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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Weezy’s releases his first “Tha Carter V” single and it’s kind of a Drake song; Shabazz Palaces keeps Seattle weird; and Mase brings “Nothing” to the table. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus DowlingPhil R, Aaron Miller, Joshua Phelps, and Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious.

Lil Wayne ft. Drake: “Believe Me”

The first single from Tha Carter V.  Produced by Vinylz and Boi-1da.

Marcus: I enjoy the fact that Weezy and Drizzy are the only two guys in the super-mainstream rap hustle committed to telling the absolute truth in their rhymes. The “Mercy” recall in the hook for this song is pretty sweet, too. There’s something oddly endearing about Drake always standing behind his father’s reputation on the streets of Memphis as being solely responsible for him being able to walk in Anyhood, Worldwide and get love from street hustlers. Also, whenever Drake gets all Houston, it’s when he’s his most endearing because you see Drake the fan of rap who just wants to be signed to Swishahouse and call it a day. As well, when Lil Wayne remembers that he’s a father instead of an ad-libbing charlatan (as he does here), he’s actually one of the most gripping and intriguing guys in the game. Wayne’s maturation is the key to the whole The Carter V project, actually. More material like this and less like the mindlessly self-aggrandizing I Am Not A Human Being II, and this could be something major. I won’t listen to this 100 million times, but it is certainly representative of hopeful material.

Phelps: It’s not you Drake, it’s me.  You always sound like you don’t care and when you do put forth some energy, it seems contrived and corny like patting yourself on the back for making rap music for your label over 3 years ago when Lil Wayne was in jail.  Are if you still owed money from that era, do you have to keep talking about it?  In any case, you don’t ruin this song for me and your verse isn’t terrible.  It’s there, like furniture.

I don’t know if it’s Obamacare or what but I feel like Lil Wayne may have had to switch insurance and general practitioners from a felonious med prescriber (paging Dr. Juicy J?) This is the least cloudy and most clever he’s sounded in a long time and I fux with it.  Boi 1nda beat is that crack. Shout out to Toronto and Rob Ford.

Leah: Honestly, I think Lil Wayne getting off the lean because of seizures was maybe the best move for his health and career. He’s been sounding better and better lately, and his rhymes have become more complex – fewer shitty dad-joke punchline raps and more storytelling. I like this dark beat (it’s 5AM in Toronto somewhere, right?) and I like how Drake is the most pop thing on it, but also the thing that adds the least to this track. Anybody else getting the smell of Weezy season on the breeze?

Aaron: “Do y’all really know who you fuckin wit?”

Yes, Aubrey, I do. I’ve been trying to warn people like Rap Game Paul Revere for years. “THE WEAK SHIT IS COMING. MORE WEAK SHIT IS COMINGGGG!”

“When I’m on tour I do One Direction numbers.”

The fuck outta here.

At this point I’ve just come to accept that everybody loves Drake and I am alienating people at an alarming rate. I give up. You win. Drake is Hot Fire. Rosay is the realest gangster alive. And Big Sean is the Future of Rap.

On a positive note, Weezy is still Weezy. I will never say that he is not good. He wins the lifetime achievement award for the ILLEST rapper putting out bullshit. Punchlines still tight. Hood pass still intact.

Marcus, The H Town fanboy in Drake has the opposite effect on me. Any time he gets near that slow shit and the drawl steps up, I close my eyes tight and just imagine Paul Wall shooting lasers out of his mouth and Drizzy disappearing in a cloud of purple smoke.

It could happen.

