Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we unsuccessfully try to bump and grind with Kitty, voyeuristically listen in on an awkward heart-to-heart between J. Cole and Nas, and time travel with Deltron3030 to the year 4010, where music sounds oddly a lot like 2001. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Joshua Phelps, Phil R, Damion M, Shelly Bell, , Aaron Miller, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
Check out Rec-Room Therapy’s Best Rap Songs of 2013 (So Far). Coming next week: Our favorite albums and mixtapes of 2013.
Kitty: “Barbie Jeep”
The Adult Swim Singles series follows the premiere of Run the Jewels’ gut punch “36” Chain” with some slightly lighter fare: “Barbie Jeep”, a new cut from self-proclaimed “rap game Taylor Swift” MC Kitty. Production comes from Ninja Tune’s Hot Sugar, who was also behind the boards on the latest single from Kitty’s D.A.I.S.Y. Rage EP, “Ay Shawty 3.0”. In an odd twist, Kitty revealed in an interview to Stereogum this year that her relationship with New York producer will be the subject of a documentary from “The Carter” director Adam Bhala Lough. In that same conversation, she discussed a forthcoming LP, which “Barbie Jeep” may very well end up on: “[T]he people I’m already like absolutely working with Grimes and Hot Sugar, of course. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Wristcutters from a few years ago, the guy who scored that movie [Bobby Johnson] is gonna kind of executive produce. I don’t really want to get features from anybody I’m not already friends with.”
Leah: Damn, this is a good track. This beat is sinuous and sensual, and it’s easy to see a Rihanna or Nicki on this with lyrics focused on running the game and steppin’ on bitches, but Kitty is smart, and she takes it in a different direction. This paean to rejecting both the male gaze and unsolicited touch is pretty much perfection in its casual response to mainstream misogyny, much like her write up after the Danny Brown assault incident. She’s smart, and she’s not giving listeners the spoonfed sexuality of other women in the industry. Instead of offering herself up for the taking like labels encourage women artists to do, she’s challenging the existing paradigm that men are the main consumers of rap and should be mollified and indulged. I can’t wait to hear more neo-feminist soul/rap jams from her.
Marcus: I generally can’t 100% trust the opinions of people who don’t like Kitty. The former “Kitty Pryde” and the pride of a Claire’s Boutique somewhere near Volusia, Florida, Kitty makes rap music that sounds like a happy blend of rainbow sparkles and the Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo.” Ever since she and Riff Raff “killed rap” on “Orion’s Belt,” I’ve really been a fan. There’s so much to like here in that “if rap is pop and hipsters rule the world, then Kitty’s squatting on the zeitgeist” realm. The last time I felt this way about an artist, it was Amanda Blank. However, back in 2009, Diplo was a nobody, Santigold wasn’t ballin’ and “festival wear” wasn’t a billion dollar industry. Things are different now, and yeah. Her lead producer, Hot Sugar, is legit her boyfriend, and she’s smart enough to know that the easiest way to a boy’s ears is through his pants. The cooing voice and over-enunciated nerd-girl rap style works. It just does. Yeah, feel however you want about it, but pop music is still all about misogynistic and over-stereotyped bullshit, so I’m glad that the smart girl who gets it – and can knowingly work wonders in the midst of that – is the one in the lead.
Damion: Apparently, Marcus doesn’t trust my opinion. This beat is hot, but it sounds like [insert any reality TV star white girl] decided to give music a shot.
Phil: If “Barbie Jeep” doesn’t make you a Kitty Lover, nothing will. This song is everything great about Kitty – droll insight into everyday, young adult life; understated humor; feather light flow – without any of the emotional baggage and diary melodrama that’s understandably polarizing elsewhere. In other words, this has mass appeal, something not usually associated with Kitty. And I’ll push back against what Damion is saying: This is not your average white girl. She’s not DOOM, but there’s a lot to unpack lyrically here, so many little jokes casually tossed off. Kitty calls herself out for being flat-chested, admits she hasn’t shaved her legs, and makes multiple Harry Potter references, all while rebuffing a suitor’s dancefloor advances. Ultimately, she allows him to dance in her vicinity, and let’s him pretend that they’re bumping and grinding, even if they’re not. It’s a diplomatic move – just like everyone a politician meets is a potential vote, everyone in the club is a potential Kitty Lover.
Phelps: Damion, white girls in reality TV are over, son! Unless you’re talking about the 50-year old, tan leather disasters of “New Jersey Housewives”, which I know you’re not. And the Kardashians are Armenian – white or not white? We’ll let Yahoo decide on that.
I’m going to play the Carly Simon card and say that you’re so vain, you don’t even know this song is about you, on those nights that you’re poppin a bottle downtown at 3:00 a.m. and hovering your hand over an ass that looks better with every sip. I know you’ll feel this then, and also when John Wall does the dougie to it at Wiz games. The beat is pure flattery-as-imitation in every sense, and there’s no way it doesn’t fall in line with whatever the stable of summer bangers is this summer. Also, shout out to the only song weirdly co-signing on frotting: Rubbing one’s crotch against unexpecting people, furniture, or walls.
