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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.

Today, Jay Rock returns to the money tree; Eminem tell us how phenomenal he is; and Meek Mill is making his list and checking it twice.

As always, our distinguished panel consists of  Marcus DowlingPhil R, and Weird City Fest’s Leah Manners and Aaron Miller.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15dcL6Q0NRg

Jay Rock: “Money Trees Deuce”

No one from TDE/Black Hippy appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which isn’t much a slight given the tone of the record. But a feature on a Kendrick record is nevertheless the biggest look that Ab-Soul and Jay Rock (and maybe ScHoolboy Q) can probably get these days. So, one of those guys – Jay Rock – has gone ahead and done the next best thing: made a sequel to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City song that he did appear on, “Money Tree”. The rapper has mostly been kept on the sidelines since since TDE blew up with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and Q’s Habits & Contradictions in 2012. (His only album, 2011’s Follow Me Home, came before the Interscope alliance.) “Money Tree Deuce” follows last years “Parental Advisory” and “Pay For It”, but there’s no word of an album.

MARCUS: This song is great from the start. The horns have this quality that’s straight from the Superfly/Shaft canon of great Blaxploitation soundtracks. If you’re going to be delivering real facts about black men hustling, this has always been my preferred backing soundtrack to the struggle. Those barely-there claps are a nod to absolutely having to have some sort of trap energy in the track in order for the listener to stay invested in 2015. It’s annoying if you’re over 35, totally okay if you’re under that line. It is what it is.

Lyrically, Jay Rock mines no progressive territory than anything money-making struggle rappers didn’t say in the 80s, 90s or 2000s, so the message (and how well delivered it is) may get lost. However, as long as black people are poor and need hope and black folks invented rap, there’s a space for a Jay Rock. As well, as long as Kendrick wants to be Huey Newton, we also have to hear from the ministers of information that are surrounding and influencing him, too.

This is really quality work here.

PHIL: I don’t want to eat my vegetables.

AARON: This is just aiight, mostly on account of that slick sample buried in there.

My biggest complaint is the overly filtered and EQ’d vibe all the way through. I wish it was a little rawer on the chop-chop and a little flashier on the beat. (Think No I.D. vs. whoever-this-is-on-da-track.) The trap knock kind of eats up this slick ass loop. There’s a lot of variety and melody in there to play with – they could have elevated this snoozer. As it is, “Money Tree Deuce” is a little too sleepy to be all the way hot fire, but it’ll do. Marcus, it’s funny you mention those claps. I think that’s one of the main things keeping me engaged.

I’m not sure this track captures anything close to the vibe of the original, but it’s good to see the other TDE cats working and sounding hungry. It’s gotta be real hard to eat in L.A. with Kendrick around.

Leah: Yeah, I’m with Aaron saying the first was better, but this is smooth af. The sample and handclaps are great, but for some reason the drums bug the crap outta me.  Overall, a really solid track, but Jay Rock needs to up his LP game to bring his Hippy cred up. Five years is just too long to wait.

Eminem: “Phenomenal”

Five years ago, Eminem was attached to star in “Southpaw”, a rise-and-fall-and-rise-again boxing drama. In fact, the film’s screenwriter claimed that the film was partially developed for and inspired by the rapper: “He is very interested in the boxing genre, and it seemed like an apt metaphor, because his own life has been a brawl. In a way, this is a continuation of the ‘8 Mile’ story, but we are doing a metaphorical narrative of the second chapter of his life…  At its core, this is a retelling of his struggles over the last five years of his life, using the boxing analogy.” That seems like a stretch, but whatever. The film ended up getting kicked around to a few studios, and then Jake Gyllenhaal became the lead, and it’s coming out in July,  But Em has still been involved: He contributed a song to the soundtrack called “Phenomenal”, and after scoring the trailer, it has been officially released. Production comes courtesy of longtime collaborator and well-known dude DJ Khalil.

