Kendrick Lamar sure did dodge a bullet by not having to use Lady Gaga singing all self-satisfied like she’s in the semi-finals of American Idol on “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” didn’t he? The story is that she didn’t get it in on time, which is conceivable, but it seems more likely that it just didn’t work and Kendrick knew that. And if that’s the case, shout-out to Lady Gaga for being cool with that, and Interscope for going along with it. Consider this, too: The only Black Hippy member who shows up on good kid, m.A.A.d city is Jay Rock. In the eyes of industry weasels, that’s got to be bad for branding, right? Along with the cringe-worthy Mary J. Blige bonus track, “Now Or Never,” it’s fascinating to see how easily good kid could’ve gone wrong. It’s like a peek at a great movie before they recast the totally wrong leading man, or an alternate ending that would’ve wrecked everything that came before it.
Curren$y, feat. Fiend “Trip To London” Curren$y’s new tape, Priest Andretti, pays tribute to Superfly and suggests the rapper should pursue a second career in film criticism, because he flips the canon all around and equates small potatoes exploitation with gangster-flick events like Scarface. Recall “Job” from last year’s Verde Terrace which said you should be rooting for Sosa because he isn’t mercilessly riddled with bullets at the end of the movie: “Sosa had it all figured out / I think that’s who they should’ve made the movie about / Because Pimpin’ had a helicopter at his crib / Just in case his homeboy smelled a snitch.” Since Spitta’s soaking in ’70s cinema, when I saw the title “Trip To London,” I hoped it was a tribute to the third act of John Cassavetes’ Husbands. Nope. But it is a refashioned cut from No Limit-era Fiend, back when he was a fast-rapping howler. Interesting, because at this point, plenty of people only know his rumbly-voiced “International Jones” persona, this decade-plus-old verse allows Fiend to have his much-delayed, virtuoso voice-switching Kendrick Lamar “Backseat Freestyle” moment.
DaVinci “Let Me Down Easy”
San Francisco’s DaVinci stands equidistant between the throwback intensity of Freddie Gibbs and the narcotic low-energy of Main Attrakionz. And like both of those guys, he makes very good but very hard to explain rap music. He begins this highlight from The MOEna Lisa as a defeated protagonist (“Damn, guess I’m back to slingin’ once again”), and ends up desperate (“Damn, I guess I’m back to robbin’ once again”). Throughout, he exhibits a slippery State Property-like sense of determination that has a tragic element because you know he doesn’t even buy into his boasts most of the time, but needs to keep believing it to get through the day. “Is getting rich too much to ask for?,” he asks, damned well knowing the answer. When he makes a case for his integrity, he devilishly undermines it as well: “If it’s any consolation, I never took from a friend / Unless he switched sides in the end.” About the only hope you get here is a sense of rap-as-stylistic-catharsis and a peppy beat from a producer named Blunt, firmly in the style of the early-2000s screamers that Just Blaze and Kanye West seemingly gave to every major-label MC. Back in 2004, something like “Let Me Down Easy” might’ve even been a minor hit.
The Game “Holy Water”
The Game mixes misogyny and religiosity with even less panache than Kanye West, and shouts out his girl’s True Religion jeans — I’m so looking forward to the day when these goofy-ass jeans are no longer trendy and Goodwills everywhere are full of $200 dungarees selling for $8.99 — though his grousing about boutique streetwear culture’s pretty funny: “We don’t pop tags, leave that motherfucker on it / And return it back to the store when you no longer want it / Sleep outside for days for a pair of J’s / Then you sleep outside forever because you got sprayed.” The main thing to pay attention to, though, is Delaware — yes, Delaware — producer Sap Da Beatman’s sampling of dubstep O.G. Mala’s “Changes.” How’d this one happen? Sort of think the Game woke up one day, more desperate for a hit than the day before, and was like, “The kids are listening to this dubstep stuff, I need one of those dubstep beats” and just ended up down the wrong YouTube wormhole and found the “wrong” kind of dubstep.
James Ferraro “Jet Skis & Sushi”
James Ferraro’s Sushi is yet another funhouse mirror take on modern R&B and hip-hop — a shtick that began as he was basking in the mostly undeserved praise for iPad digi-pop epic Far Side Virtual and released his rap mixtape-parodying Bebetune$ project. One year later, it’s safe to assume he has abandoned the far more interesting hypnagogia of Edward Flex Presents: Do You Remember Hawaii? or Marble Surf for good. I blame The Wire magazine, who ignored the guy’s brilliant work and only started covering him once he entered his Soundcloud Troll period. Welcome to 2012, where even an avant-garde noisemaker will nod to crowdsourcing for some niche-magazine love and pageviews. Maybe he’s just making fun of all that blip-blip-bloop-bloop Fade to Mind and Night Slugs fall-out that’s slowly making its way into Brooklyn laptop DJs’ hard drives? Who knows and who cares, man. I do actually kind of like this song, which has a Buddhist bubble-bunch bounce that at least approximates Timbaland without sonic air-quotes. Still, come back James Ferraro of 2008! We need you more than ever.
From a mixtape called Raindancin’ (in the *uss*) with a cover of wiry whiteboy rapper Zachg lying on a a bed, shirt opened, hand gently stuffed in the front of his boxers, while a cartoon dolphin peaks out from his underwear waistband. The songs themselves are actually very affecting relationship raps, described like this on Zach’s Bandcamp: “Loosely centered around the ways that young men and women relate to one another. The song aren’t about what goes on between men and women, so much as audio analogs for the processes of becoming aware of someone, getting to know them, and being intimate.” In other words, these are songs about girls. Zach’s Les Claypool flow hiccups, cries, mumbles, and whines, even approaching Yelawolf levels of “what’s this guy’s deal” weirdness. The line, “I’m in love with the part that your friends ain’t” is a very touching way of celebrating a woman’s flaws, and not getting all Drake-like about it. A we’re-all-going-to-die-one-day helplessness occasionally pops up in the lyrics and gives this one some real emotional weight.