Rap Songs of the Week: Riff Raff Riffs on Drake’s ‘Started From the Bottom’ Child-Star Privilege
Plus 2 Chainz, DJ Rell, J-Zone, and Tony Gardner & Ro1up
2 Chainz ft. Sunni Patterson & Chrisette Michelle, “Black Unicorn”
In which 2 Chainz — you know, that guy formerly known as Tity Boi, who once told Nicki Minaj he was going to “put it in [her] kidney” — attempts an ambitious, Kanye-esque sociopolitical epic that’s secretly just about how awesome he is, which is what Kanye’s ambitious sociopolitical epics are ultimately about, too. New Orleans spoken-word artist Sunni Patterson introduces the track, giving “Black Unicorn” its poetic-in-another-context-but-here-just-silly title; 2 Chainz then quotes Martin Luther King’s “Free at last” (or maybe Kanye’s “Your titties, let them out, free at last” from “I’m in It,” or maybe both) to celebrate that time he wriggled out of Disturbing tha Peace’s major-label stranglehold back in the 2000s. He also tests the limits of Jay Z worship (“Lyrically, I could be Talib Kweli / But with gold teeth it’d be hard for some to believe”), follows it up with “I leave them pussies stinking,” and wraps it all around a hammy Chrisette Michelle hook and a beat from DJ Toomp that, like Kanye’s Jigga tribute/diss “Big Brother,” seems to latch onto the synth grandeur of the Isley Brothers’ “Balled for the Fallen Soldier.” Got all that? Yeah, me neither.
DJ Rell, “Dear Summer…Madness”
In which Jersey club producer DJ Rell takes Kool and the Gang’s 1974 bliss-out (sampled by the Fresh Prince, Gang Starr, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Aaliyah, and used in that Lebron James Nike ad a bunch of years back) and chops it into an end-of-the-summer, half-a-bummer party track, grabbing a few lewd words from Kendrick Lamar and some surprisingly mature Jay Z musings cribbed from a post-retirement track from nearly a decade ago that totally usurped Memphis Bleek’s album, 534. (Let this serve as a reminder that Jay Z, who announced an album right after Kanye dropped his, and announced a tour right after Kanye announced his, has always been a supreme dick to his rap pals.) Not exactly relaxed, but far more chill-out-friendly than most frenetic club, “Dear Summer…Madness” can’t decide if it wants to loaf around or get down, which captures quite well the end-of-the-season emotions that flail about as fall arrives .
J-Zone ft. Swagmaster Bacon, “Mo’ Pork”
In which heroic, newly unretired curmudgeon J-Zone does a trap rap parody a little too damned well, and ends up with an actually pretty hot-sounding Triple Six Mafia-esque fight rap track that’d make Spaceghostpurrp jealous, at least. He’s pretty much just doing a Project Pat impression here, that naturally screwed and a little screwy style of spitting, though it’s twisted CB4-style to the point of absurdity, as it’s a pussy-azz rappaz sort of song about how vegans suck, and if you don’t eat pork he’s gonna slap you upside the head and shit. If J-Zone put this song out under some Memphis rarity-referencing name and did some LULZ-DA-’90s type graphic design for it, he’d be getting some Tumblr-rap love for this thing, for sure. Look out Lil Ugly Mane! In typical J-Zone spirit, though, his parody is done with both affection and frustration. In particular, J-Zone’s joke about this being a “bonus cut” on his Peter Pan Syndrome album mocks the recent major-label hedge-betting thing where a rapper does a sell-out song to move some digital units on iTunes and placate his label, and then stuffs at at the end of the record to minimize its damage to his reputation.
Riff Raff, “Started From the Bottom”
In which Riff Raff, rap’s most transparent and transcendent phony, takes on this year’s big-deal, came-from-nothing bullshit-ass hit by Drake, rap’s most obsequious phony. Riff Raff reduces Drizzy’s mythmaking to absurdity by boasting that he’s “still selling drugs” and “still fucking with them thugs,” and just gets more nuts from there. He claims he “broke a brick down on stage at the Grammys,” which isn’t actually that much more ridiculous than a Canadian teen star selling us a bill of goods that he “started from the bottom,” right? All of it works because Riff Raff piles a Tupac-melodic hook on top of one of the year’s most fun-to-sing hooks, and then spits, in his cartoon bird squawk, a series of Screwston signifiers, along with shout-outs to Range Rovers, Dockers, and a “Versace shoulder rug,” which is just a nutty, way-too-elevated way of talking about the scarf he’s wearing, I think? Riff Raff, bathetic culture jammer!
Tony Gardner & Ro1up, “Let You Go”
In which supremely slept-on (and Southern but not exactly Southern) producer Tony Gardner (see Ice Burgandy’s Rhythm & Burgandy) picks up Beyoncé’s “End of Time,” by way of Xxyyxx’s Bey-sampling “About You,” and carries it over into sad-sack break-up rap-territory that’s aiming for Drake’s smoked-out relationship ruminations, and almost gets there — and has the courtesy to add some trap rap drop-and-skitter for good measure. It’s just one verse, all bitter bro-talk (“You always on that fuck shit / And I swear, I just can’t trust it”) and crew love-ish lyrical daps to his buddies, yet that “End of Time” sample, now a pitiful, hesitant groan, provides a more wounded and open-hearted take on a relationship ending. From Gardner’s recent EP, Layover in Atlanta, a collaborative effort with “Orinoco Flow”-on-weed-sounding beatmaker Ro1up.