Plus, 2 Chainz & Scarface, Freddie Gibbs & Kirko Bangz, and Heems over Echo & The Bunnymen
I think I wandered into a rap blogger version of a Beckett play the other night. I drove all around southern New Jersey on a Thursday evening, pulling into every supermarket and pharmacy with a Redbox trying to rent month-old Wiz Khalifa and Snopp Dogg straight-to-DVD-vehicle Mac & Devin Go To High School, only to discover that it is either sold out or not carried in that specific RedBox. I must've gone to five or six of these things looking for that stupid movie. It seemed pretty good! I'm a big fan of the straight-to-video rapper movie. It's the only exploitation cinema we've got left. Sure there are those cheapo CGI-fests that try to cash-in on recent blockbusters, but for pure, sincere, gut-punching trash, rappers are the only ones doing it still. Reviews that mentioned Mystikal as the voice of a giant joint, and a plot that sounds like Mark Twain's Prince & the Pauper meets Kid 'n Play's Class Act had me excited. Any of y'all see Mac & Devin? Is it worth venturing out and enduring the RedBox riff raff a second time?
2 Chainz ft. John Legend & Scarface, "Ghetto Dreams"
2 Chainz's Based On a T.R.U. Story is for the most part an unobtrusive and inoffensive listen, though it doesn't hold together like Codeine Cowboy or T.R.U. REALigion. What it's missing, I'm not sure, but something is off. Just a general atmosphere of label expectations crushing his already-crushed spirit, I guess. His world of sub-Seth MacFarlane-level jokes remain unmatched though, and that makes "Ghetto Dreams," the album's "serious" track featuring John Legend doing that sexy-ass, self-important Scott Walker singing style he's been doing lately, a bust. At least until stoic poet Scarface shows up at the end and cuts through the feigned "realness," raising the stakes: "They tell me crime pays, but I don't think so / Because every criminal I know is in the clink, yo." When 'Face shows up, "Ghetto Dreams," produced by Carlos "Six July" Broady of Diddy's the Hitmen (Biggie's "Somebody's Gotta Die" and "What's Beef," Ghostface's "Saturday Nite," and recently, Alley Boy's "Wonderful"), turns into some lost The Fix outtake. Then, it's right back to the one-liners. TRUE.
The first of two songs from Black Hippy this week that subtly take Drizzy's smoothed-out, no-consequences worldview to task. "Nibiru," named after a fictional planet that a bunch of nutbars think is real and believe is going to collide with Earth at some point, is a dead-serious, beautifully-rapped, all-over-the-place vomiting up of doomsday prophecies, conspiracy theory-building, and a decadent rap corrective. In other words, it's like a lot of great Ab-Soul songs. The first verse finds Ab accusing NASA of hiding evidence of Nibiru's existence from public photos of space, and uses Drake's "Crew Love," an Entourage-indebted dude rap that may or may not be about group sex, to do it. Rapping from the perspective of the planet itself, he says, "NASA on that bullshit, they always cropping out my crew / And they be loving the crew, they be loving the crew." The first verse ends with, "The Euphrates River's dry, so you know it's real," a useful reconfiguration of Drake's creepy co-dependent demand, "Tat my fuckin' name on you girl, so I know it's real," from "Free Spirit." Because it is 2012 and rap coverage is gossip-obsessed, these will be easily misconstrued as "shots" at Drake, but Ab's having a lot more fun with it than that.
Freddie Gibbs ft. Kirko Bangz, "Bout It, 'Bout It"
A few weeks ago, Atlanta's Trouble released "Molly World," an effective though undeniable Future rip-off (down to the title even). And now Freddie Gibbs, who raps well enough and truthfully always, and as a result, can get through any type of song with his dignity intact, gets his Nate Dogg on and then croons, with just the slightest hint of Future's signature gunk of too much auto-tune. This is one of the most fascinating shifts in street rap as of late. Somehow, doing whatever it is that Future does — wounded warbling real talk through way too much Auto-Tune — still codes as "street." Not complaining, it's certainly better than cloying rap and bullshit or a Flo-Rida impression, but this is essentially Drake, one influence removed, isn't it? The involvement of Kirko Bangz should make that even more apparent. But Gibbs is good at this sort of thing — the off-to-the-side catchy rap song — and even includes a hook before the hook that's just as memorable: "This game so dirty, gotta roll around with my thirty / And I keep my clip extended for these bitches, I ain't worried." For pure unadulterated gangsta Gibbs, though, make sure you check out DaVinci and Gibbs' "MYOB."
Heems, "Killing Time"
Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" jumps around excitedly as Heems repeats "I'm bored," over and over again, and then, he quickly climbs out from under his apathy with two energetic verses. It's inspiring. Killer lines: "They sum up my life with my four years of college"; "Apparently, if your parents be, the sons of important parents, it's a parody / It's a cakewalk, it's collusion, it's a lot of big words, it's confusion." Das Racist's "joke," it turns out, is that they aren't joking at all. They snuck in with a contrarian above-it-all funny guy schtick and have spent the past few years alienating those who just want to laugh at them. Although "Killing Time" is connected and cogent in every way that Ab-Soul's "Nibiru" is conspiratorial nonsense — Heems' "the coded language, they call that law," could totally be an Ab line — the two songs are of a piece in the sense that here is another example of a young inspired MC, who remains a bit underrated, in the midst of their moment, whether anyone cares or not, just unleashing all the thoughts backed up inside their brain. If Heems feels like dredging up his jokester side though, might I suggest a remix that samples Clint Black's "Killin' Time"?
Jay Rock, "YOLA"
Part two of Black Hippy's Drizzy deconstruction. "YOLO" or "#YOLO," which means "You Only Live Once" was, unsurprisingly, made popular by Drake, rap's most indulgent MC. It seems like it's just a license for jerks who would do whatever they want to do whatever they want. Tailor-made for pseudo-profound tattoos and hoodies sold at the mall. It's just the worst, right? Jay Rock apparently agrees. On "YOLA" (slang for cocaine), he does the thing that tough guy rappers have done forever: Take a mainstream thing and twist it to fit the gritty, grimy attitude of the streets. But there's a need for this kind of balance, especially right now. Like I said, a few weeks ago, we are suffering from a dearth of street rap right now, and the consequences will be dire, if it isn't corrected. The '90s were spent slowly removing "backpack" influences, and the '2000s saw the start of gangsta rap going away, for good. So, a phrase that celebrates consequence-free living turning into a coke-slinging tale about the perils and risk-reward tension of dealing, feels very important. Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar announces an upcoming collab with Lady Gaga, and releases a middling, soul beat and old-head pleaser with Young Jeezy! I'm warning everybody, Kendrick will be B.o.B in two years. Prepare yourselves.