Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week or so, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip hop tracks. Today, we look deep into our souls and ponder some of life’s greatest questions. Why did Kendrick Lamar decide to remake an already classic song? What made Beyoncé so angry? Is Lil Wayne’s recent output pretty good or complete trash? Wrestling with these issues is our distinguished panel: Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Briana Younger, Steven “You Only Get Half a Bar” Place, Phil R, Joseph “Jiggawatts” Minock, Damion McLaren, and Hip Hop Hooray‘s Leah Manners.
Kendrick Lamar ft. Jay-Z: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix)”
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City standout “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” gets made-over with some orchestral flourishes, an extended Jay-Z cameo, and two new Kendrick verses.
Marcus: It was really wonderful to hear Jay-Z kick off his old man house shoes and really deliver something of value here. “(Trick) Don’t Kill My Vibe” feels like something that he probably wishes he would’ve had around the era of Hard Knock Life…Volume 2. Also, when you hear Kendrick’s last sixteen to close out the record, you get the sense that he knows that he must bring it, because Jay just challenged him to take his talent to the next level. Kendrick’s opening bars aren’t his best though, which shows that he’s far better when he’s writing with a deep purpose rather than just writing some swagged out lyrics about how he’s the top of the game. The second verses, while still swaggerific, give us a bit more depth into where he’s at now as an artist. Given that he’s quickly established himself as not just being dominant, but actively wanting to dominate the game, these verses are actually important and worth listening to.
Leah: I… I just don’t know why this exists.
Steve: I’m with Leah. This seems completely unnecessary. The remix doesn’t even touch the original, Jay-Z is O.K., and I don’t think the collaboration has really offers anything new. I understand that they are probably looking for something more radio-friendly, but this seems half-baked.
Phil: I think we know why this exists. And it’s a nice idea: Jay giving his blessing to Kendrick’s rocket -propelled ascension; Kendrick, in turn, inspiring Jay to bring it the hardest he has since Watch the Throne. What I think Leah is getting at is: Why did it have to be “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”? Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is such a personal, introspective, honest document, and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is both its heart and thesis statement: “I’m trying to keep it alive and not compromise the feeling we love / You’re trying to keep it deprived and only co-sign what radio does.” This remix feels like compromise, and if you’re more cynically inclined, a Johnny-come-lately co-sign to boot. It’s a bummer, because these two on the right track could have been an event. Instead, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix)” is like “Citizen Kane” given technicolor treatment. Kendrick could learn a thing or two from Orson Welles’ reaction to that idea: “Don’t let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons.”
Phelps: I’m not really fucking with remixes that have basically the same beat and a couple new verses. You call that shit “official”? Like, at least make it a Datpiff free download mixtape track with just Jay rapping over the beat. Do we need this to be an event? They need to fly up to Chicago for Remix School with R. Kelly. He can play them “Ignition” and “Ignition (Remix)”. Then they can fly Southwest Airlines to Baltimore, look for Sisqo’s platinum dome, and fire up Dru Hill’s “In My Bed” and that remix. Take the summer off and practice and for the fall semester. They can meet Puff at his son’s UCLA football game and he can play BIG’s “You Nasty“, followed by another remix staple, one of his favorites: old school popular beats like “White Lines” from Grandmaster Flash. Then write me a paper and I’ll give them two Phoenix University phys ed credits.
Joey: It’s weird that he’s remixing a song from GKMC with Jay-Z, especially, as we’ve said, a song as central to that album as this one: GKMC was a West Coast record, through and through, from the story line (the “escape” from and triumphant return to Compton) and the personnel (e.g., MC Eiht from Compton’s Most Wanted, Dr. Dre, etc.), down to the finer details (e.g., the nod to Ice Cube’s “Bird in the Hand” on “m.A.A.d. City”). I mean, I know it’s only a bonus track, but on “Black Boy Fly”, he dedicated a verse to Arron Afflalo because they both went to the same high school in Compton. So, while I get what Phil’s saying theoretically about what Jay-Z is doing here – giving his blessing to such a promising young gun – I don’t get why it’s an East Coast titan doing it, especially if this is the song on which to do it.
