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No Trivia’s Friday Five

Homeboy Sandman/ Photo by Eric Coleman

The NYU lecture thinkpiece deluge has me unsure of what kind of Lil B fan is the most annoying. Is it the scoffing LOLZ #BASED GOD hecklers? Or the new sincerists who take Lil B’s boilerplate positivity a little too seriously, then spend their time scoffing at those who don’t take it seriously? Guys, aggressive positivity is its own kind of obnoxious cynicism! Another type of condescension occurs when you turn his on-mushrooms epiphanies into something actually profound. Plus, that isn’t even what makes Lil B interesting, anyway. His whole deal is how he takes rap’s inherent contradictions and polarities to another level of absurdity. His works is affecting because of the multitude of ideas its contains. He is not a tragic new-age martyr. Don’t make him one.

Homeboy Sandman “Hold Your Head”
This track from the new Chimera EP finds Homeboy Sandman entering the headspace of a hustler (“Feeling abysmal / Agita from packing a pistol / Frightened at the crisis that’s fiscal / Looking for work, looking for work…”) and delivering some much-needed empathy. Unlike that other rapper who espouses positivity over ethereal beats, Homeboy deals in specifics instead of platitudes jacked from poor man’s Deepak Chopra nonsense-spouters. “Kanye got you mad at your Rav4” (a reference to “Run This Town” where Kanye says “what you think I rap for, to push a fuckin’ Rav4?”) is a critique of rap materialism that doesn’t make you roll your eyes. All over the country, dudes were blasting that song and had to be reminded that their car was wack! What part of the game is that? The last verse on “Hold Your Head,” a head-down double time word explosion, pays tribute to perseverance, and makes remaining on the straight and narrow invigorating.

Homeboy Sandman – Hold Your Head by Stones Throw Records

Jay Electronica “Dear Moleskine”
A years in the making song about creativity-crippling sadness (“Have you ever been depressed so bad / It was a struggle every day not to regret your past?”) that began back in 2009 with a teaser video of Jay Electronica doing The Darjeeling Limited, finally arrives in its complete form and remains well, incomplete. Lots of open space on this one. The rapping doesn’t start until a minute and or so in, and the second half of the song is all instrumental, like it’s just waiting for a guest verse (and maybe it is). Perhaps, the frustratingly eccentric Electronica gets a pass from me because he’s gone from the next big thing rap saviour to the guy everybody’s just annoyed with, but this song seems conceptually incomplete, rather than lazy. Just Blaze’s beat has two distinct parts that never interact, like the song keeps starting over, not quite getting off the ground and cohering. Here, writer’s block and the fear of failure are made palpable.

Mac Mall ft. Ray Luv “Rebellion Against All There Is”
Sorry, but Plies’ “We Are Travyon” is schmaltz, complete with rambling grandma B.S. about heaven and a “solid gold football” (which would be very hard to throw or carry). Willie D’s “Hoodiez” seems content to gather smart points for simply commenting at all. David Banner, always better at ranting than rapping, has gone from the hip-hop generation’s answer to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, to a self-appointed, self-important spokesman every bit as ponderous as those well-meaning mouthbreathers. Point is, topical political rap has seen better days. So, welcome back Mac Mall (even though he never went anywhere), whose 1993 debut Illegal Business? is a template for actually enjoyable, edifying rap. Khayree, producer of Illegal Business? (that question mark in the title is more of a statement than any David Banner song), and Ray Luv, who guested on that album’s closer “Pimp Shit,” show up here, too, and together, they sculpt an angry answer-less, bigger-than-Trayvon missive: “Good morning America, time to wake the kids / And tell em’ that they only got one life to live / So, while you’re here, don’t waste time with fear / Might as well rebel against all that there is.” There’s a #YOLO I can get behind.

Nicki Minaj “Whip It”
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, isn’t split down the middle between excellent weirdo-rap, and pandering Disney Channel party-pop. It’s only the power of suggestion brought on by compartmentalized sequencing that cleanly breaks it up like that. A smoother, better hot mess of an album happens when these disparate songs get to mingle. Try Roman Reloaded (minus “Right By Mind Side,” “Sex In The Lounge,” and “Gunshot”) like this: “Roman Holiday,” “Starships,” “Pound The Alarm,” “Come On A Cone,” “Hov Lane,” “Beez In The Trap,” “I Am Your Leader,” “Whip It,” “Stupid Hoe,” “Roman Reloaded,” “Beautiful Sinner,” “Automatic,” “Fire Burns,” “Young Forever,” “Champion,” and “Marilyn Monroe.” See, “Whip It,” is as wild and weird as anything on the first half. It’s a ridiculously obvious car-as-vagina song (“Hey you jump in this ride, it’s real nice and slippery inside”) that display’s Nicki bouncing from expressionistic rapping to “Mr. Saxobeat” inanity, over a breakdown that out-bros bro-step.

N.O.R.E. – “Kenny Powers”
Look, I can’t really tell you whether this song is actually any good. I just don’t know. But I do know this. It’s Noreaga. It’s from a mixtape called Crack On Steroids. The track’s title is “Kenny Powers,” and its hook uses Eastbound & Down‘s lead asshole as a hashtag rap metonym for how killer N.O.R.E’s product is: “I got that disrespectful white, Kenny Powers.” The first verse, all angry, free-associative nonsense, is what I imagine it would be like if Powers himself dropped a freestyle on us: “Hockey stick, face blast/ Hockey puck to your face, a fuckin’ face mask/ Idiots, idiocracy/ KRS knows my 9 is my philosophy.” The trick is, the KRS reference makes you think there’s something to this great-sounding string of words, but there isn’t. Eastbound and Down has a funny relationship with hip-hop: Lil Whyte is on the show’s soundtrack, out next week; a 2 Chainz song popped-up on last week’s episode. Now, thanks to N.O.R.E., the HBO show’s got its first zonked-out rap tribute.