Welcome to Rec-Room Therapy, a new BYT column that will serve as a forum for the discussion of recent hip-hop tracks, albums, mixtapes – whatever we feel like arguing about. But mostly tracks. We think. Our illustrious panel features Joshua Phelps, Joseph J. Minock, Phil R, Steven “You Only Get Half a Bar” Place, and Thomas McLeod of You Heard That New. This week, we take on Big Boi’s radio grab “Mama Told Me”, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City victory lap “The Jig is Up”, and The Man with the Iron Fists‘ posse cut “Black Out”.
Big Boi ft. Kelly Rowland: “Mama Told Me”
Our first selection is Big Boi’s “Mama Told Me”, the third (!) advance single from his second (but really third) solo LP, Vicious Lies and Rumors, which is allegedly being released in December. The song was originally a collaboration with Swedish electro pop group Little Dragon – who performed the song live with Big Boi over the summer – but Mr. Patton has rewarded their efforts by rerecording their parts and having Kelly Rowland redo the vocals.
Phil: If Big Boi releases a single and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?
Joey: Prognosis: Negative.
Tom: No. This song should never have even been created. It’s forced and passionless, and even the beat is boring. Who allows for boring beats these days when production outshines lyrics exactly 93% of the time? It feels like Big Boi is just making background music for a radio-edit Target commercial on BET.
Phil: But is it any surprise that Big Boi’s been reduced to this? He made an album – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty – that was, on the whole, all his fans could have hoped for, and it sold eight copies. Big Boi’s got bills pay! And for what it’s worth, I did think the first single off Vicious Lies and Rumors, “Gossip”, was awesome. So, maybe I’m willing to just look the other way on this.
Tom: He’s not making any bread off song sales. Dude will never sell more then 300k, even if he dropped a classic. He’s aged out of the hype machine. He needs to put out singles that get bros who got laid by a black chick to “The Way You Move” in college to pay to see him perform at mid-level venues across the country and possibly be pumped to see him as the 7th largest font on next year’s Coachella poster. This track doesn’t do any of that. It’s a bad decision.
Joey: And if that bro is anything like I am, he’s way more thankful for “Hey Ya” than “The Way You Move”.
Tom: Amen. That raises the real point here: Unless Outkast drops another album, no one really cares about Big Boi as a solo artist. Three Stacks has that Gillette deal, occasional African American Actor #3 in movies, and shows up for one verse on “important” albums every quarter. I mean, besides “Freaknik: The Musical”, Big Boi hasn’t really diversified his bonds. I could see him pulling out some random hit in fiveyears that really captures something, a la Kool G Rap’s “My Life”, but I’m not even about to download the bootleg of this. In the same vein: Busta Rhymes has an album out this week (or next). Trees…falling… in… forests.
Phil: On the insult scale: Kelly Rowland rerecording your vocals = Jim Belushi playing you in a biopic.
Phelps: For what it’s worth, Kelly Rowland will move more units than Little Dragon in the US. She’s hanging on to some fans from Dilemma and Motivation. I actually always preferred her to Beyonce, but I digress… Big Boi oddly pays homage to Roger Troutman early in the beat with some distorted vocals and then gives us a sped-up, bizarro, broken Casio version of “Solid (As A Rock)“. The raps are pedestrian. Until (or if) Outkast ever gets back together, or unless he drops a major earworm of a single, Big Boi can still subsist as a festival act buoyed by blog love. If that gets anyone to go back and listen to Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik, it’s some kind of win.
Joey: The lyrics are a moot point. Yeah, they suck, and I doubt Big Boi would even make that convincing of an argument that he didn’t just scrawl those out with about as much thought as I’m putting into my average email. But yeah, Phelps, good call on the “Solid (As a Rock)”. I didn’t place it until you said something, but that’s totally right. And, actually, if I’m trying to say something nice, it’s about the only part of the song that had any potential. I mean, the 2-3 piano chords in the live version did a liiiitle to liven it up and supplement it, but then he just replaced that with like, what, a flick of a crossfader bullshit on this studio version? Tom kinda took the words out of my mouth with the “how can a beat be so goddamned boring” assessment. This thing doesn’t even have a pulse. But I bet it gets play on the radio, at least in ATL, and let’s us know that Big Boi is still animate, even if his work product isn’t.
