Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Lil Herb reps Chicago with Common and Chance the Rapper; Killer Mike and El-P make it a blockbuster night; and the Game recruits pretty much everyone for a rumination on Michael Brown and the police state. As always, our distinguished panel consists of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Joshua Phelps, and Weird City Fest‘s Leah Manners (of Hip Hop Hooray too).
Lil Herb ft. Common & Chance the Rapper:
“Fight or Flight (Remix)”
Lil Herb dropped one of 2014’s most promising mixtapes, Welcome To Fazoland, way back in February, but one of its best tracks – relative ray of sunshine struggle anthem “Fight or Flight” – got a high profile remix this week. The reboot – produced by Brian Miller of “Champion” fame – keeps Lil Herbs initial first verse and tacks a new on the end, with guest apparences from fellow Chicago emcees Common and Chance the Rapper falling in between. This is second time Lil Herb and Common have hooked up this year: The eighteen-year-old guested on Nobody Smiling lead-off track “The Neighborhood” earlier this summer.
Marcus: Foremost, this song is fantastic. There’s a great narrative to consider when thinking about the career of Lil Herb if he ends up like Common, his fellow Chicago-born emcee on this record. Just like Herb, Common talked mad amounts of ostentatious shit on his 1992 album Can I Borrow A Dollar?, but the fact that he was so slick with his game is what made him so fly, and ultimately gave him the ability to have a thriving 22-year career. I like these two together as a big/little brother tandem. I don’t like Common doing much of anything else as a rapper these days because I feel like he’s lost his focus and needs to simplify himself. Here, he’s simply breaking down bars in a speakeasy style, in many ways offering guidance to an emcee half his age. Chance being on here just guarantees that people hear it. As always, Lauryn Hill once said that she added a motherfucker so that “ignant n**gas” could “hear [her].” Well, many rap fans these days are “ignant,” and Chance is most assuredly a baaaad motherfucker of an emcee. This works, and we need more.
Phil: I loved the original. I love this more. Sometimes the right soul sample, however simple, can carry the weight. Lil Herb can rap. And, man, after a summer of Chance sing-songing, it’s nice to hear him rip a verse. As for Common, the renaissance may not be televised, but he’s had more memorable bars this year than he has in the past four combined.
Leah: Only going to add to the already well-made points by Marcus and Phil that the new Lil Herb verse is also killer. He doubles down on this twice with some great results. ChiTown outchea.
Phelps: I’m not impressed by Herb yet. Fazoland didn’t phase me and just yelling on tracks and not saying much isn’t going to make me get the point. If this track was two minutes shorter without his verses, I’d love it. Common rides the amazing beat like a seasoned professional – is he vying for BYT guest verse all star cred?
Run the Jewels: “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1”
On October 28th, Run the Jewels is back with RTJ2. But it’s not exactly like the dynamic duo of Killer Mike and El-P really went anywhere: The first Run the Jewels record came out last summer, and in the time between then and now, the two have kept up busy schedule of touring and festival gigging. In many ways, the two are more popular now than they’ve ever been on their own, and so it makes sense to continue striking while the iron is hot. RTJ2 will be available as a free download, CD, and LP via Nas’ new label Mass Appeal, and it’ll feature appearances by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha (!) and Blink-182’s Travis Barker (?). Our first taste of the record is just El and Mike though, trading lines over a tough-as-nails El beat for two-and-a-half minutes.
Marcus: If Run the Jewels and Action Bronson ever get on a track together, rhyming dictionaries worldwide should run for cover. It’s not that El-P and Killer Mike are super lyrical, it’s that they’re great communicators. They know their point and they get it across quite well. That point? They’re the best rapping ass rappers in the rapping ass rap game and there’s really no need to try to compete with them in that regard. That’s what makes them so great. They shut down the shop every time, which for rap fans thirsting for someone, anyone to definitively dominate rap in a style that doesn’t lend itself to top-40, is wonderful. Most rapping ass rappers fill every available space on the track with bars, n*gga, bars…so many goddammed bars. Here, the stentorian low-end bombast that is this production is allowed to breathe, and the emcees get to work on top, building a house out of iron and stones that’s meant to last the test of time. Is this one getting a tenth spin? Of course it is.
And it’s everything I could have hoped for. Hot fire beat. Mike pulling no punches. Pinch me, y’all.
