Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.
Today, Beyoncé gets in formation; Missy Elliot organizes a pep rally; and Open Mike Eagle lives check to check with Paul White.
Beyoncé : “Formation”
Beyoncé has a new record on the way. Or at least that’s the word from her stylist, Ty Hunter, who says he has heard it, and it is “beyond awesome.” The promotional wheels have begun to turn for the release as well: After performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, she announced the Formation World Tour. “Formation” happens to be the name of a song she dropped over the weekend. It was reportedly produced by Mike WiLL Made-It and co-written by Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee (among others). It’s also worth noting that she performed this song at the Super Bowl, which, wow. Unsurprisingly, some uptight people have taken issue with that.
MARCUS: Bozoma Saint-Jean.
At present, she’s a high ranking executive at Apple’s Beats Music, but once upon a time, she signed Beyoncé to be an artist spokesperson for Pepsi, a deal that allowed her to release singles and develop concepts that would be used by the cola brand to push their caffeinated beverages. When Michael Jackson did this with Pepsi in the 1980s, he reformed the Jackson 5, went on a legendary world tour, and released and album. Beyoncé is similarly going on a world tour, but with “Formation,” (the second Pepsi-sponsored Beyoncé single after “Grown Woman”) she upped the ante on MJ and continued the conversation Kendrick Lamar opened about Black Power in the post post-racial era on a really well-produced Mike Will Made-It track.
I wanted to out one of the invisible hands of music’s Illuminati in making this statement because that’s exactly what it took to get something this crazy done. I mean, it’s far from perfect. Between alienating New Orleans, lifting Red Lobster’s sales 30%, proclaiming Jay Z as Bill Gates, aligning herself with the Black Panthers, and aligning herself with transgenderism, there’s a lot of really haphazard and ham-handed work that was done here. It’s like, close, but likely not quite as impact-filled as what Kendrick did with To Pimp A Butterfly.
In making these profound black statements in pop music, there’s a level of directed message engagement that needs to occur. Instead of getting black people to eat cheddar biscuits and give lip service to Huey Newton, what about calls for community engagement, voting, and self-esteem lifting?
Don’t get me wrong, this is great. But if black people are going to exceed excellence (and let’s face it, that’s what post post-racial Afro(-American)centricity is all about) quality control and ensuring a unified black voice is important.
Yes, I know, that’s hard to do in one song.
So, what about not doing it all in one song? Beyoncé probably has an album coming. By comparison to what Kendrick did with self-empowerment anthem “I,” followed by “The Blacker The Berry,” Beyoncé’s one-shot kill attempt is a failure. It’s an impressive failure, but a failure nonetheless.
But yeah. Bozoma Saint-Jean did that. Moreso than anything Bey did, #salute to Bozoma.
AARON: I don’t know about the ins and outs of this Pepsi swag but it makes sense. This is just too crazy. Bad crazy, not good.
Anyone listen to the words in this joint? Am I crazy? Did I not, just last week, proclaim Bey one of the queens of singing dumb shit and making it sound powerful? Well, here is your proof.
Just so you know, I am not the kind of hater that doesn’t understand why this song jams. It totally slays, right?
What I don’t understand is how you can force a pastiche of cool sounding snippets about feeling yourself into a revolution. The video is mildly inspired but wildly dissonant to the actual fucking song.
No. You will not be taking Jay to Red Lobster, no matter how good the D is. We all know Jay does not eat at Red Lobster or need a ride in your chopper. That shit is for poor people. The Roc-a-Lobster Aerospace Development Firm/Farm is doing just fine. And nothing couple be more quaint than imagining Hov at the mall shopping for J’s. That’s like running into Obama at the WalMart with no security and a grape blunt behind his ear.
The only thing I understand about Beyoncé is that she is extremely talented and powerful. She has the voice of a hundred angels and is a master of the whole Madonna-whore thing so deftly wielded by many Divas from genres past. A goddamn sorceress. Maybe the best ever at singing a song about fucking and buying stuff and making you believe that it somehow empowers you.
This is important. Being Beyoncé is powerful. But just loving Bey is not power. Even her lyrics make it clear that you are simply a hater or a spectator.
We are not Beyoncé.
We are just regular poor people with a real fight to fight. The kind of resonant imagery in this video is definitely heavy, but it’s almost cancelled out by the message in the lyrics.
To Marcus’ point about Kendrick, would we be so impressed if To Pimp a Butterfly just sounded like it does but all the lyrics were about money/clothes/hoes? Probably not.
I read an article about Sia and her contribution to Beyoncé’s writing camps. Sia said Beyoncé has shitloads of people come through and write a hundred songs, and she’ll just takes all the good parts. The more I think about that, the more I can hear it. Her songs are a precision volley of hooks and snapshot images with very little substance.
So, yeah, I guess I’m a stick in the mud as usual. I fuck with Beyoncé all day because there is only one Beyoncé and I don’t wanna miss out, but “Formation” is like a $3000 replica of the Huey Newton chair that you can order at Anthropologie.
The Superbowl fake fiasco outrage over her performance proves something, though: Even an errant message can provoke a meaningful response. Even a diluted, misdirected riff on a certain kind of blackness will send white people into fits. It reminds us that black personalities may run the field but white folk still own the plantation and they will always trip super hard over that Black Panther shit.
So I’m a little macro-disapointed in this track because it could’ve been so much more, but I’m micro-satisfied that it makes white people uncomfortable.
Props on being rich enough to flood NOLA for a fresh visual and good luck getting hot sauce stains out of that Hermès Crocodile.
