Switching it up this week (with three extra songs since I missed last week’s Friday Five) due to Thanksgiving on Thursday. Of course, Friday is still Friday if you work any kind of service job where your day will be filled with dread as everyone still stuffed with turkey pigs out on purchasing drastically marked-down Blu-Rays and widescreen TVs. To get in the spirit of Thanksgiving and shake away Black Friday fears, each of these songs represents something I am thankful for. In the spirit of being a little kid and being forced by mom or grandmom or whoever to declare what you are thankful for or you won’t leave the godammned table, my reasons are at least 75 percent contrived.
Action Bronson ft. Meyhem Lauren & AG Da Coroner – “Sylvester Lundgren”
I am thankful for working class eccentrics. By delivering classic-enough NYC rap, Action Bronson lightens the always grim mood a little bit. This is particularly appealing if you grew up in the ’90s and you’re still smarting from having “real hip-hop” crammed down your throat. The cover of Rare Chandeliers is a ridiculous El Santo meets blaxploitation meets old Bollywood movie poster with little people, wizards, and Action wearing on wolfhead’s on it. It is also a GIF. “This stuff isn’t that serious,” he’s telling everyone looking for rap’s next hard-spitting savior. But save for its ’80s action-indebted title, “Sylvester Lundgren” is a fairly straightforward punch-you rap, which works because that isn’t all Action Bronson does. Producer the Alchemist abandons his prog-sample collage approach as of late for guys-yelling and an up-and-down bassline that screams “1993,” while Action elbow-drops his way into the song with a Big L impression. Guest rappers and one-note hardheads Meyhem Lauren and AG Da Coroner were born to grunt over this sort of thing. And do they ever.
Alicia Keys – “Girl on Fire”
I am thankful for through-the-looking-glass hit-making. We need to talk about Jeff Bhasker, the way-too-canny producer behind fun., Lana Del Rey, Kid Cudi’s first album, and some of Kanye’s best and most ridiculous records (namely “Runaway”). With those first two pop-indie acts though, Bhasker perfected his interesting-if-you’re-17 formula: Wrap something that scans as “retro” around something that sounds totally “right now” because it has already been test-driven by another more adventurous artist and then, driven into our skulls by radio play. fun.’s “We Are Young” is Grizzly Bear gone Journey. Lana? Well, she said it best: “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” On “Girl on Fire,” a song totally beneath Alicia Keys, we get a Lady Gaga-like torch song version of “Edge of Glory” crashing into fun.’s “We Are Young,” with the drums from Billy Squier’s “Big Beat,” thrusting and thumping with all the inappropriately eager energy of a dubstep drop. It is very, very weird if you listen to it enough. It also isn’t very good. But that doesn’t make it any less important or worth considering. Keep an eye on this Bhasker guy, he’s bad news.
Fat Tony ft. Old Money – “BKNY”
I am thankful for New Underground nerd rap. Houston’s Fat Tony thanks the people throughout Brooklyn for housing him, giving him weed, and hey, sleeping with him, too. It’s like a hyper-regional version of magnanimous morning-after city shout-out songs like Slum Village’s “Selfish” or Ludacris’ “Area Codes”: “I ain’t from there but I come there, and I fuck a girl in Crown Heights / I ain’t there but I come there, ain’t afraid to walk at night.” Tom Cruz’s waddling VHS hiss beat drifts along with an ambling, on-vacation sense of purposelessness, which totally works, while whispering guest rapper Old Money plays cross-street-and-subway-stop madlibs. What you also hear in this song is a sense of the New Underground get-in-the-van qualities revolving around favors from friends who’ll let you sleep on their floor, and allow you to chow down on the food in their fridge, when you come through town for a show, or recording session: “Hey Abby in Williamsburg, I know me and my friends get up on your nerves / But thanks for letting us stay / I appreciate it until this day.”
French Montana ft. Prodigy & Chinx Drugs – “No Sunshine”
I am thankful for a rap world where a buzzing rap star can sing like Eeyore. In which French Montana, who seems constantly derailed by major label idiocy that won’t just accept that they’ve got an drowsy-voiced NYC cult hero on their hands, gets to release Mac & Cheese 3, a mixtape that tugs the loveable lug in every direction an A&R can think of: Too much of the tape’s wasted with Chief Keef rip-offs; “Ocho Cinco,” besides being called “Ocho Cinco,” teams French with Diddy nobodies like Los and MGK; “Triple Double,” featuring Mac Miller and Curren$y, two rappers only considered similar because they share college money demographics, is a little tragic, really. But on “No Sunshine,” French exhibits some East Coast Future steez, interpolating Bill Withers in a Jim from Taxi warble and well, a whole album of this sure would be nice. People enjoy French Montana! So says The Fader. So says the six kids chanting “I’m a motherfuckin’ d-boy” in unison at 7 a.m. as they walked to school and I walked my dog in suburban New Jersey, a few weeks ago. So says the post-meme embrace of the word “fanute.” Interscope Records, let French Montana be great!
