Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Nicki Minaj likes big butts and she can not lie; Action Bronson drops acid and channels the spirit of Dennis Hopper; and Joey Bada$$ keeps it retro. As always, our distinguished panel consists of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Damion M, Joshua Phelps, 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.
Nicki Minaj: “Anaconda”
“Anaconda” is the second single from Nicki Minaj’s forthcoming third studio album, The Pink Print. Production for the track was handled by Polow Da Don, ANONYMOUS and Da Internz. It samples, quite prominently, Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back”.
Marcus: OK. So on “Anaconda,” Nicki’s the first black female that’s ever truly been allowed to rap in the same style, manner and cadence as white females all inspired on some level by JJ Fad’s “Supersonic.” The “Supersonic” line stretches all the way back to turn of the century Caucasian pop princesses Gwen Stefani and Fergie, and has been advanced into the trap with Iggy Azalea’s “modern” era narrative more influenced by TI’s “Bring Em Out,” “What You Know” and Lauren London’s star turn as NuNu in “ATL” than anything else.
Polow da Don sampling “Baby Got Back” and including enough turn up for both the club and the festival is pretty amazing. It’s the one cheeky (yeah, take thee to a punnery) rap song that is universally accepted across all age, sex, social and cultural groups. Yes, that means that there’s still that horrible major label focus group-tested music veneer, but it’s not as cloying to the ear and hurtful to the soul as other recent attempts at sound-alike songs have been. It’s certainly more direct, so, we can’t be mad at that.
All that being said, for this iconic rap moment, Nicki’s doing her best attempt at Lil Kim’s “Magic Stick,” with hyper-sexual story raps in which she’s the heroine who thwarts male-dominated society by neglecting to swallow and receiving designer clothing in return. Ummm, I don’t know if I’m 110% down with that message, but, it IS an important moment in 2014’s rap-as-thinly veiled discussion of post-racial feminism that we have this song. Iggy will hold you down like physics. Nicki will do the same, but there’s a price that you’re going to have to pay in return. The lesson here: In 2014, rap’s either pandering or prostitution. Great songs, well executed raps, but really, we may need to hear better just for the belief that rap’s running pop and should set a more progressive social example.
Leah: Setting aside my (favorite) feminist argument that Nicki is furthering the cause of women and intersectionality by doing exactly whatever the fuck she wants and not apologizing for it, this is the butt-shaking song of the summer. It’s not outstanding, but basically she decided twerking 2014 needed an anthem and was just like, “Aight, here’s your butt song, everybody.” She’s filling a need, it’s gonna sell, and I like it better than “Pills N Potions”. I’m not in the club often enough to truly appreciate the audience response to this one, but I don’t think it’ll be sitting still.
Jose: I can really get behind this (pun intended). Much, much better than “Pills N Potions”, which was just a boring-ass song (pun intended) and had all the grit of an entry in Taylor Swift’s diary, minus the money-making potential. If you look back at (pun intended) the last few months, Nicki’s been trying to reclaim her throne as the baddest, most popular female rapper from Iggy Azalea, and while this track won’t have the staying power that “Fancy” has, at least it’s groovy/lewd enough to get some attention. Nicki is just trying to have fun, her rapping is a lot crisper than recently, and is a return to that strong energy she had in the early days of her ascent. Plus, who doesn’t love a classic Sir Mix-A-Lot reference? I think anyone who remembers the original video is just cheesin’ right now.
Damion: I tried to listen to this entire song twice…and failed. This is garbage.
Phelps: “Looking Ass N*gga” comes on right after this on my iPhone and the contrast between Nicki as killer versus Nicki as filler couldn’t be more evident. I’ll have to take the unpopular opinion here and assert that if this comes on at the club, people will just be disappointed it’s not actually Sir Mix-A-Lot. Nicki is serviceable here (i.e. this would be the best song on an Iggy album, shouts to Nicki’s veiled dis at the award show) and I won’t turn this off when Runco bangs it at BBQs, I just think the album art (I LOVE IT) deserves more from the aural art.
Polow Da Don bit off a little more than he could chew here. What’s iconic is debatable, but, “Baby Got Back” sold 2.4 million the year it was released, about a million less than, say, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Mix-A-Lot is performing his track with the Seattle Symphony. Maybe leave this one alone? Is “take hits from the 90s” the new “take hits from the 80s”? Someone call Puff.
Aaron: Ok. The official rule on Nicki Minaj is that almost everything she does is now mainstream garbage, but no complaining because almost everything she does is good for women in the industry even though it’s bad for women to perpetuate oversexed stereotypes, unless they own it and get crazy paid. ok. I get it and I don’t care anymore. It’s a double standard much larger than all the big asses in all the clubs in America. I can no longer defend or complain. I approve. Do you, get it girl, etc. I still hate this song. It made me cringe. She is, indeed, on some dumb shit.
Jose, this track is a little more than a Sir Mix-a-Lot reference, It’s an all out massacre of a sacred party track. A corn-ified assault on one of the corniest songs ever rapped.It sounds like a snippet from some late night nameless radio DJ mix from the mid 90’s. You know those mixes where every song is like a 17 minute long fractal breakdown of your favorite party jam?
