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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Justin Bieber goes to the club with Migos; 50 Cent reunites G-Unit; and RiFF-RAFF does some kokayne with Diplo. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus DowlingPhil R, Joshua Phelps, Aaron Miller, Damion M, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners. Also, we are proud to announce the start of Rec-Room’s “Summer Inturn Down For What?” program. Our Inturn of the week is Morgan Day.

Justin Bieber ft. Migos: “Looking For You”

Rappers now have a history of appearing on Justin Beiber songs: Future, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Chance the Rapper, and Nicki Minaj have done it, and the list goes on. (We’re not even going to touch Kanye and Raekwon’s remix / Wu-Tang mashup of “Runaway Love”.) Still, when “Looking for You” surfaced last week bearing the credits “featuring Migos,” it still turned some heads. Despite the ubiquity of last summer’s “Versace”, the Atlanta chirpers are hardly household names and their music has been almost entirely focused on the trap . But here it is! Coincidentally (*wink*), the trio dropped their latest single, “New Atlanta” – with Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug, and Jermaine Dupri (!) – late last week too.

Marcus: In 2002, a unique pop pairing occurred when on his debut solo single, former ‘NSync lead singer Justin Timberlake teamed with Clipse, the then fresh off the streets drug dealing rap tandem from Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Like I Love You” was Justin’s first single, and it’s a homage to Pharrell Williams’ note-perfect pop production chops that the collaboration worked so well. Now, 12 years later, Justin Boeber’s looking to mature himself and well, while he doesn’t have Pusha T on the track, he has the similarly pop-dissonant Migos (yes, there’s a corollary there that likely says that “Grindin'” then is 2002’s “Versace,” but, that’s a whole other sad conversation).

This song actually works because pop radio sucks so hard right now. In an environment where Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse” sets the bar at its highest point, this is the trickle down of what that bar sounds like at its lowest point, a lowest common denominator pop song for 16-year old girls illicitly discovering marijuana and beer bongs, and the 26 and 36 year-olds who remember just how much fun that moment really was for them.

From Clipse, to Migos. Yep. That’s pretty much all I have to say about this.

Phil: I’ll admit upfront that I’ve never listened to any of the Bieber mixes that Leah’s sent me. Is this kid always such a vanilla bean? He makes Chris Brown sounds like the Dos Equis dude. But I’ve been living off a steady diet of Jeremih, TeeFLii, and Ty Dolla $ign this summer, and even though those lovable creeps favor west coast minimalism to this song’s Euro-trash dance-pop, my heart is basically as open to “Looking For You” as it will ever be. And setting aside Bieber’s non-presence, I’m into this. Migos sounds awesome! I’ve been writing off these guys’ long term viability for the past six months, because they’ve basically made the same song over and over again and it is exhausting, but they slip into this sort of big budget production pretty seamlessly. If Usher had just kept this song for himself, I would ride so hard for it. As is, I will leave it to the DJs of the world to jump straight to the 1:50 mark.

Phelps: Marcus, I see your association and agree that “Versace” is a pale (coke puns!) comparison to “Grindin’.”  I hate “Looking for You” a lot less than I expected too, probably because I thought it was going to be a Migos song. Their last mixtape was insufferable and these verses aren’t any better – not that I pegged them as a growth stock.  Bieber knows his way around a sugary hook and he’s a professional, but I don’t think having Migos on the track is serving the purpose of appeasing his sycophantic teen fans or bridging the gap to those growing into their 20s.  Even fangirls may be confused by this song dropping amongst his other singles from the past two weeks, including his racist joke and replacing girl with “n*gger” on “One Less Lonely Girl”. By the way, I trademarked Beigos in case they try to make a full record.

Timberlake , which has to be the model here, was much less a disaster – hell, he looked smart dropping Britney – and was able to convince young women to spend their money on him when it was discretionary income and not weekly or college allowance.  Grown-ass women want him.  I think Bieber’s manager, Scooter, is smart enough to take him off the shelf for a while and come out with a song not featuring 16 year old internet rappers, but with Lil Wayne and Lil Twist publicly disparaging Scooter, he’ll probably just throw his hand like Troy Carter did with Gaga and ride out on his Silicon Valley investments.

