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

Today, Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman major in environmental studies; Chance the Rapper is in paradise; and Father swishes.

Our distinguished panel this afternoon consists of  Marcus DowlingPhil R, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Leah Manners of Hip Hop Hooray, Joshua Phelps, and Aaron Miller of Austin Mic Exchange.

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Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman: “Environmental Studies”

When last we heard Aesop Rock and producer Blockhead combine, they were giving us “Cat Food”,  a song that happens to be one of Rec-Room’s favorites of the year. So, no pressure or anything for “Environmental Studies”. The song comes from Lice, a recently released free EP from Aesop Rock and fellow New York underground heavy Homeboy Sandman. (The two will sell physical copies of the Stones Throw record at upcoming shows.)

LEAH: I like Lice. “Get a Dog” is better than “Environmental Studies”, but this track demonstrates the equally stilted and captivating flows of Aesop and Homeboy. The instrumentals across the EP maintain a kind of rhythmless jaunt – I think mainly to accommodate both flows – but, overall, you can tell it was created for both MCs, and it feels like a shared and fun project.

JOSE: I absolutely love this track. Blockhead does a really great impression of Madlib on Shades of Blue to start us off: The piano and stilted, limping walking bass frames the vocals beautifully.

I’ve never been the biggest Aesop Rock fan – mostly through lack of exposure – and I don’t know jack about Homeboy Sandman, but I am really digging what they’re doing here: smart machine gun raps over a throwback beat. I’m definitely gonna check out the rest of Lice.

PHELPS: This is great, even though I’ll admit sometimes my simpler tastes don’t gravitate toward Aesop Rock, either.

The bass line reminds me of “The Choice Is Yours”, but stripped down to the bones and reanimated with the limbs of overdosed jazz musicians.

The cover art is goddamn hilarious, too. Originality and chemistry go a long way. I’d throw dough at their Stones Throw show.

AARON: I can dig it. I haven’t peeped the whole jammy yet, but, duh, like it’s not good.  These two plus Stones Throw equals some true snob shit for the heads.

I like these raps. I like this beat. I like this team up. It’s two think-rap dudes just vibing.

I like Sandman’s wordplay. Its like watching a dunk in slow-mo: There’s tension because you know it’s coming and it’s gonna be bonkers-good.

I like Aesop Rock rapping the unknown dialect.

I FUCKING LOVE RAP SONGS WITH UPRIGHT BASS LINES.

I like the OC/Times Up reference to the illest  line of all time in the hook.

I like all this shit.

Part of me wishes they had rolled out some kind of RTJ-style brand awareness like a new group and then toured the world… but I’m not mad. This’ll do just fine.

MARCUS: Foremost, there’s this maximal-meets-minimal thing at work here that remembers how everything in walking that line made the inclusion of boom-bap make jazz reclamation rap pop off in a huge way in the ’90s.

Aesop and Homeboy are old enough to know how to sit in that pocket that the bass and drum break creates, too. The track itself is so intriguing that you can lose yourself in it, but the rapper’s styles moving in plain-spoken double-time against the flow of the production adds to it and makes the whole thing just scramble around in your head in the best way. People just don’t aesthetically make this kind of music anymore, and that’s sad. It’s like, we’ve venerated both the artist and the producer to the point where the collaboration doesn’t spring up from the space between them, but is rather like the two shouting at each other from across a room. Even Bronson and Alchemist, PRhyme or hell, anyone in that “smart enough to know better” class don’t operate like this.

Really great stuff here.

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Chance the Rapper ft. Jeremih & R. Kelly: “Somewhere in Paradise”

Another song on Rec-Room’s year-end list was Chance the Rapper’s “Angels”, and now the Chicago rapper has followed up that stunner with “Somewhere in Paradise”. The track was produced by Purity Ring’s Corin Roddick – who’s no stranger to hip-hop given his work on Danny Brown’s Old – and features Windy City R&B singers Jeremih and R. Kelly. And because Chance is currently winning at life right now, he premiered it on SNL last weekend. No word yet on where all of these songs are headed, but like “Angels” and Surf, you can cop “Somewhere in Paradise” for free on iTunes.

PHIL: The art direction he’s taken on these new singles is killing me. People on the Metro think bumping the soundtrack to “Veggie Tales Presents: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

LEAH: Sorry, I boycott R Kelly shit.

PHELPS: I’m glad Chance The Rapper is working with R. Kelly, bringing him out at Lollapalooza and whatnot, because instead of my just explaining, “I don’t know, I’m old, I don’t like his whiny voice” – which is true – now I can shit on all the people who talk about how conscious he is. He can’t be that woke if he’s gonna keep aligning himself with a predatory pedophile. Can’t he just sample dude? I’m not here for this.

JOSE: Phelps, I see what you’re saying about Chance not being that woke if he’s hanging with Kells, but Erykah Badu is also riding for him. I’m not defending R. Kelly, nor am I defending Chancellor for making a feature with him, but he isn’t the only respected artist doing it.

That being said, I’m not as crazy about what Chance has been doing in the Donnie Trumpet era. Acid Rap was charming and smart, and funny, and his collaborations with Action Bronson are consistently great, but his efforts on this song feel forced, and subsequently falls flat. Heavy is the head that wears the crown of conscious-art-off-kilter-gospel rap, nah mean?