Phil: A big part of the joy with the first Run the Jewels – to the degree that getting maced in the face and pile-drived can be considered joyful – was jut listening in on how much fun El and Killer Mike seemed to be having. There wasn’t a throwaway line and yet the vibe was of two dudes hanging in the studio, one trying to outdo the other. And so here’s the thing about “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1”: They sound even more relaxed. How is that possible? How do you conversationally toss off such immaculately tailored shit-talking? The way Killer Mike says “proved that we was fucking brutal” like he’s in impassioned bar conversation is the best. And this beat makes me feel like I’m in the climactic shoot-out of “The Matrix 4”.
Phelps: 12 seconds out of 2:32. That’s how long you get to sink into El-P’s post-apocalyptic sonic wasteland before he and Killer Mike squeeze the life out of it like steroidal boa constrictors. This production makes me feel like I’ve been cast into a privatized prison penal colonies on a distant planet made of ice and garbage running from a drone and as soon as I’m about to escape, these dudes jump out Road Warriors style and spike me in my face. A beautifully violent way to go and if there’s any team who does aggression more elegantly than these two, I have not seen it in the last two decades. 9:30 booked them on a Saturday this fall with despot – will the club exist after that? The last Run The Jewels show was the loudest I’ve heard in 5 years.
Game ft. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Diddy, Fabolous, Wale, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, Yo Gotti, Curren$y, Problem, King Pharaoh & TGT: “Don’t Shoot”
“The issues in Ferguson really hit home for me, and I feel compelled to use my musical platform to address this,” The Game told Rolling Stone recently. “I am a black man with kids of my own that I love more than anything, and I cannot fathom a horrific tragedy like Michael Brown’s happening to them. This possibility has shaken me to my core. That is why this song must be made and why it was so easy for so many of my friends to come together and unite against the injustice.” The aforementioned song is “Don’t Shoot”, and the aforementioned friends are… well, too many to list again. There are fourteen friend. (That counts R&B “supergroup” TGT as three, obviously.) Proceeds from the song’s sale will be donated to the charity Justice for Mike Brown.
Leah: Hip-hip is the protest music of the last 40 years – quick turn-round, lyrically dense, and the product of largely marginalized community. Rarely, however, do major-label artists take a stand on any political movement unless its their style like Talib or Immortal Technique (maybe one exception being Kanye’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” post-Katrina outburst) because they have sponsorships, labels, and backers to answer to. Regardless of the quality of the verses here, it’s refreshing and inspiring to see big artists pile on a controversial topic, and on the right side, and with some distinct emotional outrage.
Marcus: I call DJ Khaled “The Hip-Hop Commissioner” for a reason. He’s the “rap game David Stern,” aka the man who presides over the entirety of rap music like its a league, assisting in developing stars, pushing their talents to the streets, and releasing albums that feel like All-Star Games. Thus, it’s only appropriate that given that Game’s Blood Money La Familia is out on September 16th that he be the featured artist on a “Mike Brown and Ferguson” track that only Khaled could likely pull together so quickly includes emcees that Khaled favors, from Billboard kings to street and club champions, too.
Honestly, this particular song will always be better in theory than it is in execution. On a lyrical level, the bar was set waaay too high by the “Stop The Violence Movement”‘s 1989 hit “Self-Destruction,” in which former “rap game commissioner” KRS-One assembled a similar array of street and top-selling artists for an altruistic anti-violence single. But for what this is, it’s excellent.
“We all got shot.” That’s the line that’s the kicker here. “We all got shot.” Before anything else, rap is an art-form built on the aggression of black men against an oppressive white society. Thus, it stands to reason that there’s a little bit of angry black man in everyone who’s ever picked up a microphone since 1974. In this being the case, the murder of Mike Brown is, in fact, rap being shot, too. Everybody’s trying their hardest here and actually saying real things. Of course, the industry is such that in another breath Diddy and Officer Ricky will happily talk about how their Rolls Royce smells like money, Big Tauheed will drop a crazy adlib, Wale will spit a spoken-word rhyme at your girl, and everyone else on this track will continue to commit some of the most basic ass crimes of humankind committed to record. But for a second, everything gets real because hell…”[they] all got shot.”
Powerful material here that deserves a kudos to an oftentimes deservedly maligned genre.