1. Mykki Blanco Live @ the Metro Gallery, Baltimore, MD 3/30: At this point, the only reason why Mykki Blanco isn’t getting all-over-the-Internet love for picking up where Lil Wayne left off in 2008 or so is because of, well, you know why. That’s a shame. Witnessing Mykki live at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore last Saturday was like a flash-forward to hip-hop’s wonderfully freaked-out, outsider-inviting afterfuture. The show began with audio clips from the X-Men cartoon and Mykki raced to a fogged-up glass window and began scratching at it, acting out the mutant unleashed steez all up inside his songs. When “Wavvy” dropped, the whole crowd was asked to jump on the stage, and when the mic went out, Mykki kept rapping, staying on beat, just in case the mic decided to work again. It did for a few seconds. Just a stunning rap show full of art kids, geeked-up hipsters, a few hip-hop heads, and straight-up nerds. What occurred to me during the show was how this wave of “queer rap,” by alienating the rap-bro quotient, allows for a more comfortably open-minded space for everybody attending the show. Gay or straight or totally not interested in labels of any kind.
2. Young Jeezy’s “R.I.P.”: Now that even EDM producers who have nothing to do with rap music are all caught up in the trap stomp that Young Jeezy helped establish almost a decade ago (woah, think about that), Atlanta’s legendary T.R.A.P.S.T.R seems to be testing his throaty shout-rap limits. And he sounds great on this DJ Mustard track, which is just a tad more ominous than most Mustard beats; it’s like a track from Thug Motivation 101 with everything stripped from the beat except for the drums. There’s also a post-rollin’ hyphy feeling to “R.I.P.”? I don’t know, man, but this is the endlessly fascinating track on the radio, right now. The one that won’t ever get old, it seems. And now there’s a remix featuring YG and Kendrick Lamar! Though king of the assholes Chris Brown, sending shoddy shots Drake’s way, also makes an appearance. But don’t fret too much because there is now a Riff Raff freestyle that we can only hope mix-show DJs start cramming in there somewhere. Not to mention, Jeezy recorded a new verse for the remix, which very few rappers do these days. “R.I.P.” is the song that keeps on giving.
3. That Wu-Tang Reference in Zero Dark Thirty: It’s just a quick throwaway line in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (out now on DVD/Blu-Ray), but CIA agent Dan Stanton (played by actor Jason Clarke) casually quotes a Wu-Tang Clan skit as he’s walking to the room for some, um, enhanced interrogation (or as all of us sane people call it, torture): “If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang could be dangerous!” Along with Stanton’s casual use of “bro” throughout the movie, the Wu-quoting is a small humanizing element to a feckless guy who you witness stringing a detainee up, pouring water in his mouth, and shoving him in a box. Maybe it’s even an indirect reference to the legendary Enter the Wu-Tang torture skit? These kinds of characterizations are important because it injects rap culture casually into a movie, free of, say, signifying something loosely urban or violent. It just accepts rap as part of an under-40 person’s frame of reference. Too bad Bigelow didn’t include the Game’s “Red Nation” on the soundtrack. Recall, that it was supposedly what a Seal Team 6 member listened to on the way to Bin Laden’s Abottabad compound.
4. Rome Fortune @ SXSW Mini-Doc: This short documentary follows Atlanta rapper Rome Fortune on his way to South by Southwest. Hundreds of these videos are made for artists and I usuallyscroll right by them on the blogs and send the PR emails that house them straight to the trash. But this one, surprisingly well-shot, atmospheric, and soundtracked by producer Childish Major’s “Rights For Wrongs” (which premiered here on Wednesday) gives you a few moments with a genuinely under-exposed rapper. Witness: Rome teases a fast-food dude about getting a burger with no meat on it; raps very, very well on a stage; gets geeked-up recounting a SXSW moment when someone recognized him; stands onstage with Trinidad Jame$ and the rest of Atlanta, as the “All Gold Everything” star declares, “Every nigga on this stage is from Atlanta and I fuck with them. Ain’t nobody trying to be better than nobody.” So many of these SXSW things try to show the endless grind of the festival — of having to move from PR opportunity to PR opportunity, in between playing a dozen shows — but this one presents Rome as just being happy that people care about his music. One more time: Beautiful Pimp is the best rap tape of the year.
5. TV One’s Unsung: This TV One series is probably best sold as “the black Behind the Music,” though it tends to focus less on the seedy side of an artist’s career – even when that career was pretty damned seedy – and doesn’t hammer every artist’s narrative into a steady rise, slow self-destructive fall, and then quasi-reinvention late in life. And where that VH1 series paid attention to mostly the biggest names around, Unsung lives up to it’s title, touching on the R&B, disco, and old-school rap legends just a little bit under the radar: Eddie Kendricks, Confunkshun, and EPMD, just to name a few. This season just ended with an episode on Johnny Gill, making a case for his voice being one of the best that R&B has ever been blessed with (duh!) and delicately addressing gay rumors, even allowing Gill a moment to express some regret for homophobic jokes he made as a young person. That’s the kind of moment that doesn’t need to be there, you know? Also, you get to see baseball superstar Barry Bonds show up to praise Gill for no particular reason. What’s most striking about the show is the way that it quietly tries to expand the canon, focusing on the far less “cool” ’80s boogie and quiet-storm music, as much as it does the more rockist-approved ’70s soul. Plenty of episodes are currently streaming on TV One’s website. Check it out.