Hip-hop tall tales, a Carter rap family reunion, and two songs that work in spite of themselves
Writer Harry Crews died on Wednesday. He was 76. What's that have to do with rap music? Well, not too much, though I'd encourage you to hunt down one of his novels if you're near a pretty good library (which you're probably not), or an okay used book store (even less likely). I'd recommend Car, about a dude who decides to eat a Ford Maverick. It is probably easier, though, save for a trip to Amazon Marketplace, to encounter Crews' work through the 2006 movie, The Hawk Is Dying, based on Crews' novel of the same name. It's a small, sad, really good movie that no one cares too much about, and it actually does have something of a hip-hop connection. Michelle Williams plays a kind of proto-Kreayshawn in the movie: the child of a doctor, slumming in a Florida flophouse, smoking weed out of a confederate flag bong, and listening to Splack Pack's "Shake That Ass Bitch." It's her best, smartest performance, and the kind you probably won't see her give again, now that's she being groomed to be the next Meryl Streep. In some ways, it seems like an accidental precedent for James Franco playing joke-rapper Riff Raff in Harmony Korine's market-tested, Tumblr rap-ready, meme-generating flick Spring Breakers...
Children Of The Night "Subway Series"
Young Queens traditionalists contrive a comic book-crazy Queens tall tale about being hassled by some guys after a show, forcing them to restage Charlie Ahearn's The Deadly Art Of Survival on the subway, as they scrap for their lives. Children Of The Night may seem like dead-serious revivalists, but listen closely, and "Subway Series" reveals a tangential wit ("We outnumbered, being rushed like that scene from Braveheart / Yo, fuck Mel Gibson, that pig can eat a cock") and the uncooked personality of the legendary borough. Producer SKYWLKR (Danny Brown, Main Attrakionz) connects the cloud-rap dots between what's happening on the Internet in 2012, and the record-fuzz buzz of A Tribe Called Quest in 1992. Consider Queens...Revisited an antidote to DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles' masturbatory, mean-mugging mess The Kolexxxion, a reduction of NYC hip-hop to nothing more than super-precise sample squeaks and throaty threats.
E-40 "Gargoyle Serenade"
Of the 54 songs spread across three albums all released by E-40 this week, "Gargoyle Serenade" is my favorite, for right now, at least. Over a slapping, horror-movie beat (all evocative moans and groans), Christopher R. Weingarten's hero pens a character-driven profile of a lumbering, feckless d-boy ("Scrapin' the pavement with his knuckles") turned to stone by the ruthless hustle. 40's final verse, detailing the demise of this well-wrought character, devolves into a splatter of sound effects and vocal tics in the moment of death. And then, the narrative widens, focusing on a mom, like every other mom, mourning the death of her kid who could do no wrong ("My baby was an angel"). To which 40 explains: "But little does she know that little devil was a finagler, a robber, a thief, a stealer, always into something, a peeler, running from the po-po and the soil, he had it comin'."
Slum Village feat. Vice & DJ Bonics "Mortal Kombat"
Slum Village has been flipped upside down over and over again. By J. Dilla's exit in 2002, then his death in 2006, and fellow founding member Baatin's death in 2009. Then, the exit of Elzhi last year, seemingly by force, culminating in the messy Villa Manifesto, which should've been a warm end to the underrated Detroit rap crew, but was mucked up by hip-hop label bullshit and infighting. On Dirty Slums, remaining member T3, Dilla's brother Illa J, producer Young RJ, and a mighty crew of friends and tough guys put together something that stands up to the casual, catchy ruggedness of post-Dilla albums like Detroit Deli and Slum Village, at least. For "Mortal Kombat," Young RJ surrounds a slowed-down, backwards-sounding psychedelic skronk of guitar with some Detroit drums of death. It sounds like what's left of Slum Village are making music like they've got nothing to lose. And at this point, they really don't though, do they?
Supa Villain "Mr. Carter 2"
When I talked up Supa Villain's tape 40 Days, 1 Dark Knight earlier this week, I didn't spend enough time on the simple rewarding sound of his rapping voice, which adds one more creepy, obsessive layer to this studio denizen's work. The Mississippi producer/rapper's got a deep, demonic, caffeine-free Mystikal grunt, like some evocatively disturbed, scary super-villain from Batman: The Animated Series or something. On "Mr. Carter 2," he uses it well, lashing out at everybody sleeping on his mixtapes by bouncing double-time rhymes off a bubbling, trance beat and aligning himself with Lil Wayne and Jay-Z in terms of importance on the hook. Like everything on this mixtape, "Mr. Carter 2" feels like a necessary vomiting up of emotions; even hilarious lines like, "allergic to pussy niggas, lyin' hoes, and seafood," are delivered like they're dead serious. INSERT Dark Knight-referencing "Why So Serious?" JOKE HERE.
YG & DJ Mustard ft. Casey Veggies & Shitty "Blunted"
Producer DJ Mustard, of "Rack City" fame, teams up with Compton somebody-or-another YG for 4 Hunnid Degreez, an entire mixtape of good, terrible rapping and great bad snap, clap, grunt, funk beats. "Blunted" finds YG, low-stakes Curren$y clone Casey Veggies (who had something or other to do with Odd Future at some point), and some dude named Shitty — yes, Shitty — staying the hell out the way of a chilled-out, New Age, Neptunes-like beat and constructing a catchy, cloddish hook: "Rollin' up a big ass blunt, bottle of Ciroc next to me, and I'm about to get stupid drunk." This is the best song on Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Allderdice that isn't actually on Taylor Allderdice. Here, and on most of the inexplicably excellent 4 Hunnid Degreez, DJ Mustard proves to be surprisingly versatile, even when he's ostensibly doling out copies of Tyga's hypnotic hit. Mark my words, Mustard's minimalism will usurp Lex Luger maximalism very soon. Good!