Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we learn to stop worrying and love Disclosure’s first straight hip-hop production, keep our hands firmly at our sides in the presence of Young Thug and Bloody Jay, and search for inspiration .in the words of Pete Rock and Rasody Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Aaron Miller of Austin’s North Door, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
Bishop Nehru: “You Stressin”
Markel Scott is a 17 year-old rapper from New York City suburb Rockland County. His stage name, Bishop Nehru, is a combination of Tupac’s character in “Juice” (Roland Bishop) and India’s first prime minister (Jawaharlal Nehru). To put things in perspective, the self-described “Musician, Producer, Director, Photographer” was born over four years after “Juice” was released. But the upstart has fans in the right places: With two mixtapes to his name, Scott was tapped to open for the Wu-Tang Clan’s European tour this summer, and has a full-length collaboration with MF DOOM in the works. Last week, he put out his highest profile release to date, “You Stressin”. The attention, however, can largely be attributed to involvement of the also pretty young, white hot production duo Disclosure. The song marks Disclosure’s first foray into hip-hop production, but the two have repped J Dilla throughout their brief career: They sampled the Detroit legend on “Grab Her” and dedicated the first half of their Essential Mix with BBC Radio 1 to him in August.
Leah: The production on this track is the real standout. Bishop Nehru is good, especially when he changes cadence around the two minute mark, but the electronic handclap & ambient groove of this production with just the right amount of flair to keep it from being boring is outstanding. Dat break at the end too. Dayumn.
Marcus: So this is where we are, huh? Hipster hip-hop nerd clickbait raps. Not mad at it, as it does what it’s supposed to do. Once you boil them down to their essence, Disclosure are mad paint-by-numbers. A little UK garage here, a whole lot of Dilla there, but very little of it feels inspired by truly original thought. All that notwithstanding, at the end of the day, we’re still thirsty as hell for the essence of what makes great music great. Thus, when the creative well dries up for those of us not wanting to explore too far outside the lines for the new influences, guys like Bishop Nehru benefit.
I’m not mad at this kid, though. I’ll agree with Leah that the cadence change kept me from tossing this into the cut-out bin of my mind, but the larger story here is that I don’t think I’m ready for an “all-Disclosure everything” 2014. Those kids are going to get flogged to death by a industry that is more ruthless than ever before. Between Mary J, DJ Premier and Sting already linked to them, now adding Dilla to the mix feels like marketing overkill. However, I know as much as I find this to be boring, there are millions more who want to lock into these grooves, even if it means bumping into the edge of a “Truman Show” reality. The lesson here is there’s infinite pool of limited, yet sustainable wealth available for those who demand comfort from the familiar.
Jose: Disclosure was one of the dance acts that surprised me the most in 2012/13, and here they show they’re talented enough to successfully take on a song in a different musical genre. Whether this translates to an entire album of rap beats, I’m not sure. But as a solo cut, I’m liking this very much.
Bishop Nehru has great delivery, and rides the kinetic beat quite well, never letting it get away from him. The more I listen to this song, the better it gets. I haven’t heard anything else Nehru’s done, but he has talent. I hope he keeps putting out great raps, and making interesting collaborations, even if it is hipster clickbait. Also: if he’s 17, he might have been born after Pac died? That’s crazy.
Aaron: THIS IS WHAT I’M TALMBOUT.
YOU KNOW WHAT I LIKE, PHIL. REAL RAP. SHIT WITH INTELLIGENT RHYME SCHEMES, WITH KNOWLEDGE OF SELF, PREFERABLY MADE BY DUDES YOU NEVER HEARD OF BUT WILL BE FAMOUS NEXT YEAR. BEATS WITH GNARLY FILTERS AND PANNING EFFECTS AND CHORUSES AND SHIT. THIS GETS THE “SNARE OF THE YEAR” AWARD.
Seriously, this is what happens when a kid finds a copy of Soundbombing II in the attic and just absorbs the best of 90’s rap straight into his bloodstream. I been trying to tell people bout Nehru for a minute. We need ten more of this kid.
Shout out to Disclosure. I am usually very distrustful of pretty white teenagers, but you guys seem OK. This production is on some grown folks sex shit.
Phil: I’m all for the appropriation of 90s hip-hop. Hell, I’m all for the excavation and reanimation of any form and period of popular music. But there has to be some sort of dialogue between the past and the present – some exchange of ideas. I think Disclosure does its part here. There’s just enough modernization of Dilla to make “You Stressin” sound fresh, even if it’s mostly a matter of instrumentation, and even if that is a product of budget.
Ultimately, though, it’s about what Bishop Nehru does with the production, and, frankly, that’s “just enough.” Like Joey Badass and A$AP Nast, he sounds content to settle for proficiency; to color within the lines. But there is a veritable chasm between doing that and what Danny Brown is doing on the first half of Old. And, sure, maybe that’s an unfair comparison, but while it’s great that these guys are revering the ancient scrolls, it would behoove them to also have a look at what’s happening around them.
