Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Wiz Khalifa creeps on you and your friends with Ty Dolla $ign, Snoop Dogg, and DJ Mustard; Common takes Big Sean on a training day; and Kirko Bangz just wants to be rich. As always, our distinguished panel consists of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Damion M, and Weird City Fest‘s Aaron Miller and Leah Manners (of Hip Hop Hooray too)
ICYMI: Check out Rec-Room’s Best Rap Songs of 2014 (So Far) and From Bompton to Black Portland: 2014′s Best Rap Albums (So Far). You should also be planning your trip to Weird City Fest.
Wiz Khalifa ft. Snoop Dogg & Ty Dolla $ign:
“You and Your Friends”
“Just to get everybody – like, all the real creative people and the masterminds behind the shit that people see – to embrace their mind state and really have somebody telling them that their game plan is cool enough for the world. Cause I come from that whole underdog and that whole behind the scenes and then to the front of the scenes era. So, I just want people to know that I got em. I’m holding it down…I wanted to get away from the color of it first of all, because a lot of people associate black Hollywood with like the blaxploitation movies or just black actors in general. So, I just wanted to get away from the color and just more aiming towards an attitude and the more general purpose for everybody.”
This is Wiz Khalifa’s explanation for naming his forthcoming record Blacc Hollywood, which, OK. Got it now. Anyway, the record is out August 19. Rec-Room already discussed lead single “We Dem Boyz”, which was followed by the slightly harder, Juicy J and Project Pat featuring “KK”. Now we have its third single, “You and Your Friends”, which is technically a bonus track. Gotta move those deluxe editions, people! The track was produced by man of the moment, DJ Mustard, and features one of his chief accomplices, sleazy hookman Ty Dolla $ign. It also features Snoop Dogg, who, as a reminder, made a direct-to-DVD film and its collaborative full-length / soundtrack with Wiz in late 2011.
Phil: This nice thing about scheduling Wiz Khalifa’s bars early in a song is that you don’t have to wait long to see if he ruins the whole thing. “You and your friends up in my car / Rolling up j’s, flying with the stars.” Yep, ok. That’s a wrap. Appreciate the heads up, Wiz.
Marcus: In the grand pantheon of “dudes whose production styles make it feel as though they have made 90% of pop radio hits in any given year,” there’s a long drop off from 1999-era Timbaland to 2014-era DJ Mustard. Somewhere along the way there we all had incredibly high hopes for Ron Browz, got our heads blown open by Diplo and believed that Mike WILL Made It was urban pop’s production savior, but this DJ Mustard nonsense absolutely has to stop right now.
This track is easily a bonus track because it was clearly not made in the same cycle as the other beats submitted for this project. Mustard’s at about minute 13 of his 15 minutes of fame, and still hasn’t cashed that Mike WILL level check or had his name linked to having sex with Miley Cyrus yet. Thus, this one sounds like Chris Brown’s ubiquitous “Loyal” (which amazingly enough Mustard didn’t even produce), and feels like Mustard’s using his name recognition and watering down whatever style is hot to stay relevant. It’s a street hustler move, and one of those things that feels so cloyingly 90s/2000s era rap that it makes me sick to my stomach because rap as an industry must evolve in order to both sustain and grow.
I’m also really happy that Snoop’s mentoring of Wiz Khalifa has included the whole “you have a wife homie, but deez hoes in deez streets need love, too” concept. Yes, that was sarcastic, and the utter detachment from any level of logic, awareness or reality in rap these days actually makes me long for the days of Chief Keef running radio with “I Don’t Like.” While wholly exploitative, at least Keef’s coming from an emotionally honest place that balances this well produced and well-delivered pop equivalent of hot garbage.
Aaron: Damn. I could barely make it through the damn intro on this one. Ty Dolla $ign is yawn. Pretty weak. I’m firmly in the unimpressed camp when it comes to DJ Mustard, but I’m not mad at him for riding The Wave.
