Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.
Today, The Weeknd asks you to spread the word, the grime resurgence continues with Skepta and Kano, and The Underachievers chase faith.
The Weeknd: “Tell Your Friends”
Today, The Weeknd released his second painfully titled album, Beauty Behind the Madness. People will buy it because people can’t get enough of this sleazeball. Earlier this week, he unveiled the record’s third single, “Tell Your Friends”, which proceeds perhaps the summer’s biggest single, “I Can’t Feel My Face”. But if that hit found Abel Tesfaye sounding like a relatively nice guy, “Tell Your Friends” finds him in more familiar creep mode. A lot of early press touted the song as “produced by Kanye West,” but as usual with Yeezy these days, it’s a more complicated picture: Che Pope, Carl Marshall, and Robert Holmes also pop up on the production credits. So, you know, make what you will of Kanye’s presence.
MARCUS: I love this Weeknd album because it’s proof that the music industry really wants to reclaim anything possibly left of it’s classic age. So, when this album isn’t at its absurd best when Max Martin is joyously desecrating Michael Jackson’s corpse for “Can’t Feel My Face,” it’s also great when Kanye mixes old school Philly soul and 808s era sounds for this amazing ballad.
The best thing about this song is that it’s basically a R & B song as Ric Flair promo. “I want you girls to tell your girlfriends to come down to the Ramada, because we’re going to pop some pills, and you’re gonna ride Space Mountain, whoo!” I mean, all this song is missing is a Pusha T remix with Flair’s “whoos” all over the place for the radio and clubs and it’s game over. This album already has like five top-ten pop hits lined up and ready to run the world for the next two years. Urban radio and bottle service gets some love too with this one that nobody’s going to be able to top.
AARON: Fuck this guy. People tell me The Weeknd is famous but I don’t believe it. Ole busted hair-ass, mark-ass wankster.
I can think of like a dozen dudes that coulda rocked this basic-ass R&B shit into a proper song. The-Dream, Ursher, Neo ,anybody that sang a hook on a rap song in the last 15 years…fuck even Miguel. Christ, did I just say that? Anybody.
C’mon, Kanye, how many dudes does it take to screw up a light bulb?
How can someone be feeling themselves so hard and deliver this kind of bizzullshizzit? THE SONG DOESN’T EVEN HAVE ANY BASS Y’ALL!?
I thought my headphones were fucked up or maybe I was having a stroke and my ears broke. The track literally sounds unfinished. It’s like this little nappy head diva walked past a mirror during the session and said, “Fuck it, I am going to stare into my own eyes and spit game and maybe slip a Molly in my own drink and we can add the rest of the mix later.” I would tell him to go fuck himself if I didn’t think he had already tried. He is the result of an incestuous union between himself and himself.
They were almost onto something with the guitar at the end. I’m a sucker for R&B with guitar solos,but nah, not this punk shit here. Ole Preset piano-sounding ass, 3 tracks-out-of-64-using ass, Fraggle Rock-lookin ass.
Hell to the naw.
CLYDE: “I’m that nigga with the hair / singing bout poppin’ pills / fuckin bitches.”
This is the most #OnBrand lyric in the history of recorded music.
JOSE: I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of days now, and sonically, this was the stand out track. We might as well embrace the fact that the Weeknd (and Max Martin, and the whole writing/production team) are about to become our pop overlords for the foreseeable future. This song is a smooth, slimy banger, with just enough self-awareness to mask just how oblivious the whole operation is to the extreme eye rolling taking place around it. In all fairness, eye rolls are hard to hear over stacks of cash, or generally.
I liked the Weeknd’s first two mixtapes, and thought I “connected” with it musically. In reality, I was just a douchey 21 year old with an overinflated sense of self-importance, and that was the soundtrack to my fantasy life. Seven years down the line, and these same themes just strike me as immature, stale, and kind of boring. If the Weeknd is doing all of this with a tongue firmly in check, then this is a great mini-troll. However, I doubt this is the case.
TL;DR: song is fun, but let’s talk about some new shit.
PHIL I went in on The Weeknd a few years ago on this very blog (#nopromo), so I will just point there and say that pretty much everything I said about Tesfaye’s persona still holds true.
As another aside, I find it curious that most critics have a fascination with Max Martin’s involvement with “I Can’t Feel My Face” and its overall MJ-aping aesthetic, because The Weeknd already pulled this move with “Wanderlust” on the record before. (And the “Odd Look” remix too!) If anything, Martin just tightened things up.
And, hey, speaking of tightening things up: What are these rambling verses on “Tell Your Friends”? Dude sounds like he’s freestyling his dream journal. Or there’s a creepy Weeknd lyric auto-generator. (Here is where I tell you to check out the #fakeweekndlyrics hashtag.) How do you get this production and that slick Vegas lounge chorus and then just scat nonsense? Tesfaye is just a much more compelling artist when he’s trying to make a pop song (see previous paragraph) and not making a song with the cohesion of a fashion Tumblr.