Phil: I just want to point out, again, while everyone here writes the obituary for Big Boi’s relevance, that “Gossip” is a great song.
Tom: So was Kool G Rap’s “My Life”.
Kendrick Lamar: “The Jig is Up”
Even though we missed out on Kendrick Lamar Week here, we still have a new track this week, recorded within the past few days, as evidenced by his shots at Shyne’s recent shit-talking, everyone’s obsession with record sales, and the complaint that good kid, M.A.A.D. city isn’t as lyrically fierce as its predecessor, Section.80. The production is from J.Cole, with whom Lamar claims he’s working on a collaborative full-length.
Joey: OK, so here’s my thing: What I love so much about GKMC is just how confident Kendrick Lamar comes across, all “yeah, I didn’t really have it in me to bang, and yeah, I’m pretty straight-edged when it comes to the weed and liquor, and yeah, I got good grades in high school.” His rapping (and that alone) is his hood pass, and he knows he has absolutely no need to stand on the braggadocio or the street cred that a lot of other (especially young) rappers do/try to. In fact, pretty much the whole point of “Backstreet Freestyle” is to say just that. Like, “This is how I sounded when I was younger – kind of silly, right? But that’s what worked then, and here I am now.” And I love that honesty and the balls it took for a guy to spend a whole full length basically saying that he wasn’t built for the streets, for the lifestyle, for the things that a lot of rap fans and rap itself seems to embrace so wholeheartedly.
And then, what, he’s shy about it now? He’s gotta come back on something Shyne tweeted? Seriously? I know he’s talking metaphorically in the hook, but the “doot, doot, doot, doot, doot, doot, doot” and all the sexual-violent imagery and the chest thumping… I’d love this song if I’d never heard GKMC, but because I have (a lot) and because I’ve spent a lot of time appreciating the nuances and the story he’s trying to tell (it really speaks to me, guys, I was born in Flint, Michigan – rough shit, seriously, wait… you don’t believe me?), and because it comes out a week after GKMC drops, I’m thinking, what, he’s embarrassed? Don’t tell me that shit.
Two other thoughts: 1) The Shyne diss was kinda funny; and, 2) the beat is pretttttttyyyy sick. I think J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar have something together. “HiiiPower” was pretty strong on Section.80.
Phil: Speaking of “Backstreet Freestyle”, is it wrong that every time I hear a Hit-Boy produced track on an album, I just wish he had produced the whole thing? That’s probably something more applicable to Cruel Summer, but I did hope a song or two on GKMC banged as hard as “Backstreet Freestyle”. Joey’s right though: That’s not really the point the record. Anyway, for a freebie, it’s pretty hard for me to complain about “The Jig is Up”. I don’t think he hits back at Shyne so much as laugh him off, which is ultimately more belittling than actually stepping into the ring with him. But seriously: who is following Shyne’s Twitter? The fact that people picked up on his Tweet speaks to the fact anything Kendrick-related is a “story” right now. Sidenote: Anyone else think Kendrick is channeling Pusha on this?
Phelps: If this was on GKMC, it’d be one of my favorite tracks. I’m a self-professed J Cole hater, but, wow, he crafts the audible equivalent of a black-suit-and-shades funeral procession for Shyne or any other Kendrick doubters, replete with Makaveli “Hail Mary” bells. Joey, I appreciate your affection for the story of GKMC and how this doesn’t necessarily fit, but with Kendrick Lamar will probably have a whole ‘nother mixtape within the month. These narratives are ongoing and since Shyne tossed shots, Kendrick responds a little less diplomatically than, say, Lupe would. I applaud that. It’s a fitting response -especially at 1:50 – to any and all detractors (like me, initially). Even on the hook, which I love, it’s not him “dumpin out the roof,” it’s his homies, so his metaphorical violence is indirect. He even dumbs it down further, “shootin up the charts.” I definitely see some snarling, angry Pusha T in this – could this be a reason Tom may not like it???
