Was it a coincidence that the original Frank Ocean, Cody Chesnutt, unveiled the Kickstarter for Landing On A Hundred, his full-length follow-up to 2002’s The Headphone Masterpiece, the day after Channel Orange arrived on iTunes? Probably not. Actually, it was totally a coincidence. There’s like, no way it wasn’t. And I’m mostly just being a jerk about the “original Frank Ocean” dig, but hey, go give Cody Chesnutt some of your dough. He’s a lo-fi R&B genius from back when such a thing was even less sustainable.
Azealia Banks, “Fantasea”
Azealia Banks raps awesomely over bleeding edge instrumentals just a little outside the sphere of hip-hop. This is what she did on break-out single “212,” and on the songs that followed. But her new mixtape Fantasea, and its goofy sort-of #SEAPUNK concept (I like to imagine the title as “Fanta Sea,” so, #SODAPUNK?), provides an album length canvas for her to go off, and the result is stranger and more exciting than a collection of “212” retreads. Fantasea is actually a pretty nice companion to LE1F’s Dark York. On the title track here, over Machinedrum’s “Fantastix,” Banks runs up and down and around and inside their maximalist production, sings along with chipmunked diva house, and towards the end, lets the headspinning beat breathe and shoot off in three or four directions at once. A balance between technical fast-rap proficiency and a takes-no-shit personality is at hand, here. And “Fantasea” is high-energy highlight on a whole tape full of that sort of thing.
Curren$y & Harry Fraud, “Leaving The Dock”
Just when you’re ready to accept that Curren$y has fallen off for good, he uncovers another bleary edge to his narrowcasted aesthetic. And producer Harry Fraud is having his moment, working with whoever he wants to, wisely eschewing radio rappers, even after the success of his production on French Montana’s “Shot Caller.” Lately, Fraud has been incorporating this ’80s exploitation vibe into his beats, best heard on “Leaving The Dock”: A John Carpenter thud of drums, and the diaphanous swirl of zombie movie soundtrack synths (what J. Dilla called in the liner notes to 2001’s Welcome 2 Detroit, “some ol’ Terminator shit”). Spitta and Fraud’s collaboration, Cigarette Boats is an excellent, appropriately low-stakes release during a week of event albums. Loosely inspired by flashy twice-over pulp like Cocaine Cowboys and Miami Vice, the mini-mixtape casts Curren$y as the victorious dope dealer a little too in love with luxury (“I ain’t got time for these bitches, but I do have a Rolex where my long sleeve’s ending / A house on my wrist, a car on each pinky, I got all of this from laughing at these lames while I’m rolling up my sticky”), while Fraud’s beats foreshadow the systemic menace that threatens to take a hustler’s hubris down a few notches.
Frank Ocean ft. André 3000, “Pink Matter”
No matter what the music sounds like, no matter the audience, Andre 3000 is going to paint a novelistic verse about regular life for the sad and confused. Is Three Stacks the Craig Finn of hip-hop? For both of them, it’s all about the words and the stories. Here, while Frank Ocean channels the subtle, boring, brilliance of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life Of Plants, the sunny, moralizing half of OutKast matches Ocean’s open-heartedness and obliquely lets listeners in, documenting his relatively bougie celebrity life without boasts or even an ounce of self-loathing. He’s a rich middle-aged dude going through a break-up: “She better with some fella with a regular job/ I didn’t wanna get her involved.” Resignation seems like a new emotion for hip-hop to explore, right? And if we continue the Andre 3K-as-Craig Finn conceit, well, that’s exactly why you should fall back and stop demanding a solo album from 3000, because oh boy, you heard how Finn’s Clear Heart Full Eyes turned out, right?
Jackie Chain, “Johnny Depp”
“Bitches say I look like Johnny Depp off a blow.” At some point or another, someone should’ve stepped in and been like, “Really man? This is the song you’re putting out to the world?” This is club rap based on the early morning people-pleasing comments strippers lay on a guy like Jackie Chain. He’s got long hair, and he is at first glance, nebulously ethnic, so Krystal or Skylar or whoever is all like, “You look just like Johnny Depp.” I’ve never been to a strip club but if I did go to one, I imagine my song would go “Bitches say I look Tom Baker, from Doctor Who.” So, maybe there is some savant-like brilliance to making something this simple because no one would listen to “Tom Baker” by Brandon Soderberg. Anyways, yes, Jackie Chain went and turned a stripper’s sweet nothings into a bleating, catchy hook. He knows those compliments aren’t true, and he doesn’t care and the joke is on anyone trying to get one over on him. He also rhymes “penthouse” with “Penthouse” over and over again (also, “Cam Newton” with “Cam Newton”), so the joke’s on us, as well.
J. Cole ft. Missy Elliott, “Nobody’s Perfect”
This is how a compelling underdog turned affable, corpo-rap non-entity stays winning. What seemed like an underwhelming record with a big deal guest hideously under-utilized back when Cold World dropped in September, seeps onto the radio many months later, pushes itself into your brain thanks to its three radio plays an hour, and stands out because you know, there’s some actual rapping on it (however lachrymose) and it’s all over in less than three minutes, complete with a catchy, lengthy hook that gets stuck in your head but hasn’t been jammed in there by sheer force of repetition. It’s subtle! And its message, greeting card-friendly or not, is imminently relate-able. This explains the success of guys like Big Sean and Walem too: They sound fresh and new because they have some interest in rapping and if you’re 15, they seem like actual human beings, which isn’t true of Rick Ross or Kanye West. Missy Elliott’s lewd-with-a-purpose, surprisingly wounded hook is what really matters here, though. Teenage boys need this stuff for the Spotify playlists they make for their girlfriends, you feel me?