Sweet Jesus I hope Mix-a-Lot got paid for this…that would be SWASS.
Phil: I can’t get past how lazy this song is. It is indeed prime era Puff Daddy in its “let the sample do the heavy lifting” don’t-give-a-fuckedness. Except those songs sampled forgotten hits of yesteryear, and “Baby Got Back” just never went away. Did it? It forever lives as the soundtrack for fat white people doing something in too little clothing in bad movies, right?
I root for Nicki, even if I find her frequently insufferable IRL. (Let it be stated that I am equal opportunity hater.) I like how she sounds on “Anaconda”, but what the fuck is she talking about? Is she rapping in character? And if so, is it satirical? From any angle, “I let him hit because he slang cocaine” falls on its face. It just sounds like Nicki started with the sample and “BUTT SONG”, and worked her way backwards, and she just never got to a good song.
Whatever. The suburbs go cray. Blah blah blah. [Insert Aaron’s comment]
Action Bronson: “Easy Rider”
“Easy Rider” is the lead single from Action Bronson’s long-awaited major label debut album, Mr. Wonderful. The song was produced by Party Supplies, the man behind Bronson’s beloved Blue Chips mixtapes. Mr. Wonderful is currently without a release date. but you can revisit BYT’s Bam-Bam interview from earlier this year.
Marcus: Foremost, the ex-pro wrestler in me knows for absolutely certain that Action Bronson is naming his debut album after 80s WWF grappler Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, and that’s tremendous. Also, I think Action Bronson now only raps about things that he sees in lucid dreams. Thus, his rhymes are realer than Drake’s and infinitely more entertaining. I mean, I don’t even use drugs, but if the “shit [he smokes] is like cholesterol,” then well, I think I might be convinced to try that, because that’s insane. Actually, this whole track is bananas. Party Supplies has been locked in with Bronson since Blue Chips, so this track’s brooding, yet smooth intensity fits Bronson who is just out here living and existing in the wide and deep margins of a rap industry that at the tom and bottom is crowded and confused, but everywhere in the middle is wide open and free for stream-of-consciousness acid trips galore.
Jose: Goddamn, every time Bronson and Party Supplies team up an angel gets its wings. These two guys understand each other – Supplies finds the grooves that suit Bam Bam’s delivery, and the big man knows himself well enough to execute at a very high level every time, weaving in and out around varied retro beats. That he happens to spit over a track that sounds like it was lifted from Dangermouse’s Rome is exciting my inner nerdboy a little too much for working hours.
While this song isn’t offering as many legendary lines as we are accustomed to from the average Blue Chips two-minute-free-association barrage, it’s still painting a much more colourful picture than the vast majority. Bronson is the Salvador Dali of rappers, putting out mildly abstract and clearly acid-washed versions of reality that retain familiarity even as they are expanding the realm of the possible/what should work (would that make Lil’ B Jackson Pollock?). With his strong, consistent output, and his hilarious social media presence, Action Bronson is poised to take over hip-hop by mid 2015 at the latest. If all else fails, he could just become a regular in Tarantino movies.
Damion: Bronson had 20 verses on this beat to pick from. No remixes needed. 2015 could be big for Bronsolini.
Leah: In a funny way, it seems like Bronsolino is saying less and less in every track, but somehow creating more vivid vignettes. This wild west careering picture show takes you exactly where you want it to – a drug-filled, laid-back place where a guitar solo lives on a hip-hop track and doesn’t feel out of place.
Damion: I actually watched “Easy Rider” last night. Bronson is speaking to my subconscious.
Phelps: Song of the summer for me.
Bronson is good enough to carry tracks or entire EPs by relying on free association rhymes about food, drugs, sports, movies and women. And more often than not, he does. It’s a setup to cause your head to blow into pieces here when he lays into a Turkish psychedelic groove with a tighter grasp on theme. This is the kind of shit that carries albums. I think Wyatt, Peter Fonda’s impossibly cool character from the film of the same name, would have been proud of this dab-addled document of Bronson’s gonzo ride to the far side of the world and back.
Habitual Youtube miner* Party Supplies lifts Mazhar ve Fuat’s Adımız Miskindir Bizim** verbatim but slows it down and laces it with a 40 second guitar solo. Is this what it would sound like if Bronson was freestyling in Gas Lamp Killer’s basement? I’d like to be there.
*He probably had to dig a little further for this than Polow Da Don’s offering this week.
** The original track is amazing.
Aaron: “Rockin very loose pants/buried a million in the sand by the clock tower/before I die take a hot shower”
How does he do that shit?! Those bars mean next to nothing really, but instantly create half a movie’s worth of hazy, fucked up imagery. How fresh are the pants? How loose is loose? Where the money at? Do they die at the end?
This track is amazing. Action amazes me with his ability to fit perfectly into any production from the minimalist boom bap of Statik Selektah, the thrown sludge Trap a la Harry Fraud and this…. Party Supplies is on some slick shit. Talk about digging in the fucking crates!
