Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Killer Mike and the Alchemist head out to the boonies; Atmosphere throws its hands in the air; and G-Side builds a statue. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Aaron Miller of Austin’s North Door, and Joshua Phelps.
Killer Mike & The Alchemist: “The Boonies”
Since releasing the behemoth R.A.P. Music in 2012, Georgia fire breather Killer Mike hasn’t done much without that album’s producer, El-P. Sure, there have been a handful of features – Chamillionaire’s “Reign Fall”, Yelawolf’s “Rhyme Room”, Big Boi’s “Thom Pettie” – but when it comes to his own stuff, El-P is his co-pilot. He’s make an exception, however, for “The Boonies”, a track from the mixtape to promote the Adult Swin’s The Boondocks. Here, he’s paired with L.A.-based boom bap maven The Alchemist, who we’ve discussed on Rec-Room for his recent work with Prodigy, Action Bronson, and ScHoolBoy Q.
Marcus: This is absolutely not a slight, but I think this is everything I liked about rap in say, 1990, all in the same song. I discovered just how much I loved rap in 1990, namely, Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, in 2008. I had just purchased a 256 GB iPod classic, with the purpose of having a way to physically carry around every song I ever loved, and every song by every artist I ever was a fan of too. Cube was on that list and his debut album was so much a great listen, but a great dissertation on the urban condition. When I hear Killer Mike on anything these days, I get those exact same vibes.
Hearing Killer Mike as a solo artist is akin to me hearing Cube as a solo and wondering why both of these guys weren’t enormous deals as solo artists from the start. Mike, like Cube, has one of those voices that feels like the aural equivalent of throwing a brick through a plate glass window. If you have that voice telling me a story about everyday life a crooked, racist cops holding him down, I’ll listen every day and twice on Sundays. Alchemist’s track is sinister here, and if you listen to enough Mike WILL Made It beats and FM radio fare, the menacing feel in this track has the same disruptive quality that the Bomb Squad’s work nearly 25 years ago had. Yeah…this is fantastic.
Phil: It’s nice to hear Killer Mike’s incredulity turned down to a simmer. El-P’s roided-up production is fantastic (see: a quarter of Rec-Room’s archives), but Mike comes at those things swinging a baseball bat and running a 40 yard dash. Which is what you need to do. It’s a matter of survival. In contrast, Alchemist’s productions – here and most everywhere else – never try to chew scenery. They’re richly textured, sure, but they pretty much lope along, giving an emcee a lot of leeway. (This is also why most Alchemist songs rise and fall entirely on the performances of the people who appear on them.) And Mike is more than up to the challenge here. No one is sending up the criminal justice system better right now. The fact that this track is stuck on a cartoon promo mixtape speaks more to the depth of Adult Swim’s pockets than anything else.
Marcus: Damn. Banger Alert!
Is Killer Mike just the greatest or what? I remember way back when I started writing here at RTJ Therapy. I said, “You just watch this Killer Mike, he’s gonna go places.” I mean, I never thought Killer Mike Room Therapy would make it this far, but look at us now.
Seriously, how does Killer Mike stay so hungry? How does he command so much respect? How does he threaten so much violence but never crosses the line into actual thug territory? He’s like that old dude who’s clearly over the hill but you know could still whip your ass, because he’s probably a trained killer or a Vietnam vet, so you call him sir and tip your hat. Most rappers, if you follow the arc of their careers, have highs and lows and moments of inconsistency. Some get better with age, some get worse, but it’s like Mike has always been like this: Smashing guest verses and wielding southern rap like a fucking giant hammer. You can go all the way back to “Rap City” (2001?2002?) and the flow is unstoppable.
Killer Mike just rules and after R.A.P Music and Run The Jewels, he’s really settled into his own lane. And Alchemist has never made a bad beat. EVER.
Atmosphere: “Kanye West”
Minnesota indie-rap mainstays Slug and Ant are back on May 6th with Southsiders, Atmosphere’s sixth full-length and its first since leaving Rhymesayers. “It’s a natural progression from the last record, The Family Sign, which was about growing my family,” Slug, a 41 year-old father of three, said recently. “I’m starting to think, ‘What is post–family man? What am I supposed to rap about now?’ I’m sticking to my roots, rapping about what I’m doing, what I think about. This record is – much like the other ones – a very detailed look at my life.” The record’s second single is “Kanye West” and it has little to do with Kanye West. Southsiders’ first single, “Bitter”, dropped a month ago, and to quote Stereogum’s Tom Breihan, “if it was about the group’s feelings regarding Macklemore wholesale jacking their entire style and getting famous with it, I’d understand.”
Marcus: All I want to do when I hear this song is write an entire screenplay about 8 Mile ten years later, and B-Rabbit being a successful, Tech-9 style indie rapper attempting to find love in Detroit and wanting to start a family. A little bit of High Fidelity combined with a whole lot of Singles with a whole lot of Love Jones. Man. There’s something about Midwest emcees where they get the blue collar stuff about rap being a craft better than most rappers from everywhere else. Thus, this is so evocative and on point. Seriously. I might get an Air BNB and knock out 100 pages over a week this summer. Just awed.