Missy Elliot: “Pep Rally”
Rec-Room recapped the Missy Elliot comeback narrative back in November, when we discussed her well-received single with Pharrell Williams “WTF (Where They From)”. So, if you’re wondering what Missy has been up to, go back to that post. Today, we focus on “Pep Rally”, the follow-up to “WTF”. Fittingly, it premiered as part of a Super Bowl ad for Amazon this weekend.
MARCUS: This is really tight. But, I fear for Missy’s fear about the future of music keeping her from making the kind of music that we know she’s capable of making. It’s like, she’s afraid of an industry that rewards the fearlessness that she once had, and instead is content with cashing guaranteed checks for guaranteed money.
In 2001, Missy and Timbo sampled bhangra and got a Portuguese pop singer on the remix for “Get Ur Freak On.” Fifteen years later, I swear if she walked into the Amazon boardroom with the exact same idea that revolutionized urban-tinged pop music at the turn of the century, she’d have been laughed out of the room. Between this and “WTF,” I don’t think I’ve heard two “cuter” pop songs from someone that feels like they’re getting pigeonholed into making benign electro-pop. I mean, “Pep Rally” is one Toni Basil video away from being “Hey Mickey,” and the Super Bowl debut alongside 100 generic white guys in suits really doesn’t do her any favors, either.
Let’s all remember that one time that MIA flipped off the Super Bowl cameras and then proceeded to release songs that featured videos where she filed her nails while riding on vogues as the Caddy did the literal two-wheel motion, lead a revolutionary army, and then walk on water.
By comparison, what Missy is doing just makes her sound nice, but old and tired as hell, too. She’s certainly a legend, but absolutely in no way relevant, and that’s unfortunate.
AARON: Oh Missy please don’t fuck up the comeback.
Missy Elliot back on the scene is a hundred times more important than Beyoncé’s millionth song about a billion dollars.
I don’t know why, it just is.
I like ” Pep Rally” as a jammy jam because, let’s face it, Missy’s voice alone gets you hype, but this is dangerously close to bullshit. So go get your football money and get your mind right. I’m going to ignore this one.
Don’t ever do that “biggety biggety bounce” shit again.
PHIL: This song feels like it wants to go 100 miles per hour and it can’t get out of third gear. Left foot… right foot… why is… Missy talking… so slow? A few more BPMs and this thing goes off. As is, it’s a “Keep Calm and Pep Rally” t-shirt.
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White: “Check to Check”
At the end of March, Open Mike Eagle will release the follow-up to 2014’s beloved Dark Comedy. It’s called Hella Personal Film and it was produced entirely by Paul White. In fact, the L.A. rapper traveled to London to make the record with the British producer perhaps best known for his work with Danny Brown. The first single is “Check to Check”, which we discuss today.
AARON: Well damn. If anyone spits a slicker verse than :42-1:00 of this song in 2016, I will eat my shorts.
I know I’m a super fan and probably not objectively qualified to judge but I see Mike Eagle -or at least his approach to songwriting – as a necessary future of (some) rap.
For every pop sensation churning out forgettable, self-destructing bangers, there must be more voices like Open Mike Eagle. Not him specifically or even his style, just people that believe in a narrative and the visual power of words when they are fucking rapping.
It’s not even a genre thing. It’s not accessibility or subject matter it’s just form. A lot of rappers occupy this space. It could be Kendrick, Oddisse, Jean Grae, whatever. It could be Vince Staples, Earl, or Freddie Gibbs. You know a good story when you hear one, and Mike Eagle raps in 3-D for two minutes and it’s amazing.
RAPPERS PLEASE TELL ME A FUCKING STORY. PLEASE. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK? DAMN.
I realize smart rap is not for everybody, but then again, the stuff that is marketed for “everybody” is not actually for everybody. They just don’t know about all the crazy good rap out there cause no one will give smart rap a billion dollars.
Like, do people even really like Jordans and Red Lobster or do they just not know any better?
Listen to the production on this and tell me Mike Eagle couldn’t take money from Pepsi, make a record with Pharrell or some shit, and change the world. I wanna hear Beyoncé on a Mike Eagle track hollering about regular shit they can both relate to. How cool would that be for, like, I don’t know, the whole fucking music industry?
I’m stuck in rap super hero land as much as the next guy. I listen to gangster shit and pretend the Feds is watching just like everybody else, but I really do enjoy listening to normal people rap about regular shit in a fantastical way. There is a place for that, and that place is called the real world.
And Mike Eagle is real as fuck. Cut him a check already.
LEAH: Mike’s officially the hardest working dude in rap right now – podcasts, NPR, collabs, Hellfyre, and releasing new stuff all the time. I’m with Aaron: Somebody pay this guy.
His dance in this track between the real and digital world, along with this great beat, perfectly encapsulates the hectic dynamic we all deal with on a daily basis, and he doesn’t shy away from addressing the real struggle on top of it.
Also, props to this song for being the only time a computer voice hasn’t seemed clumsy, slow, or dumb in a track.
PHIL: There’s something beautiful about a fully realized, wholly satisfying two-minute song, isn’t there? Open Mike Eagle and Paul White fit so many little turns, pivots, and wrinkles into 124 seconds. All killer, no filler.
These two seemed like an odd pairing on paper but I’m all in. I love Open Mike Eagle at his most overtly contemplative – and, let’s be honest, he’ll never be a less than thoughtful MC – but there’s an added rush to hearing him on a track that moves like this.