Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, T.I. and Iggy Azalea give tips on how to avoid mediocrity; Black Milk uncorks another soul sample; and Mac Miller goes daydreaming with ScHoolboy Q. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Joshua Phelps, Aaron Miller, Damion M, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners. Morgan Fecto returns this week for a second round of “Summer Inturn Down For What?”
Also, don’t forget to check out Rec-Room’s Best Rap Songs of 2014 (So Far).
T.I. ft. Iggy Azalea: “No Mediocre”
We checked in with T.I. just a few weeks ago, when he recruited word and gibberish spouting Atlanta phenom Young Thug for the surprisingly solid “All About the Money”. “Now he’s back with “No Mediocre”, and if he wasn’t riding riding the zeitgeist before, then he definitely is now: The single pairs him with Iggy Azalea (whose “Fancy” is on top of the Billboard Hot 100 for a fourth consecutive week, and is followed by “Problem”) and DJ Mustard (who’s arguably the most in-demand producer on the planet). Oh, you want more zeitgeist? How about a video filmed in Brazil and released during the World Cup? As for the forthcoming Paperwork: The Motion Picture, T.I.P. recently said we can expect it in September.
Marcus: This song is pretty amazing, and possibly the best thing we’ll hear Iggy Azalea do all year. Of the trillion rappers rapping on the planet, Tip Harris is the only one that released a World Cup banger. Not that I’m surprised, as having Iggy Azalea loosely related to the Grand Hustle squad has seemed to re-energize T.I. in a major way. Honestly, Iggy has been rap’s most sustainable investment for quite some time, and in finally cashing in with her, TI truly has won. If we cycle back to “Rubberband Man,” he’s one of the OG dons of the mainstream trap movement, and to take the movement “white,” global and wholly mainstream a decade later is fairly impressive.
“No Mediocre” can, as presently constituted be played in any club and on any radio station anywhere in the universe right now. “Rack City” really set the standard and this doesn’t deviate from that, T.I.’s proclamations about top-tier choices in women are aimed like a Cristiano Ronaldo cross to the “basic” male and female in us all, and it unabashedly reaches its target. I know I don’t want “No Mediocre,” and you don’t want “No Mediocre,” either. A populist hit with a ratchet edge, I’m totally down with it.
Iggy sounds like she’s rapping Lil Kim raps into a hairbrush. Again, given that we’re pretty much re-hashing the 90s and early 2000s, it’s pretty much on-point and astoundingly great. It doesn’t take much to win at mainstream rap right now, and in the color-by-numbers derby that the genre is becoming, Iggy’s crayon box is so much thicker and precisely on point that anybody else’s (yes, double entendre on purpose).
Damion: A song title fits a song, has nothing to do with it, or falls in that unintentionally ironic space. “No Mediocre” fits under option 3: It’s the most mediocre song I’ve heard all year. T.I. is garbage, and Iggy Azalea?!?! Who let my friend’s sister get on the mic? Can any white girl get put on now?! Leah, this might be your time. Drop 16 on this beat and we’ll see whose verse was hotter.
Leah: MY TIME TO SHINE
Morgan: I agree. Iggy Azalea’s part seems like a PC add-on to make it acceptable that TI “never fuck a bitch if she don’t do her hair” (me neither, but I’m not in my own music video featuring women in ill-fitting shorts). If she’s supposed to be the counterbalance to T.I., responding to him as a non-mediocre bitch, then she basically failed (pun intended.) However, I can still get down to this one. A song with steal drums can never by truly bad, especially when it manages to separate itself from Sebastian the crab.
Phelps: If “Rack City” is the template, it runs thousands of laps around this. T.I. is just T.I.red, and they’re about three years too late to vie for a credit roll slot in “Fast 5”.
Did Iggy write his verse? Dude rapping about hair more than she does! As for her, I gave her album a chance, because it’s cheeseball slumber party bullshit to me and I ain’t the demo – fair enough – but I am waiting for someone to just air her out. These are literally styles borrowed from JJ FAD. Damion is right about that fake inflection – this is like when old white people try to imitate rap. This is what they sound like. This shit is trying to be World Cup and came out soccer mom.
Aaron: Iggy, the other White Nicki. She’s an absolute Minaj clone who suffers from the same curse: Sold out to the mainstream sex beast. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Watch old Iggy YouTube shit and tell me there’s not a skilled rapper under all the ass and titties. I’m just bummed all over again.
And Tip. C’mon. Please don’t do this to me.
Phil: Some of yall got your string bikinis in a bunch. “No Mediocre” is the best Nelly song in a decade. Why isn’t this on the “Bad Boys 3” soundtrack? Why isn’t there a “Bad Boys 3”?