Jose:  This beat is dark and chilling, and as folks have said before, manages to bring out the better side of Drake – the seedier, less self-satisfied side.  The reality of the situation is that people have already made their minds up on Drake, and there’s not a lot he can do to sway anybody anymore.  When he tries to go hard on a rap track, everybody brings up how he grew up in affluent Forest Hills, Toronto, and is, by extension, soft.  When he decides to be introspective, and connect with feelings, he’s a lil’ bitch, and again, soft.  And if he talks about how much money he’s made his label (which, in reality, is a damn lot), then he’s full of it and wouldn’t last five minutes on the streets, i.e. – soft.  This man could go the rest of his career without making another song, and he would happily see the rest of his days out at the #YOLOEstate, but instead, he keeps trying.  He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Which brings us to former King of the Rap Game, Wayne, First of his Name.  While this is far from the heady days of 2008-2010, when everything this crabapple Midas touched turned into gold, this is a strong showing.  As Leah mentioned, weaning Wayne off the lean is good for him, and ultimately good for us.  He has clarity. It’s refreshing.  His voice is even up an octave!  I think Carter V is going to be the first step on the road to recovery for Weezy, heavy on the features to carry the album while he tries to recover that inventiveness that seems to have been lost shortly after he picked up a guitar for the first time.

Phil: Well, this is efficient. If you’re Chris Parnell and you get off on fucking a new Mercury, then this song is probably for you. But, I don’t know, it’s summer time and this is the lead single from Tha Carter V: Is it wrong to want a little more ?  Young Money is like a group of card counters in Vegas. They’ve cracked the code for radio play and all they’re trying to do is collect all of the money without drawing any unneeded attention.  On “Believe Me”, that means rapping over something just Bay Area enough to slide into rotations. And, yeah, Wayne goes hard for a few seconds. Cool. He’s been so mediocre for years now that the slightest bit of life makes people feel like it’s Easter Sunday.

 Shabazz Palaces: “They Come in Gold”

“Herein bumps and soars Lese Majesty, the new sonic action of Shabazz Palaces. Honed and primal, chromed and primo. A unique and glorified offering into our ever-uniforming musical soundscape. Lese Majesty is a beatific war cry, born of a spell, acknowledging that sophistication and the instinctual are not at odds; Indeed an undoing of the lie of their disparate natures”: This is the opening paragraph of the press release announcing the new Shabazz Palaces LP, and if you are familiar with the Seattle art-rap collective’s cryptic and dizzying 2011 debut, Black Up, none of it should come as a surprise. The new LP is a seven-suite effort and features appearances by THEESatisfaction’s Catherine Harris-White, Erik Blood, and Thadillac. But its first single, “They Come in Gold”, is the work its core members, rapper Ishmael Butler (aka Palaceer Lazaro) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire. The whole record is out at the end of July.  Also: the vinyl version comes with a “Shark skin” jacket.

Marcus: I think it’s the ultimate 90s moment when Butterfly from Digable Planets is the rap artist on Sub Pop, right? That being said, there’s this veneer of unassailable cool that washes over me whenever I listen to anything that Ishmael Butler’s Shabazz Palaces project does. I’m actually fairly certain that I’m a close observer of the group because it perpetually affirms my years of growing into a love of hip-hop culture and alternative rock in the era.

That being said, this is musically intriguing and politically-minded, but overall feels dated and sounds boring. The problem with so much of rap right now is that the genre oftentimes either feels too ignorant to be believed or otherwise floating in a sea of same. This was one of the two types of rap I was supposed to love when hipsterism got really cool in 2008. It was either this, or guys in purple sneakers rapping over Justice, so, I can’t really give this any sort of cosign six years later. I mean, if indie rap you like for a few weeks around SXSW and Pitchfork writers give 7.8’s to is your speed, then, yeah. But, I’ve been down with this guy’s career for 21 years now, and I definitely think he’s not in a groove, but either digging a hole to hide from trap rappers carrying guns, or stuck in a creative rut.

Leah: I don’t know if Marcus and I are listening to the same track, because I didn’t find anything remotely boring about this track. It’s a churning, blurry slow clap with references and samples dropped into the stable machine of Butterfly’s lyrics.  The beat melts to his verse, and I fucks with it. 10/10 would tell other people to listen to their entire discography, including Lese Majesty.

Aaron: I, too, fucks with this.

Shabazz Palaces keeps it next level weird and the beat flip a third of the way in or so is fucking off the chain. What has always struck me the most about Shabazz Palaces is the fact that Butterfly, happy rapper from the 90’s, can be so dark and serious.

