A few weeks ago, when I was talking about 2 Chainz and Kanye West’s “Birthday Song,” I compared Kanye’s recent production style to Christopher Nolan’s. These days, Kanye’s pretty much making “the portentous Christopher Nolan version of trap music,” I said. The prime directive seems to be to make everything grand and elaborate, often to the detriment of the song or concept. Well this new one, “Clique,” with Big Sean and Jay-Z and produced by Hit-Boy (but undoubtedly bearing the mark of Kanye somewhere), seems like the most Nolan-like G.O.O.D. song yet. Has so much grandeur and ambition ever been handed over to such a stupid sentiment? Like, you know how Nolan’s Batman movies seem intent on taking something inherently goofy — like a man dressed like a bat fighting bad guys — as seriously as possible? Well, here’s a dumb sub-“Crew Love” song, but even goofier, delivered like it’s some simmering high drama. Big Sean babbling about girls on his dick over a beat that keeps switching in different sounds and gaining moving parts. Of course, Kanye comes through and makes it interesting, wrestling with worries about conspicuous consumption, calling out white privilege, and confessing that he almost offed himself when his mom passed away.
Big Shug “War In The Club”
Gang Starr affiliate Big Shug, over a beat from glitch-rap producer Lee Bannon (whose Fantastic Plastic is one of the best, mostly instrumental rap releases of this year), which should make this an odd combination, but it isn’t. Mostly because Shug confronts Bannon’s enigmatic boom-bap head-on, his voice breaking through eddying synths and sci-fi atmospherics as he delivers artful tough-guy raps that weave “-ell” rhymes through the first verse, and words that end with “-ill” throughout the second. Besides a stalwart example of rap craftsmanship, “War In the Club” also seems like a rowdy response to all this EDM-rap, with Shug’s hook setting a scene in which all the good times-having clubbers get locked inside and are forced to listen to, well, Big Shug. Pretty funny stuff for a song that’s pretty anti-fun. Think hip-hop from the tunnel — not the infamous New York club, but that tunnel in THX-1138 where the space car-chase happens.
Cat Power “Peace and Love”
Earlier this week, Jessica Hopper made a pretty good case for Cat Power’s Sun being a rap album, and the album’s closer, “Peace and Love,” actually finds Chan Marshall doing a kind of proto-rap, Bob Dylan-ish delivery mixed with some hip-hop slang and, um, swagger? Plus, the backing music, a grind of guitars, strings, and hard drum sounds like somebody looping up the Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs.” She also says “y’all” at one point, makes fun of Internet buzz (“100,000 hits on the Internet / But that don’t mean shiiittt”), and raps/sings, “I used to have to scrounge money, on-the-ground money,” which is a pretty hot anti-boast. I declare this one to be 2012’s version of EMA’s “California,” because it’s a great reminder that white girls with guitars can be just as nihilistic and pissed as any of those corner-boy MCs. And as someone who saw quite a few of those infamous debacle-like Cat Power shows — which to me, always seemed like the perfect live presentation of her lost, lonely music — it is still great to hear a musician who doesn’t seem like she’s had a lot of fun in life, having some fun while mining the same “we’re all screwed, especially me” emotions.
Gunplay “Bible on the Dash”
So, 601 & Snort. A bit of a disappointment, right? Too much Ross and other Maybach Music Group groaners and not enough properly formed songs like “Bible on the Dash,” which finds Gunplay doing his Miami Redman vocal theatrics and still figuring out a way to also be genuinely introspective. Produced by Morris Brothers, whose name sounds like a place that sells discount furniture, but whose beats sound like this whole magic-hour-on-Miami Vice, filter-rap vibes of Mike Will, Noah “40” Shebib thing happening, done with even more pathos. There’s also just a monster of a second verse, in which Gunplay illustrates his abilities as a pen-and-paper-style lyric writer: “Cuttin’ corners on Coronas trying to buck up on a bonus / Out here on my lonely last stogie, but I’m focused”; “I asked the pastor, what’s the fastest way to heaven for a bastard with a tarnished past, give me your honest answer / With all this Hannah Montana without the Arm & Hammer / Am I gonna get the slammer or the casket?” This is the scene in the movie right before the scene where the scrappy anti-hero irreparably screws everything up. Very touching stuff from MMG’s resident maniac.
Hprizm “City Of On”
Thanks to Philip Sherburne over at SPIN’s Control Voltage blog for hipping me to this new release from High Priest of Anti-Pop Consortium, released under the name Hprizm. It’s a 20-minute relay through yammering, juke-like vocal gulps, end-of-the-world industrial grooves, Rick Rubin-esque “Big Beat” beat-shuffling, and then an 8-bit Lovecraftian beast drone, and finally, some good old-fashioned glitch. What does it have to do with hip-hop? Well, nothing and everything. It is most certainly all about forging connections, and even as it moves further and further into the avant-garde, it seems to tease more recent production trends, particularly the tension-and-release of pop-rap and EDM, and indie rock’s ongoing “THE ’80S WERE SO FUNNY” obsession with beachy vibes and goofy synth-guitar. Going to steal a line from Sherburne here, because “early Swans armed with keytars” is incredibly accurate for how parts of this thing sound. I also want to somehow compare it to the new Animal Collective and offer it up as an antidote to that album’s awesome, though claustrophobic sound-clashing, but I am still wrapping my head around this one. “City Of On” is certainly up there with B L A C K I E’s GEN and the Labtekwon album we premiered earlier today, as ambitious, experimental rap well worth your time.
Problem, feat. Suga Free & Cousin Fik “Brand New Bitch”
Call Problem, Suga Free, and Cousin Fik “the Anti-‘Pop That’ Consortium.” They are just as crass and asshole-ish as French Montana, Drake, and Waka Flocka on their reprehensible club hit, even indulging the same pimpin’ dude-bro will-to-power. But it is creatively expressed, and the spare, bouncy beat makes its message not quite so fascistic? Problem is king of the rap hooks right now: “I went to the mall got a fit / All these hatin’-ass niggas on my dick / I slide through the trap like this / And I left out the party with a brand new bitch.” I’m probably just making excuses for a song that’s pleasing to my ears here, but kicking it off with a supercut of people saying “bitch,” and a clip of a dude saying, “if you didn’t like me before, I promise you’re going to hate me with a passion, now” is something like a caveat? Also: DJ Quik’s buddy Suga Free channels Rick James for a half-second, and then tells himself to shut up.