PHELPS: Badu is also insane for the shit she said. I’m just using this, ahem, chance to strengthen my petty arguments against this dude’s music. I’m sure this watered-down Crystal Light synth-pop cry-rap is going to go over well with the culture appropriating youth at X festivals this spring. It just ain’t for me.

AARON: Oh how the mighty (freaky) have fallen. Ain’t nobody like R. Kelly anymore. White hipsters and middle-aged black women alike have agreed to henceforth and forevermore only listen to his records in private and then lie about it.

I will review the rap portion of this single only. To that end, it is fire-ish. This is a pretty tight slow flow demo right here.I’m worried that lil homie might be getting a little too churchy. I can only handle so much jubilation before I gotta listen to RA tha Ruggedman or some shit to wind down.

I fucks with Purity Ring mostly. I’m not feeling the latest as much as the older, creepier stuff. This beat is nice; a little scatterbrained, but niceFuckin A, Jeremih. Is this not like the tenth feature we’ve covered with him on it?! I CAN NEVER TELL HE IS IN THE ROOM. EVER. He’s supposed to be hit right now and I’m like a ghost hunter up in this motherfucker, shining special  lights and tapping on walls trying to figure out where this invisible man-ass dude is.  SHOW YOURSELF!!!

MARCUS: Christ. Chance makes music in a way that defies you to tell him that he’s doing something wrong. When he says “I believe that if I fly,” he’s saying to you, “You know imma put R. Kelly on this record because I know that y’all all thought of him when I said that.” It’s this refreshingly unflinching thing he does that’s great because he’s the only “hipster-crossover-to fresh-faced white people” young black child that’s still reclaiming all of the fucked up shit that black people have been saying and doing for generations. Like, don’t forget that he’s chain-smoking Newports and playing jazz, too. Man. What an amazing kid.

This is also the only footwork-meets-gospel-meets-trap banger ever played by a band. Chance is on ten different levels above everyone and playing all of the rap game as “fuck it, I’m doing ALL of me” that Drake isn’t doing. This isn’t like, great, it’s just different. I don’t think we’ve heard “great” from Chance besides like, “Juice,” “Smoke Again” and “Church,” but watching an artist always paint outside of the lines and somehow pull people inside of those lines outside to watch him is so refreshing that you don’t care that it’s not always the ABSOLUTELYFUCKINGBESTTHINGEVER.

The next mixtape should be bananas.

PHIL: I’m generally comfortable with the seven-cheese pizzas that Chance has been cooking up for most of the year. I will not go on the record as saying that hip-hop – let alone Chicago hip-hop – needs less positivity. But when I bite into “Somewhere in Paradise”, it’s not long before I realize that it’s actually a Pizza Hut “Insider” (R.I.P.) and I don’t know if I have the appetite for all that lactose this morning.

To be clear: I like this song. Unlike “Angels”, “Somewhere in Paradise” soars in its chorus where the former idles out. Jeremih and R. Kelly aren’t window dressing; they take this track to the next level. And few are as engaging a wordsmith as Chance is right now. (I’m going to look the other way on the “wascally wabbit” bit.)

I just wish “Somewhere in Paradise” wasn’t so spit-shined. It’s the same story with “Angels” and Surf. Can I get just a smidge of grime? Is everything going to be new agey and antiseptic? Why do these songs sound like a local production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” meets “Notorious Lightning”? There’s something to be said for contrasting bright and dark. Chance’s All Sunshine Everything approach is leaving me with me a stomach ache.

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Father ft. LuiDiamonds: “Alleyoop Swish”

Atlanta rapper / producer / Awful Records boss Father typically cooks up his own beats, but on the forthcoming EP Someone Get These New Niggas, he’s teamed up with… Lex Luger? That’s right, the Virginia native – known best for his lumbering work with Waka Flocka Flame, Juicy J, and “H.A.M.” – will provide all of the production. And our first taste of what this unlikely pairing will sound like is “Alleyoop Swish”.

PHELPS: As a certified stan of Lex Luger, both sonically and geographically, I am way, way down for this beat. It’s like a screwed, chopped, eaten and spit out bastard of “Move That Dope.” Not being able to make out the weak, distracting raps is a blessing here.

LEAH: The beat isn’t bad, but the subject matter is old and irredeemably tired. Even the rappers sound exhausted. This mix sounds like it’s a bedroom recording on a Panasonic boombox, and John Darnielle isn’t a feature, so I think they need new mics.

JOSE: That John Darnielle comment had me choking on my almond milk latte, Leah.

“Alleyoop Swish” sounds like an all fart version of “Pretty Boy Swag”, which was the most annoying song of 2010. (It probably wasn’t the absolute worst, but that’s how I remember it). I’m always down to trap out and listen to some ignant rap, but this is small and mired in the past.

You are not the Father.

AARON: If this was 2010 I might “cop” the instrumental.  Shit is boring.

PHELPS: I might tape it off the radio.

MARCUS: Where’s the hipster asshole startup dudebro who’s executive producing this bullshit? I mean somebody already sold him a bridge to Brooklyn, but I’m trying to sell him some other shit. I need him on speed-dial ASAP.

Father has a niche, and that’s awesome. Awful’s the second-wave Odd Future, so I get that appeal as well. But this underground ghost-rave turn-up shit feels so dated now.

Lex got a check. Father’s tryna crossover. I get all of this. But, hell, I wish winning weren’t this easy.

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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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