C4 ft. Rome Fortune, “Don’t Wanna Be a Star”
Along with Childish Major, Atlanta producer C4 is pushing “New ATL” sounds past their breaking point, with splintered, liquid beats that do a whole bunch of things at once, but never entirely leave the core sound of regional trap, snap, and country rap behind. On this weird one from the new mixtape Decoded (brought to you by Don Cannon), a Raymond Scott-like sequencer blips around a half-hearted dubstep wub (a sweep through the past 50 years of electronic music in a few seconds), until it all collapses into an operatic trap track with DJ-Mustard-does-dub-reggae percussion echoing in the background. It’s pretty insane, and fitting for guest-star Rome Fortune, a conversational rapper who finds the pocket of these perplexing beats somehow. Here, he provides a rather cynical look at making it in hip-hop: “I don’t want to be a star / Can’t you tell? / But I read the job description and it pays well.”
DJ Khaled ft. Future, Nicki Minaj, & Rick Ross, “I Wanna Be With You”
Everything great and awful in radio rap right now can be found on this DJ Khaled cut. First, the bad parts, which include Rick Ross shouting out Pimp C, pooping out a corny Kurt Cobain punchline, and just in general being very tedious; DJ Khaled, meanwhile, wheezes and blabs in the background (this will be on his album Suffering From Success, which, just, STFU, dude), and even botches the fairly hard-to-botch warmhearted sentiment of the song by grunting it out in the same cadence as earlier hit “We the Best,” which definitively proves he isn’t paying any attention to these posse cuts he supposedly cobbles together. The front half of the song, though — oh man. It’ll make you cry a little bit. You got Nicki Minaj doing lyrical backflips like it’s 2011 again, getting all sweet and romantic and talking Astrological signs. And then there’s the sweetly warbling Future, here proffering a super-simple love-song sentiment that hits you in the gut like the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”
King Mez, “New Vinyl”
Though his album, My Everlasting Zeal, debuted on Jay Z’s Life & Times website — and, if the lyrics here are to be believed, he’s got “a homie who works at DONDA” — Raleigh rapper King Mez remains pretty slept-on. He’s a head-down, all-rapping kind of rapper, which is easy to ignore, and he was dubbed a local hero in the shadow of Fayetteville, North Carolina’s J. Cole a little too soon. But he’s grown into one of those traditionalist, New York-sounding Southern rappers whose tricky spitting rewards multiple listens: Check out his assonant verse on Big Sant’s “Rap Nigga” from last year. “New Vinyl” — produced by D.C.’s Oddisee, who’s clearly in a Roy Ayers-like headspace between this glassy beat and the recent instrumental “Lonely Planet” — allows Mez to rhyme “same” with “auf wiedersehen” and “Peter Pan,” and shrug off a woman who spilled “salmon juice” on his Yeezy 2 sneakers. It almost seems like he’s boasting about it — the salmon juice as much as the sneakers.
Nine Inch Nails, “Satellite”
Chris Weingarten’s SPIN Essential review of Nine Inch Nails’ new Hesitation Marks dutifully traces the album’s acid-industrial, cyborg-rock epic back to the raw elements of hip-hop and house. In particular, Trent Reznor’s minimalist menace seems to meet at the corner of Kanye West’s Yeezus and DJ Mustard’s stellar 2011-to-right-now ratchet-music reign. “Satellite” is the most hip-pop-skewing song on the album, incorporating Timbaland’s robot rhythms and a breathy, erotic delivery that recalls Nelly Furtado’s half-confident, half-lost “Say It Right.” Meanwhile, the lyrics, which are either about drones or a creepy stalker, muck up the personal and the political, Yeezus-style. And while we’re at it, need another link between Trent and rap? The wounded-bro, blame-the-female talk so prevalent in the work of Drake or J. Cole lately is jacked directly from NIN’s 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine. Hell, Drake should probably just cover “That’s What I Get,” right? If Reznor can take on the Johnny Cash’s classic “Hurt,” well, anything can happen, right? I’M JOKINGGGGGG.
The Underachievers, “Flexin'”
The Underachievers are the most engaging of all the “New York Renaissance” crews because they don’t actually seem to be trying to bring anything back, even if they do often scan as early-’90s weed-street dudes. There’s as much ’60s hippie spiritualism in their raps as there is head-slap boom bap, and their ears are wide open, searching for any and every way to adjust a nostalgic formula. Their new EP Lords of Flatbush meshes their bugged-out, mostly interesting, though sometimes kinda warmed-over third-eye awesome nonsense with the sonic imprint of Lex Luger, best known for Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.” and most of Waka Flocka’s Flockaveli. “Flexin” finds rappers Issa and AK doing a hybrid of their usual whirlwind approach and the rumbling, rudimentary, Ricky Rozay stop-start style that usually works on a Luger beat. Stepping out of their regional style — even their fairly singular, blunted, Behold a Pale Horse take on NYC rappity rap — was a wise decision. It almost feels like they’re trolling their most ardent supporters here, but that’s a good thing.