Young Thug & Bloody Jay: “Signs”
To summarize Complex’s recent (and lengthy) article “Why Everyone is Talking About Young Thug”: Young Thug is having a bit of a moment right now. The 21 year-old’s most recent offering is a collaborative mixtape with fellow Atlanta citizen and wild man Bloody Jay. “We’re on fire right now in the streets of Atlanta, and we’re stoners, so you know, we’re the Blazers and Atlanta is Black Portland,” Bloody Jay told the Fader about the mixtape’s title. Black Portland is a mix of new and old material (most notably, “Danny Glover”), and “Signs” is a new one. Like the rest of the mix, production was handled by Brick Squad’s 808 Mafia collective. It also features Three 6 Mafia’s “Gang Signs”.
Leah: Quite honestly, “Signs” showcases a lot of what I dislike about hip-hop: glorification of crime and a money-over-all, misogynistic philosophy. But damn if their youthful exuberance didn’t catch me on this. It sounds like such fun crime! But also, gang violence is bad and you shouldn’t do the gang violence, kids.
Marcus: Some rap history here: We’re 20 years removed from the debut of Three Six Mafia and 10 years distanced from Gucci Mane’s first release. We’re also in a year wherein Waka Flocka Flame stands to likely be the rap cash king of 2014, because of his love of touring and forthcoming EDM affiliation. What this means then is that America absolutely loves the trope of “ignorant thug rapper,”and have welcomed him, his guns, and his bitches into our collective national consciousness and hearts. Thus, Young Thug and his homie Bloody Jay are allowed to rap about murder in a manner that follows an established, 20-year pattern of what has already worked.
Atlanta (and Southern) rap always worked better for me when it was driven by an element of “are we supposed to be hearing this in the mainstream?” I loved Southern rap when it was the best disruption on the planet, these “terrible” rappers getting over on the most tired rehashing of minstrel show-type tropes and all of us as fans feeling a guilty pleasure wash over us for loving what we’re being presented. So, yeah. Young Thug? I’m not sold on him, but we’re 20 years into this arc now, and Atlanta churns this shit out now like Detroit did cars, so it’s not stopping anytime soon.
But, yeah, in other news, Outkast is back. That’s the only Southern rap news I care about right now. They’re playing every festival? Cool. Wake me up when it’s all over. I just want to hear the eventual album.
Jose: Marcus hit on a crucial point here: this song is the product of a well-oiled, predefined system. This is “lowest common denominator” rap; a crutch for mediocre rappers and musicians to make a shameless attempt for airplay. And, much like other musical systems that preceded it (Motown, Nashville), they follow a script and template. Trap beat? Check. Clip noises? Ditto. Murder, boasting, objectification of women? You got it. And to top it off, we get a spelling lesson, in the spirit of Waka.
Are we to blame for expecting more out of our rappers? Or should we just accept that, much like in any other walk of life, there’s a lot more chaff than wheat?
Aaron: I can’t stop laughing. Brrrrrrrrrraaaap! These guys voices are killing me. The first dude sounds like some hood version of the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show.
Phil, please contact Tree and tell him I take it all back. I wasted perfectly good hate on a man who did not deserve it. If I could do it all over…
It’s so hard to peel today’s wack rap onion without crying. It really does get exponentially worse with each layer. These guys make Waka and Gucci look like Shakespeare and Stephen Hawking.
I understand that a lot of hip hop’s worst behavior is now grandfathered in, but there has got be limit. My line in the sand has never been subject matter – you guys know I’m all about some holes in the jeep. I just like my stupid rap done smartly. I mean, look at Jadakiss or Guilty Simpson (shit, even Dilla) or vintage Ice Cube, 50 Cent, MOP, Eminem, ANYTHING FROM HOUSTON. A cold 50% of the rap I like is steeped in violence, so I’m not really taking the high road on this one. I just require some art in there, somewhere under the bloodstains.
Also, what does this mean: “…and we’re stoners, so you know, we’re the Blazers and Atlanta is Black Portland”? I don’t get it. Black Portland makes no sense. It makes me laugh only because I imagine Young Thug and Bloody Jay dressed up like the Fred and Carrie in the Feminist Bookstore but that’s about it.. I’ve never been good with strained sports analogies. Doesn’t Atlanta have some pretty cool team names already? Does Portland know about this? I don’t even think they have a Trap in Portland.
Phil: Is there some Waka and Gucci in here? Sure, ok, but it is a fucking slog to get through those guys’ mixtapes and records, and I’ve probably listened to Black Portland ten time over the last week. Front to back. I think that’s mostly because of what Leah touches on: There’s an energy – in each rapper’s delivery, in Young Thug’s haywire cadence, in 808 Mafia’s surprisingly varied production – that I find infectious. I hear a lot of Da Drought 3 in this, and, no, I do not take the comparison lightly.
