Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we bring the noise with a newly chipper M.I.A., go on an awkward family vacation with Pusha-T, and discuss hair stylings with Gucci Mane and young whippersnappers Migos. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Briana Younger, Phil R, Damion M, Shelly Bell, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
Want Yeezus coverage? Check out the Rec-Room Therapy review from earlier this week.
M.I.A.: “Bring the Noize”
Public Enemy brought the noise 26 years ago, and now it’s provocateur Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s turn. “Bring the Noize” is the second single – following early 2012 track “Bad Girls” – from her fourth LP Matangi. That record has seen several delays, which M.I.A. attributed to its good vibes earlier this year: “I thought I’d finished it. I finished it and then I handed the record in, like a couple of months ago. At the moment, I’ve been told it’s too positive…They’re like, ‘You need to darken it up a bit.’ I don’t know what it is but as soon as I work that out…. It’s like, ‘We just built you up as the public enemy no. 1, and now you’re coming out with all this positive stuff.’” It’s currently slated for a fall release, but whenever it comes out, it will have to win over fans turned off by 2010′s frantic and disjointed Maya.
Leah: This is a new song every 15 damn seconds. It’s frenetic, punchy, and all over the place, and I love it. It doesn’t seem like M.I.A., who’s made some of my favorite albums of the last ten years, is pulling any punches on her fourth album.
Phelps: I went into this with a closed mind as I agreed with Diplo’s assessment of Maya – his response to a fan’s toilet question is golden – but this, this I had to give a few Funkmaster Flex Nite rewinds and let the neighbors know I was feelin’ it. I fucked with Kala, especially some of the Switch production, and here he goes again. The frenetic drums and horns remind me of some Blaqstarr/Baltimore club: I really need to hear this down at U Hall. And she’s actually rapping her ass off here too. These typical geo- eco- sociopolitical M.I.A. rants would be tired didn’t get all Busta speed demon on us. I’ll try and ignore the fact she’s a billionaire rapping about banks. She caps it off with a nod to the most famous line from Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee”: “Freedom’s just another word / Nothing left to lose.” It’ll be the soundtrack to BBQ revolutions all summer.
Damion: I’m with Josh and Leah: This is a banger, and it’s definitely going into the rotation. That Baltimore club sound is on point, and I’m feeling her delivery too – her aggressiveness matches the beat and her flow is nice. I even like the mid-song breakdown right. Interscope needs to stop putting the breaks on this album: These beats are becoming the norm and M.I.A. is proving can merk em.
Shelly: I feel the same about this track as I do “Paper Planes” and “Swagger Like Us”: “Bring the Noize” is vibrant, but its hook is magnetic. In fact, I’m more a fan of her voice on a hook than the whole song. Even though I can’t understand much of what she was saying, the hook just makes me want to dance. It would be awesome if a lyric or two rose above the noise - some recognizable sociopolitical punchline that I could repeat to the point where co-workers are asking me what I’m singing. That didn’t happen.
Marcus: I think we’re all caught in the same 2009 time warp. I’m listening to this track and I’m not 35 and sitting in a a coffee shop preparing for a Skype call. Instead, I’m 31 and L-I-V-I-N-G, drinking two Sparks at the same damn time at a Taxlo party in Baltimore, fresh off of popping two NoDoz and wearing black-and-white sneakers with aqua and polka dot shoelaces. Yeah, this track is fun. But holy hell does it feel dated and makes me feel old.
There’s something to be said about the fact that Patty Smith went from “Rock and Roll N*gger” to “Because the Night” and that Madonna went from “Borderline” to “Human Nature.” At some point, an artist matures and their approach to sounds, style ,and recording matures as well. I feel like M.I.A. is caught in a creative vortex where her other idea of what sounded cool on a track led to her mainstream ruin, so she’s headed back to what brought her to the table in order to capture the hearts of folks who still remember the general public fervor caused by Kala. I get the sense that Interscope’s either a) hoping that all of us ex-hipsters and cool kids still are down with cranking up the big, sweaty, 130 BPM party train one more time – or b) just releasing an album to get her (and ostensibly her cash-loser NEET Recordings) off of the books. I want to love this so much, but I feel like M.I.A.’s time has come and passed. This track, while awesome, sits next to my t-shirt collection of Hype Machine #1 DJs and bands in the moth balls of my mind.
Leah: First of all, real hipsters fucked with Arular, Marcus. Also, I disagree with everything else you said. Of all the tracks we listened to this week, this one sounds the most modern to me, and the most adveturous. It’s all love, though.
Phil: I’d name my first born Mathangi to get M.I.A. back in the studio with Richard X again.
