polyglot/clusterfuck pop atmosphere that hovers in the same iffy area as Timbaland's early-2000s Bollywood obsession, Busta Rhymes' still-not-sure-how-it-got-released "Arab Money," and "Mr. Saxobeat." It is also intro'd and outro'd by a woman speaking broken English. Meanwhile, DeRulo affects a fake patois and tosses out some high school-level Spanish. And if all that wasn't enough, he straight-up admits to his cultural ignorance on the hook: "Been around the world, don't speak the language / But your booty don't need explaining / When you talk dirty to me." All that said, this is the craziest song that could be a hit right now. Plus, DeRulo's transgressions make 2 Chainz's rap ("Sold out arena you can suck my penis," plus a "Gilbert Arenas" rhyme) appear almost tasteful.
Ka, "Peace Ahki"
Brownsville rapper Ka makes outsider rap. Not in the "outsider art" sense of not necessarily knowing what the hell he's doing, or exhibiting some visionary sort of naivete, but in the sense that he doesn't seem to be interested in how the world at large will digest or process his stuff. You have to come to his work; it isn't going to come to you. He's a Rap Game William Blake as printmaker poet, creating a whole weird world and language no one can fully figure out, or maybe he's a Henry Darger hammering out the mythos of the Vivian Girls with maps and Civil War trivia, leaving it all for the world to parse. "Peace Akhi" is perhaps his most uncompromising track: The record hiss is louder than some of the core elements of the beat, and it feels like some Brian Eno ambient instrumental, or just a grizzled guy rapping over the sound of rain gently hitting the concrete. It's as avant-garde as that Arca mix, if you really think about it.
Nipsey Hussle, "Summertime in That Cutlass"
A breezy sneer of a track from a Los Angeles rapper who arrived too late to get balled up into Snoop Dogg's camp and get something out of it, but popped in too early to be absorbed by the working-class hustler resurgence that gave us Freddie Gibbs and the rougher-edged members of Black Hippy. Indeed, "Summertime in That Cutlass," a laundry list of Crenshaw Blvd. memories presented matter-of-factly, with a tinge of nearing-30 idyllic hindsight ("We was living fast, we was rushing"), seems like a low-profile response to Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre's summer-bait 2012 single "The Recipe." That song (ultimately afforded only bonus-track status on good kid, m.A.A.d city) seemed to force its good times-having, weed-puff vibes on listeners, confident it was going to soundtrack your pool parties and puff-puff-pass sessions. That sort of no-worries attitude, even though he should probably be worried, comes much more naturally to this guy.