Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Jeezy and JAY Z have seen it all and live to tell about it; Young Thug, A$AP Ferg & Freddie Gibbs rub slime over Salva and Nick Hook’s “ice-trap;” and Statik Selektah assembles a hip-hop head’s dream posse. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Joshua Phelps, Aaron Miller, Mark A, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Leah Manners of Hip Hop Hooray and Weird City Fest.
Jeezy ft. JAY Z: “Seen It All”
A year ago this week, JAY Z released Magna Carter… Holy Grail, an LP that most would agree didn’t quite live up to its lofty titular ambitions, but nevertheless sold a boatload of records. (Even without the Samsung deal’s ballot stuffing, it went platinum.) Word on the street is that Jeezy’s latest single “Seen It All”, which features Hova, was a leftover from those sessions. Why the song didn’t end up on that record remains to be seen, but it will make Jeezy’s forthcoming fifth studio album. In fact, it’s the title track. “This is my street origins. This is probably my first album where I can explain and let niggas know where I stand. In layman’s terms, the statute of limitations is over with.” Jeezy said recently of Seen It All, scheduled to be released on September 2nd. Its first single, “Me Ok”, dropped back in late May. “Seen It All”, meanwhile, falls into the tradition of Jay-Jeezy pairings that includes “Real As It Gets”, “I Do”, and the classic “Go Crazy”.
Phil: Goddamn. This song is on some “KIll Bill” shit. Everyone involved is forgiven for past transgressions: Jeezy for half-cooked singles like “Me OK”, Jay for Magna Carter, Cardo for almost giving this beat to Big Sean. It’s all good. This is perfect.
Aaron: This is nice. The hook is immaculate. The throwback, elder statesman vibe is much needed from active, real-ass dudes that are not actually old in real life, just rap-old. I like that the hip-hop universe is held down by a handful of 30-40 year-olds that talk like they are Lord Of the Rings Wizard-Elf old – like they remember when The Game was just a swirling cloud of hot gasses before The Streets were formed.
It’s like a watching a glacier. We didn’t even notice when Young Jeezy turned into regular Jeezy, because it doesn’t matter when your career started in 2001 (which is technically 1300 Rap Years away).
And say what you will about HOV. No rapper has aged as well (I suspect weekly transfusions of Pharrell Blood?) or effortlessly adapted to all facets of a rap career. No rapper has a Hood Pass and a White House connect. No other rapper actually has the hottest chick in the game wearing his chain and the attention of world leaders and movie stars. Beef and crushing irony aside, he will eventually become the hip-hop Belafonte.
Marcus: Everything about this is great. Foremost, I think Drake coming at Jay sideways recently actually straightened Hova out, so he’s back to talking about things he knows very well. One of my favorite songs of the past five years is Jeezy, Jay and Andre 3000’s I Do (Remix), which is one of those amazing “rap hall of fame” moments that everyone forgets. Actually, people forget about Jeezy all the time, as well, the type of raps that he specializes in being so commonplace these days.
Well, everyone from Schoolboy back up to Pusha is influenced by the Snowman, and I’m absolutely certain that he’s spilling his guts on these bars, but doing so in a reflective manner. There’s something really significant about just casually dropping lines about a day in the life of a big-time drug dealer like it ain’t no thing at all. Jay’s bars are crazy here, too, as anytime we get to here cold-hearted remorse from Jay Z when he’s become the President of Hip-Hop Culture is kind of incredible. It’s as significant as when Obama visits high schoolers in Chicago and talks about doing drugs and being a knucklehead. Though these bars sound slight, they’re actually really profound, and I hope nobody loses that in all of this gravitas being delivered as a radio single.
And, yeah. Let’s also mention that when the old heads find somebody to basically flip your hit single, you’ve pretty much made it.
Jose: Holy shit. Yes, yes, yes. This beat is both delicate and explosive at the same time, just digging into your ears and chest. I was just talking shit about Jay Z to Phelps last night, saying how he hasn’t really done anything of significance in a decade, with the exception of Watch The Throne (when Kanye was coming at his throat). It seems that Hov the Elderly needs someone threatening to piss on his Gucci loafers to rouse him out of his Picasso money stupor, and Jeezy is bringing that Atlanta fire here. Props to yet another Magic City shoutout. I look forward to this banger blowing up.
