Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we take a double shot of Usher; Dilated Peoples make a comebackpack; and Atlanta upstart Rome Fortune pairs with Four Tet (again).. As always, our distinguished panel consists of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Joshua Phelps, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Leah Manners of Hip Hop Hooray and Weird City Fest.
Usher ft. Nicki Minaj: “She Came to Give It To You”
Usher ft. Juicy J & Migos: “I Don’t Mind”
“It’s gonna be freaking out of here, man,” Usher told the FADER about his forthcoming 8th studio album. “Space and sky, that’s what it’ll be. You look up, and it’s everything you can imagine.” That was back in March 2013, and while still don’t have an album title or release date, recent months have brought on a flurry of Usher singles. First came solo effort “Good Kisser” in early May. Now we have “I Don’t Mind” and “She Came to Give It To You” – a street single and an official single, both of which feature marquee rappers. The former is a love song to a stripper who doesn’t have to strip, but chooses to do so anyway because #empowerment. It was produced by Dr. Luke and features a nasty guest verse from Juicy, plus bonus chirps/ad-libs from Migos. The latter features Nicki Minaj – who had one of her biggest breaks on Usher’s “Lil Freak” in 2010 – and was produced by Pharrell, which should be immediately apparent to anyone who has ever heard a Pharrell production.
Marcus: I get the same creep vibes listening to these songs that I used to get watching Michael Jordan hit on GW coeds at MCCXXIII (now Dirty Martini) back in my young and irresponsible early 20s when he was a Washington Wizard in 2002-2003. It’s really difficult to become an older sex symbol, especially when being a sex symbol is the only career you’ve ever known, and you happen to be a musician when the industry is in the toilet.
Just like Michael Jordan sitting in a corner was still Michael Fucking Jordan, Usher in the club is still Usher. Both were/are still notable, but clearly just a bit past their primes and clearly still in the club based on name recognition alone. Neither were/are hot, young studs anymore, but their pedigrees of success are unassailable in their greatness. Thus, just as my heart broke when I saw MJ gloss over the composed (seemingly) classy woman more his age for the bubbly young girl I had unsuccessfully stepped to at the bar who was very attractive, yet still a drunken, stumbling mess, my heart weeps for Usher here.
Really, Usher? (And Migos and Juicy J, being Usher’s – still, but less to blame – aiding and abetting friends?) You “don’t mind” that this woman is a stripper? Just like I’d always want to run over to basketball’s most legendary athlete and complain, “you know she’s drunk, right?!?!?! You’re really not ‘enjoying her conversation,’ either!!!” Is Usher suddenly an altruist and accepting people as being decent humans regardless of their social standing or how they earn their keep? Or, is it that he’s aware that she’s sweating because she just popped that premium grade molly backstage and he knows that what’s about to transpire is going to be mind-blowing? Well, at least in the other (clearly “Blurred Lines” inspired rip-off of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”) track this week, his friend Nicki Minaj is still okay with aiding and abetting his apparent penchant for risque club liasons. If “she came to give it to you,” then there’s Nicki to “deliver the goods,” as it were.
These songs are so terrible that they’re certain to hit the top of the charts right now. Or, I’m the biggest Michael Jordan hater of all time. Yeah, when I was 24, I went home alone on TOO many nights. Though I couldn’t dunk from the free throw line, I WAS FLY, DAMMIT. MJ can kiss my ass.
Phelps: Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the dumb kids stumbling upon a railroad towards the dead body of a song that Marcus dumped a few days earlier. And then Kiefer Sutherland beats my ass and takes a Marlboro red from his rolled up t shirt sleeve.
So, “She Came to Give It To You” sounds like an outtake from the JT double album that’s just as forgettable. Big band sound, knockoff Nile Rodgers licks: Shit is mad boring. Summer is nearly over, dummies! Thanks for the mid-season sitcom replacement.
“I Don’t Mind” is hilarious in its absent-mindedness although I’ll never listen to it again. “If you dance on a pole; that don’t make you a hoe” – words of wisdom from Usher. To me, he just sounds like he doesn’t want to spend any money, money, money. Remember, as fellow ATLien Tip once said, it ain’t trickin if you got it, man. He ain’t worried about the things “they do” with her in the club? He must be too young to remember what Club Cheetah was like. Don’t worry though, Juicy J is here to remind him that what “they do” is try to “cut her up, and bust a nut.”
Phil: Damn, did Rec-Room get the “Grumpy Old Men 3” premiere exclusive? I really appreciate you guys making the time to hate on Usher. I know how busy your schedule is choking out baby pandas and telling kids Santa is a lie.
I like these songs. I like Usher. I like that he’s given up on eurotrash look that pervaded much of Looking 4 Myself. And I actually liked Looking 4 Myself, because for every overcooked, grasping-for-relevancy single like “Scream” or “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”, there was a low key gem like “Show Me” and “Looking 4 Myself” and “Sins of My Father”. I have high hopes for this forthcoming record. Nothing here persuades me otherwise.
