Plus: Trey Songz, Diddy, and Meek Mill's PBR&B party, G-Mane, Pepper Boy, and ScHoolboy Q out-parties Drake
?uestlove of the Roots tweeted out this video of the late, great, J. Dilla last night. "Rare footage of #Dilla in Tdot," is all it said, with a link. The video is originally from 2003 and features footage of Dilla dropping his beats live in a club, and the kind of hagiography that's all but overwhelmed his reputation since his death in 2006. But here, he's still alive, and it's a nice reminder of how much he mattered to so many people before he passed away and got enshrined. The best part is the interview, which works as a presentation of the producer as just a regular dude. Not the stoic beat maniac or the sickly genius hammering it out on an MPC up until his death, but a regular-ass rap nerd geeked about being in a foreign country in a club full of his fans. It turns out, the video's been kicking around on the Internet since 2010, so it isn't newly unearthed or anything, but it was new to me. Anyway, how's your Friday evening going? Mine's all right. Just involved in some pleasant discourse with some of Lupe Fiasco's fans, you know...
G-Mane is just now, finally, getting the attention he deserves, thanks to Internet interest in Alabama rap, and his wise embrace of the release-stuff-all-the-time model. He's not so much a country rap tunes throwback as an O.G. who has stuck around (throw in some shekels for Slave Kamp's A Day in the Death of Amerikkka on Bandcamp, then download 2009's Sunday On Da Porch). Just this week he released two more brief, no-bullshit EPs: Presidential, a compilation of his Block Beattaz work (listen to "Let It Whip," a crisp crack-rap ditty that deftly uses the Dazz Band song of the same name), and an all-new one, The American Way, produced entirely by C-Scale, who has a kind of gentile, 9th Wonder-meets-DJ Burn One lope to his beats, which is ideal for G-Mane's slow-rolling street knowledge. "Gold" is simple, direct come-up rap, laced with just the right amount of self-awareness, particularly on the hook, an auto-critique of and boast about living a life through illegal business: "I'm a self-made monster on these city streets…"
JJ DOOM, "Wash Your Hands"
The first few seconds of "Wash Your Hands" — a whirl of synths and screeching, police siren record scratches — sounds a lot like the beginning of N.W.A's "Fuck Tha Police," which considering how low-stakes this song about clubgoers not washing their hands (or their balls or butts) is, seems like a perfectly MF DOOM-ian joke. You know those trashy Dateline-type shows that like, take a black light to a hotel room and show you how there's semen and other body fluids just about everywhere? Well, "Wash Your Hands" is like Doom wandering into one of those ballin' out of control club videos with a health inspector and Stone Philips and straight up, doling out violations: "dirty ass shoes on the dance floor"; "What a poor slob, ain't wash his hands after peeing / Want to touch the door knob"; "She got a cool body, bet you wouldn't say that an hour ago / When she applied the itch cream to her camel toe"; "You like the way she shake her back area? / It's like a sex machine that make bacteria." Okay, I'll stop now. It's a funny song from apparently, the rap game's Howard Hughes, and given how club rap and EDM rage-outs are based upon this platonic sense of fun and partying all set in "the club" where somehow, nobody has a bummer of a time, there's a sliver of much-needed mainstream chastising, here.
The stinging words from a person with a lot more power than you is hard to shake. "The judge called me a felon," laments Little Rock's Arkansas' Pepperboy. That becomes the hook to "Felon," almost accidentally it seems, as he brays it out after giving you a laundry list of Pepperboy's commandments on how to live right, and just happens to repeat it at the end of all the other verses. See, Pepperboy's raps don't come off as condescending or preachy because it's just one guy wrapping his own experiences around some folksy advice straight from the heart, and the beat from frequent Nacho Picasso collaborators Blue Sky Black Death, turns that Cosby-like frustration into something actually sort of grandiose. On his Bandcamp page, Pepperboy is compared to an "outsider artist," which doesn't do this super sincere, working class rapper too many favors, though there is certainly some of that unvarnished, closed-circuit honesty moving through his work, making him out of step with both street rappers and conscious rappers. No twisted up meta-commentaries here and no street reportage, either, just the stuff on one guy's mind, delivered raw and uncooked. Rap game's Howard Finster?
ScHoolboy Q, "Party"
So, are Black Hippy taking on Drake or just radio rap in general? Are those one in the same at this point? Somehow, I totally missed this song last week when I mentioned the other songs Black Hippy were giving away — Ab-Soul's "Nibiru," Jay Rock's "YOLA" — both of which seemed to tweak the words and ideas of Drake to fit their grubbier, more down-to-earth worldview. Not for the sake of "beef" mind you, but as an adjustment to Drizzy's petulant pop-rap perspective. And maybe this is a stretch, but ScHoolboy Q's "Party" has a few snippets of Luke's "I Wanna Rock" running through it, which was also sampled on French Montana's Drake-featured "Pop That." And though it doesn't contain the moralizing twist that Ab and Jay Rock applied to Drake's music, "Party" does well, challenge French Montana and company's lunkheaded bro-party a bit. It isn't batty, germophobe-in-the-club raps like DOOM's "Wash Your Hands" or anything, but it is a regular dude shouting out bucket hats! And that's always preferable to boasts about buying another crib. Also the cover art for this one not only credits the producer, Kenny Beats, but Ali, the guy who mixed the thing, too!
Trey Songz ft. Diddy & Meek Mill, "Check Me Out"
"Forgot I was a singer, damn." Why are all our big name R&B tools trying their hand at rap? And why do they all sound like Tyga when they rap? With Miguel, who has taken to ruining Tupac live in concert lately, it makes sense — he's spreading his wings, trying new things because he totally can — but why Trey Songz is trying this, I'm not sure. Part of it seems to be a reaction to that new wave of good weird R&B from Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, and even Miguel — Barry Walters' piece on "PBR&B 2.0" is a good one, particularly his parallel between modern R&B singers linking up with experimental producers and Stevie working with Tonto's Expanding Head Band — but Trey Songz was spinning yarns of Sirkian melodrama around gooey globs of synths back when Weeknd was mysteriously performing at his university's talent show! This is your lane Trey! Exploit it. "Check Me Out," whose songwriting credits include Bei Major, another piece of this whole, just-weird-enough R&B thing, with a beat from J-Kits — a radar ping loop of bloops and blasts of bass that thanks to Diddy's involvement seems like it could've come from the Last Train To Paris sessions — attempts to be "Niggas In Paris" and an Art Dealer Chic cut all at once, and somehow succeeds. Thank Diddy, Meek Mill, and even Trey for plopping down some place holding raps about girls and partying and staying out the way of the production. Here's a bunch of jerks saying nothing but sounding great doing it. Is Last Train to Paris PBR&B?