Beyoncé: “Bow Down / I Been On That”
Details are sketchy right now, but here’s what we know: “Bow Down” was produced by Hit-Boy, “I Been On That” was produced by Timbaland, and The-Dream and Polow Da Don had a hand in the songwriting. Presumably, this will be making its way onto an album that will be the impetus for the Mrs. Carter Tour.
Leah: I guess I could see this as some sort of transition piece on an album, or some “still Jenny from the Block” shit, and I’m okay with the same-old on Bey’s part, but this is far from a single. And in “I Been On”, cognitive dissonance sets in: It’s still H-town, but after she tells everyone to bow down and asserts her power on the track, this crap about smacking tricks and being up in the club is just unsettling. I seen triller.
Bri: We could spark the “bitch” argument, but I’m not sure how much I care. I happen to like this song – well, the first half – because, for once, Beyoncé stepped out of her box. I respect the attempt at a different sound. However, stepping out of the box didn’t require stepping into Nicki’s or Rihanna’s. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with bragging or being unafraid to tell the world you know you’re the shit. However, this was a somewhat classless (and insecure) move for Beyoncé specifically. She set her own standards, but when people like Keyshia Cole hold her to those standards and point out the hypocrisy, Cole’s suddenly a hater. In all honesty, the “controversy” surrounding this song is actually more interesting than the song itself. That said, how about those Adele album sales…yeah.
Phelps: Wow, the first half of this song is embarrassing. Isn’t Beyoncé considered one of the most liked and sweetest individuals in the game? I was astonished when she said “shit” in her documentary. Maybe she’s growing up and acting out – wait, she’s 31. I do love the beat for “I Been On” – Timbaland hasn’t interested me this much since Supa Dupa Fly. (SHOUT OUT TO 757.) But for all her chest thumping on “Bow Down”, she reverts back to sleepovers and listening to UGK in secret. These two halves are like oil and water.
Phil: It’s important to keep in mind that you hear Beyonce say “shit” in the otherwise whitewashed “Life is But a Dream” because she wants you to hear her say “shit.” The “documentary” is a Beyonce production, coincidentally directed by Beyonce, and it ultimately serves as much artistic purpose as Justin Timberlake’s Target and Budweiser commercials. The Super Bowl, the Mrs. Carter Tour announcement, “Life is But a Dream,” and now “Bow Down / I Been On That”: This isn’t some haphazard strategy. Each step follows methodically after the next. The 20/20 Experience will be flushed from the media’s system in a week’s time. LP5 will soon be upon us. And Beyonce is going to save the record industry. So, what the fuck do we make of this song then? Why did it mysteriously appear from the ether? As Bri notes, it’s made a controversial splash. We’re talking about it, and we’re not talking about how her previous record only sold 1.3 million copies. Does it have to be a great song? No, it’ll be buried as a bonus track. (And for what it’s worth, I think it’s rather enjoyable.) This maneuver would have been more interesting if she hadn’t teased 4 with its own red herring, “Girls Run the World”. It also would have been more interesting if The-Dream hadn’t beaten her to the punch four days earlier with his similarly bizarro “Tron”.
Leah: Alright, Phil, what are the odds Bey is following the Janet Jackson career trajectory like it’s a football play?
Joey: The football analogy is funny, because Bey just did her Super Bowl halftime show, 9 years after Janet. I guess she decided to scrap the “wardrobe malfunction”?
Damion: There’s too much going in this song for me. I like her ego at the beginning, but the chopped-and-screwed part is awkwardly introduced. I’m not feeling this.
Marcus: Beyonce needs to stop treating her new marriage like new money. I hate when someone makes an unexpected come-up in the game and doesn’t really know what to say about it. “Bow down, bitches?” Really, Bey? This is one of those times when you wish that Homey da Clown sketches from “In Living Color” existed in real life, and when songs like these finished being mastered, Homey would mysteriously materialize and wallop everyone involved in the creative process over the track with his “homey bopper.” “Bow down bitches?” “Not just his little wifey?” “I used to sneak and listen to UGK?” Really, Bey? Really? Boom. Pow. Smack. Whack. Kazam. Kablooey. This shit is turrrible. “Homey don’t play dat!”