Every time I make fun of a wack rapper, I realize that Wiz Khalifa deserves it more. Wiz is so soft he makes Drake look like Conan the Barbarian. He is quite possibly the only rapper that gives weed a bad name.
And while I realize that Snoop is pound for pound (of weed) most likely the most famous rapper on earth, it’s getting harder and harder to give him a pass for hanging out with lames and phoning in this kind of industry focus-grouped nonsense.
Basically, hold the Mustard on this Dogg, and get you and your friends to get with me and my friends, and we can just skip it every single weekend.
Take that. Take that. Etc.
Common ft. Big Sean: “Diamonds”
This week, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. released his 10th studio album, Nobody’s Smiling. As previously discussed, the record was crafted as a response to the violence in his native Chicago and inner cities around the world, and was produced entirely by old head – and longtime Common collaborator – No I.D. Just prior to the LP’s release, Def Jam rolled out its third single, “Diamonds”, which features the Chicago rapper’s former G.O.O.D. Music labelmate, Big Sean. The track follows initial singles “Kingdom” (which received the Hype Williams video treatment and boasted a great Vince Staples verse) and “Speak My Piece” (which joined to recent wave of Biggie samples).
Phil: Is there a more grating ad-lib than Big Sean’s “Oh god”? My dude can’t keep that shit in his pocket for one “serious” song? Is he in the studio thinking, “This song definitely needs an ‘Oh god.’ People love my ‘Oh gods.’ Wait, what’s this song about again?”
Marcus: Man. Common REALLY wants to be a “dope rapper,” but you get the sense that his head is in too many places at one time to really deliver coherence. I listen to this track, and it actually makes me think about Kanye West, who as a similarly financially successful rapper likely took the time to realize that his head was in too many creative and professional spaces, and allowed Rick Rubin to “reduce” Yeezus.
Common needs a “reducer” for Nobody’s Smiling. In production and theory it’s a great album, but in trying to mold Kanye’s style to their own devices (which well, both Common and The Roots definitely attempted to do recently), Common needs some edits to unify his vision and create a more coherent body of work.
On “Diamonds,” Common is like a rich uncle giving his ne’er-do-well nephew Big Sean a summer job. Of course he overpays him, and though likely unimpressed, still supports him. They’re both G.O.O.D. Music affiliated, too, so it’s also a fine case of family supporting family because that’s what family does. However, being a recording artist attempting to release inspiring and well-crafted music shouldn’t necessarily be a musical “family reunion” anymore in urban music. Native Tongues and NWA extended posse cuts aside, the hot emcees of 2014 oftentimes don’t over-deliver to the hope of over-delivery we all likely hope for from them. Thus, Common needed an old, shoeless white bearded hobo to just walk into his family reunion and say all of the shit about his “nephew” from Detroit that everyone knows, but nobody ever acknowledges.
That didn’t happen here, and what could’ve truly been a great track (and album) suffers from it.
Damion: Sometimes I feel like y’all are waiting for Biggie, Pac, and MJ to freestyle a political track to on Kanye beat. This song is dope. I’m feeling Common’s freestyle-esque bars and, I get what he’s talking about. Yeah, he gets off course from time to time, but he steers it back to the original topic. He’s a diamond. They’re hard to make. They’re hard to maintain. which I assume is what he was alluding to with the Len Bias reference. For those kids who don’t know: Bias was a DC basketball legend that got drafted in no. 2 overall in ’86, but died of a coke overdose shortly after.
I can only take Common in short bursts, but he owns this beat.
Leah: No I.D. did a great job on this vaguely sinister beat, but I find Big Sean’s hook just irritating and clipped. Honestly, his voice just bothers me all the time, and especially in comparison to Common’s smooth tone, his nasal, rushed delivery is just an annoyance on this otherwise pretty solid track.
Phil: “Oh God” aside, I actually think Big Sean is not awful here. That’s basically my 5-Mic review for little man.
