Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Girl Talk and Freeway (and Jadakiss!) lay waste to the rap landscape; The Roots’ conscious flame burns eternal; and Pharoahe Monch and Diamond D make us fall in love again. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Aaron Miller of Austin’s North Door, Joshua Phelps, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
Girl Talk & Freeway ft. Jadakiss: “I Can Hear Sweat”
Greg Gillis is best known to the world as mash-up artiste Girl Talk, but his last offering to the world was in the role of a more traditional hip-hop producer, working with Dipset’s Jim Jones on “Believe in Magic” back in 2011. And it was pretty great – a fairly traditional rap track that rode a sample from Honey Cone’s “Want Ads”. Now, three years later, he’s giving that sort of gig another shot, teaming with Philadelphia rapper Freeway for the mixtape EP Broken Ankles. Its first single, “Tolerated”, featured Waka Flocka Flame, an Enon sample (!), and a batshit crazy video. Now we get the single edit of “I Can Hear Sweat”, which boasts a Jadakiss appearance. The whole thing is out now, and rumor has it, a Girl Talk record of his typical sample wizardly isn’t far off.
Marcus: Leave it up to boring music execs to drop a Girl Talk record featuring a once super-relevant stick-up dude in 2014. The execution here is great. Girl Talk does what he does (and Sound Exchange/ASCAP/SESAC scream and cry foul) and Al-Qaeda Jada does what he does, too. But it’s lacking that next-level verve that a track like this requires to make an impact. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m absolutely demanding more out of my rap music in 2014, and my EDM, too. Kaytranada working with Mobb Deep was cool in theory, and Skrillex or James Blake with Chance the Rapper doesn’t really get me excited, either. If all of these records could be A-Trak and Lex Luger or Flosstradamus remixing “Piss Test” I’d be happy, but alas, they’re not. This is only the beginning of a trend, though, so, let’s hope for better. As much as you’d think it’s true, not everything tastes good with peanut butter, y’know?
Leah: Banger alert. I’m generally not on board with Freeway, but despite a slow start on this track, he picks it up and ends strong. Jadakiss coming in for the kill. This is a dance track; it’s bass-heavy and well-layered with quirks and perks to maintain interest (and for dancers to yell along with). Girl Talk is no stranger to making people move, and his moving into OG lyrics instead of vocal samples seems to portend just increasingly viral verses and choruses, not throwaways.
Phil: This just in: “I Can Hear Sweat” is named Best New Personal Trainer.
Aaron: Whoa. This is pretty nice. Not sure how Girl Talk ended up the hardest dude in a room with Jada and Free , but his beat is big, genetically modified bananas.
I’ve always been down with Freeway. You can hear the stress in his voice when he raps. It’s the kind of stress that says, “Hey, I might rob you at any second, but it would just be to feed my kids, so don’t take it personal.” Real shit. So many decent raps, so many labels, so much struggle. It’s a shame the Roc-a-Fella Foundation didn’t shake out a bigger and better career path for him.
Jadakiss has always been my motherfuckin man. Nobody does that off-duty Street Don shit like Kiss. At this point he’s like that grizzled old cop Hollywood archetype… weeks away from retirement when the big case drops, always getting pulled back into The Game.
People are going nuts for the B.I.G. samples and references these days. I like it.
Jose: This is a dope track, and I can see why most of you like it. [*Run the Jewels circle-jerk starts again.*] This is some aggressive production by Girl Talk, and Free and Jada bring it. It has a great “industrial” quality, really gritty and tough. As Aaron mentioned, both of these guys have a grizzled air, the kind of flow that says they’ve been there and done it. And this beat! It’s so high energy all the way through, and I particularly like the latter half of the song. Girl Talk still has an ear for what makes people want to get moving, even if this is not his typical dance track. Working in the confines of original production, he seems to be doing pretty well.
Aaron: RTJ 4 LYFE! Time is a flat circle jerk.
Phelps: It was March 29th or 30th, 1996, about a week after the Elite 8 in NCAA basketball, and I was dribbling my Hardees ACC ball with a titty in it sheepishly around Jeff Davis basketball courts. Just across the city line from Newport News to Hampton, the courts had fiberglass backboards and were a good place to get my clumsy white ass kicked by players who were hungrier and just better. Mid-morning you had the early risers, the OGs, dudes who had enough old man strength to pull out wins but were mature enough not to fuck with you too much about the domination.
Around noon, it’s noticeably hotter, people get chippier, and no one wants to lose and have to play on the two perfectly good and near empty far courts. The game is on the court closest to the parking lot. Slowly, one, two, three cars roll up. Conspicuous not for the first two, which if I remember correctly (chances slim) they were rimmed-up, tinted-out Acura Legends, 95 or before (the best years,) but because the third was a drop top Bentley. There was Kelly Rodgers and Paul Michael – part of a Bethel High dynasty that had won basketball championships a couple years before – and out steps Bubbachuck aka AI aka Allen Iverson, a week removed from getting booted out of the NCAA tourney by UMass and, by all observable means, signed to an agent and done with Georgetown forever. I felt him though: fuck exams.
