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Rap Songs of the Week: Pearls Negras Serve Up Teen-Energized Baile Funk on ‘Mr. President’

Kitty, “285”
Kitty Pryde’s wizened tribute to 285 Kent —  that dead Brooklyn spot you’re probably tired of hearing about by now — sounds like EDM’s histrionic angst gone micro. Uffie-esque in delivery and alt-lit-like in terms of its lyrics — which feel oddly universal and generation-defining, but with a teasing, thrilling T.M.I. aspect, too — it relies on an almost soaring and definitely dorky rave-hop pulse. Even at its most spiteful, it oozes a need for acceptance (“I’ll never get another chance / I wish, but all i wanna do is make you dance to this”), and the hook-after-the-hook is pretty heartbreaking: “I’ll never weigh you down / We say goodbye, I guess / I will see you around / I will clean up my mess.” In short, she met a dude, they liked each other, it got screwed up, and she feels fucked up about it. It could’ve happened anywhere, but turns out it happened at 285 Kent, and she wrote a quietly devastating song about it.

Nicki Minaj, “Danny Glover”
A weird thing happened when Nicki Minaj jumped on “Danny Glover”: A strangely traditionalist conversation popped up around her freestyle, which purposefully embraced Young Thug’s tough-to-mimic style. Suddenly, critics were insisting that that wasn’t what freestyles were about, man: You’re supposed to come creative and change it up! Just imagine a bunch of Young Thug diehards, skeptical of the bandwagon-jumping surrounding easily one of the most tradition-bucking MCs the mainstream’s had to deal with in quite a while, and translating that skepticism into a five-elements kind of declaration. But Nicki’s freestyle is an homage — another way of telling everybody that the next big thing is here, and the old-ish guard, which now includes Nicki herself, needs to come to him and not the other way around.

Pearls Negras, “Mr. President”
This dummy doesn’t speak the language, but this track from three teenaged, baile funk-fueled MCs certainly sounds like some kind of take-no-shit political call-out, which is most certainly not the kind of track this trio needs to be throwing into the middle of their 21-minute mixtape, Biggie Apple, you know? Lines from oft-conflicted MC Big K.R.I.T. (from Wiz Khalifa’s “Glass House”) get flung around this percolating, fart-synth-driven production, almost as if to say that what scans as subversive in the American rap mainstream is just fodder for a far more frenzied approach to political party music in Brazil. And listen close for a few moments of French Montana’s bro-trap rage-out “Pop That”: It’s like that Eeyore-sounding coke boy and his dirtbag pals tried to to crash a party they’re not cool enough and far too creepy to attend, and Pearls Negras cut them into little pieces.


Starlito, “Mark Us Smart”
A few days ago, Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart got suspended for shoving a tubby, white, and by all accounts loudmouthed fan named Jeff Orr, who was heckling him during a game (he was rumored to have told Smart, “Go back to Africa”). That’s not the smartest decision Smart could’ve made, but you can understand it, the same way you can see why Kanye went off on that mutant who called Kim Kardashian horrible names. Enter Starlito, one of the brightest and most consistently inspired rappers around, who takes the Smart incident as a jumping-off point for a missive on post-racial exploitation and the double bind of white acceptance: “Cast a shadow on your accolades / Just to attack you for the same things they praise you for / Rap is just my basketball / I might have lost my cool a time or two / It cost me money / But I never lose my pride, no not for nothing / Mark us smart / No, they’d rather label us as dummies / Sign my rights off to a label, then they make all of the money? / That’s funny.”

Strange U, “Strange Universe in Africa”
Bookended by samples from the 1981 exploitation oddity and pulp biopic Amin: The Rise and Fall, this track from British duo Strange U (rapper Kashmere and producer Doctor Zygote) has a hook that adjusts the coastal ribbing from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali” (“I’m going, going, back, back to the motherland”), which is to say, it’s a fairly fascinating pile-on of rap referentiality and post-colonialist pontification. “A beautiful place despite all of the challenges / Pretty good for uncivilized savages,” Kashmere quips, with some MF Doom-like above-it-all sarcasm, over an about-to-fall-apart beat, while conjuring up loaded, surreal images like Obama going on tour with Ginger Baker and arriving by helicopter to treat a village like a rap video, making it rain and sipping Dom P. A headscratcher that demands a close reading and speakers that can handle killer bass.