How you guys are mad at “She Came to Give It To You” is beyond me. Pharrell’s been mining this sound well before JT and Timbo got to it, and people have been cribbing Nile Rodgers for almost 40 years. Ultimately, it should come down to whether it does those things well. And this is a well-executed, taut piece of pop music. It’s four minutes without an ounce of fat. Usher’s a pro. The live bass pops. The backing vocals flutter. Nicki crushes. The bridge at 3:13 is just awesome. The whole thing works, and it runs circles around, say, the two Pharrell-Usher pairings from Looking 4 Myself: “Twisted” (which tried to do something very similar sonically) and “Hot Thing” (where A$AP Rocky reminds you why you pay extra for Nicki ).
“I Don’t Mind” is admittedly a little more problematic. For the record, I don’t think Usher’s too old for the strip club. Dude’s only 35, and he’s flush with that Bron-Bron money. Who am I to judge? But, yeah, there’s a casual creepiness to this song that’s a little off-putting – the “I’m proud to call you my bitch” line, in particular. It’s not an age thing, per se. Just that it cuts against a certain respectful (if still perpetually horny) Usherness. That being said, I’ve plowed through that unease, because there’s still a lot to like here. Again, contrasted with the L-A-S-E-R-S of Usher’s last record, the minimalism of “I Don’t Mind” hits for me. The vocals are appropriately understated. The melody is an earworm. The Migos adlibs are hilarious in both in execution and their very existence – being brought in for adlibs is basically the recognition that your value is in shouting random things and not rapping. (See: Young Scooter on “Special”.) And Juicy J is reliably Juicy J. Phelps’ point about the dissonance between Usher’s stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold message and Juicy’s sleazefest is absolutely spot on, but I don’t mind.
Leah: I’ve listened to both of these songs twenty times and I can’t remember a single thing about them.
Jose: I’m with Phil on this one – how can people not groove to “She Came to Give it To You”? This is simply phenomenal, and while Usher has been around forever, he has consistently managed to reinvent himself and remain in the cultural conversation. This is an easy, fun, and enjoyable song by all of the players involved. There are no real vocal acrobatics by Nicki or Usher, but it’s a solid effort by both; they’re not exactly mailing it in, either. Pharrell goes back to the well of hits/fountain of youth he seems to have found somewhere between Norfolk and 1975. And as for me? I’ll be dancing to this shit at weddings for the next five years.
“I Don’t Mind” is really sonically pleasant, even with Migos doing their same schtick as always (which is usually enough to put me off real quick). It’s kind of jarring to hear Usher singing these lyrics, because his whole persona has always been more of the sweet/sensitive type… which I guess he’s trying to be here? Instead, his message of female empowerment turns into a creepily misogynistic anthem. I expect that from Juicy J – whose entire persona just oozes Memphis gangster – but from Raymond? Kind of weird.
Also, “I don’t mind” this series of recent tracks giving shoutouts to the ATL strip club scene. It’s really something else down there. There should be a BuzzFeed Quiz of “What your favourite Atlanta strip club says about your personality.”
Dilated Peoples: “Show Me The Way”
In May, Jurassic 5 released its first new music since 2006, “The Way We Do It”, a White Stripes sampling cut produced by Heavy D. Shortly thereafter, J5’s late ’90s / early ’00s West Coast backpack rap brethren (and current tour companions) Dilated Peoples followed suit with their own new music, “Good As Gone” – also its first song in eight years. This week, Evidence and Rakaa Iriscience followed that single up with “Show Me the Way”, the second taste from Dilated Peoples’ forthcoming Directors of Photography. The track was produced by Seattle’s Jake One and features the ubiquitous Aloe Blacc, who would still like everyone to know that he is the man. Directors of Photography is out out August 12 on Rhymesayers. The revival is on. Don’t call it a comebackpack. (Ugh.)
Leah: Jake One has a real talent for pairing productions and MCs, and this is a perfect example, because it could so easily sound like a throwback or old track, but the beat is just modern enough to sound crisp and suits Dilated perfectly. I was kind of expecting a verse from Aloe Blacc, but his hook’s solid. It just feels good to have Dilated back, honestly. They have a style and message that hasn’t really been filled since they left.
Marcus: Aloe Blacc really is “the man,” isn’t he? 20 years ago on “Mass Appeal,” Guru said that “like baggy slacks,” he was “crazy hip-hop.” For everyone who remembers the story correctly, Aloe Blacc started off as an emcee long before he was soulfully fist-pumping onstage with Avicii. For as many people in the world attempt to uncomfortably merge into the mainstream while maintaining their rap roots, Aloe Blacc does it seamlessly. Fom the brilliant (yet perfunctory) soul of “The Man” to this really well crafted Dilated Peoples cut, he maintains an excellence that’s birthed wholly in in hip-hop, but ultimately global in reach. Just like The Roots of late, he deserves praise.