Leah: I guess it’s a weird thing to confess, but fuck it, I’m 31 and I ain’t scared: I’ve only ever heard two Justin Beiber songs – this and his 2013 track with Future (and the latter was just so I could make fun of Runco.) He’s obviously a pretty inoffensive white kid who is seeking some kind of transformative success equivalent to those pop/R&B singers who have incorporated the most popular genre to youngsters into their own (i.e. Marcus’s previous examples, Bey & Jay Z, etc). The only thing this track makes me think is that Migos would benefit from a back-up singer to distract from how stale their cadence is getting. I think you could transpose their rising-at-the-end flow over a trap beat and it would sound a lot like any Migos mixtape track.

Phil: MIGOS IS FIRE HERE. YALL SOME RAP ROUNDTABLE GAME SMOKEY THE BEARS.

“WOULD TELL YOU ‘BOUT MY MANSION, BUT I BET THEY WATCHIN ME”

[2 SECONDS PASS]

“MANSION OUT IN BEVERLY”

Damion: Is it me or does Bieber sound more grown man on this?  I actually think Migos let him down.  “Dunk her like Ben Gordon?”  So you “dunk” her at a below average to average level?  That’s cool.  Bieber should have gone with Kendrick or Meek.

Jose: Bieber sounds like every other R&B crooner trying to make a crossover hit from 2004 to now.  When sounding like “more of a grown man” means sounding like a pale (coke pun/white person pun!) imitation of Jeremih or Chris Brown… well, you’re not really the badass you think you are.  But what does Bieber care?  He’s laughing all the way to the bank. The truth of it all is I’m just bitter I’m not making Bieber money, and I’ll find any reason to hate on his “craft”.

Migos?  This is definitely them at their most majestic, at the peak of their powers, the zenith of Versace culture.  Think about that for a second.

Morgan: I’m probably the closest to the unfortunate role of 16-year-old fan girl. (I’m not actually one, but willing to admit the close proximity in age). Overall, I’m not surprised by anything.  His music is “growing” with his fans. 13: They swooned when he called them his future girlfriends. 16: They were flattered when his song says his “bitch is gorgeous.” It’s Bieber. He’s as hardcore as a suburban white girl painting her nails black. Migos sounds great, though. Inevitably the song will do well.

Aaron: Oh hell no. Somebody get me a chainsaw.

Phil, I am learning to appreciate the nuance in character of all these auto-tuned, Trap mumblers that everyone is tripping on. I see a value in Migos, perhaps even a necessary “Hunger Games” style distraction for the masses, given the state of genre-less self-hatred that rap is going through right now. I can yield on that, but my disdain for cookie cutter pop demagogues like Justin Bieber knows no bounds.

I love a good racist joke as much as the next light skinned black man, but something about this exaggerated, fetishy, lust for hood/street (read:black) affectation among young white pop stars like Justin and Miley gives me the creeps. (JT gets a lifetime pass)  I can’t wait for one of these little motherfuckers to catch a charge trying to hang out with dudes from the streets.

Marcus, if you took Bieber back to 2002 and tried to hook him up with Clipse, Push would’ve just burned him to death with hot fire and then snorted his ashes.

G-Unit: “Nah I’m Talking ‘Bout”

As Rec-Room discussed in February, 50 Cent is out of Interscope Records purgatory and back on his grind. This week saw the release of his much-delayed fifth LP, Animal Ambition, which means that 50 has been everywhere on the planet promoting it for the past few weeks. One of those appearance came last Sunday, when 50 performed in a prime slot at Summer Jam, the festival he was banned from a decade ago. Aside from a minor skirmish erupting from 50 wearing Slow Bucks’ stolen chain (or something like that), the big news from the performance was Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and Young Buck joining 50 on stage.  As background: The extent of G-G-G-G-G-Unit’s relationship for the past few years has been limited to taking shots at each other in the press. (None of them appear on Animal Ambition.) But now they’re buds again! And, lo and behold, the day after the onstage kumbaya, here’s a new G-Unit song. Also, apparently Young Money reject Kidd Kidd – who has been on G-Unit records since 2011 – is part of G-Unit now.

Marcus: This is the best of all possible occurrences if 50 Cent is actually serious about really wanting to run New York rap again. In retrospect, the best part of 50 Cent’s era as the dean of rap was that he didn’t “run New York” in the traditional manner of well, signing a whole bunch of New York dudes and putting his local homies on. Instead, what made G-Unit great was that it was like a “guns, drugs and pussy” rap all-star team, 50 bringing on the best from everywhere who rapped in a manner consistent with his image. It’s possibly the best of that era’s showcases of the far-reaching effects of New York’s legacy.