Ok, the verses are boilerplate and maybe a little embarrassing, sure, but who’s coming tp T.I. for lyrical insight? This is a Mustard production, all strobe lights and dried sweat. What matters is how T.I. sounds. And while Mustard tracks are a young man’s game – the eternal Titty Boi excepted – T.I. handles his business. After a few years on the mat, dude can still bob and weave, As for Iggy Azalea, I refused to get worked up or paint in pop cultural broad strokes. She’s the white-game Amil. She’s not ruining anything.
We’re a few days from July. What do we have to look forward to across the summertime rap landscape? There’s a big old vacuum in rap right now, and if T.I. want to fill it with poppy #hashtagrap like “No Mediocre” and sorta great street singles like “About the Money”, then I say more power to him. No one else is stepping up. Shake ya tailfeather.
Phelps: I just find “No Mediocre” to be one Mustard’s most boring compositions yet. If this is summertime rap, I feel sorry for the kids.
Phil: All Mustard tracks pull from same bag of tricks – the subterranean bass, the crisp clap, dudes chanting “hey,” finger snaps, an 808 kick. It’s almost laughable how basic it is. But the dude’s skill lies in how he filters those components in and out in a way that gives his songs undeniable forward momentum. Of course, most of those songs start with one defining element or instrumental pattern, and in the case of “No Mediocre”, it’s the steel drum sample. And, honestly, I’m no Jamie xx, but I do have a soft spot for steel drums. This songs just pops for me. So, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Mustard this year – I’m curious from a compositional standpoint what you think makes this track “more boring” than other songs. Because I’m not hearing it.
Phelps: It’s a matter of taste. T.I. seems to have gone backwards and Iggy is basically a 3D printed rapper of whom we can expect many, many clones I’m sure. Just not feeling it.
Aaron: I’m just butt hurt that T.I. has always secretly been one of my favorite rappers. Never mind-bending, but always on point .Just enough new swag for an OG. But this new TIP Daddy thing is a bad look. T.I. usually holds it down pretty solid. I suppose given the current metric for success and marketability, pandering to self-styled Bad Bitches and the current sportsball zeitgeist is par for the course, and I should expect it to get worse before it gets better.
The concept is trite, and the irony of “No Mediocre” is like a punch in the nuts. If I had my way, this song would go down the memory hole, TIP would do a whole album with Big K.R.I.T. or Killer Mike, and Iggy would be doing Grime tracks in her native accent with Chipmunk or JME or Wiley. How hot would that be?
Black Milk: “What It’s Worth”
Detroit emcee/producer Black Milk had a busy 2013: He released both an experimental instrumental LP, Synth or Soul, and a more traditional batch of rap, No Poison No Paradise, the latter of which featured the instantly classic “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst”. Earlier this week, he shared his first cut of new material this year, “For What It’s Worth”. He’s been coy about where exactly the track fits in the larger picture, but we do know Black Milk handled the production himself – something that should be readily apparent to longtime followers of the soul sample maestro.
Marcus: There’s this law of averages I have with rappin’ ass rappers regarding how much they care about the mainstream game that presupposes that seven out of 10 of the rappin’ ass rappers I love ultimately give a shit about being compared to guys who are attempting that “buy in/sell out” thing and are making ten times as much money as they are. Thankfully, for every Big K.R.I.T., Slaughterhouse, Freddie Gibbs and Jay Electronica that I love, there’s a Black Milk, I guy that I know unequivocally has zero fucks to give and just does the right damn thing.
For as much as there’s room in the game for French Montana, there’s equally enough room for Black Milk. When he speaks about how he doesn’t need to “work with the latest, just to be validated,” I actually believe him! Homeboy is “good from the borough, all the way to Euro,” which, if you can make a sustainable wage, should be good enough for anyone. To me, “What It’s Worth” likely should have as much eternal worth as Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Maximum effort, timeless quality.
Leah: So, let me preface this by saying I’m pretty in love with Black Milk, and it’s very difficult for me to say this song isn’t really doing it for me. It’s a bit boring, uninteresting, and cliche, and I only say that knowing he can and does do better.
Morgan: That was funky. True, it isn’t anything to rub one out to, but still pretty solid. Something spliced in there reminds me of early Eminem (say what you will, but he helped me get through some tough times in second grade).
Aaron: Second grade?! #WHEREWERETHEPARENTSAT.
Phil: I absolutely defer to Leah’s (and Aaron’s) mastery of the Black Milk discography, but as a casual fan, I’m into “What It’s Worth”. This is one smooth drag of a production. It’s all hitting for me: the pitter-patter of the drums; the lonesome vocal sample; whatever those woodwind are. This is the realm I want Black Milk to be operating in. Less synth; more soul. Lyrically, I’ll concede there’s some cliche, but the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts. Serenity now.
