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

Today, J Dilla sure knew how to row a boat; Macklemore and Ryan Lewis recruit some NYC legends; and Lil’ Kim makes Kevin Gates #hers.

Our distinguished panel consists of  Marcus DowlingPhil R, Joshua Phelps, Clyde McGrady, and Aaron Miller of Austin Mic Exchange.

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J Dilla: “The Introduction”

On April 15, Nas’ Mass Appeal imprint and PayJay Records will release J Dilla’s “lost” album, The Diary. Some background: The Detroit producer recorded the LP back in 2002 – working with beats are by Pete Rock, Madlib, Hi-Tek, Supa Dave West, Bink!, House Shoes, Nottz, and Karriem Riggins – but MCA refused to release it. “He did the entire record on his own, almost exclusively in Detroit, at studios of his choosing, with no involvement from anybody,” Dilla estate manager Eothen “Egon” Alapatt told Rolling Stone recently. “It was probably pretty heartbreaking for him to see this record shelved and it was completely out of his control. He was dropped. When majors drop artists, they largely do so unceremoniously and there’s usually a lot of blood on the floor. But with Dilla it became really obvious that it had to been at least a bit of a trauma to him, because his reaction to it was, of course, the Ruff Draft record, Jaylib and ultimately a move to California, where he attempted to recalibrate his career. And actually, many would argue he did with the release of Donuts.” Six of these tracks have seen release before, but “The Introduction” has not. It is our first taste of The Diary. The beat comes from DJ House Shoes, with additional production by Dilla.

AARON: This right here, goddamn.

One of the head games I like to play with rap fans, when fools are having the played out “Best Rver” or “Top 10 blah blah blah” convo, is to throw in this little chestnut: Dilla is also one of my favorite emcees.

He’s no Nas and he’s not out to flip a lyrical thesaurus on that ass, but there’s not too many cats this comfortable in their own zone. The same way rappers tend to shine just a little brighter on a Dilla beat, Dilla gets on the mic and the humble producer mask comes off with a casual intensity that’s hard to match.

Take any two bars of this track and all you hear is a warning to wack motherfuckers to back the fuck up.

I figure the no rules/no standards/low bar ethos of 2016 is in direct conflict with the purist, curator mentality established by dudes like Dilla, Madlib, House Shoes etc., basically making quality obsolete and longevity unnecessary.

House Shoes is probably one of the realest motherfuckers walking this earth, and this beat is straight spaced-out warrior drama. His underground, OG cred is unimpeachable and he does not give a fuck about impressing those who don’t have the ear to hear it. Just keep it moving and those who know will fall in line. Work ethic, quality, and the rap game noblesse oblige that let’s you know he is partly responsible for elevating a sound that is now universally respected.
The worst you can say about this track is it might be somehow dated (the classic ATCQ nod at the beginning), but are we really gonna sweat a dead legend because he’s not dabbing and spitting over a wavy trap snoozer? I think not.

Sorry my confirmation bias is acting up, I gotta go smoke something and listen to this track six more times.

MARCUS: Maaaan, this is excellent.

I love what Nas is doing at Mass Appeal for “real hip-hop.” The other release they had as a label recently was Pimp C’s Long Live The Pimp album, which basically means that part of their MO is getting famous dope dead rapper’s estates to give up unreleased content. In the case of new Dilla, this is like being given the tablets on the rap mountain and bringing them down to the people, and of course, it delivers. Dilla and House Shoes? Wow.

There’s a point to be made here about an era of rap where everybody kinda had to know how to do everything in order to be legit. It’s that whole Pete Rock, Dr. Dre and Q-Tip thing. It’s a thing that feels like it came up in arguments on tour buses when Dre would best DJ Yella in a freestyle battle, and then Yella would be like, “Sure you can rap good and produce alright, but I bet you can’t produce a Billboard #1 pop album” and, when it stopped him cold in his tracks, that’s where The Chronic came from.

I can imagine how a Dilla producer-as-rapper album would get shelved. I can see a conversation with a label exec about dressing him having up like Nas and The Firm, or putting him in a box with fellow Detroit emcee Eminem, and maybe some sort of discussion of Kanye West remixing a track and Bizarre from D-12 rapping on said remix that might piss a guy like Dilla off. Of course, once Dilla gets pissed, that’s enough for a label exec to say “FUCK YOU” and drop him.

Music in 2002 was opulent and oftentimes amazing, like say, Cam’ron’s album Come Home with Me, anything Knoc-Turn’Al was doing, and the “8 Mile” soundtrack for starters.

But then there’s the BS of, like, a Dilla album getting shelved probably because he was too real for the industry then, that’s sad. That’s why I’m partial to where we’re headed in 2016 – and yes, it’s like Kanye said – we’re all so free.

I don’t even have to hear anything other than this track to tell you this album is going to be amazing. Dilla was a legendary producer and great rapper that rich guys in gray suits didn’t understand. That’s sad. Thankfully, Nas runs a label now and though posthumously, Olu’s son knows how to get it right.