Joey Bada$$ ft. Ab-Soul – “Enter the Void”
I am thankful for space shit that don’t make no sense. Produced by sci-fi soundtrack beatmaker Lee Bannon, and named after a DMT-extravaganza and modern day frat bro arthouse Netflix Instant Watch classic, “Enter the Void” is really just another nutty Ab-Soul record, with Joey Bada$$ along for the ride. The teenaged nostalgia cipher is lost here, because he can’t match Ab’s boasts that commit sacrilege against Christianity and hip-hop (“Jesus Christ and Shawn Carter are my only idols / No, Jesus Christ and Shawn Carter are my only rivals”). Mr Bada$$ just has nothing to do with the Black Hippy member’s beyond-conscious rapper rants about an end-of-days that he isn’t even prepared for: “What we gonna do? How we gonna eat? / Don’t even know how to grow fruit / Detached from your roots. Nigga, me too/ I’m doing drugs, fornicating, and eating fast food / But I know I got three eyes because I’m looking past you.” You had me until that last line, Ab. The hook here is a kind of bait-and-switch, starting out as anti-snitch sloganeering, and then jumping to yogi talk: “Keep your mouth shut/ And keep your motherfucking chakras open.”
Keke the Cat ft. Lil B – “KeKe The Adopted Tabby Cat MAKES HISTORY! FIRST ANIMAL IN HIP HOP! FEAT LIL B !!!”
I AM THANKFUL FOR THE #BASED GOD. I mean, I guess the title of this song is “KeKe The Adopted Tabby Cat MAKES HISTORY! FIRST ANIMAL IN HIP HOP! FEAT LIL B !!!,” right? There are many reasons why this song approaches genius and here are just two: 1) A song without a title, it is, in and of itself, an Alt Music Website News Headline before it even made headlines on alternative music websites. 2) It feels like a remix of a song that doesn’t exist. A megamix of clips of Lil B talking about his cat and making cat noises over some acid-squelch Baltimore club-ish type ish that actually goes. If this were from some late by a few years and therefore gets-it-all-wrong but in-a-totally-great-way low budget ghettotech attempt at a Chicago “jacking” record from say 1990, it would be selling for a hundred bucks or so on Discogs. “A lost classic” jerks like me would declare. As it is, it’s a lark that surely deserves some serious play in this SoundCloud-era of dance production where anything goes. Record Store Day’s Black Friday specials should’ve included a 12-inch of Lil B’s “California Boy” b/w Keke the Cat’s song.
OXYxMORON – “Flo Town”
I am thankful for Bandcamp unknowns making killer albums. For better and for worse, this fresh-faced country rap tunes trio from South Carolina do Big K.R.I.T. folksy humanism without forgetting how to have fun whilst they drink and drug. As is often the case, all this UGK fall-out makes a case for K.R.I.T.’s emotive specificity even as it reminds you that the dude really over-thinks everything. One would be better off categorizing OXYxMORON and their debut The Woods with recent regional humanist stoners like AD.d+ or Allen Thomas, or hell, if you’re feeling rather generous, chummy chillaxed legends like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and the Pharcyde. This song, presumably a shout-out to Florence, South Carolina, trots through those in-between feelings of being an adult and not wanting to feel like one. “Used to buy shoes, but now we grocery shop” is the sort of concise observation that works for every generation that feels responsibility creeping up on them a little too fast. Lines about student loans, dead friends’ aunts, and not speaking much in high school though, will keep your simpler times preciousness in check. And that Richard “Groove” Holmes taking bong hits beat!
Roc Marciano – “Wee III”
I am thankful for roughneck rap with nothing to prove. No hook here, just a whole bunch of tiny details (“high fashion, climaxing on satin”) and free-associative tough-talk (“Strange days, cocaine’s weight by the eighth”) flying by, over pounding piano, lonely Spaghetti Western cries for help, and this little Atari-sounding wub-wub. No snares! Along with Ka, no snares NYC rap is becoming like, a thing. Awesome. Michael Mann’s Thief is sampled at the beginning of “Wee III” — that’s James Caan yelping out, “I’m a thief” — and it’s possible that parts of this patient beat are pulled from Tangerine Dream’s score to the movie, though I’m not totally sure. Here’s the thing: James Caan is not cool in that movie. He’s stubby and he has a perm and he honks out threats in a Chicago accent. But he is very good at what he does. And that is, I think, what Roc Marciano cares about. Similar to Curren$y’s ode-to-Superfly a couple weeks ago, Roc, a snarling character actor-like MC, has decided to dismiss blockbuster nihilism like Scarface, in favor of a smaller crime movie about a scrappy bad-ass out of jail, at the end of his rope.