“Your heartbeat sound like sasquatch feet.”
Iverson stepped on the court and nonchalantly claimed next game, despite the 15 or so waiting, for him and his squad. Now, people who play pickup ball understand that even with 30 people outside, there’s always a dearth of basketballs. Basically there’s a dearth of anything you don’t want walking away or can’t chain up. My tittied out Hardees ball was something I could part with though. Sitting there waiting for the game to start, Bubbachuck strolls over and asks to hold the ball to warm up. Duh. I’ll never forget that he uttered his ask in between constant, demonstrative rapping to the mean-as-fuck Big Poppa b-side, “Who Shot Ya,” a record considered too violent to be put on about three albums and potentially the harbinger of the entire Tupac/Biggie tragedy.
“I can hear sweat tricklin’ down ya cheek.”
Iverson and his squad stepped on the court and early on it was close. Some old dude started jawing ’cause he stole the ball once from Chuck. Next play, Iverson drives right to the lane, spins left, jumps off two feet and rams the ball down this dudes throat to a chorus of cheers and basically a goddam dance team on the sidelines. Tombstone. Game over, motherfuckers. Poor old guys didn’t even get to finish the game. And he didn’t even take his chain off either.
This Girl Talk song brings back one of the most raw basketball memories I have, and who better to do it than Freeway and Jadakiss, the semi-retired flamethrowers who may not play on the main court anymore, but if they step on it they’ll still most likely fuck you up? Like Iverson is doing overseas now. The second half has been getting Funkflex rewinds in the money green Isuzu for the past 48 hours. I love the fact that Greg Gillis is such a hip-hop head that he can, for the moment, relax on his ultra lucrative sample records and shows, and make something for hip-hop purists that don’t dance on stage in neon and fairy wings. Bang on, Greg.
The Roots: “When the People Cheer”
Leah: The most consistent group in hip-hop (could it be because they have a day job that pays the bills?) is just doing what they do. This track’s beautiful beat and serious subject matter doesn’t take away from its fun. There’s almost nothing from The Roots that hasn’t been thought-out and enjoyable, and this track is no exception.
Marcus: Execution. The brilliance in this track is in the execution. The one thing I will say for The Roots is that their time with Fallon has increased the level of precision in their craft. This one hits at the place in the ever-broadening venn diagram of hip-hop where classic rap aficionado and late-night television devotee meet. It’s unquestionably impressive. But would we honestly expect anything less at this point? Of course not.
Aaron: The Roots are good, ok? Real good. Black Thought is hands down a time-tested pro. Questlove is now officially more famous than the rest of the band and a beast on the drums with the second most recognizable Afro of all time (shout out Angela Davis).
So don’t freak out when I say that I just never liked them all that much.
I don’t like the Beatles, either. It’s not because they aren’t musical geniuses/icons and masters of their craft: It’s because they bore the shit out of me. I have grown to bear this burden with caution and humility over the years. There are no friends in this lonely outpost and I am the only sign of life in this desolate wasteland of opinions and assholes.
This track is by no means bad. We can all agree that the Roots are obviously incapable of failure and the best thing since sliced records, but…
Hip-hop with a live band has always been a slippery slope to me. It rarely works for me. When I hear Black Thought rhyme on other shit, it moves me for real. He can hold his own across two generations of hip-hop culture, but there is something about the slippery-sweet funk stylings of the Roots is lost on me. It never ever ever bangs hard enough. It may just be that I am a soulless hater hell-bent on taking everything around me down a peg or two. It may be my finicky production standards. I like my Rap Shit made with machines. I don’t care if you use a whole goddamn orchestra – just run that shit through the MPC and give it back to me. I wanna hear the chops and the breaks and the zigga-zigga you know what I’m sayin? I play a large handful of instruments and I live and breathe on them, so it’s really shitty of me to feel the way I feel, but I can’t help it. The Fan wants what it wants.
Guys, I feel like I just kicked a puppy in the face. What is wrong with me?
Marcus: Aaron. All good. The funny thing with The Roots (and with Stetsasonic when I was a child) was that both bands just slightly deviated from the rap formula. Rap’s supposed to be made with machines. That’s the whole point – that disco was so ornate and associated with rich assholes that rap came along with its drum machines and stripped-down style to make dance music accessible in the hood again. If you’re not moved by The Roots, it’s okay. They’re a boutique rap thing (which is wonderful), but still, boutique. When the jazz band geeks get together and play “Peter Piper” with woodwinds and traditional drums, it’s supposed to show the universality of the genre. That’s why you feel like you’re kicking a puppy, because that’s what The Roots are. The cute animal meme of rap. Again, that’s not bad. In fact, it’s wonderful because if everything was Diamond D or whatever, then I surmise there’s a whole lot of people who would have never been down with rap in the first place.
