Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Vince Staples shows off a new shade of blue; Juicy J gets low with Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, and Lil Bibby; and Lil Boosie wonders if he’s crazy. 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 Leah Manners (of Hip Hop Hooray too).
Vince Staples: “Blue Suede”
Vince Staples has spent 2014 solidifying his standing as one of the best and brightest to come out of the Odd Future camp. He obviously doesn’t have the exposure of Earl Sweatshirt or Frank Ocean, but some would argue he belongs in that class. To wit: Staple’s Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 mixtape is one of the year’s best (and features one of Rec-Room’s favorite songs), and elsewhere, the 21-year-old recently laid waste to Common’s “Kingdom” and Dilated Peoples’ “Dark Room”. (Plus, let’s also acknowledge the fact that those are the guys whose records he’s choosing to guest on.) Staples will have a chance to reach a wider audience with the forthcoming Hell Can Wait, his first record for Def Jam. This week he dropped its first single, “Blue Suede”, a track produced by Toronto’s Hagler Tyrant.
Jose: This couldn’t be further from “Nate” in terms of style or delivery, but I’m still digging it. Here Vince shows us versatility, and brings a frenetic quality to his flow that matches the urgency of the track. This feels and sounds like homage to Kendrick’s “Backstreet Freestyle” – and while Staples isn’t at K-Dot’s level of technical prowess, there are obvious nods and winks to what is still one of the hardest hitting songs of recent years.
The future looks very bright for Vince Staples, and he’s demonstrating that he can excel in both delivery and content. Really looking forward to Hell Can Wait.
Marcus: Foremost, all young rappers should consider having their best vocal performances being on tracks that lend themselves to live performances on the shittiest of sound systems. All of those squelches as this track opens are going to do FAR more harm than good.I mean, yeah, he’s down with OF and all, but still…
I mean, I probably shouldn’t be as angry at this song as I am, but, yet, I am. I mean, I get it. YG is very popular right now. So, this extrapolates to EVERY California rapper who grew up listening to their dad’s Dr. Dre collection being really inspired to absorb those influences into their music right now. But what in the World Class Wrecking Crew is going on here? When the weird kids get to C-Walking is when it feels like I’m listening to the soundtrack of some kind of hood Napoleon Dynamite, maybe something like The Inkwell updated for the 21st century. As long as I’m forced to sit here and wait for the scene where young Vince gets shipped off to Martha’s Vineyard and discovers Lauren (and who exactly is playing that role…who’s the new Jada Pinkett?), I had better be entertained! This underwhelms. Vince Staples is certainly gifted, but is done in here by a strange trend-following move from the Odd Future camp that makes this less than what it can, and should be.
Phelps: Had to knock a few venti lattes out of motherfuckers’ hands in Shaw this AM. I blame this Vince Staples song.
Staples dumbs the fuck out over a Masta Ace fever dream haunted by the Black Sheep from “U Mean I’m Not”, and I kinda love it.
Damion: This shit bangs. Period. The instrumentals are crazy and I think his flow and delivery are on point. Is he jay elec? No but he’s not Trinidad James lyrically either. I know thats a wide range but i haven’t heard him on anything else so I’m trying not to make a snap judgement.
Leah: His verse on “Hive” really tipped me off to Vince, and there’s something about his delivery – a slurred Long Beach drawl maybe? – that I really dig. While Marcus may not like the muddiness this track may give to a live performance, I’m into this kind of darkness. Taken as a work in context of Vince’s whole oeuvre, this track’s foreboding menace of street gospel against keening synths and hard as fuck drums sits counterpoint to stories like “Nate” and the heart-tugging tales of his difficult youth. Vince may just turn out to be this generations street poet, and I’m super into it.
Phil: This beat is trying to kill my earbuds.
