With the new Rick Rubin-produced Eminem single, we are sonically looking back, po-faced, to License to Ill-era Beastie Boys (a record that they wanted to call Don’t Be a Faggot, remember) with a rapper who has spewed plenty of hateful nonsense himself. Who needs this kind of aggro-comfort food? Rap fans afraid of where hip-hop is right now, that’s who. The story that rap has become “soft” is a persistent complaint, as is the observation that it lacks “lyricism” (which Em courts here by whining out, “Let’s take it back to straight hip-hop and start from scratch”). And so, a hard-hitting Billy Squier beat with a whole bunch of words bouncing over top of it satisfies the desires to return to when rap music was just plain different, no better or worse, than it is now. Nostalgia is almost always an iffy endeavor, especially when it’s done with no sense of postmodern adjustment or accounting for the time between then and now, which is certainly the case here. A fun, problematic novelty.
Icona Pop ft. Zebra Katz, “My Party”
Swedish duo Icona Pop, best known for the scream-along “I Love It” and the friendship flip-out “Girlfriend,” have as much in common with hardcore as Euro-pop, if you think about it: The thrill of all of their singles hinges on their crew-vocals-style delivery. Here, they shout out (and shout at) Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” over a beat far too busy for its own good (it sounds like a dubstep remix of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo, with one of the robots from Pacific Rim malfunctioning behind it), and features an alien-sounding verse from twisty-turny rapper Zebra Katz. It isn’t even in the same smart-dumb-awesome wheelhouse as their previous hits, though the Snookie-esque line “The zipper broke in the back so my crack’s hanging out” has a regular-ass appeal that’s mostly absent from pop right now. A very strange, not entirely successful song from a group that nailed idiosyncratic hitmaking right out of the gate.
Juicy J ft. Project Pat, “No Heart No Love”
Stay Trippy, Juicy J’s first solo album since signing to Wiz Khalifa’s tween-friendly Taylor Gang, is surprisingly the most consistent and fully-realized Three 6-related project since 2005’s Most Known Unknown. “No Heart No Love” campaigns forward by way of a barbarous Young Chop beat and Juicy J’s specific approach to street talk, wherein he will one moment occupy an above-it-all sense of head-holding frustration with crime, and the next roll around in it like a trashy action director, doting on violence and viewing it as some sort of Darwinian inevitability. The hook here (“The trigga ain’t got no heart, the nigga behind it ain’t got no love”) is aphoristic and has a certain gritty, poetic quality. It proves there is room for insight and amid all the sentence-fragment nihilism in laconic punch-you rap. Toward the end, you alos get a strong verse from Project Pat, who is living, breathing, rapping proof that Juicy hasn’t left his Memphis-knucklehead past behind him, even though he totally could at this point. Though where is DJ Paul on this thing?
OG Dutch Master, “Paper”
OG Dutch Master is a hard-to-categorize rapper with a goblin grunt of a voice who has been getting some love from the 2 Dope Boyz corner of the Rap Internet. His approach is full of bitter-street-dude wit (“Wearing all white, fuck Labor Day”) and obtuse rhyming (“Snatches watches and wallets/ Cop a pair of foamposites”; “I’m very fuckin’ important… we do believe in extortion”). “Curren$y-with-a-scowl” is one way to describe it; “a more gently weeded Chief Keef with a five-percenter-esque code kicking against his baser impulses” is another. The production on “Paper” skitters and glitches like, well, every rap song from every local hero in every mid-tier rap town, but there’s an eerie, ambient, X-Files theme posturing to it as well.
Party Supplies, “Cherry Valley”
Action Bronson sample-locator and -looper Party Supplies just released a collection of Armand Van Helden-esque synth pop (think “Little Black Spiders” or anything off the ’80s-indebted Stupid Fresh series) with more than a little bit of chillwave’s cheeseball-weary cheeriness, and some of the festival-ready synth pomp of Robert DeLong in there as well. No matter how you slice it, it isn’t rap or even instrumental hip-hop, which is what makes it so fascinating. Some of Party Supplies’ WTF wit is in here, though. On “Cherry Valley” he shoves David Lee Roth’s isolated vocals from “Runnin’ With the Devil” into the background, and pairs it with the slightly off energy of something like the Electric Dreams soundtrack, plus a little bit of Journey and Bon Jovi’s hard-rockin’-working-class vocals. Unexpected, but light and very rewarding.