Shelly: This beat makes me want to grind on a dance floor, turn it up in my car, or begin foreplay. Kitty’s flow is the sound of dissing haters with a smile. She’s the young Mariah Carey of rap: She’s cute and her voice is easy to digest, but when she starts flowing, you think “Oh, I didn’t know she had all of that in her.” I played this track in a car with a 14-year old and asked her what she though. She said, “It’s a’ight.” In teenager language, this means: “If I hear it two more times, it’ll be my favorite song.”
J. Cole: “Let Nas Down” / Nas: “Made Nas Proud”
Marcus: Fuck this industry. Word to Waka Flocka. Somewhere in a boardroom, a fresh-faced 24-year old in his first big job out of college at Def Jam sat down and nervously told J. Cole exactly what the focus groups asked about “current rap fan desires” reported. On that sheet of paper was “honesty and feelings,” and J. Cole was then banished to a hotel room to write some sad bullshit that could be marketed to multiple demographics. Fucking J. Cole. Seriously. I love my basketball analogies, and this motherfucker is Grant Hill: Made from ambrosia and country clay, he has all the talent, but does everything with such a championship level of finesse that he puts you to sleep with layups off the glass and 18-foot jumpers off the screen and roll. When you wake up, he’s the champion, but his level of execution is so mind-numbingly plain that if felt devoid of impact.
J. Cole let Nas down? Really? I know 100,000 other rappers who did too, but even though they absolutely suck by comparison to Cole, they’re better than he is, because being this whiny, emo, and insipid is a thing that rap should never be. This is garbage. J. Cole stepped into Nas’ lane here and wiped his feet all over his legacy. Not to be crass, but this is like an escort pleasuring someone, then vomiting in their mouth. The worst part is that enough money was given to Nas for him not to care and to hug J. Cole, then send him along his merry way. As a mainstream emcee, J. Cole has always been a rapper defined by everyone else, instead of being a performer allowed to shine. He’s the ultimate corporate team player, but deserves so much more. Advice to everyone? Go listen to Friday Night Lights, then buy a copy of Born Sinner and throw it in the toilet. Turrrible.
Phil: “Let Nas Down” is a humble brag of epic proportions: “I let Nas down… Because I am in a position to let Nas down… Because Nas thinks I’m the truth… Because I am the truth.” It’s also a thinly veiled apologia directed to everyone who hated on “Work Out”. All told, this self-serving humility on a level that’s hard for me to stomach. “Big Brother” was the sound of a man airing very publicly not just dirty laundry, but feelings of inadequacy and a history of getting bitched repeatedly by someone he idolized. It’s an amazing song. Whenever I hear it – as I did recently, going through Kanye’s catalog prior to the birth of big baby Yeezus – I’m just amazed that it exists, that Kanye released something, frankly, so embarrassing. Cole may think that appropriating part of that chorus helps him, by implying that “Let Nas Down” falls in the tradition of “Big Brother”, but it only shines a brighter night on this song’s hollowness. The focal point of “Let Nas Down” is the moment Cole heard from a friend that Nas didn’t like a song. Boo-hoo. This is hop-hop via middle school politics. I’m pissed at Nas for patting him on the back with this remix. But Cole is hot right now, and Nas will take whatever attention he can get, leaving me to only dream of a “Let Nas Down (Yeah, You Did Remix)”
Aaron: This is beyond garbage. Don’t insult trash by comparing it to J. Cole. The plastic bag from “American Beauty” could beat him in a battle rap. I hate J. Cole – surprise! I wish Nas woulda “Ether”-ed his ass 10 minutes after this song dropped. Subtract a million points for the fake “Nas-style” beat. In fact, I’m surprised the track isn’t called “Hey Nas, Do You Like Me? (Because I Like You)”. Sesame Street-ass, clowny-ass clown motherfucker.
Shelly: My initial thought was, “Why the hell is J. Cole making a Nas worshiper song when everybody knows Jay Z is God?” I have two thoughts on this. First, I agree that J. Cole is pimping humility. Rap music has always been a consistent ego battle. The thought that you are the best rapper gets you in the ring and being able to convey why in an entertaining way is what keeps you in the game. This should have been a drunken conversation, not a song. Get it out. Get over it. Go to therapy or something. I have no clue why fans would give a fuck about J. Cole letting Nas down.
But, second, it’s still slightly refreshing to hear one rapper name another rapper on a song that’s not about how one has more money or bitches than the other. It’s rare that a rapper actually names their opponent on a song that will make it past a battle or mixtape audience. Interestingly enough, I have recently had an experience where a fellow poet and I got into a heated mess of his opinion against mine. On repeated listens, I took this song of the context of J. Cole and Nas, and begin listening to the way it personally applied to my stature as J. Cole and this other poet’s stature as Nas. This made all the sense in the world to me. I would say half the fans that listen to this are sure to look at Nas with respected nostalgia and J. Cole as a new bold lyrical guru. Rap battles are very passive aggressive. I appreciate him naming the person he is coming for.
By the way, songs like this are rarely organic. Nas was probably in the studio when “Let Nas Down” was recorded. If Nas pops up with a new song in the next two weeks, I’ll chuckle at this tried-and-true gimmicky industry.