Jake One’s production is jazzy, and that low end thumps with emphasis. However, it’s more organized, as if the samples were either played live, or snatched from the original in a much cleaner way than ever before. His production work here makes A$AP Nast’s “Trillmatic”‘s sampling of WAR’s “The World is a Ghetto” sound lazier than it did eight months ago, with probably 1/10th of the label budget, too. Quality doesn’t require commerce, it requires an intrinsic knowledge of execution.
Dilated sound like grown men here, the type of men who are unconcerned with trends and more concerned with style. Their style isn’t changing with the trends, and that’s notable. The best creativity comes from those who are 150% about being able to express 110% of their unique selves at any given time. Thankfully, there’s no turn up and anti-female rhetoric. As well, the positivist message in the song isn’t cloyingly sweet, it just sits and resonates slowly. Ten listens later and the messages grow in strength with each press of the play button.
Phil: Wow, I guess I still care about Dilated Peoples.
Rome Fortune: “Lights Low”
“Most of the time I’m with the producer, and we’re making it from scratch,” Rome Fortune told Spin earlier this year. “And I have a weird way of describing things, so I’ll be like, ‘Hey man, I want something that sounds like a laser gun shooting a dolphin underwater.’ Luckily, the people I’m working with get exactly what the hell I am talking about.” The 22 year-old Atlanta MC has received a lot of good looks from the producers of his hometown: Childish Major, Dun Deal, C4 and DJ Spinz all contributed to last year’s well-received Beautiful Pimp mixtape and 2014’s sequel. (Dun Deal also teamed with the rapper for this year’s Drive, Thighs, & Lies EP.)
But the biggest pairing for Rome Fortune thus far – well, at least with respect to the music blog game – is his work with Four Tet. The English producer has genre hopped everywhere for over fifteen years, and he’s tried his hand at at big name remixing, but he hasn’t done a whole lot of hip-hop production. In May, the two released “One Time For”. Now they’re back with “Lights Low”. Where this partnership is headed nobody knows. “I just wanted to come out with something that was very cohesive and easily digestible, but still fresh,” Fortune said as part that same interview. “I’m tired of trap drums. I’m tired of everything I’m hearing, pretty much.”
Marcus: Ugh. This song is what happens when you feed gremlins cocaine snorts with a marijuana chaser after midnight.
I can only call someone as boilerplate as Rome Fortune a gremlin. Related to this point, Future is a mogwai, defined by Wikipedia as an evil Chinese devil that reproduces sexually during mating seasons when triggered by the coming of rain. When fame and riches rained down upon Future in 2012, he certainly got wet, and as we all know, gremlins a) CAN’T GET WET, and b) SHOULDN’T EAT AFTER MIDNIGHT. Well, both of those things happened, and here we are.
So, while Future is Gizmo (the cute, cuddly gremlin that was loved, adored and became every child’s favorite toy of summer 1984, Rome Fortune is either Stripe, the lead evil Gremlin killed when exposed to sunlight (GREMLINS CANNOT BE EXPOSED TO LIGHT) or Grumpy, the Gremlin shoved into a microwave and fried until he exploded.
I’ll opt for Fortune being Grumpy (because, well, Stripe could easily be Rich Homie Quan or some other warbling trapper) because this track is just so damned underwhelming. Fortune’s working with Four Tet here, a dance remixer of significant renown, and just never really does anything with the production. It’s almost as if he’s rapping against the track, attempting to prove a point that he can flow on anything, instead of letting the nature of the track itself work along with his voice and create something unique, noteworthy and memorable.
For the record, I think somebody in Rome’s camp purchased a Four Tet outtake, as well, this is the worst of Giorgio Moroder meets trap. Or, Four Tet tried to make a rap track and completely failed. Either way, this entire experience was entirely too laborious and if I never hear a trap rapper mention “skeeting on someone’s back” over proto-electro ever again, I’m totally okay with that.
Leah: Honestly, I like the Four Tet production a lot; chill and wavy just like I like my summer grooves. Sadly, Rome doesn’t do a lot with it except at the hook, which I find distinctly listenable compared to his verses. Phelps, you wanna take first knock at a remix?
Phil: This whole thing works for me. I’m onboard with Four Tet’s “Blade Runner”/”Tron” pastiche, and regardless of whether Hebden created it for Rome Fortune, the Atlanta rapper settles nicely into its groove. We’ve talked about a handful of songs from traditionally electronic producers (Flying Lotus, Lapalux, etc), and more often than not, there’s a tension between the track and the emcee – the two just never seem to fall into lockstep. I’m not getting that vibe here. Rome Fortune’s laid-back, kushed out, Curren$y-indebted flow is a good match for Four Tet, and he absolutely gets extra credit for coming up with an actual hook where Curren$y would just repeat some shit. Plus, extra extra credit for letting the beat ride out its final minute. “Lights Low” makes me wish I was running through city streets at night in a light rain. “High” praise.