But like most all of Nobody’s Smiling, No I.D.’s subtly vamping production keeps me coming back to “Diamonds”, and Common sounds unexpectedly great, one groaner aside. (“Pinot noir star / Better with time.” Ugh. Killing me, man.)
Aaron: Jesus. I feel like there should be an alternate universe Rec-Room this week, where Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa made the softest track known to man, and Snoop and Common just kept on being Snoop and Common
I tried to revisit the idea of giving Sean a chance after “Control” but the “ay, ay, ay, ay” hook thing and the “oh, God” on this just make me wanna gouge my eyes out with a diamond. I have never heard a dude with such misplaced confidence in his bush-league, half-assed puchlines as Big Sean. You really gotta go the extra mile to fuck up a No I.D. track.
This team up is awkward. Common can’t dumb it down enough, and Big Sean can’t really keep up with Comm on emcee basics, so why even make this track?
Shout out “Hell on Wheels”.
Kirko Bangz ft. August Alsina: “Rich”
Houston’s Kirko Bangz has been on the scene since 2009, but he’s just now gearing up to release his studio debut. He hasn’t been procrastinating, though. Quite the opposite. He’s released four mixtapes in his Procrastination Kills series. He’s also been progressing, at least as evidenced by his four Progression mixtapes. But, most notably, Kirko Bangz does already has a platinum single under his belt with 2011’s “Drank in My Cup”, and he’s got a mentor in Bun B, who’s appeared on his tracks and took him on tour this spring. His debut, Bigger Than Me, is supposed to be come out this year, but we shall see. We’ve already heard lead single “Hoe”. Now we get the equally creatively titled “Rich”, which was produced by Jevon Hill, Stanley Green, and Rock City and features on-the-rise R&B singer August Alsina. Ty Dolla $ign pops up in the video too. Do not ask me why.
Marcus: OK. So, facts being facts, there was a period of time wherein I was easily a far bigger fan of Kirko Bangz than I was of Future. “Drank In My Cup” was my jam, and while waiting for a second single, the guy who rapped “Tony Montana” had this (albeit terrific) single “Turn On The Lights” that felt like a lite R & B version of “Drank In My Cup,” and I was OFFENDED.
There’s something funny about pop music. The key to the biggest money success is in locating the lowest common denominator, then finding a level beneath it, and snatching that standard even deeper underground. Bangz is too clean, too ersatz, a bit too polished by traditional R & B and 2000s rap standards to meet up to the level of Future’s Royal Rumble of Ratchetmania. Thus, while “Rich” is great for what it is as a paint-by-numbers aspirational song for the club, it’s a clear second place to Future and Kanye’s “I Won.” Given that Bangz is being mentored by the likes of the professorial Bun B, he likely won’t stoop to the depth required to win at rap-flavored R & B in 2014. Though it’s decent that he’s likely held to such a high standard, said high standard is also going to stunt his wealth accrual as an artist, too. Unfortunate
Phil: You know when you guys hear autotune and your panties instantaneously evaporate into the ether and then not more than 1/50 of a second later magically reconfigure their molecular construction so that you are still technically wearing underwear but they are so shredded and mangled and criss-crossed that their “bunching” causes you inextricable pain and soul-crushing sorrow? Is this what autotune sounds like to you? Is this what you’re hearing? Because I will defend the way that Future uses robovoice to my death, but oh my god this is horrible. The chafing! The chafing! Make it stop!
Leah: Well, looks like I may not be as well-versed as Marcus in the popular use of autotune in rap (because I avoid it), or the response of panties to rap as Runco (same reason?), but I can say with certainty that this song is terrible. It’s treacly, formulaic, and worst of all it’s pretty boring. It’s like if Drake somehow got softer and incomprehensibly decided autotune was the trick that would make him sound more hard. Please please please, stop whining about how the game doesn’t notice you, Kirko, and do something worth paying attention to.