Jose: Aaron, I totally get what you’re saying, and I’m kind of with you. I’ve always enjoyed The Roots, but found it hard to get very excited about any of their stuff. And I have given it a fair crack, perhaps moreso than I would for a band/group of lesser reputation. While this song is beautiful, and beautifully executed, I’m struggling to connect to it. So, I’ll just listen to it, let it wash over me like the rap-nursery-rhyme it is, and wonder how the hell Jimmy Fallon got such a great gig (and whether I should join the Groundlings).
Phelps: I think the beauty of what The Roots do is that not only are they an impeccably connected group of virtuosos, they have amazing studio chops too. I think more often than not their records sound less like live instrumentation which make the live shows so much brighter or at least a different animal. This is extremely noticeable on the jump from Do You Want More!? to Illadelph Halflife. For those who who have skipped their shows, there isn’t much more praise I can give to Black Thought’s murdering bars over the popular hip hop and top 40 beats of the day.
I haven’t listened hard over the second half of their career, but I may have to turn that around with this record. This wont be as big as “You Got Me”, but the melody is as beautiful and Black Thought just as earnest. It’s nice to know they’re still the hardest working band in hip-hop when they could just sit back for that paycheck.
Phil: I support this track in principal, but, personally: zzzzzzzzzz. The hook is zzzzzzzzzz squared. So much about this track feels boilerplate. Black Thought’s verse helps set the course straight, but by the time he shows up, I’ve already skipped to Black Milk’s “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst”.
Diamond D ft. Pharoahe Monch: “Rap Life”
Pharoahe Monch has a new album out next week, PTSD, which according to the Queens rapper “chronicles my bout with depression and the time I was hospitalized from a severe asthma attack. They treated me with heavy dosages of Prednisone steroids and antibiotics intravenously. The side-effects wound up fucking me up!” But “Rap Life” isn’t from that somber album – it’s a cut from “high-powered boombap shit” purveyor Diamond D. The legendary producer/MC has an upcoming record of his own, The Diam Piece, out this summer. In addition to Pharoahe Monch, guests are expected to include Pete Rock, Rapsody, Talib Kweli, Skyzoo, Hi-Tek, Alchemist, and Camp-Lo.
Leah: Diamond D is real strong on the head-nod game on this track. I’m a long term fan of Monch’s, all the way back to Organized Konfusion days, but I don’t know if his verse on this track lives up to what I’ve come to expect from him in terms of complex, alliterate and well-delivered flow. His semi-satire of rap life rides a blunted, curving edge but it never really comes around in the end, making it feel empty ultimately.
Marcus: I’ve been a fan of Diamond D for 22 years now. He’s always been the key to helping me fit in when people wondered if the nerdy guy had a cool bone in his body.
Back in ’92 I was a freshman in high school, and the only thing keeping me from getting perpetually stuffed in recycling bins by seniors was being able to recite Diamond D’s “Best Kept Secret” (“I dip and I dab like a Mike Tyson jab…) and “Sally Got a One-Track Mind” (“I knew a girl named Sally, her tastes were exquisite / Saks Fifth Avenue, bag made of lizard”). By ’98, I was “DJ Casanova” as a sophomore in college doing college radio at Providence College’s 91.3 FM WDOM. If you thought I had gone soft with my ALL R & B show that I hosted on Saturday afternoons, my favorite break to use (to show you I was still “hard”) was the Diamond D-produced “Hiatus” remix track for the single of the same name featuring the Cru. To this day, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard in not just rap, but music overall. Now, it’s 2014, and loudly listening to him with Pharoahe Monch on a track while riding the Metrobus yesterday earned me a dap and a knuckle bump from a teenager sitting next to me (who probably had no idea who was rapping). 22 years later, Diamond D is unassailable in his level of hip-hop cultural cool.
Aaron: This shit right here.
Marcus already said it best: unassailable. Diamond D and the DITC shit remains on a perfect pedestal forever. Chances are if you are a real Head, you knew about Diamond D a few years before everyone else and it made you feel special.
This is level up, Gold card member, lifetime achievement shit.
Pharoahe Monch at half speed is still light years ahead of your average rap cat. Always has been. Funny though, every time I try to spell his name I have to think of “Bring It On” to get it right. “Gimme the P-H, gimme the A-R, gimme the O-A-H-E/PHAROAHE/Crazy poison-tipped arrows are hitting you from all directions”
I like rap.
Jose: Damn. This this this. Absolutely fantastic song from beginning to end, and how about those horns? That James Brown “ugh!” that Slum Village would be proud of? I like very much.
As the most junior member of this panel, I’m not really familiar with Diamond D and Pharoahe Monch, but I guess my homework is set for this week.
Here’s some food for thought: How would you guys feel about seeing these guys perform this song with a live backing band? These horns deserve a live brass section playing them.
Phil: “Rap Life” is on some “No Uniforms” shit: Old heads taking old templates and old tropes, and somehow making it feel like the freshest thing on the planet. Also, Aaron clued me in to both.