PHIL: So, um, uh, I guess… OK, I wish Dilla was a little better at rapping. The “expect nothing but fire” bit is just clumsy. These rhymes are great on paper and good in delivery, but the technical execution of “conscious” rap (sorry) has come a long way in the past fourteen years. That’s where this feels dated, even if I’m all in on the vibe.

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. KRS-One & DJ Premier: “Buckshot”

Almost two weeks ago, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released the very cheesy song  “Spoons”. Now, they’ve followed it up with a piece of counter-programming called “Buckshot”, for which they have recruited NYC legends KRS-One and DJ Premier. The Seattle duo’s follow-up to The Heist, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, is out on Friday. Other artists slated to appear on the album include Chance the Rapper, YG, Anderson .Paak, Idris Elba, Jamila Woods and Carla Morrison.

AARON: Goddamit, I’m so afraid to listen to this. Why can’t Wacklemore stop flashing his white ally money at old dudes I love?

CLYDE: Last week I read an article claiming that the “I can’t be racist, I have black friends” argument some white people make when accused of being racist actually works, to a certain extent.

It was based on a study which found that people making racist statements were judged less harshly if they appeared in a Facebook profile picture surrounded by minorities or simply prefaced their racist sentiment with “one of my best friends is ____, but…”

Isn’t that insane? As much as people make fun of that ridiculous argument, there is a part of our brain subconsciously absorbing that implicit co-sign.

Which brings me to Macklemore. As transparent and obvious as his straining for rap credibility is, this shit (bear with me) might actually be working. Yes, “Downtown” is the silliest, Jimmy Fallon-demo targeting rap song since “Thrift Shop” but giving under-appreciated rap pioneers some well-deserved shine certainly didn’t hurt.

I mean, if his love of rap runs as deep as Boot Camp Clik, he can’t be Miley Cyrus, parachuting in and wearing rap like a costume just to seem dangerous or edgy. And if KRS One, Primo, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Kaz and Kool Moe Dee are all willing to jump tracks with this dude, he can’t be that wack… right… RIGHT???

He’s deploying the same “Dowtown”-esque strategy here but this song is way better. But really this “NY State of Mind”-aping beat is so dope it’s hard to fuck it up, and even Ben is smart enough to get out of the way. *shrug emoji*

AARON: Sigh. It’s pretty good, alright. Just leave me alone.

I can’t like Macklemore no matter how hard I try. It’s the well-established pattern of pandering to any audience that will have him that makes me squirm.
This is about the best rapping I’ve heard from him but all I can think of is how much better this would be if it was Joey B4dA$$ or Kendrick or somebody else… but fuck it, right? It’s not about me.

I have to entertain Clyde’s sound reasoning that if the old dudes that I love want to hang out Macklemore, then I have to be civil. Like, if someone you hate shows up to a party with one of your friends, you have to be nice. I don’t like it but I’m not a monster.

I just have my doubts that even at the ripe old rap age of 33 that Mack was actually copping Boot Camp tapes. I was there and I don’t remember a lot of 10-12 year-old white kids bumping Boot Camp, I suspect he was rocking big pants and listening to Sublime and maybe, like, House of Pains second album. But anything’s possible.

It is also a little weird to hear him playing the fence-hopping street rebel hollering “fuck cops” when just a few weeks ago motherfucker was dropping mushy, nine-minute therapy raps.

I don’t know who exactly Gets The Props here but I’ll take it. Plus, KRS is so condescendingly fresh that I can’t help but like it a little.

PHELPS: He couldn’t find one member of Boot Camp to rep on this though? Maybe, I dunno, BUCKSHOT? THE BDI EMCEE? Also, is buckshot a beer? I don’t remember this. Seattle slang?

This is tepid, it’s not making a Powaful Impak at all. Macklemore is flaming hoverboard scooter raps, but Buckshot, the real Buckshot, oh lord, get on my skateboard and do a motherfuckin drive by.

This sucks.

AARON: For real. I’m sure Smif n Wesson could use the dough.

I’m pretty sure if Sean Price were still with us he would rob this dude.

Just curious, how do you explain OG connect here? Is it just money? The prehistoric rap lizard brain’s thirst for relevance? WTF is going on here? I’m stumped.

PHELPS: I think it boils down to Macklemore being one of the only relevant rappers giving credence to those who came before. I’d posit that’s incredibly important to KRS-1. He’s on a single from a guy who will get him in front of people, enunciates in his rhymes, and hero-worships. Meanwhile, the direction of pop-rap lyricism has evolved or devolved into what probably sounds like Sun O))) to his ears.

MARCUS: I’m really happy for Macklemore living out all of his “weeded out white boy in a Carhartt jacket, Girbaud jeans and Tims at Northwest underground rap shows in 1997” realities here.

