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

Today, Childish Gambino finds his voice; A Tribe Called Quest speak for the people; and Run the Jewels turn it down.

Our distinguished panel consists of Getting Over’s Marcus Dowling, Jose Lopez-Sanchez, Joshua Phelps, Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners, Phil R, and Ruben Gzirian.


Childish Gambino: “Me and Your Mama”

Currently riding on the high on the success of his TV show “Atlanta”, Donald Glover is back with his third record as Childish Gambino, Awaken, My Love! The first single is called “Me and Your Mama” and was produced by Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer and frequent Glover collaborator. Awaken, My Love! is out on December 2 and follows 2013’s divisive Because the Internet.

JOSE: I’ve been listening to this track on loop since it dropped last week. I love everything about it: the production values are outstanding; the melodies in the first and third parts glide and enchant; and the middle section is equal parts Gary Clark Jr. and gospel choir. This feels emotionally raw and shows vulnerability in a way that manages to hold off from self-pity – something that Glover’s work as Gambino has had a hard time preventing in the past.

Donald Glover has tapped into a very rich vein of creativity since taking a step back after Because the Internet and leaving “Community “, and it’s clear that it was necessary for him to put those experiences in the past to build a better future. I’m not quite sure what to expect from Awaken, My Love! I wonder if this track is going to be the odd one out, stylistically – like “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” is on Aquemini – or a blueprint for the rest of the album. Either way, Glover has the benefit of the doubt from me after a pretty stellar 2016 so far.

MARCUS: Donald Glover is great because his entire creative vibe, from acting to rapping to singing and likely more, is informed by the idea that he’s blessed with knowing how to tap into the core essence of what makes the best things and people amazing.

As an artist, he’s found ways to mine the souls of Lil Wayne, Drake, Andre 3000, and Young Thug likely without any more intimate knowledge of them of you or I. On “Me and Your Mama,” he’s shown himself capable of now sourcing much more than the souls of America’s most impressively creative young black men. Amazingly enough here, he’s tapped into the Afro-Chicano psychedelic blues rock of WAR by way of soul-pop-arena rock of Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, which is ultimately what makes this so great.

There’s a level of reclamation here that becomes more jaw dropping with each listen. The re-introduction of free jazz into American pop has not – until the release of this song – met with top-40 crossover potential. However, in mining the spirits of Eric Burdon and Peter Frampton (two very white guys with tangential-at-best relationships to rhythm and blues), he hit a home run. Jazz and the blues are sounds that welcome people, but pop-aimed rock is the addition that adds the repeat listen quality and mystical universal appeal.

This one is gobsmackingly amazing and reaching a whole other level of outstanding.

PHELPS: Damn, now I gotta go listen to Maggot Brain all day.

“Atlanta” has been Glover’s first major creative undertaking to blow me away and if this is the next, indicative step of some sort of drawn out psychedelic outburst, I’m here for it. His voice is hitting that pain point just right.

I might have to go dig up and delete my anti-Gambino tweets like I did for Fat Tony.

Ruben: I have to be honest, I slept on this track when it first came out. After listening to it on repeat in between revisiting ATCQ’s entire catalogue, I feel stupid for not getting into it earlier.

I think Glover is about to (a) surprise a lot of people who, like me, have always accepted him as a multi-faceted talent but never really took his music career all that seriously; and (b) introduce a bunch of people to the musical influences at the heart of this track. While it may be too early to really make this sort of judgement call, I think Glover has a chance to represent the sort of discussion about hip-hop’s connection with the past that groups like Tribe and Digable Planets (among many others) started with “hip-hop jazz” at the turn of the 1990s.

This track – one that is layered and chaptered with a finesse that few other artists can even come close to – hopefully represents the catalyst for people to look back to artists like Sly and the Family Stone and realize not only their immense talent but their immense influence on modern day music. Along with Kendrick Lamar’s genre-redefining recent work, young artists like Glover who grew up on their parents’ vinyl are pushing music forward by looking back and trying to encapsulate in their production the raw emotions that made them want to pursue this art craft. Suffice it to say, this track is amazing and his new single “Redbone” has me feeling all sorts of ways.