I know it was a good album, but I straight up made fun of people for listening to “Blowout Comb” too much. “Turn that shit off and put on this Smif N Wessun tape, shun!” The coded flow was always there but something about this project allowed dude to deliver some serious artistry, unlock untold levels of quiet revolution and hip-hop songs that don’t alienate. Also, much like Digable back in the day, there is a certain shrewdness and business sensibility in not scaring white people. #CHACHING

Shabazz Palaces is the shit live. Half the beats will be constructed from component parts right in front of your face. It’s two dudes sounding like five and the music rarely stops. You can throw your hands in the air and all that, but they will not wait for you nor demand your participation. They will be riding the next wave.

It’s got to be mad weird to be the only rap cats on a rock label.  Their record deal prob reads like my life on paper complete with clauses about code switching and touching their hair and shit.  I leave you with my personal theme song by local ATX Prog Wizard and fellow Black Guy, Cocker Spaniels.

Jose: From a sonic perspective, this track stands alone to anything else I’ve heard during my tenure at the Rec-Room.  I loved Digable Planets (Blowout Comb is still a personal favourite), but I haven’t really followed Butler’s career since.  This is… something.  I want to like it, but the track is giving me anxiety, more than anything.  Similar to Young Scooter’s “Disfunction”, this song also feels claustrophobic.  Doesn’t ever get a chance to expand and develop ideas fully.

Phil: Young Scooter and Shabazz Palaces in the same sentence. Do you hear something? That’s the sound of the universe breaking.

Mase ft. Eric Bellinger: “Nothing”

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back: Mase has returned again. Actually, he’s been back on the scene for a minute – showing up on Cruel Summer‘s “Higher” in 2012, and 2 Chainz’ “Beautiful Pain” and Meek Mill’s “Right Now” last year, for example – but now the even keeled rapper is preparing a proper comeback record, Now We Even. Also of note: After a decade of turmoil with Bad Boys Records – too long to summarize here – Mase is a free agent, and has been linked with possible suitors GOOD Music, OVO, and Maybach Music Group. Like December’s “Why Can’t We”, however, his new single “Nothing” has surfaced without any clue of who will formally release it. The song was produced by Nic Nac – the Bay Area beatmaker currently dominating radio via Chris Brown’s “Loyal” – and features L.A. singer-songwriter Eric Bellinger on the hook.

Marcus: This is completely pathetic and makes me actually believe that Puff Daddy is a musical genius.

The key to Mase is to put him on a track that has enough ear-worming things happening in it’s production that Mase’s minimalist style as an emcee powers the song over the top. Lo-fi and lo-fi just don’t mix, especially when it’s Minister Betha. He’s a rap emperor for certain, but he’s also one wearing new clothes. In Bad Boy’s heyday (and including his hilariously fun guest spot on Cam’ron’s “Horse and Carriage”) the level of production he was afforded could have made a hit single for anyone, but M-A-$-E was just so shockingly lyrical and oftentimes funny that he could take those tracks to another level.

Nic Nac’s track here features that same “Rack City” loop that’s been abused for two years now, and Eric Bellinger tries to do his best Carl Thomas but falls way short. I know Mase has to stay busy while his label situation is being hammered out, but getting these B-grade bit players actually flunking at giving an all-time favorite great material does him absolutely no favors whatsoever. I don’t think anybody wants new Mase until Drizzy Drake can drop 16, John Legend can sing the hook, and Yeezy is behind the boards. Anything less is ultimately unnecessary.

Phelps: Doesn’t the title just say it all?  To paraphrase and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the great “Mean Girls”: “Stop trying to make Ma$e happen!”