Aside number three: I don’t think I’ve heard another Weeknd song that makes it as obvious he wrote most of Take Care.
“Give me head all night / Cum four times… Do an ounce / Get some dick.” Man, I need to take a shower.
AARON: Can you even do an ounce without dying?
Skepta, Bashy & Kano: “Can’t See Me Again”
It’s been a minute since UK rap subgenre grime had much impact in the States, but the tide seems to be turning in favor of Skepta. The London producer and emcee missed the first grime wave of 2003 – 2005, when the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Kano, and Lady Sovereign made a ripple on U.S. blogs. It wasn’t until 2008 that Skepta stepped on the scene with “Rolex Sweep” and its accompanying dance. Since then, he’s done well for himself in the U.K., but got a big bump internationally when Drake joined him on the remix of Nigerian singer Wizkid’s “Ojuelgeba”. (Drake also plugged Skepta’s remix of Jamie xx’s”I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” more recently.) Now, “Can’t See Me Again” finds him teaming up with fellow grime artists Kano and Bashy. The song is from Concrete Jungle, a 16-track, 50-artist compilation out today.
MARCUS: Grime is the new gangsta rap because given that we’re scared of people shooting each other and dealing drugs in America, the fact that these guys like, appear to just spit hot fire and punch people’s faces in, America’s going to be okay with that. Nana Rogues’ production sounds tight here, and when US post-trap EDM guys finally get into THIS groove, there’s like 100 hits a day that are possible. Skepta’s the guy who’s going to open the door. I’m just waiting for the curtain to raise on the Drake/Skepta duet EP. I mean, we already know that’s happened, right? Drake didn’t grow that London-ass beard for nothing, right? Kano doing his best Eminem grime flow at the end is kinda tight. I don’t know if we’re going to have the bandwidth to support, like, too many different types of grime rappers here, but I definitely dig Kano.
BBK has this, though. Skepta’s got next. Everything after that needs to include a Kano and Danny Brown track, too. Yeah, that’s like heaven right now.
AARON: You guys ever listen to something so much that you convince yourself that it must be famous and then you find out nobody knows what the fuck you are talking about?
That is what I’ve been doing with grime for the last decade.
While “Can’t See Me Again” lacks the traditional garage/grime roughness in favor of more accessible beat stylings, this song is fire. Almost every rapper in the UK is better than whoever is topping charts stateside. It’s like they somehow combined the old school rave energy with backpack hip-hop circa 1996 and just never stopped being ill. Almost all of them. White, black, Jamaican, Palestinian – whatever, they don’t give a fuck.
For every Dizzy or Wiley that you recognize, there are 40 more dudes that just kill it. Shitloads.
They start young and they stay ill, up until the point they try to emulate American rappers and then they fall off. It’s a depressing cycle (think Dizzy’s “Boy in da Corner” compared to his latest clubby shit) They start acting like us to get “P”. If you don’t know, that’s pounds and pence – what they call money over there ,which by the way is worth more than than any American cream or cheddar or even scrillas. So it’s more like they have to bust a $1.54 out of 23 cents.
If an American rapper raps fast, they rap faster, if an American rapper makes a video that looks like a movie, these guys will make a movie that looks like the illest video you ever saw and the beat won’t drop for eight minutes. These cats routinely do throwaway 64 bars for fun while American rappers tryna get top dollar for a hot 8. We have no work ethic (or work rate, as they say.)
Also, you can get guns anywhere in the USA, so being hard is like pumpkin spice latte shit over here… over there, guns are illegal and there are 4 million fucking cameras watching you day and night. If you are trapping in Pecknarm (Peckham, South London) like Giggs back in the day, you are hard for real.
In the pantheon of Grime-artists-you-slept-on, believe it or not, Skepta is just average. Bashy-he alright. But Kano? Kane is the motherfucker on this track.
He is a particularly murderous, always been ready for the crossover emcee. He kinda fell off because I don’t think one tiny island can support so many emcees.
It shoulda been him next, not Skepta. No disrespect, but heads know. Either way, I for one welcome our new UK overlords. More please.
Homework: go back and watch all of the Tim Westwood BBC radio joints.
He is the corniest old white guy but he has been the gateway to UK hip-hop and grim forever and ever. So many of the dopest rappers in the US have rolled through there to show and prove. Newbies and legends alike.He requires that they freestyle. If somebody has beef he will make them talk about it until they get uncomfortable. He made Macklemore go in over Other white rappers beats and says stuff like ” dripping in swag juice” and is always dropping explosion noises and air horns and shit. He’s the closest thing the UK has to Funk Flex. Check the D12/Royce/Eminem episode to get mind blown.