Phil: With the quality of Why’s introspective, white boy undie rap falling of a cliff in recent years, it’s nice to hear Atmosphere keeping the QC at least at status quo. I can’t say “Kanye West” speaks to 31 year-old me as much as it would have 16 year-old me, but maybe my soul has hardened to earnestness. Does anyone else expect Lupe Fiasco’s “Daydreamin'” to kick in after this production’s first twenty seconds? Dope video tho.
Aaron: This track is interesting, mostly because I don’t’ understand it. What is the “Kanye West”? The video treatment is nice, but it is so far removed from the subject matter of the song that it’s almost distracting. I don’t really have any profound insight on blue collar, middle-aged, nice guy raps. Atmosphere was always one of those groups that I didn’t pay attention to. I never bought the records. I didn’t really get in to the mythology of midwest rap dudes until later on life. Then I played catch up real hard. Until 2001, the hip-hop landscape, for me and a lot of fans, was like one of those maps from the 1500s where somebody thought they knew what the fuck they were doing and roughly where they were at by divine providence, and then the maps come out all fucked up, missing entire continents, and most peeps were none the wiser.
I give this one a strong 5. And fuck Macklemore.
Huntsville, Alabama duo G-Side broke up in the fall of 2012. “It was time to go elsewhere creatively,” ST 2 Lettaz told Spin when it was announced. “We’ve been doing records since 2004. You just grow up and grow out and that’s kind of the case.” And if ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova had never made music together again, G-Side still would have left behind a hell of a legacy with four good to great records, most notably 2008’s Starshipz and Rocketz and 2011’s The ONE… COHESIVE. But a year later, word got out that they had reunited, and now they’re queuing up the release of a fifth LP, Gz II Godz. Behold: The record’s first single is “Statute”, which was was produced, as usual, by Block Beattaz. [Note: This song isn’t on any platform aside from Audiomack. Steam/download “Statue” here.]
Marcus: I really want to like Huntsville, Alabama rap. Like, a lot. But the way guys from there get branded makes it REALLY hard for me to care. To me, G-Side are like the second cousins half-removed of the Paper Route Gangstaz, who were co-signed by Diplo back in 2008, to the tune of the Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas remix album. On that album is Diplo’s sumptuous remix of “Bama Gettin’ Money,” which was my bonafide anthem in the summer and fall of that year.
I have no idea what the PRG’z are doing these days, but G-Side were like their fresh-scrubbed relatives in the Scion money/co-signed by Fader and Pitchfork/tour dates sponsored by hipster-friendly alcoholic beverage game. Sadly, once I started writing and had access to the control agents in that game, made both these acts feel either a) disruptively trendy or b) possibly the unwitting beneficiaries of suburban white guilt. All that being said, this song feels like the remix of Drake’s trophies that Three 6 Mafia will never do, so given hipster love of all things Huntsville and Memphis, the space for this song exists. Do I want G-Side to win? Sure. Just like anyone who is talented and creative, they deserve the chance to shine. Do I want to see them win like this? Absolutely not. Will the music industry as presently constructed ever allow that to happen? No way in hell. Oh well, it is what it fucking is…
Phelps: This is some thump and circumstance I can get behind. Block Beattaz generally get me hype as fuck and this one knocks hard – a proper soundtrack for dropping statues from space on top of cities or whatever the hell it is G-Side is getting at. Rap started as a bragging mans game and that’s a hell of jab any which way you slice it. These guys are emotive and intelligent and if that mattered in rap right now, I think they’d get more shine. I just hope they don’t stay running on the mix tape treadmill that some of their contemporaries like Curren$y seem to be on.
Phil: Man, it’s always tough to praise a song after Marcus backhandedly ethers it. I just picture him staring at his computer screen, shaking his head, saying to himself, “Yeah, you would like this.” But, c’mon, this song is fantastic. G-Side have traded their cloud rap hovercraft for a life-sized Tonka truck. And this song traverses a lot of ground. Scion-sponsored rap is essentially pasteurized, and Curren$y’s music is boilerplate and half falling asleep. I don’t hear either of those characteristics here. “Statue” is a weird and ambitious song! I loved G-Sides ’08 to ’11 run, and the prospect of them coming back – with a reinvented sound, at that – didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but this wildly exceeds expectations. This is some “Prometheus” shit. I’m ready for Gz II Godz.
Marcus: It just feels formulaic as hell. But the formula works. It really does. And G-Side are talented. I just wonder what exactly precipitated their reunion – that’s all.
Aaron: Holy shit: “I’m a sci-fi, niggaa / Need wi-fi, nigga.”
I don’t even know what’s happening here. I think it’s good. I’m 70% sure that I like it.
This beat starts off on some 80s “Knight Rider”/ “Tron” shit with “Rocky” horns, and builds into some weird, filtery-ass production. This is borderline psychedelic for Trap shit. The snare is off the hook and the drums sound almost live.
Also, take a screen shot or something now, bitches, because this might only be the 2nd time I’ve liked ALL 3 SONGS. The Muse of Hate is still there but I’m having trouble focusing it this week, so I’ma keep it positive.