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No Trivia’s Friday Five: Kanye West Bares His Soul, Shills for Smart Phone

Kanye West

Houston-based music writer and “tank-top enthusiast” Shea Serrano (read his excellent profile of No Trivia favorite B L A C K I E) and Houston rap legend Bun B have teamed up for “Bun B’s Jumbo Coloring And Rap Activity Tumblr.” In case you’re confused, the top of the Tumblr describes it this way: “It’s like one of those coloring books that kids have, except way less boring.” The most recent image is of Vanilla Ice’s Yo! MTV Raps trading card, side-by-side with a blank card ready for a self-portrait of you as an early-’90s MC. Others include a connect-the-dots that allows you to draw Tupac’s bandana, and my favorite, Tyga as a pirate standing next to a code you have to crack, A Christmas Story-style. The instructions read, “Ahoy matey! Unscramble the code to see what extra fine treasure Tyga hopes to find at the City of Rack.” Good stuff.

Kanye West “Say You Will Freestyle”
In front of a presumably drunk-on-free-booze audience for an event connected to the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Kanye West derails his 808s & Heartbreak opener “Say You Will” to deliver an angry, Auto-Tuned, observational humor-laced Bob Newhart routine about a woman he flew to New York to meet up with, who is more interested in her stupid friends’ birthday than hanging out with Kanye, who is in brooding Count of Rap mode, all alone with some wine in an expensive hotel room. Behind Mr. West, lava flows on a loop, and it kind of looks like beef being sent through a grinder to turn into supermarket ground chuck. And either one of those images conveys the same defeated message. Here is the most transcendently navel-gazing wail since How To Dress Well cried out “You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin'” in front of a loop of Elem Klimov’s utterly devastating World War II film Come & See on his Love Remains tour, all the way back in 2011 when PBR&B was just a twinkle in a thinkpiece writer’s eye.

Main Attrakionz “24th Hour”
Producer Harry Fraud’s beat for “24th Hour” weaves chipmunk vocals through Dr. Dre-like drums and covers the whole thing with the Leroy Hutson flutter of DJ Quik, leaving “cloud rap” in the dust. It begs the question: Did Main Attrakionz just take the most roundabout way possible in order to carry on the tradition of laid-back, early-’90s West Coast stoner-funk rap? It’s all about the journey, though, and the charming yet non-committal MCs that Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N. were just one year ago couldn’t have pulled off a song like this. A crack-game-as-rap-game hook — Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt meets G-Side’s The One — and topic-sentence inspirational raps display a newfound sense of confidence, but the song is still dominated by an appropriately muddled sense of place and personality. On the hook, they shout “Success around the corner, but the devil try to stop us,” while Squadda’s verse explains, “It’s only God and all the devils is us.”

Mr. MFN eXquire “Unthinkable Remex”
A relationship rap over Alicia Keys’ Washed Out-esque “Unthinkable,” included on Mr. MFN eXquire’s new odds-and-sods mixtape named after a Philip K. Dick novel, The Man In The High Tower. eXquire, still trying to shake a romance that’s been over for seven months, Facebook lurking, and with a whole lot of liquor (which he has Twitpic-ed so that the entire Interwebs feels his pain), leaves his apartment, ends up at the Delancey Street subway stop, shuffles into a McDonald’s to throw up, and then what? The rap ends, while “Unthinkable” keeps going, making sure eXquire, broken-hearted jerk, doesn’t get the last word. This one’s surprisingly sensitive and self-aware: “And it’s clear we ain’t together / We ain’t spoke in seven month so obviously you’re like, ‘Whatever’ / And you have every right to, I ain’t gonna front / I’m man enough to admit that I ain’t done right by you / Put my hands on you / Betrayed you like I took the stand on you.”

Ryan Leslie “Ups and Downs”
Ryan Leslie is best known for producing Cassie’s hypnotic “Me & U” and Fabolous’ incredibly sweet “You Be Killin’ ‘Em.” Back in 2009, he crafted two restrained full-length R&B classics (Ryan Leslie and Transition), full of nerdy, needy hooks and Vangelis-style electronics. Had they dropped last year or hell, right now, Mr. Leslie would be at the center of this avant-R&B phenomenon. He seems to know that, and he’s pissed-off about it. Pity poor Leslie for being innovative a little too early. Don’t pity him too much, though, because he begins his case by telling you he’s “modern-day Prince,” how he blew all his tour money on a girl, and then does the music critic’s work, totally nailing his own aesthetic: “That real music, that real emotion / Them ’80s synths, that Billy Ocean.” Instead of whining about how underrated he is on his new album, Les Is More, maybe he should’ve just made another great album? But the production here is great — a homage to M83’s “Midnight City” anchors the track, while Lindstrom-like layers of synthersizer whirl all around. It’s just a shame he got bit hard by the sub-Kanye martyr bug.

You Collective “They Say Rap’s Changed”
An 11-minute drone-glitch-drone track that purports to be “made entirely of samples from the main loop in [Dr. Dre’s] “Still D.R.E.” The refixers here are the You Collective, who according to their Twitter are “an anonymous collective, working between anarchism, Buddhism, and music/performance.” There are plenty of these remixes kicking around, where some song is reduced to a glacial pace and sounsd ready for release on Southern Lord Recordings; but “They Say Rap’s Changed” would still work without its rap-sampling gimmick, since You Collective really thought about and composed this thing. They didn’t just throw an mp3 into a program and slow it down 300 percent. The first two minutes are all bass rumble, and then those twinkling, vaguely identifiable Scott Storch keys ring out, and for the next nine minutes, “They Say Rap’s Changed” builds, shards of “Still D.R.E.” endlessly piled on top of each other until it all sounds like a spaceship blasting off. I discovered this on Tumblr because, of course, that’s where you would find someone turning a late-’90s hip-hop hit into something akin to Christian Fennesz’s “Glide.”