This week's picks are all rappers doing what they do very well. Nothing ambitious or out-of-the-box really, just a varied group of rappers occupying their respective lanes, expertly.
Durty Kash feat. Z-Ro & Yo Gotti - "Just a Playa"
Smoothed-out Mannie Fresh disciples Beanz & Kornbread have worked closely with raps' number one depressive sing-rapper (Drake, who?) Z-Ro, but they really outdid themselves with "Just a Playa," a rolling loop of Zapp-ian synth-fart bass and Atlantic Starr sexy slow-jam keyboards. It's technically fellow Houstonian Durty Kash's track, and Yo Gotti grunts pretty well on the thing (also, some guy named Young Lace appears), but it's Z-Ro's song, all the way. The space for rapping between this luxurious, long-form hook is pretty negligible. Think of it as the Screwston underground version of Ace Hood's "Bugatti," where it's really all about Future's menacing, wounded rumble; the raps are just filling some space. And oh look, here is an all-Future version of "Bugatti" courtesy of @Moneyworth! The other night I walked to 7-11 and hate-ate a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and this came on my headphones as I walked back to my apartment and late night binge-eating felt almost victorious. That's something.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Jay-Z - "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)"
Kendrick, because he's an upstanding guy, provides new verses for this remix of "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe," and radio-edits the hook (now, "Trick, Don't Kill My Vibe"). That means this isn't just some engineer cut-and-paste job in which Jay-Z gets crowbarred in there somewhere or another. Doesn't mean Kendrick and Jay-Z were in the same room or anything, but hey, it's 2013, so anybody in the rap mainstream putting effort into anything is worth celebrating. And you can tell by Jay-Z's valiant attempt at a spirited verse that he was at least considering Kendrick when he walked into the booth and recorded this thing. Jay hasn't sounded this successfully off-balance since the dead prez "Hell Yeah" remix back in 2004. Shouting out his "spouse" in the same week when his spouse released a far more badass song is a cool, comfortable role reversal. And because legacy is so important to Jigga, the image of him on a plane with his wife is a happy update on the doomed-because-he-cheated “Song Cry”: “We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather / So, now we travel first class to change the forecast” vs. “Up in the clouds, me and my spouse / Rumors on the ground getting too loud.” Touching! That said, Jay does best Bey's "hood" affectations when he boasts, "Sitting next to Hilary smelling like dank."
Keyboard Kid & Pepperboy - "Fairy Tale"
Little Rock, Arkansas rapper Pepperboy pretty much has one gear. He is always a patiently rapping spleen-venter and sometimes a truly profound savant of sincerity. So, over Keyboard Kid's beat, which is like the theme from the Natural affixed with a Fetanyl patch, Pep admits, "I been down before, shit I still is / But I smile every time I see my kids," and then asks, on some Ghostface "Why is water wet"-type shit, "If life was a dream, then why would we sleep?" If you think about it, that's really just a round-about way of saying, "Like sucks a lot of the time." Also: Pepperboy teaming up with Lil B collaborator Keyboard Kid, continues a feedback loop between the Based God and this reformed tough guy and beyond-#BASED rapper that begans with My Life" off Lil B's 2010 Bitch Mob mixtape, which took the beat from Pepperboy's "Tha Parts." From Rad Reef's excellent weirdo Internet rap sampler, New No Wave.
Travis Porter feat. Spodee & Drago - "Wassup"
Travis Porter have somehow made the hardest song of the year. Not sure where this came from, but it's both very right now radio trap and something as flexible and menacing as a T.I. track from say 2003, when this kind of snarling, D-boy crunk was all the rage. Namely, there is some sort of pre-Rozay dedication to keeping one's feet on the ground when you pretend to be a drug dealer, always letting a little too much menace, pain, and desperation leach onto the track. In particular, the Travis Porter member that sounds like Drake kind of kills it with the dead-eyed quotables: "What's up? Why the hell is you staring? He bleed like I bleed, so why the hell would I fear him?"; "What you know about standing on the corner? / Just a young nigga, never heard of Ferragamo / But I heard of nines, heard of teks, heard of bricks." And this thing just keeps going, for five-plus minutes. It's a mantra that mostly just insinuates itself into your head — like all of Travie's stripper songs — and reminds you that hustling is mostly a losing endeavor. Travis Porter should also get points for including every member on every one of their songs (and here, two guests, as well). There's a hot three-minute street single here, but they make those in their sleep. This feels more important.
Yelawolf - "Box Chevy Part 4"
Man, Yelawolf, what happened to the guy? Post-Radioactive, he just seems demoralized. Even with the stray free downloads he's put out since then, which exist to remind you what he used to sound like, he sounds very, very lost. Blame Machine Gun Kelly for stealing his hype by doing all the things Yela was too good to do. And hey, somehow Macklemore must be at fault, too, right? Trunk Muzik Returns is unfortunately, more middling 'Wolf and that hurts to type. Yet, he's playing a bit on his Internet rap exile here, looking grizzled and bearded on the cover, like he went on some kind of corporate-sabbatical and is back to tell you the oh-so-terrible deal. "Box Chevy Part 4," the best track here, is also the strangest and uncompromising. It will keep his RSS-obsessed fans clinging to hope that he'll figure it all out. Barely even rap music, “Box Chevy Part 4” is a slow-molting chanted poem about banging on pills because you feel empty inside, in a Chevy, set to free-jazz inspired dirty south electro. Why Yelawolf would not stay in this mode all the time makes a lot of sense, but like mind-blowing prog-rap nursery rhyme throwaway, "Looking For Alien Love," he is at his best as far away from pop as possible. Just saying.