This is the album where we learn about exactly who Macklemore is. I feel like he somehow made a deal with the industry devil machine for album one, and he made that album according to every exacting standard that his Warner Music distributors had for it. Now, we’re getting the actual dude underneath the gay marriage appreciation and “Thrift Shop” clothes.

Unfortunately, I think he mortgaged too much of himself to fulfill the needs of a character that was crafted by the mainstream marketplace to ever actually get to be himself on a mainstream album.

Like, I can imagine that Macklemore is actually cool as fuck to record with. I mean, we all know that he’s like one degree away from being someone who’d be, like, the best Rec-Room Therapy commenter ever, right? He’s a rap nerd to the fullest, this being his best attempt at mixing Kool G. Rap and Fredro Starr on a record.

I kinda feel bad hating on Macklemore so hard because he’s trying so damned hard to be liked so much. At the same time, I think that we have to hate him this much because we can’t let the mainstream foist this kind of bullshit on society in an era where hip-hop as a culture runs everything. Ughhhhh.

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Lil’ Kim ft. Kevin Gates: “#Mine”

Lil’ Kim has sort of been involved in the Puff Daddy & the Family “reunion,” appearing on the MMM track “Auction”, but today she gets her own single… with Kevin Gates! It’s called “#Mine” and the hashtag is part of the title and the cover art is even more ridiculous. For those of you who have been sleeping on Mr. Gates, he has a well-received record out and it sold 112,143 its first week. (Suck it, Kevin Gates haters.) As for Lil’ Kim, her last mixtape, Hard Core, came out a little over a year ago.

AARON: Negative Ghostrider.

This song is fucking gross. I cannot believe I live in a world where I am forced to imagine ole cat lady, Michael Myers-lookin ass Lil Kim having sex with rap subhuman Kevin Gates. Where is my safe space, huh?  Trigger warning and all that.

To quote Immortal Technique: “…written in code, so if your message ain’t shit, fuck the records you sold. If you go platinum it’s got nothin to do with luck, it just means that a million people are stupid as fuck”

Gonna go peel my skin off and bleach my brain right quick

MARCUS: Lil Kim shoulda been Rihanna-huge in her career. Like, somebody on Kim’s team is fucking up in not making the reach to see if RiRi would hop on “#Mine” and make the circle complete. Like, Kim could do verses on a “Work” remix and RiRi would hop on this one for eight bars. In my mind, this track could be like what happened with Nicki and Yo Gotti on “Down In the DM,” and actually, it’d probably be a better quality song than that.

Phil, I know you love Kevin Gates, but he actually doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near this. No disrespect to him, but he’s not on a level where he can elevate Lil Kim’s current career perception of being a Diddy hanger-on and once-amazing legend. I hate when people make messy deals just because there’s a deal on the table and we get things that have, like, 1/10th of the impact that they could easily have with a little more work.

Jesus, Kim’s actually great here, and I’ll argue that she’s actually not fallen off as an artist so much as her public behavior and life choices have fallen down a rabbit hole.

CLYDE: Lil’ Kevin has been fantasizing about making this song with the Original Queen Bee since he was a horny middle-schooler listening to “We Don’t Want It” so bravo for him, making his dreams come true and what not. Sometimes we look for an artist’s influences based too much on race and gender (i.e. assuming every white rapper this decade grew up worshiping Eminem) but after listening to these last releases from Gates, it’s obvious Kim was the one who gave him the space to talk about banging his cousin.

I have a hard time taking this dude seriously and I’m sure that’s the result of some bias that I have yet to confront. Either way, I don’t like his sexy raps and all this makes me want to do is listen to Hard Core.

PHIL: I can’t get past Lil’ Kim’s Kevin Gates impression. I can only handle one person sounding like a fake Jamaican starting to feel the effects of a tranq dart.

Am I the only one hearing a Kevin Gates song featuring Lil’ Kim? She’s barely on this thing. Bow to the market power of Kevin Gates.

I should be honest: I like the guy, but his sex jams are at the bottom of the totem pole. It would appear that some people enjoy listening to him describe breaking off road head and then getting his own sloppy blow job – sorry, these are the actual lyrics – but it’s not for me. A different kind of gross: “Chris Brown, playing when I killed her / He could fuck you too cause that’s my n*gga.”

PHELPS: I don’t think I heard that line. I’m glad.

This is an unfortunate attempt to enter a lane that, fairly, she created. But in doing so, recycled raunchy raps about all types of sex, no holes barred bars just won’t cut it these days. She created her competition and has been consumed by it.

Hard Core was dripping in sex but also creative gangster raps handled deftly alongside two artists who would make most people’s top 5 – Biggie and Jay-Z. Concept flips like “Dreams” which re-imagined the Biggie mixtape cut “Dreams of Fuckin a R&B Bitch” put R&B dudes in the shade room before shade existed and was hilarious. If she’s run out of that 7 million records sold money (let’s be honest, Puff probably took 95% of that), I get it. But it’d be nice to see her settle gracefully into the Bad Boy reunion and stick to the hits.

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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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