Juicy J ft. Nicki Minaj, Lil Bibby & Young Thug: “Low”
“From the 90s to now, this is my movement. And it’s been working. It would be stupid for them to try to tell me to change something up, because I’m winning.” This was how Juicy J described Columbia Record’s involvement with Stay Trippy to BYT in an interview last year. And sure enough, when his major label solo debut dropped that August, it was a collection of knuckle-headed, horny, and occasionally demonic rap that was surprisingly true to the spirit of his Three 6 Mafia records. And it sold pretty well! About 150,000 units, to be exact. Then there’s what came after: guest spots on Mike Will Made-It’s hit “23” and Katy Perry’s mega-hit “Dark Horse”. So while Columbia dragged its feet with releasing Stay Trippy, its sequel – Pure THC: The Hustle Continues – has been fast-tracked with an alleged fall release date. Its first single is “Low” dropped recently and it features a gaggle of of-the-moment rappers: Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, and Chicago youngster Lil Bibby (who put out his own “Game Over” this week). Production comes from producer-to-the-stars Dr. Luke, who we last heard behind the boards of Usher’s “I Don’t Mind”… which featured Juicy J. Rap is a flat circle.
Marcus: I consider Juicy J to be the Rufus Thomas of rap music. Yes, they’re both tremendous storytellers, fantastic entertainers and both from Memphis, so it makes sense. So,similar to Rufus Thomas, for every “Do The Funky Chicken,” there’s a “Funky Robot,” and line between genius and coonery is crossed. Thus, in being more of the latter and less of the former, “Low” is terrible and Juicy J should be ashamed of himself (of course while sitting in a meeting with his accountant over t-bone steaks and a pinot noir). Like, I’m just sitting here staring stunned at my computer, wondering if Juicy J’s verse is intentionally this terrible or not…
And Nicki Minaj is currently showing herself to be the equivalent of the protagonist in rap’s version of the film “Dangerous Minds”, these verses so banal that the now hit-or-miss emcee is only a Michelle Pfeiffer intervention away from being the “budding young black student with so much promise who saw the world, came home and just wants to do hoodrat stuff with her friends.” Frustrating.
Young Thug is here as a garnish, and well, the less said about the executive who hustled Lil Bibby on this track, the better.
This is really, really bad.
Phelps: Fuck Dr. Luke. He’s a veterinarian chopping the balls off of hip hop, trying to turn Juicy J and Nicki into Miley and Katy. This does not work as “good music” but it’s what mainstream programmers want. As long as they play the Bob Barker role, sending any talent to the Dr. to get clipped, this is what the charts will be stuck with.
Jose: It seems Juicy J can’t say no to ratchet anything. He sure is making a lot of money from his affiliation with Miley, Mike Will, and Passion Pit, and it seems to be working for him and his career “renaissance” – I’m not sure how many mainstream listeners realize this guy was in Three Six Mafia (or that he’s closer to an EGOT than any of us will ever be). However, this song just sucks. There was something delightfully ridiculous about Stay Trippy that made it work, a certain kind of do-not-give-a-fuckery that held the whole album together like a joyous epoxy. This song definitely does not have that something.
Leah: I dunno… it’s kinda cool that Nicki’s verse is better than J’s. Other than that, yeah, you guys have pretty much summed up the sigh of disappointment this track causes.
Damion: I’m biased bc I feel about 99.9% of everything Juicy J is on. Only thing this song is missing is Project Pat (greatest rap name ever). With that said the base on this track is really what makes it. Whether its this weekend or the next I’ll be at some club bouncing to this… just before I hit my $hmoney dance.
Phil: When it comes to Juicy J, you gotta keep lyrical expectations… low. Does anyone here not? Dude has one flow and bats about .250 with his punchlines. Think about your favorite Juicy J song: You remember one or two great lines, and the rest might as well not even exist. But we still love him! Because those two lines are great! And there’s something comforting about a dude with no aspirations to step out of his zone – he just hits every syllable like a boxer working a punching bag.
But, parsing Juicy’s performance is a little besides the point, because “Low” is essentially a posse cut featuring Juicy J. And as far as they come, it’s a good one. I’m reading everyone’s comments, and no one is really explaining to me what’s wrong with this track. Dr. Luke may be the devil, but this beat is fucking nice. It’s sparse and spooky and you can hear the big money polish without it giving you a stomachache, and that ascent towards the hook is masterful. This shit ain’t “Bounce”, you know? I’m also down with everyone rapping on this track. Lil Bibby ain’t Chance the Rapper, but who’s asking him to be? Sometimes sounding like a hardass is good enough.
This is a jam. Damion, let me know what club you’re at. We’ll bounce.