A Tribe Called Quest: “We the People….”

If you’re reading Rec-Room, you damn well know that last week A Tribe Called Quest released its first album since 1998’s The Love Movement. Today, we talk about the kinda-single “We the People”, because, well, we need to talk about a song, and this one got the lyric video treatment. Like all of the album, it was produced by Q-Tip.

MARCUS: If only because A Tribe Called Quest have been doing this rap thing three times longer than Kendrick Lamar, We Got It From Here makes To Pimp A Butterfly – aka the best soul album released in 40 years – sound like it was made by a group of virtuoso teenagers attempting to win their middle school talent show. “We The People” is the best track on We Got It From Here, and thus is actually the song we needed to best motivate a country now unified by African-American creatives desiring a better society in the United States.

It’s in all of the known entities doing what we know they do better than 99% of the people who have ever done what they do that makes this one hit and stick better than what Kendrick and company did that makes this work. Instead of getting trapped in the wonder that was Kendrick’s artistic evolution, this is more like more of the same, from the absolute best. Delivered nearly two decades after the last time we heard it done so well, given the current sociopolitical climate, it’s right on time.

LEAH: This song is amazing, and the live tribute to Phife on SNL made me tear up, I’ll confess.

Down to the nitty gritty of the lyricism: It’s nice to see Tribe conveying more deeply political sentiments than “Mr. Dinkins, will you be my mayor?” – especially now. I know this album would have also done well under a different president-elect, but the fact that we have the one we do really imparts a darker and more urgent message to their verses now, giving their first album in this century a relevance that artists producing for the last sixteen years haven’t achieved.


Run the Jewels ft. BOOTS: “2100”

On November 9, the day after the election, Run the Jewels released the second song from the forthcoming Run the Jewels 3, “2100”. Here was the note from El-P and Killer Mike: “for our friends. for our family. for everyone who is hurting or scared right now. here is a song we wrote months ago. we weren’t planning on releasing it yet but… well it feels right, now. it’s about fear and it’s about love and it’s about wanting more for all of us…” Like all RTJ, it was produced by El-P, with some help from BOOTS, who previously appeared on Run the Jewels 2‘s “Early”.

PHELPS: Man, I just listened to the whole thing waiting for Boots Riley.

MARCUS: I’m not here for Run the Jewels making agit-pop trap raps aimed at kids that walked out of school to go to the turn up festival. It just feels, well, like the laziest road possible and makes them sound like 40 year old rap dudes kinda just hanging out and drifting into permanent semi-relevance.

LEAH: Yeah, this is not the intensity we’ve come to expect from RTJ but I can see it fitting in at the end of the album like “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” or “Angel Dusters” on their RTJ 1 and 2, respectively.

This isn’t a knockout, but I’m betting it’ll fit in with the rest of the album when it’s released.

PHIL: El-P is great at two kinds of beats: lean and mean jackhammers that register on the Richter scale, and more expansive, celestial productions that feel like visiting the planetarium on acid.

We know this. We’ve known this for a while. What I’ve also come to accept over the past four years is that the dude’s taste in rock is kind of corny.

Or, like, he just really digs the soundtrack to Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice”?

Take “Works Every Time”: A monster beat, but he somehow makes Paul Banks sound like Linkin Park.

Or just look at the Run the Jewels records. Why is Until the Ribbon Breaks breathing the same air as Jamie and Mike? Does anyone get amped about BOOTS’ hook to “Early”?

That’s not an indictment of El-P, per se. I’ve just come to expect that each record is going to have one or two songs with kind of cheesy guitars and a vaguely ’80s pop hook. “2100” is one of those songs. And that’s OK. The rapping is still good. And maybe people need the breather.