MARCUS: We have Drake and Diplo to thank for this. The rap game has become so fucked up, political, and self-serving that two of the softest dudes to ever step into the industry are pushing the game ahead. Somewhere Rick Rubin is watching old Memphis wrestling videos at a holistic medicine retreat and laughing at all of the people he let run Def Jam into the ground for fucking up so badly.
CLYDE: This beat with the Lex Luger hi hats makes me wanna mosh through Harrods and rob the Krispy Kreme stand there.
My context for grime is admittedly shallow but I dig this. I may not get all the references but like most Americans, I find anything credible when it’s said with a British accent.
JOSE: I want to like grime, and I want to like Skepta, particularly because I’ve enjoyed a couple of things he’s done – that track with Blood Orange on Cupid Deluxe, showing up with like 30 goons and some flamethrowers at the BRIT Awards to hang with ‘Ye and Theophilus London, his general zero-fucks demeanor. But this is just too chaotic and cluttered for me, and I can’t really get into it on the first couple of listens. I’ll probably grow to love this, because I stand for what they’re doing, but just not vibing to it right now.
The Underachievers: “Chasing Faith”
Deceptive advertising alert: On September 25, Brooklyn duo The Underachievers will release their second studio record a mere thirteen months after its first, Cellar Door: Terminus ut Exordium. Like that LP, Evermore: The Art of Duality comes courtesy of FLyLo’s Brainfeeder Records. Thus far, we’ve heard lead single “Take Your Place”, and now we get the mellower “Chasing Faith”. A third song, “Allusions” is out there too. A new video actually rolls the two, plus “Rain Dance”, together. Anyway, “Chasing Faith”. It’s a song. It was produced by Nick Leon.
AARON: I have no idea who these guys are.
I’m too distracted by the emo sentiment and the overly heady and self indulgent song/album titles and superfluous colons to definitively say if I like it. It’s safe to assume I don’t, even though the Brainfeeder Stan in me says there must be something here if Flylo is ’bout it.
All I know is this:
- It sounds like the “Halloween” score at the beginning.
- This track bums me out. I took a quick listen to a few other tracks and they all sound exactly the same. Sad rap about being hard as fuck and misunderstood.
- The first line sounds like “So a nigga ain’t had an erection” I know he said “no direction” but we could have used another take on that. I listened to this whole joint thinking about erectile dysfunction. Honestly makes more sense.
- I would totally ditch these dudes at a party.
- The second guy is way better rapper.
- Both of these cats are those type of rappers that SOUND like they are saying some deep shit but,in fact are, spitting hot jibber jabber.
- A little struggle is fine. Angry is fine. Introspective is fine. But the hip-hop by-laws state clearly that you cannot be hard and sad at the same time.
What the fuck is with all these sad rappers? Bruh, stop crying and tell me some stories. Nobody is tryin to hear some inner dialogue about your insecurities up in the Trap.
Not me, anyway.
MARCUS: Why is Joey Basa$$ hanging out at Joshua Tree? I mean, in the arc of his career this is his LL Cool J left-field “Going Back to Cali” video moment, right? This is so generic that it almost hurts my soul. Like, I just listened to Large Professor on NPR with Frannie Kelley and Ali Shaheed Muhammad talking about Nas recording llmatic and I’m like actively pissed off that Joey Basa$$ is doing THIS instead of smoking mad El’s in Chung King while recounting stories like these. It’s like, Joey and crew aren’t supposed to be some sort of glossy pop hipster tribe. This is like Nas and the Firm gone pop. I can’t cosign this. Not at all, no way, no how.
CLYDE: The only good thing I have to say about this track is that I’m a sucker for dark beats that live on the black keys so they got me there.
I was trying to figure out what bothered me so much about this song when I stumbled upon this gem: “All of this pain is what made me an artist.” NOPE. That is what happens when you conflate narcissism with self-reflection. Or when you mistake your willingness to rhyme about a heavy subject for a display of emotional depth.
This is a 64 bar suicide note masquerading as a single. Do they pass out bags of heroin and razor blades to the audience when they play this song at their shows? There is a way to do this compellingly (see: Wallace, Christopher) but this ain’t it. I am not a fan of art as therapy session. You can talk about the struggle but make it relatable to your audience man. Don’t nobody care about your fear of (GASP!) possibly having to “get a day job.” Fuck you. Get a real problem, homie.
There is zero charisma here. These fools make J. Cole sound like Kevin Hart. Cheer up buddy, erectile dysfunction isn’t the end of the world.
Please give Kid Cudi his rhyme book back.
JOSE: The beat is really cool, and I can see this being the basis for a Clams Casino track. He would take this to some trippy atmospheric heights. Aside from that? Boring, boring, boring.
MARCUS: I said this about Joey Bada$$ in March 2013 in our Rec Room Therapy breakdown of his single “Wendy-N-Becky”: