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Rap Songs of the Week: Danny Brown Baits Nostalgics on ‘Side A (Old)’

Abdu Ali, “Fuk Wit Dis”
Pentecostal poet/rapper/vocalist Abdu Ali begins this song with a Pterodactyl wail, and then proceeds to screech out his lyrics in a helium-sucking Lil Wayne-like voice. And they’re still nearly buried by a Baltimore club din from producer James Nasty (he of a very batty refix of Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice”), who loops a Fade To Mind-friendly #seapunk synth ping around effects-caked gun shots, and a Waka Flocka Flame “Bow!” ad-lib, and then, on top of that, sends the whole frantic thing into a maelstrom of ghetto-tech yells. Is this rap music? Dance music? Is this even music? “Do you wanna see me die?,” Abdu asks at one point. Just a few tracks earlier on his new post-apocalyptic, party-music mixtape, Push & Slay, out this week, he was telling you how he wants to “make you bleed.” Too many sounds, hella high-low-bridging lyrical conceits, and scary cathartic aggression, but that’s a good thing.

Danny Brown, “Side A (Old)”
Form matches content for Danny Brown. On his party tracks, he indulges coked-up yammer-rapping and the beats tend to be spare and nihilistic. When, shit gets real (he’s a hedonist, but also a moralist, so it always does), the production gains focus, indulging traditionalism, and his delivery regains focus, like a planned-out lecture from someone making sure every ugly detail hits you how it should. And so, the kind of real hip-hop ding-dongs who just want Brown to make The Hybrid over and over again, regardless of how his life has changed (not to mention, how rap music has changed), miss the point. Cleverly, Danny addresses them here with a boom bap-enough track anchored by his “old” style of spitting. It seems less like a nod to those grousing fans than a jokey reminder that rapping like this is really freaking easy for him. Also, it highlights the fan cruelty of demanding that a rapper whose lyrics were inspired by his destitute and dire situation return to those topics when his life changes for the better.

Le1f, “Jack”
Le1f is very good at re-appropriation. His Macklemore rant, which noted that “Thrift Shop” sounded remarkably like his own “Wut” and pointed out that Macklemore stood on a stage and accepted industry back-pats for making a regressive pro-gay rap song (while throwing hip-hop under the bus, mind you) was a necessary, gutsy rejoinder. Even moreso because it opened Le1f up to accusations of sour grapes and all that. On “Jack,” off the new mixtape Tree House, Le1f reclaims  the soulful Chicago house that has been bundled up and slathered across records from aggro-bros Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails lately. With production help from Falty DL, he spits a blushing seduction over a futuristic Farley Jackmaster Funk fascimile. It’s poetic, sexy, and hilarious. A politicized rapper by choice and by way of numerous “woah, gay rapper” articles, Le1f gets personal here, which is, of course, very political. Dude-bro rappers and R&B-ers who pen fuck-rap songs like they’re writing for Penthouse Forum should take note of the subtle, erotic charge of “Jack.”

Pusha T, feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Nosetalgia”
So, Pusha T’s almost rapping at Clipse-level, here. The extended “cocaine as baby powder” riff at the beginning is groan-worthy, for sure, but in a “Tickle us pink like white-girl clitoris” We Got It 4 Cheap 2 way, at least. “Nosetalgia” reveals the problem with most of Pusha’s recent work, especially since he signed to G.O.O.D. and decided to make a feeble attempt to be on the mainstream’s periphery: He has embraced these slow-rolling (though usually wandering), dirge-like productions that work for a mediocre rapper like Kanye West and fit the slow-working ears of most radio-rap listeners, but are beneath Pusha’s talents. Here, Nottz’s Spaghetti-Western beats help, earning their squeaky patience. Then Kendrick Lamar shows up, inducing some dread by way of a Boyz N Tha Hood reference, and pretty much voicing the victims of Pusha T’s Johnson & Johnson-pushing hustle: “My little brother crying / Smokers repeatedly buying my Sega Genesis / Either that or my auntie was stealing it / Hit the pipe and start feeling it.”


Taz, “bedroom”
Austin, Texas, Philip Glass-like producer who previously went by the name Tazmanian Tiger, and who chopped-and-screwed “Blow My High” by Beautiful Lou & Western Tink, releases an instrumental album, Full Blossom of the Evening, that bypasses the meeting point between ambient electronica and druggy hip-hop that is Clams Casino (currently soundtracking Grad Theft Auto V’ who ever thought cloud rap would take it this far?) and goes for the inside-out, post-rock, Michael Mann-soundtrack-drift of Emeralds’ Mark McGuire. There’s a lot of this hip-hop-not-hip-hop junk happening right now, but Taz seems to actually know what the hell he’s doing: Listen to those sustained bass buzzes, and what sounds like a syrup-sloshing moan from Art of Noise’s “Moments In Love” rising to the front of the instrumental and then stumbling backwards. If David Lynch is really thinking about resurrecting Twin Peaks, then Taz should be gunning for the Angelo Badalamenti spot (the title Full Blossom of the Evening is a reference to the trippy TV show).