Lil Wayne ft. 2 Chainz: “Rich as Fuck”
Two days prior to being admitted to an L.A. hospital for a (reportedly) codeine overdose, Lil Wayne dropped the official version of “Rich as Fuck”, a song that had been circulating in an unmastered form for a few months. Produced by T-Minus, it’s the fourth single from I Am Not a Human Being II, following “My Homies Still”, “No Worries”, and “Bitches Love Me”, for those keeping score at home. Unlike the preceding I Am Not a Human Being – rushed to completion prior to Weezy serving jail time – this album is being treated as a proper full-length, though it’s said to contain some leftovers from Tha Carter III and IV sessions.
Bri: The bass line on this is crazy! It reminds me of Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales.” T-Minus is a beast, and this was so obviously made for southern/west coast car culture. It’s one of those have-you-sitting-in-your-car-in-a-parking-lot-just-to-finish-the-song type of joints. Of course, it’ll go over wonderfully in the club as well. Again, we see that “Fuckin Problems” formula with bringing 2 Chainz in just for the hook. And, again, I wouldn’t have minded hearing him kick a little flow over this, but the song is still great. Wayne is clever and having fun with it – word to that RIP line, which keeps making me laugh.
Leah: I agree with Briana that this is likely to be a club hit, mostly because of the in-and-out bass line and oh so chant-able chorus. And I definitely hear the West Coast vibe in here; if 2Pac were still with us, he’d be all over this beat. Wayne’s pretty clever here but he’s really wearing out his talent by only talking about drugs, sex, and money. The fact that this song is in the news simultaneously with his health issues only serves to make the point that much clearer that this lifestyle is a death sentence. I wish the best for him, but I want to see him wake up and grow up so he can keep rapping.
Phil: At this point, I’ve all but written off the return of a genuinely interesting Lil Wayne. The gonzo Wayne of Da Draught 3 – the guy so high he could eat a star, the rapper who could shame Jay-Z with his own beat, the little big Kahuna, ya dig? – has mellowed out, and more often than not, sounds audibly bored with rapping. In fact, I can’t think of an inspired Wayne verse since he freestyled an addendum to Drake’s “Light Up” over a Rikers Island phone. For the most part, as Logan said a few months ago, “every single time [Wayne] picks up the mic, it’s it’s like he’s reading a page of rhyming erotic fiction.” And, worse, he sleepwalks through even that. Easy punchline up, easy punchline down. So, it’s nice on “Rich as Fuck” to hear Wayne sound animated. He’s peddling the same hornball boasts and jokes, and he’s still light-years away from the wordplay of his 06-08 prime, but he’s engaged with the beat and rapping with purpose. As sad as it may be, that’s not an insignificant victory for Weezy in 2013.
Bri: I think you’re a little tough on Wayne. Dedication 4 featured a more excited Wayne – as if, for the first time possibly since No Ceilings, he was actually enjoying himself. The thing to be understood is he doesn’t need to do anything else at this point. As his fanbase keeps growing, there are increasingly portions who will never know Dedication 2-era Wayne and, therefore, don’t hold him to that standard. The upward struggle always produces the best music. Similarly, we can go ahead and mark 2 Chainz off as never again sounding like he did in 2012. And, apparently, he might be just be reduced to hooks along with his buddy Future.
Phelps: Dedication 4 had a few absolute bangers on it, agreed, so I’m not ready to write him off like TMZ. Bri makes an excellent point here, just fucking nailed it: he doesn’t have to do anything anymore, and there are so many Wayne disciples biting his style that we’re all numb to it at this point. It’s hard to be impressed, maybe we never will be, even on his best efforts. If you want to be floored, fire up your Spotify’s and Youtubes and go listen to the Hot Boyz, BG, and “Tha Block is Hot”, and continue onto a Lil Wayne evolutionary journey. Anyone who thought he’d become the cult of personality he is on the strength of his early records is either lying or on that codeine themselves. I don’t think this beat gives him the room to turn into the superhero Wayne myth that Phil refers to, and A$AP/Schoolboy Q do a much better job within a similar sonic construct on “PMW”.
