Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we cruise around menacingly with Earl Sweatshirt, sit in on a jam session with Madlib and Freddie Gibbs, and honor our elders with Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Damion M, Shelly Bell, Briana Younger, Aaron Miller, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
Earl Sweatshirt ft. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies: “Hive”
The rollout for Earl Sweatshirt’s debut LP, Doris, has been methodical and slow-building. Its first single, the churning “Chum”, dropped all the way back in early November, followed by Tyler-tagteam “Whoa” in March, and now, less than a month before the record’s release, we get “Hive”. Produced by Earl (under his RandomBlackDude guise) and Odd Future staple Matt Martians, the track features Vince Staples and Casey Veggies, two Odd Future affiliates who more or less opted out of the larger group.
Bri: The fact that Earl rolled this song out with the video was genius. I normally don’t check for videos, but in this case, it seems almost necessary. The video is so perfectly creepy and weird that it meshes with the slow creep of the song. The song is the regular Earl formula and, honestly, I’m more than fine with him never changing it. I proclaimed Doris as the most anticipated album of the year quite a while ago, and “Hive” has me further convinced that I won’t be disappointed. Vince also took full advantage of his opportunity to turn a head or two. Love this.
Leah: “Hive” really showcases the maturity of Earl as he moves from the shock schlock of OF into an artist focused on the permutations of wordplay. The stream of consciousness phrasing can fade into the background if you zone out, allowing this excellent and grimy beat to take center stage, but once you focus on following Earl’s flow, you find an Aesop-meets-Em internal rhyme labyrinth. He spits dense political references along with observations about the people and places in this creepy, dark world he’s created, and it’s nothing if not compelling. Vince Staples and Casey Veggies also absolutely kill on this track. The video plays on fears so well-depicted in the media recently of a shadow thug underground just waiting to victimize law-abiding (racist) white people, but the punchline is that Earl, Vince, and Staples are the smart ones here, and demonstrating it thoroughly.
Marcus: I enjoy what Earl’s becoming: A rapper who, on the surface, always appears semi-conscious when he rhymes, but is actually quite consciously plunging into the raw depths of his subconscious and discovering unique jewels. I love how the beat drones, and it feels like he’s inviting Staples and Veggies into his world. For a rapper with minimal material as compared to his maximal hype, he definitely gets how to create an aura for himself and his style better than most anyone else at his level in the game. Doris won’t sell Yeezus or MCHG numbers, but I’m certain it may be the year’s most intriguing listen by a mile.
Aaron: I keep trying to tell people that think Earl’s flow is just a novelty or a happy accident, that the code is there for the breaking. He is easily one of the most forward thinking emcees doing it right now and every line carries weight like a pro. Mr. Vegetables (who kinda reminds me of Curren$y in terms of flow and general pimpish-ness) and Vince Staples in the mix is just nice and takes the edge off Earl’s creeping, angst driven imagery. I think these kids should make a whole record together and at this point I can’t wait for Sweatshirt’s album to come out and win a fucking million Grammys. It won’t, but it should and this track should serve as a warning to anyone slacking on the come up.
Damion: “Tools hit like pool sticks the way I queue shit” Grrrrr. That and Bronson’s “foreign shooters like Turkoglu” are the best lines I’ve heard this year. I like this track – the flow and content are on point – but I’m waiting for Earl to get on some other beats. This sounds like every Odd Future track ever.
Madlib & Freddie Gibbs ft. Karriem Riggins: “City”
“Baritone rough-talker Freddie Gibbs and crate-digging beat konducta Madlib have already hooked up for two EPs – 2011’s Thuggin’ and 2012’s Shame – but, later this year, they’ll deliver a full-length collaboration, Piñata, which had previously bore the slightly more provocative title Cocaine Piñata. Set to appear on the LP: Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, BJ The Chicago Kid, Casey Veggies, and Mac Miller, among others. On “City” – the latest in the Adult Swim Single Series – Gibbs and Madlib are joined by a less conventional rapper, Karriem Riggins, a jazz drummer and producer who’s probably the only person on the planet to work with J Dilla and also play in the Diana Krall Quartet.
Marcus: Sheeeeeeit. This is tough. Madlib produced a beat that could’ve been in the car chase scene in The French Connection! I’ve been a fan of Gangsta Gibbs for a minute, and I love how he works so efficiently on a track. He’s the very definition of a professional, serving up rap like a classic rapper would. Gibbs isn’t rapping as part of a complex corporate scheme, or as a unique marketing ploy. He raps to pay bills. I wish more folks could see the goal instead of having their head in the clouds. Gibbs on Jeezy’s label was such a bad look, so I’m glad that he’s away from that and refocused. And who knew Karriem Riggins had bars?!? Terrific.
Aaron: Oh Sweet Shiny Jesus this is my kinda week! This track is tough as elephant balls, and Riggins is a fucking OG. Madlib’s production is pretty much unfuckwithable. He’s Rap Game Beethoven with the illest drum breaks, thick samples that time-stretch warble all up in your face, and the ear of a practiced musician. I really could not say a bad thing about this song if I tried. Maybe, if I was held at gunpoint by thugs I could try, but I would probably get shot for talking too much and nerding out on the sheer weight of the Madlib/Dilla imprint on modern hip hop. Also, I would definitely survive the aforementioned assault and snitch on a motherfucker in Rap Court about how dope this song is.
Leah: The jazz drumming is just ridiculous, in a good way. It gives the track a super-live feel, and makes me suspect that it was recorded live. Freddie’s and Riggins’ un-massaged vocals are a refreshing gulp of clean water after listening to the autotuned crap Future puts out. This track feels short at first, but is so densely packed sonically that it feels like just the right length after a few listens.