That being said, this song features 2004 raps on an uninspired 2014 beat. The raps (as per that standard) are on point. The production leaves a lot to be desired, though, and makes the overall song sound tired. For what its worth, I count Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo as two of my favorite rappers ever. Though their subject matter sometimes belies this notion, they know the art of rapping quite well. Here’s hoping that this is not just a one off recording, but that they’re motivated to putting in some work. Blowing the mainstream rust off of the crew could unearth a diamond or two yet again.

Phelps: It’s well documented that 50 Cent is the Future is one of my favorite all time mixtapes: 50, Banks, & Yayo jackin for beats like Ice Cube and running roughshod over everybody;  I-95 brick transport rap; NY crown snatching rap.  “You Should Be Here” is the hardest Raphaal Saadiq record he never made – think he came looking for royalties? People may not remember “How to Rob”, but even Jay Z had to respond, and this was before Interscope/Iovine, before the legendary 8 shells.

A driven 50 is a scary sight, especially with a crew in tow who loves selling blow more than Stitches and is at least 75% as aggressive about it.  He acquired 100s of millions, Mike Tyson’s crib, and even the goddess Vivica Fox off  it.

So, to quote MOP, how about some hardcore?  Why not?  Because I for one love this shit and could use some street raps with 50 singing hooks as a goof and not in earnest.  This song isn’t exactly that, as it seems to capitalize on the structure of a lot of “repetitive hook within a verse” pop-rap (like Migos’ “Wait On it,” tons of others) paired with a canned Casio beat. I’ll take it like a tester spider bag and hope the high test is around the corner.

Leah: First of all, new G-Unit and Dipset with Weezy on top? WHAT YEAR IS IT, GUYS?

As for the track, it’s straight throwback, though Hit-Boy’s done some updating on the beat.  This relaxed gangster delivery isn’t one we hear very often since the rise of trap – it’s confident and intimidating. And, even if it’s not really to my style, I have to confess I kind of missed $0.50’s singing.

Phil: There’s something hilarious and sad about how 50 will do absolutely anything to pump up his first week sales. “Oh, album’s coming on Tuesday? Um, G-Unit is back!  And here’s a free song!” The best is Young Buck fellating him: “50 said we ain’t never going broke!” This man filed for bankruptcy. He did the exact opposite of never going broke.

So, 50 is desperate for attention and the rest of G-Unit is just desperate, and we get this, and it’s pro forma and fine and completely forgettable. You gotta do what you gotta do.

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Jose: I think it’s generally good that 50 Cent and his cohorts are back on the scene, and putting out new stuff.  50 was on fire for a few years on the early end, but it all got bloated in the last days of Rome.  Maybe he had too many things on his plate?  The Massacre was only able to assault our ears, and as fun as it is to watch “Get Rich or Die Tryin’on a hungover Sunday afternoon, I can think of a few better rags to riches/gangster movies.  Basically, 50 diversified way too much, way too early.  While he has reaped financial reward, it’s kind of sad that none of those other guys really had any staying power without their leader.

I’m with y’all here in questioning whether this song should have been released as a single, and much less as the first.  Minor key, carnival-esque melody? Machine-gun drum rattle? Repetitive hook?  It’s a 2004 song with a 2014 facelift.  It just seems kind of hard to get into this.  Previous G-Unit group cuts were fun as hell, and caught all of the crew at their creative peaks, rapping over beats that had forward thrust.  This seems to plod, or creep, in place, and in a weird way.

Morgan: The idea is cool, I agree that the song is tired, but most importantly, this isn’t going to catch if no one can buy into what they’re trying to do. They owned it when they did it, but this isn’t them anymore.

Aaron:  I actually know what they are talking about. This is the kind of nonchalant street shit that is G-Unit bread and butter. Absolutely not original but exciting, nonetheless. Every trope in the Gangsta book, but you will bang it just the same. It is comforting and predictable like Mom’s Peach Cobbler…with a .40 cal baked inside.

I feel y’all on the production. It’s a little boring (more like Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z UNIT!!) I would’ve preferred the tried and true half R&B-half boom-bap formula I’m used to from this camp, but whatever.