How is this financially responsible, even for leather jogging pant, lint roller or Wingstop magnates?  Is Ma$e the classic car in the garage that costs more time and money to take care of than it’s worth so rappers can show off to their friends when their exasperated wives or accountants aren’t looking?  Ma$e had ONE JOB and Marcus already alluded to it: He was the clown prince sidekick who elevated songs for Killa Cam, Total, and of course Biggie.  But even he doesn’t know who he is now.  No longer Minister Ma$e, no longer “now bitch what lace who, that aint what Ma$e do”; he’s now some sort of secular, feminist celebrator of women having their own money?  Is it the Ma$e selling the marriage counseling book through his ministry, or the Ma$e who filed for divorce from his own just months earlier?  GTFO, you sound like a damn fool Ma$e, and shame on you for letting the producer rip off the R. Kelly sample used in one of the meanest BIG tracks ever in “Unbelievable.”  Repent!  Repent!  Or go peddle this lousy, fake shit at Hillsong hipster church.  Not fetch, homie. Not fetch.

Leah: This song is pander-y and not very good. Honestly, I hated the Puff Daddy / Ma$e era of popular rap for exactly the reasons this song is terrible – it’s fucking boring. How about I make rap music that 85 year olds with walkers can jam to? Great! Mase, step up to the goddamn mic, son!

Phelps: Eh, can’t fully agree on that era considering BIG was a huge part of it.  For real who is paying for Mase’s studio time?

Leah: I am gonna get strung up for saying this, I know, but I thought BIG was pretty boring too. Don’t shoot me.

Aaron: Yes. Garbage. Agreed. Bad Ma$e. No biscuit.

Can we just skip to the part where Leah said “Boring.” My brain broke off when I read that. I was halfway thru putting on my “Dead Presidents” make up and was about to call into work so I could ride out…

…and then I thought about when BIG came out and the memories flooded back. “Party & Bullshit” came out and I did not like it, except that line about “robbin motherfuckers since the slave ships.” When Ready to Die came out I was really just into a couple songs. Mostly just “Juicy” and “Unbelievable”. The rest was kind of meh to me. The whole planet was tripping and I was all like “peep this Black Moon tape, shun.” I liked it, but I didn’t get it and then he was dead and then I heard “Niggas Bleed” and it clicked. Game recognize game. And now I run around pretending like I was down from day one when I was really listening to ’93 til Infinity for 4 years straight.

I will refrain from putting holes in your jeep. I feel you. I understand.  I get booed in public at least once a year for not liking the Beatles. Hate Distribution is a cold business. It takes resolve. Not liking Biggie gets you pelted with fruit. Liking Biggie too much may say things about your moral compass if you are are trying to stay on the good side of rap.

I bet Preem is mad as fuck over that unbelievable lick… unless he got paid, then he cool.

Jose: Had to force myself to listen to this a second time.  Really not a fan.  Bored.

Phil: Did anyone tell Mase that he was putting out a single? And that he might want to show up for more than 45 seconds?  Did he have somewhere else to be? This is pretty much an Eric Bellinger track. And what the fuck is an Eric Bellinger?  A TeeFLii he is not.

Man, it’s a good times to be a Bay Area producer. These dudes can’t make beats fast enough, which is saying something, since it literally takes thirty minutes to make one. Everyone wants this shit.  It reminds me of the early/mid 00s Neptunes gold rush. It’s smooth and sparkly and bounces and everyone needs it. And, personally, I’m fine with that.  But, to Marcus’ point, the sparsity of the aesthetic makes a rapper’s presence paramount.  This is why I can get fully behind YG but Sage the Gemini’s record puts me to sleep.

But, side note, holy shit, was not expecting so much negative energy about Mase. Dude still makes it sound as effortless as ever. “Clown prince” are a strong words!  Mase isn’t even funny!  He always felt to me like your friend who slept in, got stoned, and still pulled an A- on the pop quiz. The man is the inspiration for a whole generation of I(moderately)DGAF rappers.

I still have hope for the proper comeback.  Let’s hope it comes remotely close to how Marcus envisions it.

Mase-and-biggieFollow Rec-Room on Twitter, where we’re limited to 140 characters:  @marcuskdowling, @philrunco, @gitmomanners, @jrlopez, @dc-phelps, and @Aaron_ish

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