Phelps: Can’t really follow that immaculate reception. But I’ll try. I suspect the reason this wasn’t on Jay-Z’s album is because that record was a piece of soft-ass dog shit I scooped up in a Samsung phone box (easily 12×14 inches right? They’re basically Apple IIe computers) and dumped into Runco’s actual recycle bin just to be an asshole. The only way this record makes it on Holy Grail is if Jeezy is taken off and Bleek is put on in order to make Jay sound that much fiercer. And not to say he isn’t fierce here, he is – I’ll take this any day over him rapping about Blue Ivy or Beyoncé. If I wanted dad rap, I could listen to… I don’t even know – one of these country/rap collaborations, I guess. By now there’s probably those historical signs in VA and MD charting where Sean may have or have not moved bricks or pebbles but it’s a fable we all love. Jeezy, aka 10 Chainz, is pumping coke rap with no cut here. The sounds from his grill can spark up nostalgia. I love it.
Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs & A$AP Ferg: “Old English”
Last spring Nas and Decon co-founder Peter Bittenbender raised $1.2 million to relaunch the street art, music, and culture publication Mass Appeal. As part of the magazine’s reboot, the two also founded Mass Appeal Records, a independent label that will release Nas’ music – including a Lost Tapes 2 – when the rapper’s Def Jam deal expires at the end of the year. Also on deck: Records from Boldy James, Bishop Nehru, and Fashawn, as well as a posthumous Pimp C collection featuring new production from Mike WiLL Made-It, Juicy J, and DJ Mustard. First up, however, is Mass Appeal Compilation Vol. I, a “collection of energetic street bangers and head-bobbing vibes” out September 2nd. The compilation will feature Future, Pusha T, Mac Miller, A$AP Mob, and Nas, who will perform a cover of Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal”, naturally. The record’s lead single is “Old English”, a Nick Hook and Salva co-production featuring the diverse voices of Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs an A$AP Ferg. The track is also set to appear on the latter producer’s Peacemaker record alongside “Drop That Bitch”.
Marcus: This is great. It’s not reinventing any wheels or anything, but it colors within the well-established lines of rap at-the-moment and nobody delivers a lyrically embarrassing performance. The hook is the real star here. “Old English, 800 capsules of molly” has the same level of opulent rap appeal as Kanye and company’s “Champagne wishes with 30 white bitches” on “So Appalled” or when Kanye says he’s going to “keep it 300 just like the Romans” on “Black Skinhead.” Similarly it’s mythical notion made real, and when low-key delivered on this drug-dealing, arrogant brag rap, it makes sense.
Gibbs bodies this one with a world weary Pusha T-esque “seen it all before, sold it all before” swagger, while Young Thug and A$AP Ferg’s too excited flows actually work here as they dip and dab like a boxer’s jabs against a great track from Brooklyn’s Nick Hook and LA-based EDM-to-trap lord Salva. Rare will I ever say that anything by Young Thug is appealing, while yes, A$AP Ferg can’t ever repeat “Shabba,” but this works as a perfunctory guest appearance.
Phil: My laptop’s recycle bin is a graveyard for ill-conceived Frankenstein posse cuts that make it three steps before falling flat on their faces. DJ Khaled is mostly to blame for this. Point being: The survival rate for these test-tubed all-star mishmashes is remarkably low. And if anyone here has played Salva’s “Drop That Bitch” since Rec-Room discussed it then… just, no, you haven’t.
So, a nice surprise “Old English” is. Salva and Nick Hook’s production is impossibly crisp. It avoids the usual “You Are Now Listening to EDM Rap” trappings that drive me crazy. Also: Best New Fingersnaps.
All three emcees hit the beat hard. Young Thug keeps it weird and adds another triple to his summer MVP stats – less than a month after “About the Money” and “Lifestyle”. Ferg sounds interesting without saying much of interest, which is a win for him. And the Who-Honestly-Thinks-This-Guy-Has-A-Baby-Face Killa plays the seasoned RA with class.