Deltron 3030: “City Rising from the Ashes”
When last we heard new music from Deltron 3030, the year was 2000. It was a much simpler time, when the boundaries between underground and mainstream rap were clearly delineated. And you didn’t have to think too hard about which camp the futuristic, sci-fi concept project from rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, DJ Kid Koala, and producer Dan the Automator fell. Now, over a dozen years later, the trio plans to reemerge with the release of its second LP, Event II. The album has reportedly been almost decade in the making: Dan the Automator told Billboard in 2004 that work had begun on the project and Del claimed it was “just about done” three summers ago. Conceptually, the record takes place in the year 4010, almost a millennium after Deltron 3030. In terms of more concrete details, Event II will feature contributions from Damon Albarn and Prince Paul, artists who worked with prime-era Dan the Automator on Gorillaz’s debut and Handsome Boy Modelling School’s So… How’s Your Girl?, respectively.
Marcus: I hate when I’m forced to like rap because it’s a legend saying important things in a manner that is theoretically creative as hell. It’s like all of those times when I interview classic rappers, and they tell me that their latest project is going to “change the game,” but we all know that we’re generally masturbating each other. I don’t like this. It’s not good. We’ve hit a point with this Deltron concept that they’re so far into the future that the present future that they discussed in the past is happening, and maybe more intriguing than anything they’ve ever talked about. Everybody involved in this project is undeniably talented, and I wish that they would release this with say, a fashion line or high-concept hipster think-tank or something. That would at least give it a space in which to have creative impact. This is a tree that may fall in a forest and make nary a sound at all. Of course, Dan, Del, Damon Albarn and Prince Paul will make 100x the money I’ll make in a lifetime, so, if they want to live and make records in 4010, then hell. I can’t stop them. But I wish I could advise them of ways to give this a space in which to flourish and truly impact people other than themselves.
Leah: I don’t know, Marcus, I think this is a pretty solid track. I wish Del’s voice were more out front in the mix, but I’m hearing a ton of talent on here. The beat is solid, Del’s on point, even as he’s growing into a different voice in his agedness. I think the only thing disappointing about this track, which isn’t saying much, is that it would feel right at home on the first album. It’s possible Event II could have used a more modern update, but sinking into the nostalgia of hip-hop past is never uncomfortable, and maybe the 2000’s are the next wave of retro chic.
Shelly: I thought it was my speakers, Leah! I wanted to reach into the track and pull his face toward the mic. I like Del’s lyrics and the track separately, but together they feel off balance. I like off-beat flows, but this just feels like an off-sync music video. I’d rather hear Del do spoken word. That’s not a diss: I’m a spoken word artist, and he sounds like he wants to spit poems for a “save the earth tree hugger festival,” not be a rapper.
Damion: I can’t help but think of Kurtis Blow and imagine people doing the Cabbage Patch to this.
Aaron: Del is right up at the top of the (read: my) list for the Timeless Flow Lifetime Rap-chievement Award. His style is like it’s own language. You must be at least 51% Hip-Hop to truly understand it. I think that talent serves to smother, rather than elevate, this project this time around. I dig it on legacy terms alone, but I definitely feel a squareness that wasn’t present thirteen yrs ago. I think Del should update his stable of producers and let sleeping ’90s legends lie. Maybe he can snag a Clams Casino or Harry Fraud joint that the kids like so much these days. Questions: Why Del can’t get on a damn Kendrick track? Why can’t Earl sweatshirt jump on Del track? Why can’t El-P produce every fucking record on the planet? These are all real questions that will not be answered to my satisfaction anytime soon. Guess I’ll have to wait til 4040.
Phelps: Yeah, this is for Del’s Stans, and it won’t win him any new fans. It’s not terrible, and I get the feeling it may fit better in the context of the entire project than as a single. I went back and listened to “3030”, the song, and it’s like I’m Newt trapped on Hadley’s Hope, and Del and Dan are the colonial marines sent to save hip hop from bitin’ ass xenomorphs of shitty rap. Sonically, it’s like we’re voyeurs on an extraterrestrial expedition, and Del literally compares he and Dan to high tech archeologists. With “City Rising From the Ashes”, Del is less Ripley and more Chris Tucker’s corny ass Ruby Rhod from “The 5th Element”: He’s talking a lot of shit, but really not saying much. “The environment said fuck you?” That kinda sounds like a 2:00 a.m. time slot CNN pundit right there. Yes I love “Aliens”.
Phil: Deltron 3030 was always my least favorite in Dan the Automator’s 99-01 run, and I completely agree with Marcus: clinging to a sci-fi conceit hatched twelve years ago feels self-defeating. But I dig this track too, in large part because it takes me back so strongly the turn of the millennium, as Leah was saying. For a track from the future, “City From the Ashes” is indeed unapologetically nostalgic, intentionally or not. I don’t necessarily agree with Phelps in that regard: No matter what the context, this track will never shed that association. This project is pretty much dead in the water for anyone who didn’t buy in the first time around, but if it get a few kids to go back to those earlier records, then cheers. I’m sure there are kids discovering Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) via Twelve Reasons to Die.