Rap and R&B radio is rough right now, guys. When it isn’t being squashed from both sides by the blindingly awkward whiteness represented by either suave douchebaggery overstaying its welcome (see Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke) or aristocratic pop-trolling (see Miley Cyrus), it’s caught in an endless loop of the same few songs: Jay Z’s tepid rap ballad “Holy Grail” and trap fascimile “Tom Ford”; J. Cole’s tedious, condescending “Crooked Smile”; and Drake’s great-sounding, also condescending “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Though every once in a while, if you’re lucky, Ciara’s still-charged “Body Party” and Rich Homie Quan’s brilliantly emotive “Type of Way” pop up.
An elegant sore thumb in these played-out playlists is August Alsina‘s “I Luv This S—t,” featuring Trinidad Jame$ and currently sitting at No. 16 on Billboard‘s Hot Hip-Hop/R&B chart. (It’s also No. 56 on the overall Hot 100, despite being weighed down by Billboard‘s wayward, streaming-friendly algorithm.) Alsina, a noted disciple of The-Dream, first offered “Luv” on his May mixtape The Product 2, then wisely recycled it on his Downtown: Life Under the Gun EP, an experiment in taking the eccentric sounds and loverman moods of floaty, post-Terius R&B and redirecting all of its strengths towards novella-like street songs.
In short, Alsina’s singular approach is to sing about the life of crime that ultimately subsumed his brother (whose murder looms heavy over the EP) with the seen-it-all attitude of a rapper and the honeyed delicacy of an R&Ber, all at once. It’s effective and ambitious, and adds weight to, say, a warmed-over weed-as-women (or maybe women-as-weed) slow jam like “Let Me Hit That,” featuring Curren$y. And it positions “I Luv This S—t” — a half-celebratory song about indulging in drink and drug, and hustling to the point of no return — with a sense of both escapism and fatalism.
Typically, a remix of “I Luv This Shit” (titled “#ILTS Remix.” because of course it would be) has arrived at the moment when people are beginning to embrace the original. It features Trey Songz and Chris Brown, which means a song that once balanced streetwise singing with the laconic, chill-bruh style of Trinidad Jame$ is now a sloppy sea of sexy-guy crooners. This is how songs move up to another plateau these days: with star power. But the remix also makes some truly depressing changes to the song. Namely, it shifts the hook for most of the song from “I love this s—t” to “She loves this s—t” (or “You love this s—t”), a more aggressive declaration aimed at women. No s—t: Pop-radio patriarchy has no boundaries. But here they’ve turned Alsina’s song — partially a celebration of going hard in the club, and partially a lament (“I’m way too young to be livin’ like this”) — into another low-key aggressive f—k song stuffed in female listeners’ faces. You’ll love this s—t. Get it? Got it? Good. Yuck.
Nevertheless, the slow creep of a beat from producer Knucklehead (Gucci Mane’s “Scotty,” Cash Out’s “The Curb,” Soulja Boy’s “The First”) cannot be contained, even by a “too many crooning cooks in the kitchen” adjustment. It’s a supercut of The-Dream’s production tics: a whirl of ooh‘s and ahh‘s, an Isleys-esque guitar, and emotive synth horns. A whining, wobbling synth adds some noir-ish atmosphere, while those synth horns capture Alsina’s pain-and-pleasure vibe expertly. The horns are grandiose in their own way, but they’re also chintzy and cheap-sounding. Bro-ish remix and all, this is an odd, idiosyncratic standout during a transitional period for “urban”-skewing radio, or what left of it in 2013. There’s a lot of regret here, and a palpable sense of trying to keep your head above water that very much fits with the creeping after-hours vibes of so much partying rap and R&B right now. It enables post-Mike WiLL Made It atmospherics, but also critiques them. There’s high-stakes emotion smuggled inside of “I Luv This S—t.” Not many other songs on the radio feel like that.