Funny. I got caught in a 50 youtube K-Hole just this week. Old shit, new shit, beef, and a bazillion interviews. One thing is for sure: When Fiddy speaks, people/the whole (rap) world listens ,whether they like it or not.

He speaks with the crazy eyed confidence of a dude that would actually shoot you for any number of reasons if he didn’t have an empire to run. He can gracefully non-answer any question in the world like the sleaziest of politicians and is funnier than most working comedians.

I really tried to work in Miley and some light race-baiting on this one too, but it’s late and I have Hater’s Block right now.

RiFF-RAFF: “Kokayne”

RiFF RAFF’s Mad Decent debut Neon Icon was initially supposed to drop on September 18, and then it was January 28th, and then we heard nothing. “i HAVE NO iDEA WHEN THE NEON iCON ALBUM WiLL DROP, ASK @DiPLO,” he Tweeted after the second delay. (He later explained it was pushed back partly due to Diplo securing a $1.3 million budget for his videos.) But on June 24, Neon Icon will officially be upon us.  Unofficially, it leaked last week. Womp womp. Anyway, last week the Houston rapper also debuted the video for his DJ Mustard produced single “How to Be the Man”, and shared “Kokayne”, a song that serves as a carefully considered response to the economic theories championed in recent months by Thomas Picketty. Just kidding it’s about doing blow. Diplo produced it.

Leah: To be very honest, I expected a lot less from Jody.  This jangly pop beat suits his off-centered and unorthodox flow and this track, along with the other bangers on Neon Icon, are no-foolin’ party music. While “Kokayne” reminds me a bit strongly of 2003’s smash hit “Hey Ya” without the handclaps, it’s decidedly less suited for a wider audience than that anti-love tirade.

Aaron:  The only thing whiter than the keys of raw Riff-Raff is shoveling into his face is the demographic he is pandering to with this track. The Trashy Rock x Cocaine combo is a marketing no-brainer,I’m almost impressed.This is actually interesting but I’m not brave enough to say I like it.

It might be good. It might be terrible. Too close to call. I do know that somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is listening to this track.

Let me be clear, though: I am not one of those people that thinks Riff-Raff is some kind of self aware meta-rapper. There is no abstraction going on here. I saw this motherfucker hanging out of the window of a white Escalade during SXSW a couple years ago. I’m pretty sure he was just doing the same thing my dog Broadus does: smelling things, feeling the wind in his grill, and secretly wondering if he could get out if he really tried.

Phelps: This is definitely on some “Hey Ya, I Fell In Love with Cocaine, Hate to Say I Told You So” type ish.  I’m more of a fan of the absurd irreverence of RiFF RAFF tracks like “How To Be The Man”, but I’m interested to see if the 90s alt rock “X” stations still standing (the kind that would play stuff like this) will pick this up.  I don’t think the “hot” channels will, but, maybe?

Marcus: Foremost, let me say that RiFF RaFF’s album is amazing because the sum of the parts uplift the whole of the man who is this story’s protagonist. RiFF RaFF excels because rap has excelled and evolved to the point where a wacky white emcee can exist as not a “blank sheet,” but rather as “color-by-numbers.” For as “2005 top-40 Houston rap” as “How To Be the Man” is, this is like the leftover B-side from that car-chase scene that was supposed to be in Judgement Night. RiFF’s rap performance doesn’t really step up to the level of the song or whatever, it just seamlessly slides in to the production crafted to fit between his color-by-numbers presentation. Rap’s finally opened its doors wide enough to where anyone with the right team around them and enough know how from watching hours of Youtube videos can do it…and here we are. Kokayne.

Phil: This song exists for the sole purpose of soundtracking a film’s zany montage wherein our protagonists – four white dudes, natch – get fucked up, gamble a bunch of money, hit the strip club, trash the hotel room, and run from a squad of rent-a-cops. When’s “Hangover 4” dropping?

Morgan: When I heard the rock instrumental come in, I thought some massive bass drum was about to come in and fuck shit up. It never came.

Fortunately, he’s steered away from the absurdity in some of his other songs and made himself less of a cartoon. “Kokayne” could be his way breaking from being a caricature of a hip-hop archetype. I think the guy did what he had to do to get in the industry, and now he’ll start testing the water to see if he can make some subtle shifts away from the color-by-numbers and into a style that’s actually his own.

As for the “Hangover 4” comment, totally agree. The hypothetical four white guy’s anthem.

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

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