“Signs” is one of the more overtly hard tracks on the mixtape, but here, as elsewhere, parsing lyrics seems kinda beside the point, because I legitimately can’t tell what these guys are saying half the time. And even when I can, these guys are such freaks that it’s hard to take seriously. Hip-hop could use more weird. Young Thug crossing over is great for hip-hop. Sometime I wonder if Ol’ Dirty Bastard stepped on the scene today and not twenty years ago, what Rec-Room would have to say about that voice.
Pete Rock, Lecrae & Rapsody: “Be Inspired”
On Tuesday, 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records releases compilation / mixtape / declarative statement Jamla Is The Squad. The collection showcases the label’s roster of rappers, producers, and friends, and on “Be Inspired”, we get a little bit of everything. The track was produced by in-house beatmaker Khrysis – a North Carolina native who’s half of The Away Team and a member of The Justus League (not to be confused with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League). Labelmate – and fellow Tar Heel – Rapsody bats clean-up on the track, after having the spotlight all to herself on Jamla Is The Squad‘s first two singles, “Illuminaughty (Chinchilla)” and “Betty Shabazz”. Joining her are the resurgent Pete Rock and Christian rapper Lecrae.
Leah: Pete Rock is sounding a little rusty on this track, and that makes sense since we don’t hear his voice too much, but it’s kinda comforting to nod my head to his bulky, disconnected flow. Rapsody is continuing the level of quality I’ve heard from her on this track – she’s by far the best verse, and maybe the only “inspiring” one.
Phil: Pete Rock’s ad-libs are invaluable here. I would have no idea how to pronounce Khrysis and Jamla without him. Also, my dream in life is to have someone following me around, backing me up, like Rock is for Rapsody here.
Pete Rock may be rusty, but he sounds better than ever. [Ugh!] His voice alone – its knowing character, its lived-in timbre – goes a long towards selling “Be Inspired”. [Woo!] It’s not easy to pull off this chorus, but he does. [Tell em!] This is what we want Common doing right now, and not screeching, “We are at w-a-a-a-r!” [Oh my god!]
Rapdosy sounds pretty great here too, but, man, you can’t be a lyrics rapper and come out of the gate with “So ahead of my time / They sayin’ I’m 34.” A for effort, but she’s got some sandpapering to do.
Marcus: Jamla’s one of my favorite labels. I love it when folks are smart enough to know the industry well enough to game it, cash out, and then re-invest in themselves. That’s some super next-level Black Panther and Yippie thinking, so I’m all for it. 9th’s sure taken his sweet ass time in pulling this together, but the finished product is so dope that he could take five years between projects and I wouldn’t be mad at him for it..
Phil, what you don’t get here is that the album is perfect because of its imperfections. Jamla leaves that pop in the vinyl, and still loves Rapsody even when she’s even the slightest bit off because, well, “SHE’S RAPSODY, SON!” As well, to Leah’s points, “THAT’S PETE ROCK, YO! AND GURL…YOU KNOW THEY HAD TO SPEAK ON THAT BULLSHIT MAINSTREAM CORPORATE AS…yeah…we supposed to be POSITIVE AND INSPIRING, BUT YOU KNOW, ILLUMINAT…” you know, Leah, you know. Jamla is a movement in the truest and most organic sense, music for rap people who love rappity raps, hippity hops and boom ba-doom boom kicks. They’re an under-served community, so this will always work on name and recognition before anything else. To be crass about it, you have an orgasm when you see the woman walking down the street, so though she’s ready to make love to you, you know you can’t and all you end up doing is cuddling and go to sleep. It’s a formula, and it works.
Jose: It feels like I’m always talking about stuff that reminds me of 9th Wonder, so thanks for going to the source (or as close to it as possible), Phil. Khrysis is trying to emulate the master, and does a good job at it – the strings, the little piano riff in the background, steady rhythm section with the occasional jazzy accents. Classic.
Pete Rock’s voice received an extra helping of gravel, and he drags it over his verse and the mini-chorus. Lecrae does a good job of keeping the energy up, even if the subject matter is a little pessimistic. Rapsody comes in to shut up shop, and does a good job – I find her verse to be enjoyable, even if Pete Rock’s panting and whispering is a tad unsettling.
Aaron: You leave Pete Rock alone. He’s a hundred years old and made up sampling. Rap Game Coltrane. I love this track. I love 9th Wonder. I love Rapsody. Lecrae gets down as usual. This is a solid piece of positive rap right here.
I like how Pete rock just spits with this casual authority that says, “I made up your whole style son. Now go get me a glass of water little man – I got a legacy to maintain”
I’ve also been having some pronunciation issues too, Phil. I thought Jamla might be an acronym or maybe some kind of ethnic word I should over-pronounce.
Jamla, like Pamela… Godammit, uh makes me wanna rap like: Take a picture with ya camera / Amateur with no stamina / Cuz I smoke too many camels, bruh.
[Yo, sound man, turn my mic up, turn my mic up.]
You don’t even know. Just wait til my shit drops. I’m gonna be a problem for 2015.