AARON: This is a snapshot into the bizarro world where Rabbit blew up, fell off, blew up again, and now mom’s spaghetti is actually made to order by a personal chef who rolls around the crib on a Segway. He’s on good terms with mom and the ex, and nobody is struggling – as per the ‘No Struggling Allowed’ sign clearly visible on the driveway leading up to 8 Mile Manor.

I don’t know what to make of this. It’s too slow. Too much stadium rock. The beat is fucking torture. But I’m a Stan 4 Lyfe, and I can pretty much find the good in any Eminem track.

The good here, in case you were worried, is that he can still rap like a motherfucker.

Not gonna lie: I still get pumped as fuck when “Lose Yourself” comes on. If that shit comes on and I’m driving or at the gym, I will fuck shit up.

This is not that song.  This is an artist who’s been selling records like Elvis and just wants to take a nap in between writing really fast rap songs. This is an artist who everyone knows is permanently on top of the world – and his game – in spite of some very large missteps that would have killed most rappers careers ten times over.

People are inspired when they hear a regular dude say “I’m gonna be king.” Nobody wants to hear The King holler about being king.

PHIL: At this point – probably always – any enjoyment that comes from listening to Eminem springs from his technical ability. Rapping may have long since become a joyless endeavor for him, but the man can sure still do it, as Aaron points out. So, on one level, it is nice to have a new Em track where he doesn’t embarrass himself with lowest-common-denominator sock-tactic pop-cultural trolling, and just raps.

But, yeah, this song is kind of a mess. “Lose Yourself” had the common sense to slow build to a release. “Phenomenal” drops you straight into the meat grinder of whatever these disparate parts are. (Is that the film score in the background? What specs were DJ Khalil given?)  “Lose Yourself” also didn’t have the pained Eminem banshee shrieks, whose inclusion is the easiest way to ensure that I will never listen to a track voluntarily.

As for Em’s bars, there are a few real laughers here, chief among them “Unpoppable thought bubbles.” Still, if this song’s chief purpose is to soundtrack Jake Gyllenhaal punching meat and running to the top of a mountain in a leather jacket, then I can’t be too mad at it.

LEAH: Remember when we covered Schoolboy Q’s “Yay-yay” and I said it sounded like muppets on the chorus? GUESS WHAT, THEY’RE BACK! Everybody shouting “I’m fwhenownemaw,” and I’m just sitting here giggling. #muppetsquad

MARCUS: I’m angry at this song, and moreover I’m angry at this movie and Hollywood, too.

Are we really this far out of ideas that somebody greenlit 8 Mile 2: EIGHT MORE MILES? I mean, I get Eminem here. He’s at this place where he’s just over 40 and now thinking about questions of legacy. Having an ar-thouse take on 8 Mile is cool, but the idea of having to re-do everything about the first soundtrack down to a remake of “Lose Yourself” is painfully annoying. Em even sounds bored here, which –  given that how engaged and excited he sounded on the 8 Mile soundtrack was one of its selling points – is entirely frustrating.

This movie should actually star John Cena and be a straight-to-DVD WWE Films release. Everything about it just sounds like such utter and complete tripe. I mean, if every other rapper in movies ever is comfortable with straight-to-DVD – and especially given that this is an era where we stream everything anyway – this is Em’s best move. I might pay to see this streaming. Hell, I’m a sucker for intentionally underwhelming cinema and thus have seen every John Cena movie ever. I’d totally see this one, too.

Everything about this is bad, bad, bad. Happy to see DJ Khalil get a check though.

Meek Mill: “Check”

Where the fuck is Dreams Worth More Than Money? What exactly is going on here? Who is driving this clown car? In the past six months, Meek Mill has released three fire singles – “FYM”, “B Boy”, and “Monster” – and yet not a peep about the record. Oh, he confirmed that the tracklist was finalized, and posted some mysterious clips, but it’s not official until I can preorder it on Amazon. Instead, this week we get another single, “Check”. Not complaining. Just saying. “Check” was produced by Atlanta’s Metro Boomin, whose last big look was probably Nicki Minaj’s “Want Some More”.