Lil Boosie: “Crazy”
In case you were living under a rock this spring and have just now emerged: Lil Boosie was released from prison this March after serving five years for a drug offense. (He very prominently beat a murder charge during this time away too.) The Louisiana rapper was a big fucking deal in the South during the ’00s, but never fully crossed over prior to his incarceration like some his peers. Now, however, after a half decade off the grid – and the “Free Boosie” phenomenon – he seems poised for his biggest spotlight. His reintroduction to the landscape has been steady but measured. He had a big look on 2 Chainz’s “Cuda Wuda Shuda”, and this week popped up on DJ Mustard’s “Face Down” with Lil Wayne, Big Sean, and YG – the mixtape’s highest profile track by far. The real test, though, will be Touchdown 2 Cause Hell, his forthcoming proper LP. We’ve heard a handful of new songs expected to be on there – “Shaw Da World”, “She Want Some”, and “Heart of a Lion” – and now get another: “Crazy”. It was produced by Baton Rouge’s DJ B-Real and its got a black and white video.
Jose: This has the makings of a classic Deep South banger – trunk rattling, snapping snares and cool little keyboard vamp working nicely. DJ B-Real even throws in some old-timey pre-recorded effects to take us back to any generic summer afternoon between 2006 and 2009. I know Boosie’s been on hiatus, and this is intended to be his statement of re-introduction, but the beat actually sounds weirdly out of time… in a good way, I think.
Lyrically, he’s putting on a strong showing here, and it gets pretty real when talking about the shit he’s faced since being plucked from the public eye. We could argue that it’s another chapter in conscious Louisiana Rap, though it would be generous to compare this song to anything Lil’ Wayne was putting out in his heyday. However, I’m positively surprised by this, but that’s probably due to extremely low expectations – it really is hard to come back to relevance in rap music. We’ve seen a few other objectively bigger names struggle to regain that creative spark and ride the wave of popularity with significantly less time away than the five years this guy lost.
Boosie says that he’s making the best music of his career, and claims to have written over five hundred songs during his time in the pen. I just hope this right here isn’t the top one in his arsenal, because if it is, your man is going to be falling off real soon.
Also, shout out to Boosie for dropping a line about 360 deals – he’s obviously been boning up on his reading in expectation of that pay day.
Phelps: I don’t think the track itself is very strong here and Boosie’s sheepish crooning, dropping in volume at times, adds an unassured quality to it all. This is a shame because the verses are fine, both aggressive and interesting, and this entire endeavor could have breathed much more fire.
Marcus: Lil Boosie had 11 weed carriers, 10 baby mamas, 9 thirsty THOTs, 8 basic brawds, 7 struggle rappers, 6 “entre-po-negroes”, a homeless dude trying to hustle five stolen rings, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree (yeah, you know he’s hallucinating while smoking on that loud pack, lol) that told him that this track was dope. Buuuut, it’s not. Yes Jose, you’re correct to bring up Lil Wayne’s “Misunderstood.” But, everything that makes “Misunderstood” great is misunderstood here.
As a producer, DJ B-Real’s sounds feel like they’re made by someone with a Garage Band education attempting to use Ableton for the first time. If I didn’t work at a recording studio for two years, I wouldn’t say something like “somebody bought Boosie some time at a studio and the engineer on-site didn’t show up, so a homie’s homie got called in and made a beat on the fly.” But, I have, and I’m almost certain that’s what happened here. Unfortunately, Lil Boosie’s never going to be mistaken for Rakim, Ice Cube or Kendrick Lamar, so this hot garbage is allowed to stink. If Boosie has 500 songs completed, this ABSOLUTELY isn’t one of them. I’m certain there’s a gallon of lean, a barely legal teenage girl, a bag of molly and a pound of weed involved in the making of this “song.”
If “Lil Wayne stream of consciousness at 4 AM after blowing lines” raps is what you’re going for, there’s one key component missing here: being Lil Wayne. Until Lil Boosie can inhabit the body and soul of DeWayne Carter, this was a song that should have never seen the light of day.
Leah: Jose nailed it. Classic southern jam, but nothing special except Boosie’s circumstances. I’mma bow out on this one, because anything I say would be repetitious. Which would be almost as annoying as the hook on this track.