Damion: Dedication 4 was dope. But I’ve been a Wayne fan since his Hot Boyz days. This song, however, is just alright – kinda like Wayne now. He can’t evolve because he’s too drugged up. He’s best on mixtapes and club beats, but I think he could still make really interesting albums if he chilled with the drugs a little and focused on making something unique. If multiple seizures isn’t a good wake up call, I don’t know what is. Dude is kind of following the path of the childhood celebrity – just a real hood version of it. Also, I have no idea what 2 Chainz is even on this. They could have gotten anyone to do that hook.
Joey: I really, really like this. I haven’t been so mad that my car didn’t have subs in it since the summer of “Mercy”. The beat is down-tempo, subtle, but it bangs hard in the right places, and not only do I think it helps Wayne, but it helps me like him more. I’ve never been an enormous Wayne fan — I just don’t love the ceaseless wordplay (though I definitely respected it more when he was in that 2006-08 prime we talked about), and I always felt like it was most annoying when he was faced with one of two situations: one, he was on a stepped-up beat, where he felt like he had to keep up and he’d just spit out that cute stuff like it was a WPM competition; or two, he was on something a little more generic and boring, where he just sort of started rapping in an echo chamber without much regard for what was going on around him. Conversely, this beat grounds him perfectly. I mean, for me, I can’t rap, obviously, so the minute it came on, I just started bobbing my head with it. Wayne, who can rap, just raps to it like I’d dance to it. He jumps in, jumps out. He just sounds good.
Marcus: Lil Wayne has finally gone from dropping mind-numbing bars that inspire generations to consider rapping as a trade to dropping insipid rhymes that inspire ordering another round of bottles to VIP. It is what it is, and that’s what old ass pop rappers do. I’m not mad at him. He is, as the song title says, “Rich as Fuck,” so if this is what Weezy’s gonna do, then, hell. Maybe we shouldn’t have bought so many of his records. Also, for the record, 2 Chainz extended his career’s life by being a hook man. I want him on a Maroon 5 track to be played during the 2014 Sweetlife Festival immediately. I am dead serious about this.
Phil: I don’t understand how Wayne can come weak and uninspired, mixtape after mixtape, and he gets a pass because he “doesn’t have to do anything anymore,” but Jay-Z – thirteen years his senior – gets savaged when his shit isn’t, like, next-level, or if he mentions his wife too much.
Damion: Wayne’s mixtapes are a more fun to listen. That word play shtick never gets old for me.
Phelps: You mentioning Jay mentioning his wife infuriates me about Jay mentioning his wife. They’re like Sonny and Cher. I think you and plenty of people just aren’t impressed with Wayne anymore, not that he’s totally uninspired. I just don’t think for some he’s ever going to eclipse the creative leap he took in the mid aughts, so like Damion said, we all have to enjoy it for what he became and what he is and probably will continue to be.
Bri: When does Jay-Z get savaged ever? He drops mediocre bars like those in the good ol Kendrick track above and his fans – which is seemingly everyone – go “OMG, Hov killed it AGAIN. ” We saw this with “Suit and Tie,” “Clique,” and “3 Kings”, wherein the other people on the song are more interesting than him. Jay’s fans won’t allow him to be weak and uninspired, not unlike his wife’s fans. Fact is, Wayne’s bars are not generally “weak.” They’re just not what they used to be. He’s clever – bored, maybe – but always witty. And, speaking for myself, he doesn’t get a pass. It’s not that I don’t want him to go back to his old ways, it’s that he’s just not going to, because why would he?
Joey: Don’t people just (rightfully) expect a little more out of Jay than Wayne?
Damion: The one thing that still separates Wayne from the rest is lyrical talent. We all know what he’s done before, and that is not a skill that’s going away. Its not like an athlete who at some point can’t run and jump like he use to. As a result, fans like me just sit and wait for him to get his act together and actually take the game to a different level. Until then, I’ll still cop these mixtapes and listen for the clever word play and what not. At some point, he has to wake up and realize he could take rap to a new level if he really wanted to. Fingers crossed.