MARCUS: I recently spent a few hours in Philly on a layover on a trip. Like, Meek Mill’s North Philly, because I’m a fan of Meek Mill (Meek’s my number two favorite street rapper right now behind Pusha T), and these are the ridiculous things that fanboys do. The one thing you notice when you listen to Meek and visit North Philly is that he still sounds like his streets. North Philly is one of those quietly hard ass places we don’t hear about nearly enough anymore, but where dirt still goes down like it did in the 90s and 2000s.

That’s kind of the problem with this song, and all of the songs that are coming out from Meek right now. They sound like the streets of a place that nobody in rap is connecting with anymore and rapping about things that are very organic to those streets. Meek’s actually an awesome technical rapper and these beats are amazing. However, the lack of fanciful ambiance or southern flow is noticeable. He’s from two hours away from NYC and sounds like it. He’s telling you that the women he hangs around with (in the midst of public discussion of a potential relationship with Nicki Minaj) are fucking him in order to get paid, and he ultimately doesn’t want this to stop or sees a way that this behavior will ever end.

The sea change occurring in rap really fucks over a guy like Meek who’s fantastic in every way that rap was fantastic until, like, 2010. Now, he’s dependent upon guest spots, catchy hooks, and all of these pop staples instead of being the rapper he should be. Of course, Meek’s stuck, because he’s on Rick Ross’ vanity label and nobody wants to offend Ross by maybe, say, taking control of the label away from him.

But, yeah, this song is fire and continues a series of bananas releases from Meek Mill.

PHIL: Part of me can get behind four consecutive Meek-Mill-Rap-Like street singles. Meek Mill’s Meek-Mill-Rap-Like juice has never been stronger. I went back and listened to Dreamchasers 2 recently, and I couldn’t believe how, uh, meek he sounded in comparison to right now. This dude’s presence has grown leaps and bounds over the last three years. He could always rap. Now he commands your attention. And, honestly, that’s the best thing he has going for him. So let the beat go hard, and let Meek Mill go harder.

At the same time, it’s tough go back to the Meek-Mill-Rap-Like well four consecutive times and come back with Beverly Hills 9H20. In the shadow of “FYM”, “B Boy”, and “Monster”, “Check” is the first sign of diminishing returns. In fact, it feels like the Frankenstein monster of those previous songs – what he says, how he says, even the beat. I like those songs, so I will hang out with “Check”, but I will not forget that it is a composite corpse.

Also, as a complete aside, the “Kill Bill” siren airhorn thing that Atlanta producers love drives me nuts.

AARON: If he “still sounds like his streets” then Philly must be full of dudes just walking around yelling loud as fuck all the time.

Meek definitely has a volume issue. I feel like I’m being forced to turn up at gunpoint.

Yes, he can rap. The beat is not doing it for me. In a world where everything sounds the same [movie trailer voice], I can’t figure out why a decent ass rapper like Meek opts for production that is consistently boring and basic. (I’m sure that Madlib would take his money too.) I think a lot of these street dudes are so comfortable in one lane that they sell themselves short on the production end.

I won’t be holding my breath for Meek’s album or anything, but he’s got a solid formula these days that seems to be working so I’mma let the man live.

LEAH: Yes, it’s formulaic, and yes, it’s nearly brainkilling in its repetition, but in the great catalog of Meek-Mill-Rap-Like, this is the Meek-Millest song I’ve maybe every heard.  Meek-Mill-Rap-Like is the hottest club in Philly. It’s got fake echo of words at the end of a verse. It’s got rhyming the n-word with the n-word.  It’s got three kinds of airhorn. Take your family to Meek-Mill-Rap-Like today!

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Follow Rec-Room on Twitter, where we’re limited to 140 characters:  @marcuskdowling, @philrunco, @gitmomanners, @jrlopez, @dc-phelps, @Aaron_ish, and @CAMcGrady.

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