Sometimes a Frankenstein monster makes it to the countryside. Now we’ll have to wait and see if Leah and Aaron for it with clubs and torches.
Leah: Nah, I ain’t mad at this. Posse cuts don’t bother me like they do your recycle bin, Runco. As long as the beat and hook are good (they are) and they aren’t phoning it in (they ain’t), it can usually make for a strong track that offers a different landscape for rappers (see: “Ego Death”). This track isn’t much different from source material for these guys, but that just means they’re comfortable. I’m not blown away and, as Marcus said, it’s not original, but it’s not terribly formulaic either, making a solid track.
Aaron: Everybody on this track is invisible except for Gangsta Gibbs, ho, because the beat bangs so hard. I’m a sucker for whatever voodoo shit Salva works on what could be just another Trap beat. It might be the distortion, or tension in the beat, or the empty spaces that other cats would cram with gunshots and laser beam noises – I don’t know, but it’s definitely a different recipe. The Nick Hook/Salva combo really appears to be serving up some 2 star Michelin Trap with the same bullshit ingredients everyone else is using to force-feed me sleepy garbage. All in all, we aren’t breaking any molds on this one anywhere but the beat, and even then it’s more of a subtle indicator of an ongoing shift in Rap and EDM culture that inevitably leads to a highly marketable fusion of genres.
Jose: This s’posed to have three rappers on it? Huh.
The beat is outstanding, absolutely top notch, and doesn’t even feel like it falls into the frankrenrap category – just sounds like a solid, amped up ice-trap beat (much like the sub genres in indie music, you can fuse “trap” to any adjective these days and get your message across in an effective, if pompous way). The track has impressive kinetic energy and left me wishing it was at least a minute longer to keep fleshing out its ideas. We all seem to agree that Salva is at least putting out some interesting shit – whether the rappers do anything of note with it is beyond him.
All three guys are technically impressive here, but I think the song falls flat because their voices and styles are so sonically similar. It doesn’t quite feel like a posse cut, because I had to actively focus to try and tell when the transitions happened, but I’ll take this over another DJ Khaled track any day.
Phelps: Salva is outdoing himself here. He’s just stingy enough with the bass while shooting twinkling keys over horror movie piano and finger snaps. It’s weird man! But these are some weird dudes on the track nestled around Gibbs. Young Thug is growing on me – and maybe like a fungus – but I re-listen to most of the tracks he’s on which is more than I can say about a lot of singles these days. The dude legitimately makes me LOL when I think about how he slipped a line about Ortiz uploading selfless into the hook. What? I don’t know. Keep slimin’, whatever dude. You’re funny.
Gibbs predictably goes hard – it’s all fun and games until he brings the lyrical chopper in and tells the cops they’re gonna have to murder him. His homage to Young Thug in the first half of the verse works much better than A$AP Ferg, who does his best off-strip Vegas impersonation, I guess. I mean, how many times he gonna say “bando?” IS HE IN MIGOS? Jesus. Good thing is I can skip this shit back to the front since he’s the last and worst.
Statik Selektah ft. Action Bronson,
Royce Da 5′ 9″ & Black Thought: “The Imperial”
For the second summer in a row, East Coast mainstay Statik Selektah is set to drop a collection of songs featuring some famous friends and up-and-comers. This year’s album has a title (What Goes Around…) and a release date (August 19th), but no tracklist as of yet. We do, however, know two songs that will make the cut: Lead single “Carry On” – featuring Freddie Gibbs and Joey Bada$$ – and the recently released “The Imperial”. The latter track features three familiar faces: Detroit rapper and Eminimen cohort Royce Da 5′ 9″, Roots’ frontman Black Thought, and Queens heavy Action Bronson, who recorded a full-length with Boston producer back in 2011. (Earlier this year, Bam Bam hinted to BYT that Statik Selektah would have tracks on forthcoming Mr. Wonderful too.) “Here’s the manual on how to rap,” the producer said of the song on Facebook.