Shelly: As society becomes more microwave and less oven roast, so does music. Longevity and mature evolution of an artist’s sound is more and more a surprise. If an artist makes it 10 years in this era of abundance vs. quality, they are considered genius whether they make what hip-hop purest call “good music” or not. Maybe Interscope is giving this album the “good ole college try,” but I am down for the ride if she puts out a few more of these.
Bri: This isn’t really up my alley. It’s a bit overwhelming, but I could definitely see people getting right to this in the club, or even on the way to the club.
Phil: The biggest revelation of “Bad Girls” and now “Believe the Noize” is that M.I.A. has rediscovered the chorus. This is a pop song, and that’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted given that M.I.A. appeared for a while to have lost interest in the typical characteristics of pop music- namely, melody and hooks – in favor of something vaguely confrontational and “punk.” But she’s good at making pop music. Arular and Piracy Funds Terrorism still hold up remarkably well. It would be a shame if Interscope is actually discouraging her from what she does best. I don’t know how they could hear “Bring the Noize” and not be optimistic.
Pusha-T ft. 2 Chainz & Big Sean: “Who I Am”
“Local guys will hit me on Twitter and have something negative to say about me in regards to [Virginia] and ‘How come you ain’t putting no local rappers on?’” Pusha-T told BYT recently. “I think they’ve forgotten that I’ve been on G.O.O.D. for three years and I don’t even have an album out.” He was being diplomatic about it, but we’ll’ go ahead and say it: For someone with his track record, Pusha-T has waited a hell of a long time to put out a proper solo LP. His patience will be rewarded in less than a month with the release of My Name is My Name. We’ve already talked about its first single, “Numbers on the Board”, and now we get “Who I Am”, a track produced by Million $ Mano and G.O.O.D. Music overlord Kanye West. It features appearances from label compatriots Big Sean and 2 Chainz.
Phil: This song makes me angry, and not in the way I want to feel angry listening to a Pusha-T song. Longtime fans breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared Pusha had found not just a patron, but potentially a creative foil in Kanye. Three years later, we have “Who I Am”, a good enough song that shines a light on the two unfortunate realities of that partnership. First, Pusha isn’t going to get A1 production from Kanye, at least in the way that he did from the Neptunes. Pusha is going to get leftovers. And that’s what this beat feels like: Yeezus tablescraps. Fortunately, Yeezus was an extravagantly catered meal. But these are scraps nonetheless. If they weren’t, Kanye would have kept it or given them to Jay-Z. He’ll never let Pusha have a monster production to himself. This is the same asshole who took “Clique” away from Big Sean.
And speaking of Big Sean, fuck Big Sean. That’s unfortunate reality number two: Singing to G.O.O.D. Music is like your dad remarrying someone with loser-ass children who all of a sudden you have to give a ride to school and be seen with at the mall . “But I don’t want to play with Big Sean! You made us hang out on The-Dream’s ‘Pussy’ and he said, ‘I wake up to pussy and cantaloupe.’ Everyone was laughing at me!” “Bite your tongue, Pusha. Big Sean is your family now.” He and 2 Chainz are clowns. Also, they are not good at rapping. I’ll tolerate them on a posse cut like “Mercy”, but stay off of Pusha’s album. The man can be why-so-serious? serious, but on his own record, he’s allowed to be. And for the first minute of this song, he’s on fire.
Leah: It’s a real shame this track, because it really falls of a cliff after Pusha’s verse, but he wasn’t at the highest elevation in the first place. I’ve heard a hundred better Pusha verses, and the sad thing is that the way Big Sean just completely goes off the rails on this track makes Pusha shine. I’ve been listening to this track on loop and every time I restart the song, I’m delighted when Pusha comes on because it’s not Big Sean, then I progress quickly backwards through the stages of grief: acceptance that 2 Chainz is just a nonsense spitter, then denial that somebody let Big Sean near this beat.
Shelly: Leah nailed my thoughts exactly. For the first 45 seconds of this song, I’m optimistic. I’m waiting for the beat to drop just right enough for me to catch a bounce. I’m waiting for something more ratchet or more positive to wow, but it never comes. This beat sounds unfinished. 2 Chainz manages to fit his usual nonsense into the track, but Big Sean can not catch a consistent flow at all. He’s completely misplaced here. Maybe it’s the beat, maybe it’s his whack-ass spoken-bar flow. As for Pusha, his verse is just OK. There’s nothing great about this song.
Marcus: I love a good basketball analogy. Pusha T is Dennis Rodman: At the prime of his career, he was never the world’s greatest scorer, but he was easily the best rebounder of his generation, signing with the Bulls in ’96 and helping Jordan and Pippen win three more titles. Now, ideally, you want Rodman on the floor with Jordan and Pippen, but sometimes he’d end up out there with Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc. That’s 3/5 of a lineup that’ll win about 50% of the time, but they’re hardly a championship contender.
