Rap Songs of the Week: Rick Rubin Rescues That Whole Linkin Park/Steve Aoki Thing

Plus Robert Glasper, Jeremiah Jae, Quelle Chris, and Grip Plyaz

Rap Songs of the Week: Rick Rubin Rescues That Whole Linkin Park/Steve Aoki Thing
Rick Rubin Photo by Getty Images
Brandon Soderberg WRITTEN BY
Brandon Soderberg

Grip Plyaz, "Ray Lewis"
These past few years, Atlanta freakazoid Grip Plyaz has figured out how to blur the lines between earworm and meme, releasing don't-box-me-in-bruh lash-out "Fuck Dat Hipster Shit," the ridiculous "Stuntman Mike" (in which he compares himself to the Kurt Russell-played killer-car jerk in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof), and the transcendently vulgar "Died (In Yo Pussy)," a Richard Pryor-sampling slab of Atari minimalism. Now, there's "Ray Lewis," named after the recently retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker, known for his "dirty bird" pre-game dance and Bible-thumping (and batshit-crazy) locker-room missives. (He had some legal issues, too.) It's an askew in-the-club dance track ("Ain't nothing to it / Ain't nothing to it / When we in the club / We bust that Ray Lewis") pushed along by a beat from the Flush that sounds like a ratchet remix of John Foxx's "The Underpass." Infinitely better than Natural Born Hitters, that disastrous half-an-EP Ray Lewis and Pharrell Williams doo-doo'ed out earlier this year.

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Jeremiah Jae, "Fun"
Rap rambler Jeremiah Jae hails from Chicago, which is easy to forget, because he's been closely connected to Los Angeles by way of being signed to Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label, with outsider-insider teen-angst raps that most certainly recall Tyler and company's L.A. hijinx. A year after his debut Raw Money Raps though, we're in the midst of a arty Chicago word-nerd moment (but not a "movement," thankfully), thanks to Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, and Ibn Inglor, and Jae as a stumbling hip-hop visionary finally has some context. "Fun," off Jae's upcoming EP Dirty Collections Vol. 1 (the first of a planned trilogy), is sketch-like, over and out in a minute-and-a-half, recalling Chief Keef's recent half-baked, undercooked-and-all-the-better-for-it "Emojis." "Fun" begins with some laser-focused Jay Electronica-like rhymes, then gets distracted by something shiny and decides to take the scenic route, digging into blunted glitch and fading out following a confused stoner grunt.

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Linkin Park, "A Light That Never Comes (Rick Rubin Reboot)"
Every once in a while, once-fruitful, now-tedious "reducer" Rick Rubin stills gets it right. On this "reboot" from Linkin Park's remix album Recharged, Rubin bleeds out the in-the-red dubstep histrionics of Linkin Park's hawt collabo with Steve Aoki and finds its rubbery dork-disco soul. Isn't this what Arcade Fire went all the way to Haiti to capture? Remove that Mike Shinoda dweeb, add some disaffected vocals, and bingo, send this refix to Indie Coolsville. Still, as fun as this thing is, can we just admit that maybe Rick Rubin is kind of, sort of a fraud? He's like Phil Spector, which probably sounds like high praise if you subscribe to the mythos of that "Wall of Sound" originator, and don't take a long, hard look at Spector's discography and realize that beyond a dozen or so songs he made in a certain era, his career was spent coasting on reputation, ruining good bands' records, pandering with nostalgia, and phoning it in by repeating his tricks to diminishing returns. Same goes for Rubin.

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Quelle Chris, "King Is Dead"
All right, so this paranoid anti-anthem from producer/rapper Quelle Chris, who should be right up there with Black Milk and Danny Brown in terms of Detroit innovators sending boom bap even further inward, begins with audio from the 1981 Sidney Lumet-directed, Treat Williams-starring, caffeine-free-Serpico flick Prince of the City. If there is diggin'-in-the-crates cred for obscure-ass movie samples, well, Quelle has a whole bunch of it for resurrecting this early-'80s throwaway. The rest of the song is Treat Williams-free, thankfully, all fluttering folk guitar and malfunctioning string-sample simmer, either humming too low in the mix or squawking right there in your ears, obscuring Quelle's lonely-stoner punchlines ("Transmit like guitar pick-ups") and evocative low-stakes crime imagery ("hoppin' out Toyota Corollas"). Off Ghost at the Finish Line, a damaged-Dilla dirge album that'll take a while to figure out.

Robert Glasper ft. Common and Patrick Stump, "I Stand Alone"
At the core of Robert Glasper's deceptive traditionalism is a challenging, contrarian spirit: percussive, elegant piano-playing that understands that there ain't that much of a difference between Thelonious Monk's pounding on the keys and the raw, hard-edged breakbeat-based drums of Pete Rock. That's subversive! However, the audience for this kind of rap-jazz remains real-rap mouthbreathers, which means the rhyming on Black Radio 2 remains platitudinous conscious hip-hop for the NPR set. Here, Common doesn't embarrass himself at least — which hey, that's something — while Fall Out Boy yelper Patrick Stump reminds us of how great his R&B-tinged solo records Truant Wave and Soul Punk were, and sells a redemptive, spiritual hook he has no business singing. And then Michael Eric Dyson makes a far more compelling case for underground hip-hop than Common has in years, backed by Glasper plink-plonk and Auto-Tune murmur: "We should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular, rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us."

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