Rap Songs of the Week: Danny Brown’s Guest Verses Are Pretty Great, Too
Plus Chief Keef associate SD, Migos & Young Thug, Black Milk, Haleek Maul, and Trinidad James
Black Milk, “Perfected on Puritan Ave.”
Nostalgic bells, an expanding and contracting drone reminiscent of the THX soundcheck, and a few tricks from the orchestrated pop playbook of Philly-soul icon Thom Bell comprise the majority of this Black Milk beat. Then a beautiful little swarm of horns comes humming in, lulling you into an underground-rap-comfort-food head-nodding reverie. Then he cuts the horns short for an acoustic-guitar interlude, only to throw that out of the way and drop in a guitar-skronking, saxophone-squawking free jazz explosion. And finally, the original, much more pleasant beat returns, now with a little bit of headfucking flanger on it. Black Milk’s upcoming album is titled No Poison, No Paradise; this jagged jumpcut of a beat leans toward the latter via disparate samples and a collage-like, Donuts-era Dilla approach. As for the lyrics, he reminisces on both the good and the bad aspects of his old neighborhood, the yin and yang of youthful recklessness.
Haleek Maul, “Lobo”
I enjoy wildly speculating about what Kanye West was intentionally ripping off on Yeezus, fueled by that fact that I appear to sometimes be right, between Mykki Blanco producer Arca’s actual involvement with that album and this recent Village Voice interview where noise-rap originator B L A C K I E claims ‘Ye was blasting his stuff in the studio. So let’s move on now to Barbados-to-Brooklyn rapper Haleek Maul. Indeed, much of Yeezus‘ suck-my-dick arrogance, woman-are-the-devil-and-so-am-I hate-as-love shtick, and well-wrought existential ennui can also be found on Maul’s “88,” off last year’s Oxyconteen. Same deal with this. Produced by austere dub-hopper ForestSwords, “Lobo” features Maul speak-rapping over wobbly drum programming and a simple, foggy synth melody that almost nods to Masters at Work’s “The Ha Dance.” Of course, Maul is a reckless, searching teenager — which only adds to his raw, unsophisticated charm — whereas Kanye is a grown-ass man. Not sure what his excuse is at this point.
Migos & Young Thug, “Long Time”
Probably going to receive death threats over this one now that “real hip-hop” is back and we’re all thirsting for “lyricism” again thanks to Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse, but there’s an infectious, real-enough rap energy to this collaborative track between the beyond-hyped, always-on-11 hook machines Migos and the eccentric singing-rapping-yelling-moaning vocalist Young Thug, whether they conform to your image of a straight spitter or not. It’s apparent just by listening to this that all of the parties involved are playing off one another and responding to each another’s energy. And that’s a big deal, because even our event songs rarely feel collaborative anymore: One has to imagine that Jay Electronica, at least, was not made aware of the fact that his tightly structured “Control” verse was going to be reduced to a perfunctory comedown after Kendrick’s Twitter-enflaming tirade, and that’s kind of strange, right? Anyways, “Long Time” represents the weird future of Atlanta rap, where the rhymes are no longer crunk-curt and trap-anthemic, but extended riffs full of melody-packed, sound-effects-heavy ciphers.
SD ft. Danny Brown, “New World Order (Remix)”
SD starts us off with an effectively menacing but totally boilerplate Chicago tough-guy mumble — still relient on the same exact “Da Bears”-gone-hip-hop cadence favored by Chief Keef — but the track turns into something else altogether when Danny Brown bleats “Check!” and proceeds to find fresh new ways to approach the oppressively simple drill beat, adding some triumph to the cold-facts hook when it returns after his verse. Here are two different ways to respond to street trauma: a cool, calm, and collected SD doles out terse threats, whereas Danny screeches above it all, exorcising his demons. Again, thanks to Kendrick’s “Control,” everybody is talking “lyricism” this week, and give me a break with that: Don’t dismiss SD’s topic-sentence boasts, because the song needs those to work, too. (The original version of “New World Order” was already a dead-eyed anthem.) But Danny’s doing something special here.
Trinidad James ft. Fabo, Danny Brown, and Playa Fly, “Quez”
Trinidad James’ reputation isn’t even built on one full song (like, say, Kreayshawn), but on one hook: “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin’ / Woo!” He’s hardly a compelling rapper, but it’s worth noting that his Don’t Be S.A.F.E mixtape had been out for a while pre-“All Gold Everything,” so his overnight-success narrative is actually fairly conventional and old fashioned. Not to mention, that tape was a pretty good assemblage of dubstep diversions, rambling Rudy Ray Moore-like party-record rants, and futuristic falling-apart bangers. This week’s follow-up, 10 Pc Mild, is similarly nutty: a Mike Will Made It 3-a.m. the-club-is-getting-weird-on-acid hot mess. And he’s throwing his relative fame around here, too, doing fantasy-league rap-dork collaborations like “Quez,” which features Fabo, a.k.a. the Sun Ra of snap (“Still seeing spaceships on Bankhead”); a deranged Danny Brown (whose swerving stuffed-nose flow here is evidence of the “I’m too fucked up!” hook); and long-lost Three 6 Mafia member Playa Fly. Trinidad, like a good and proper rap nerd, even steps in after Fabo’s verse and goes, “Oh shit! That was Fabo!”