Aaron: Yeah. After Synth or Soul, this is a little sleepy, but I can’t front.: Black Milk is a Thing unto himself. He is a proven master of his own universe, and If he wants to get mellow, I have no choice but to accept it, smoke one, and move on. Plus, I just hear HOV in my head yelling, “UNLEASH THE FLUTES ON EM.”
Mac Miller ft. ScHoolboy Q: “Melt”
Speaking of busy dudes, Mac Miller dropped his second, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, on June 18, 2013. Since that time, he’s gone to release: 1) a collaborative mixtape with Odd Future affiliate Vince Staples; 2) a live album and outtakes collection; 3) a mixtape under his pitch-shifted alter ego Delusional Thomas; and most recently 4) the 90-minute mixtape Faces. All of this could be viewed as a legitimizing campaign of sorts: Miller’s attempt to prove that the success of Watching Movies with the Sound Off – a chunk of which is seriously fantastic – wasn’t a fluke. And if his appearances on other rapper’s records over the past year is any indication (see: Earl Sweatshirt, Riff-RaFF, Action Bronson, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib), at least his colleagues are buying it. This week, he spiked the football and celebrated the one year anniversary of Movies with the Sound Off by releasing “Melt”. The track features ScHoolboy Q and was produced by the legendary Pete Rock.
Marcus: There’s something almost cute about when I hear well-meaning, yet knuckle-headed hipster era emcees getting all mega-lyrical on the type of beats that Black Moon and Boot Camp already ethered 20 years ago. It’s not even like very rich classic era maestro Pete Rock had to make this beat either, as everything about this track just feels superfluous and expected.
However, there’s a real argument that can be made that Mac Miller is one of the most lyrical emcees in rap right now. He’s certainly the most lyrical emcee on Rostrum Records, and given how many venues and tours Wiz, Mac and crew are playing these days, Mac certainly deserves close attention being paid to whatever he’s doing. Hate him if you must (he’s a corny looking white dude, yadda yadda yadda), but he’s absolutely gifted. It’s just a shame that he’s gifted at an art that is so over-explored at this point that no matter how great he is, he probably couldn’t have broken the lineup and get even four bars on any Boot Camp or Native Tongues remix 20 years ago.
Schoolboy Q is the coolest D student in school – having already learned how to sling drugs, grades not really mattering to him. Thus, he’s always laying the cut, surprising to some, but for those who know, he’s one of the all-around best in class.
To make the basketball analogies I always make, this track is like watching Lebron and D. Wade win the NBA Championship last year and seriously trying to make a case that they’re the best tandem of all time. Then, an old head sons you by showing you Jordan and Pippen. What Mac and Q did was nice for its era, but pales in comparison to the best that ever did it. Is the comparison unfair? Yes. But life is also unfair, too.
Leah: I’ve never done a 180 on a rapper so hard as I have with Mac Miller. Movies was pretty amazing, and Delusional Thomas was compelling in it’s darkness. He can really do no wrong with me right now, and this song is only one example of deft wordplay and abstract ideation.
Morgan: This one’s a little too abstract for me. I get hung up on all the tinkling sounds. It’s like what someone who’s musical proficiency drove them into a profound madness hears in their head while sitting in a padded room, rocking back and forth.
Damion: Snore. There are 0 next level bars on this at all. To be honest I’m just not feeling these two rappers in general and this isn’t swaying my opinion.
Phil: I think by “snore,” Damion was commenting on the hazy daydream quality of “Melt”, and I’m inclined to agree. I absolutely fuck with this slice of stoner psych rap, and I’m left scratching my head as to why it was left off Movies. There was some quasi-rock glut at the end of the record that “Melt” easily could have replaced. It’s even stronger then “Gees”, the ScHoolboy Q cut that not only made the record, but got the full single treatment. So, yeah, “Melt” moves a few millimeters closer to Mac Miller fandom, which is obviously something I’m steadfastly resisting. Also: Can we get Pete Rock more work?
Aaron: Yes, indeed. You know I like that weird shit.
I’m not a fan of the hook, but I was an early advocate of young Miller’s general freshness and lyrical prowess. I think that his having settled firmly between Old and New school fans puts him in the pole position. He can do pop songs without offending me. He can get abstract with the best of ’em (peep that “S.D.S .” track with Flylo from a while back). He can freestyle like a motherfucker.
And, most importantly, in an era where every little mean-ass, at-risk youth rapper under the age of 25 appears to be one verse away from actually killing you, he seems nice. Like, the kind of Rap Game Leave It To Beaver nice kid that would be in your house rifling through the medicine cabinet or stealing your ipad, and you’d never suspect it.