A former No Limit soldier and producers Cookin' Soul do 'The Chronic' on a budget
I know you're tired of the Tupac hologram talk, but it's hard for me to shake that spectacle from my mind. Like I said last week: A big dumb CGI Tupac was Dr. Dre's big idea, while the mega talented multitudes of Black Hippy hung out somewhere on the Coachella premises. It speaks to Dre holding tight to a '90s vision of massive rap stardom and event-making that doesn't really exist anymore. Does he even enjoy standing on a stage and cranking out the hits? You know that story about Brian Eno's plan to "accidentally" erase the hours U2 recorded of "Where the Streets Have No Name," forcing them to start over? ScHoolboy Q should find the Detox hard drive and spill some syrup on it or something.
Dr. Dre should stop chasing hits and memes and just make a guest-filled, immaculately produced, weed and girls, rappin' ass party record in the vein of The Chronic and The Chronic 2001. Then again, "guest-filled, immaculately produced, weed and girls, rappin' ass party record" describes a whole lot of hip-hop mixtapes right now, doesn't it? The Chronic's G-funk synth wheeze is a major influence on today's brand of floaty, lonely, stoner weed rap. And the Internet is clogged with the kinds of guys that sound like the kinds of guys that once upon a time, would've mellowly wrecked a Dre beat.
The massive influence and the growing irrelevance of Dre felt tangible while I was listening to Fiend's Iron Chef, a collaboration with rakish production crew Cookin Soul. Particularly, the track "Nobody Rides for Free," featuring Daz Dillinger and Kurupt of the Dogg Pound. On "Nobody," Fiend croons like Nate Dogg and along with the Dogg Pound, throws out reckless, hedonistic but gorgeous-sounding raps about simple lunkheaded indulgences. Cookin' Soul grab onto the feeling of old soul records — the warmth, the loping swagger — but they've wiped off all the grit and grime.
This is the same thing that was so amazing about The Chronic: How confidently it made an argument that vinyl hiss and grit was an atmospheric crutch. Everything on that classic record was so crisp and confident and well, produced. Cookin' Soul aren't afraid of big loud drums (rattling synth-claps on "Nobody" the cocksure thump of "Ol' Habits") and they do simple, effective production tricks like besieging samples with synthesizers, extending their outros, and doing that "everything sounds like it's underwater" effect, to insure variance.
You're in good hands with this tape, which makes it a comfortable, though never predictable listen. Fiend is a details guy and his slow rapping style, plus his rumbling croon and sardonic hooks ("I ain't know that was your lady, I just thought she was sexy as a Mercedes"), afford an almost mythological quality to all the incredibly unimportant stuff he raps about: how he likes chips with no salsa, his "estimated worth," the horsepower of his cars. Iron Chef is some of the best "little things," low stakes rap since Curren$y mastered the style on 2010's Pilot Talk series.
What makes this feel less low stakes though, is that Fiend is well, Fiend, formerly of No Limit, the fast-rapping behemoth from the late '90s. That fact gives his current chilled-out style more emotional weight. Now, he's a guy who has grown up and calmed down, and that affords the tape (but really, all of his tapes) an earned maturity. Fiend will probably release four more mixtapes like this before the year ends, but that doesn't make Iron Chef any less impressive.