Tom: I fux with it. It doesn’t fit on GKMC because clearly it’s not in the plot. It would have been one of the strongest bonus cuts.
I’m cool with Pusha T, man. He just is so inconsistent. Like, a full decade of inconsistent. I’m also cool with J. Cole. I just think he believed his own hype, and, generally, I’m shocked at how many haters all these young dudes have. I mean, seriously: Does no one support them? How do they get on, with So. Many. Haters?
Basically, give me some fly swag shit about chillin’ on a boat somewhere. Some shit I can relate too. The hustle. The Struggle, NAH MEAN. Get my moms out this life.
Ghostface Killah, M.O.P., & Pharaohe Monch: “Black Out”
Among the numerous eye-catching collaborations from “The Man with the Iron Fists”, “Black Out” is one of the few posse cuts that is neither exclusively Wu-Tang nor an attempt to pair one of the Clan’s elders with a younger up-and-comer. Instead, “Black Out” is the work of four vets, and four particularly grizzled ones at that: Ghostface Killah, Pharoahe Monch, and M.O.P.’s Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame. It’s tellingly the second track on the album, squeezed between it’s two highest profile tracks – RZA hanging with the Black Keys on “The Baddest Man Alive”, and Kanye West’s swooning “White Dress” – like an a bone tossed to more seasoned hip-hop fans.
Phil: How did no one think of that multiple sclerosis line prior to now? I will say that this is only my second favorite song of the year to feature M.O.P. and/or an M.O.P. shout-out – first place going to Beanie Sigel’s “The Reunion” – but glad to see those guys getting work.
Phelps: The rap kings of bullet-based onomatopoeia. I remember reading about a M.O.P. photo shoot in the 90s where the Director of Photography brought out fake tools and they were like, “Nah, we got our own”. Might actually cross the street if I saw Billy Danz. Loooooove this track.
Joey: It just felt like I was listening to something fierce as shit coming at me from the mid-1990s. I don’t see how Ghostface Killah can’t be regarded as the best rapper coming out of the Wu-Tang Clan, but I suppose that’s a fight for another day. He comes out just blazing on this, and while it’s never a surprise, it still strikes out, like “Wow, I’m listening to something pretty incredible” in terms of sheer rap-storytelling ability. Who did the production on this? Was it all RZA?
Phil: No, it’s Fizzy Womack – a Lil’ Fame alias. There is surprisingly less RZA production on this album than you might expect – like, four of the sixteen songs, and one of them (“White Dress”) is a co-production credit. Of course, RZA’s “executive production” hangs over the whole thing, so he was certainly cherry picking (or commissioning) songs that fit the soul/blaxploitation aesthetic. It’s pretty wild that a song like “Rivers of Blood” is the work of Toronto producer Frank Dukes and Odd Future / Frank Ocean collaborators BADBADNOTGOOD. These dudes were just hitting elementary school when Enter the 36 Chambers came out.
Tom: So… that hook is trash. I would have loved this when I was boppin’ around junior high, but now: I just can’t do this. I recognize that it’s not a bad song, but it’s 100% a soundtrack song, and I haven’t liked a soundtrack song since “Hey Papi” (screw you, haters). I will probably never play this song after this one time I’ve played it. It’s like a decent freestyle on a decent mixtape. Also #funfact: After Supreme Clientele, Ghostface was my favorite rapper, so I’m far from a hater here.
Joey: I think I just got my feelings hurt.
Phil: “I pray this beat is good enough for Tom.”
Steven: “I recognize that it’s not a bad song, but it’s 100% a soundtrack song” nails it. I guess maybe in the context of the movie it might seem more natural, but on it’s own its doesn’t really work for me. Also, I feel like I’ve heard that “multiple sclerosis” line a million times.