“Who I Am” is a paint-by-numbers album track. 2 Chainz feels stunted here, like he’s saving his truly jaw dropping one liners for his next album. And ohhh, Big Sean. I confided in Phelps recently that I feel like Kanye keeps him around not just because he can rhyme well (not great, just perfunctory), but that he’s the one dude Kanye knows who can – on rare occasions – dress flyer than he does. Pusha T certainly deserves better, but he also deserves money. Would we love to see him as a centerpiece artist replacing Freddie Gibbs on, say, Young Jeezy’s CTE World? Sure. Imagine those epic coke raps. But at this level of rap (remember, there are levels to this shit), the key is top-tier marketing and sustainability over “making epic rappity raps.” Pusha said he puts numbers on the board, right? Again, paint-by-numbers.
Bri: I actually kind of like this beat, it’s just this group couldn’t do it justice. In the right hands, this would be crazy. But unlike everyone else, I don’t even think I hate it. This is the kind of joint that you find yourself knowing the words, but you can’t recall how or when they got committed to memory.
Migos ft. Gucci Mane: “Dennis Rodman”
Last weekend, while everyone was immersing themselves in the thematic heaviness and universe-consuming egotism of Yeezus, Migos’s Young Rich Niggas emerged as a consensus antidote of sorts, a mixtape of dumb, carefree, and catchy summertime rap to cure the Yeezy blues. Not much is known about this trio of Atlanta youngsters aside from a shared penchant for dreads, sunglasses, and mumbling, but the hype surrounding the mixtape has been propelled in part by prominent endorsements from Atlanta figureheads Young Scooter and Gucci Mane. The latter appears here on “Dennis Rodman”, running his voice through the kind of exaggerated autotune favored the city’s crown prince, Future.
Leah: Ugh. This is straight trash. It has a classic trap beat, so it may be good for getting turnt, but, damn, I don’t hear any lyrical talent here. Also, this autotune is killing me. Come on, Guwop, you sound terrible with this. “Dennis Rodman” is the sounds of trap R&B with a mid-pubescent rap feature.
Bri: It’s really hard for me to defend Gucci and “trap rap” when stuff like this happens. I can’t comprehend why the internetz is going crazy over Migos and the mixtape “Dennis Rodman” sailed in on. Migos shamelessly bite Future, Gucci and occasionally Rocko, and no one seems to notice and/or care. But this is too much autotune, and there is generally too much imitation. As Scarface pointed out recently, every record really does sound like one continuous song.
Marcus: I’m an Executive Director of a recording studio where many aspiring trap rappers who idolize Gucci Mane record trap anthems that desperately aim for being “Wasted”, “Hard in the Paint”, or “Columbia”, but sometimes come up a bit short in that goal. What do those kids do in order to get on in that case? Hustle up some money, and put it in the hands of a dude who knows a dude who knows his mans and them who knows Gucci. Eventually, the young trap rappers make their way up that familiar hip-hop chain, to the back of a strip club in the suburbs of Atlanta, presenting Gucci with the illest weed he’s smoked this week. Then, BAM, they’re “on.” Gucci don’t care here, he just got handed $25k in a paper bag, so he’s good. Migos, well, they’re actually rapping their asses off here, and well, yeah: The fact that it amounts to a weak mention of, ironically, a man I mentioned above is, well, whatever it is. This is bad, forgettable, and endemic of everything wrong about rapping that nobody talks about, but absolutely needs to stop.
Damion: Two observations: 1) Mid 90′s NBA basketball had a profound impact on Gucci Mane, and 2) This track is 2 minutes too long. That said, this joint is funny in the way certain Cam’ron tracks are, but that only lasts for, like, two minutes. I don’t want to hear verse three on this subject. I love trap music, especially when it’s done well, but my issue with it is that at times they are wasting good beats. They should have just gotten Future to handle his hook.
Phil: For what this song is – and what it isn’t trying to be – I give it an enthusiastic pass. “Dennis Rodman” is funny and catchy, and even if it has about as much depth as fake rap video on “Chapelle Show”, sometimes that’s good enough for me. You can’t tell much from this song, but these guys really can rap. If you don’t mind blunt reputation and generally ignorant shit, YRN is well worth your time. As for Gucci: Some of us on Rec-Room are never going to see eye-to-eye on autotune, but I think it’s a good look for him. Unlike Kanye and Lil Wayne, he’s not actually trying to sing, which plays to his advantage.