Mark: All I have to say is that this track is real dope. It’s hard to think of a more interesting MC trio of talent and character (I often think of all-star duos, not trios – it’s more difficult). Statik is always steady and has great taste. Extended Play was one of my favorite albums of 2013, and he is certainly keeping boom-bap alive and well.
Marcus: I feel like I need to be leaning out of the window hollering at girls with bamboo earrings or stunting on crews of lame dudes while in a station wagon of dudes around me smoking blunts at the Queens Center mall when I hear this. This is that outlandishly good throwback rap, the kind of rap that makes you behave ostentatiously and do things like rob a hipster in 2014 on U Street for his hypebeast retro Converse Weapons cause he doesn’t look like he has the swag to wear them right.
Foremost, Action Bronson calls himself the rap Scott Disick. That line doesn’t mean a damn thing, and that’s what makes it so damned great. I think I’ve run that line back five times because it’s clear that Bronson doesn’t know how to even begin giving a fuck anymore, and we should be thankful for it. Royce da 5’9″ came through and walked on this track and kept it pimp suit and gator shoes smooth, which given his lyrical acrobatics on most Slaughterhouse tracks is unexpected, yet well delivered. But, yeah, Black Thought shows his ass off here. On The Roots’ …And Then You Kill Your Cousin, he marched like a Black Panther soldier staying in line with Questlove at the front, but now, when the leader’s not looking, he breaks rank and does all sorts of kung fu histrionics on the beat, all throwing stars and leaping front kicks, S1W maneuvers and Japanese martial arts katas included. It’s the type of performance that makes you leap out of your seat and make people around you wonder why you’re cheering at absolutely nothing. Of course, you know your excitement to be borne of the joy of just another day in being overjoyed that “real” rap is still breathing enough to see another day.
Phil: When that gospel choir first hit, I braced for fire, but “The Imperial” ultimately leaves me cold. It’s like a mid-90s Merchant Ivory production: the source material is interesting, the cast is pedigreed, and the score is elegant, but it never congeals into something all that interesting. And, yes, Black Thought is Anthony Hopkins in this scenario. Someone get that man a Golden Globe for these bars.
Aaron: Surely Runco wins an award for sneaking a Merchant Ivory joke onto a rap blog. Well played.
Bronson. Check. Live as fuck.
Royce. Check. If there was ever a rapper that was due twice the fame and 10 times the money, it’s 5’9″. You can hear the entirety of the Detroit legacy in his rhymes, and his punchlines are the shit.
Black Thought. Check. I have risked exclusion and derision from my beloved hip-hop community for hating on the Roots and loving Black Thought at the same time.
I also can’t explain why I love Statik so much? He is the one of the slickest most understated producers out there. Always consistent.
Jose: All three tracks this week have brought their own kind of energy and distinct identities, and this one in particular has the flow of the theme song to a TV show from the 1970s. Absolutely stunning musically, and the attention to detail with the horns, strings, little piano accents… spectacular. I would love to see these three pull this stunt at the Bohemian Cavern, with a live backing jazz band, as Bam Bam eats some baklava from the Greek Spot next door between bars (fuck, that’s delicious). Considering Bronson is putting money on the Wiz, it’s totally possible. Overall, this is some raucous, celebratory shit, and goddamn, it’s fun.
Phelps: Yea, this shit bangs hard as fuck, mane. The choir, the strings, and the piano swirl dizzily around a jazzy horn sample that the Beatminerz would surely have jacked for Black Moon. I love how Bam Bam and Royce impress but get out the way so Thought can work, and work he does with about three times as many bars. A sucker for basketball references, I get my Wiz shout outs from Bronson, and Royce’s Runnin’ Rebels play is immaculate, while Thought shouts out 757’s own A.I. Pun tried to tell us 15 years ago how nice Black Thought was – we should listen. He bodies this shit – it’s nice to cover someone with the skill to dismantle a track so precisely and definitively.
Jose, I’ll pick up some berets and smokes and meet you in the Caverns.