Damion: You know a rapper is feeling a beat when he just starts talkin $hit for no reason. When I heard “I heard your b!tch still wears Ecko,” I knew he was about to slaughter with the rest of the verses. He did not disappoint.
Phil: Co-sign on Leah’s comment. Bronson has buried himself so far into his niche – both in terms of content and delivery – that he is no longer anything but it. I’m mostly OK with that, because it’ll always be fun to text Bronson one-liners to your friends the day a track drops, and if you’ve ever seen Bam-Bam in person, you know what’s it like to have thousand people shout shit like “had a midget Puerto Rican at my beck and call.” But I can’t say his absurdist lifestyle schtick really excites me that much anymore. Shout-out mid ’00s RJD2.
Aaron: Absurdist. That’s perfect. I occasionally tire of rappers being serious about so much serious shit. Sometimes you just wanna vibe out while a dude raps about eating steak and getting head in improbable situations. All of his best lines have this general feel of narrowly escaped wacky hi-jinx. Like, you could make one of those internet generators out of it: “The other day I copped a(blank) and got a(blank) while doing(blank) in a (blank)”
Try it out. You can put sex in there. You can put cars in there. Wild, animals, wrestlers – all that shit. Choose your own action-adventure steez.
Joey Bada$$: “Big Dusty”
Joey Bada$$ is still only 19, but it feels like he’s been in our lives for a while now. According to the NYC rapper, his debut for Relentless Records – the awkwardly titled B4.DA.$$ – is 75% done. manager Johnny Shipes had this to say about it: “Fans should look forward to the most uncompromising hip-hop album in a long time. If you’re a fan of Joey you will love this album for no other reason than he did exactly what he wanted to with no corny label people tryin’ to change shit about his sound and creative process.” The record’s first single is “Big Busty” and it was produced by Kirk Knight.
Marcus: This is why dumb teenagers (and let’s face it, all teenagers are dumb) who clearly lack significant guidance shouldn’t sign label deals. Sony Music Group is too busy making money with Epic and RCA to worry about the blog-hyped Joey Badass on Relentless Records. Thus, when an album was needed for say, January 2013 at the latest (tocapitalize on Badass’ slavish teenage devotion for 90s hippity-hops and rappity raps over dusty samples), we’re not eight months into 2014 and Joey just sounds like a kid stuck in 1994 not living the dream, but working a job. Yes, it’s a job that has benefits like lucrative corporate sponsorships, big-money gigs and free sex with hot girls (yeah, he’s still a teenager), but being an artist on a tucked away label that’s a part of mainstream pop’s remaining triumvirate of power really can’t be as exciting as he expected it to be.
Kirk Knight making Large Professor beats is mad funny to me, too. It’s like, Large Professor is still very much alive and probably willing to produce the whole album for a good price, plus having LARGE PROFESSOR around could likely get the album plugged into some really nice blog buzz and vinyl-selling indie cred, too. But, oh well… instead we get “B4DA$$,” and this really average lead single. Sad.
Leah: I’ll admit I’m not a great fan of this production or beat. The echo on the chorus doesn’t really do it for me, and the beat doesn’t match the verses for me. It’s too art school boring. But I like angry Joey. He reminds me in some ways of Mobb Deep or S.A. Smash when he goes beast mode. The verses are solid, and I’m looking forward to the release. I’m real impressed he sounds so comfortable, honestly.
Aaron: Seriously. This is pretty tight. It’s a little sleepy, and it’s not as good as that old school Bada$$ , you know what I mean? That old shit from, like, 2012.5
Sorry I had to.
Joey is definitely is definitely in my can-do-no-wrong-right-now category. I mean, come on, I’ll take a softball throwback joint on a lost Smif n Wessun b-side any day. I think when we talk about emcees like Bada$$, we should think in terms of Rap in it’s current state vs. Rap as an archetype or a musical standard. Are there better rappers? Of course, but not much better. JB raps like a young kid that found a guitar down by the railroad tracks and started playing the Blues. He’s too young to sound like that with no rough edges and no dues paid.
Some might say he’s appropriating something that’s off limits to someone his age. Why should he be allowed to succeed using The Secret Old Formula? Are there not old dudes who have bled and sweat that deserve another little slice while this kid is watching “Rap City” reruns and making it look easy?
The answer is no.
You just have to admit that some of these kids are gonna fucking kill your style, pull up to the club on your old shoulders, and valet your ancient ass down the street. Marcus has a point, though re: working with The Old Gods. I think both camps could benefit from healthy continued crossover to keep everybody nice and relevant without stylistic or “ownership” conflicts. I’d rather see young rappers vamp old styles with permission an co-promo than act like they made it up (see: old Mac Miller/Lord Finesse lawsuit beef)
By rap standards, I got into JB’s music late, like a whole year after he was on Youtube, and I didn’t do it by Googling “young throwback rapper I never heard of that I should like right now” I did it by checking to see if Premier had done anything new recently.
Phil: This is a grower. Joey Bada$$ sounds great. It still goes on a minute too long though.