Shelly: The drumming is crazy! Even though the bass does not overpower the drums, the feel of it reminds me of Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat The Technique.” “City” has a holistic sound that’s not too jazzy and not too electronic. I n an era where listening to the radio is like listening to one long remix of lyrics to the same beat, Madlib makes me feel like there is a such thing as a new track. “New” meaning uniquely familiar, yet while nostalgia tickles your ear, you don’t necessarily feel like you’re stuck in any particular era. To Marcus’ point, Freddie Gibbs has an unapologetic raw real “this what I do” kinda feel. Karreim Riggins… I can dig it!
Phelps: Karriem Riggins is that dude in high school they let beat on the garbage can because he could keep a beat but never let in the cipher when girls were around – then they stuffed him in that motherfucker when the bell rang. There’s a reason he’s allowed to shine as a 2 minute bonus track on a cartoon mix tape, and it’s because his rhymes are cartoonish and cliched. And if he didn’t have anything to do with this beat, then basically he took a shit on what is a decent Madlb track. The only thing similar to Rakim and Eric B is that Riggins probably still rocks a kangol and acid washed jeans, snapping his fingers and feeling himself over a drumbeat of his Dilla sampled 10 years ago or whatever. This is definitely one of the most boring tracks I’ve heard this year. If I heard it on the radio, I’d stop my car, pull over, pull the radio out, slam it on the ground and take a piss on it.
Aaron: Oh hell no. You do not speak ill of the Gods, bro. It should be physically impossible for you to even use the words “boring” and “Madlib” in the same sentence, much less talk down about Riggins connects. I would slap my own mother before I hate on a Madlib beat. I hope the Ghost of Jay Dee comes and gets your ass like Candyman. You need some quiet time to reflect on straight skills vs. new jack swag factor.
Phelps: I’d rather get a Candyman hook in my gullet than listen to this. Dilla connects or not – may he rest in peace – he’s been gone a minute, just like this dude’s rap career will be.
Damion: I’m feeling this. Phelps, you’re just a hater.
Phil: If this track is indicative of what’s the come with Piñata, then color me excited. Madlib runs wild with this production, conjuring a microburst that sucks styles and genres into its storm over a succinct two minutes. It may be easy to dismiss this as “a bonus track on a cartoon mix tape” – despite a vinyl release – but given that the folks at Adult Swim gave Killer Mike the platform for his R.A.P. Music a year ago, I’m inclined to: 1) give them the benefit of a doubt; 2) encourage them to throw a ton of cash of Madlib to fund this sort of drugged-out experimentation.
E-40 ft. Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q: “All My Niggas”
West coast rap godfather E-40 is now five years on the other side of 40, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, the past three years have seen him release music at an almost comically furious clip: Seven solo albums since 2010, in addition to two two full-lengths with Too $hort. Throughout these efforts, E-40 has displayed a keen eye towards bringing fresh talent under his tent, and those relative youngsters – including Kendrick Lamar, YG, IAmSu!, Jeremih, 2 Chainz, Tyga, and Wiz Khalifa – have, in turn, been more than eager to share the stage with a legend. On “All My Niggas”, Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q – rappers sitting on two of the year’s most anticipated records – join that list. The track is set to appear on E-40’s latest installment of The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil records.
Leah: Schoolboy and Danny sound like they’re having fun, but so much of this track just feels old and overdone. Maybe it’s the beat, which has nothing original about it, or maybe it’s the in-your-face themes of glamorized crime, misogyny and violence. Some artists or tracks I can give a pass to because I feel like in some way they’re pushing hip-hop forward, but I just don’t hear much in this track that’s innovative. I’d rather time travel and put these guys on “Mercy”, I guess.
Phelps: It is ok for hip- hop to be dumb and fun though, right?
Leah: Sure, but I guess I want my dumb, fun hip-hop to have better beats.
Marcus: This is corporate, ready-for-Complex download with faux pithy blog quotes, composed over a series of emails and smoked-out tour bus recording booth session rappity rap raps. I hope Danny and Schoolboy got paid in cash and weed filled Louis Vuitoon backpacks. Next.
Aaron: Damn. This track is way closer to Hot than Not, but is definitely lacking. The Hook is weak, and the beat is tired – especially for 40-water. Lyrically, E-40 is among the most unique voices in the game and he made up at least 40% of all hip-hop slang in the last 20 years. (Snoop got that shizzle from him.)
I don’t like Schoolboy Q. I haven’t heard a track of his that really moves me yet. I would call this track “Almost All My Niggas” based on that alone.
Leah and I are pretty much thinking about starting a Church of Danny Brown where everything is made of drugs you don’t give a fuck because you shine so hard. I don’t give a sparkly shit if he did a track with Insane Clown Posse – no one can dust off a rap cliche and make it fresh like Brown. He’s better than most rappers out there and even they know it. Anyone done a guest verse count yet? It’s gotta be in the bazillions by now.
Bri: This track was better before I clicked play. I saw the lineup and thought, “Oh, this could be great.” And then it wasn’t. To be fair, it’s not bad though. I just expected more. They can make it up to me by giving Old and Oxymoron release dates.
Phil: I feel the same about “All My Niggas” as I did the “R.I.P. (Remix)”: It’s a “Rack City” knock-off, but the shine of the original’s West Coast bounce and a sinister lurch synthesis has yet to wear off for me, so I have no complaints about this Faulex. Contrary to what some of you are saying, Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q both do admirable work here, particularly the formers, who’s as precisely unhinged – and not barking in face – as I like my Danny Brown.