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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, in a special Weird City Fest edition of Rec-Room: Dilated Peoples and Vince Staples adjust to the dark room; Black Milk and Bun B wonder if there’s a hell below; and Open Mike Eagle doles out advice with Hannibal Buress. As always, our distinguished panel consists of  Marcus Dowling, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Phil R, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.

See Dilated Peoples, Black Milk, and Open Mike Eagle – plus Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, Dam Funk, Guilty Simpson, and many, many more – at Austin’s Weird City Fest September 26 to 28.

Dilated Peoples ft. Vince Staples: “The Dark Room”

“If you’re content being a legacy act, playing old stuff forever, then you can do that…We have a legacy card, and that’s great to have, but we don’t rest on our laurels,” Dilated Peoples’ Rakaa told BYT in a recent interview. The twenty-years-strong trio backed up that talk last month with the release of Directors of Photography, its fifth LP and first since 2006. We already showed some love to “Show Me the Way”, and today we turn our attention to “The Dark Room”, a cut produced by Twiz the Beat Pro and DP’s own Evidence. Joining the old timers in “The Dark Room” is youngster Vince Staples – handling the hook and doing what earned him a place on Rec-Room’s Best Guest Rappers list.

Marcus: After interviewing Dilated Peoples, you get a different take on modern rap. It’s like, there are those for whom rapping is an amusing hobby with the guarantee of some level of success, and there are those for whom rapping is a day job with long hours and no benefits – save touring and having a sweet ass bus to call home for a few months. Of course, there’s also that level that falls directly in between, where a skilled rapper slides from blog-lusting pop fame to a space right before being a dude with a real job who raps for a side hustle. When emcees that occupy the “dope touring rapper” and “dude not all over the radio/marketing” spaces get together on tracks, it’s a beautiful thing.

Dilated Peoples know exactly what they’re doing, and Evidence dropping in the line about Big Pun (“I miss Pun but only met him once”) is masterful and showcases just how well the duo knows their market. Vince Staples is a much younger emcee than Rakaa and Evidence, but the production still leaves just enough dust in the corners for Vince to get in some dirty work with his lyricism. As we showcased, Vince’s best work to-date has come as a guest lyricist, and it’s because on tracks with emcees of a similar level of experience, he blows them out of the water, and on something like this, with guys playing the same game and having a similar level of talent, he fits right in like a hand in glove.

Not the best track of the year, but it’s incredibly solid, and fulfills expectations.

Leah: While I kind of hoped they’d let Vince run wild on a verse on this track, his chorus and the track overall is solid, and evidence of the rest of the quality found on this album.  The layered production is brooding and compelling, and Evidence and Rakaa show measured experience and sharp talent on this track.

Jose: I actually think the backing track here is really one of many highlights: It has the feeling of a soul sample, but manages to steer clear of feeling kitschy or outdated.  This is very much a modern beat paying homage to its predecessors, in terms of sonic palette and structure: verse, hook, verse, hook, outro.  Kind of funny that the intro talks about “chuck(ing) out all those rules.”  To be clear, it is still a very good beat, and an instrumental version of this should be a hell of a canvas for aspiring MCs/for me to freestyle over on a Sunday morning.

Dilated Peoples are a rap institution, and they do their thing here without ever really exceeding (relatively lofty) expectations.  It’s an overall solid performance by all parties involved, but much like Leah – I kind of wish they had given Vince Staples a little more to do.  He’s a rapper, not a singer, and while his hook is perfectly serviceable, he has really started to come into his own as one of the more exciting young lyricists out there.  Give the guy some gristle to chew on and spit back.  Am I being biased towards youth?  Perhaps.  It’s more-so a lament for the under utilization of a potentially excellent featured player.

Phil: “This body grown up and clinging to these kids’ dreams.” Man, Evidence’s verse here. Eghck.

I’m not mad about Staples being relegated to the hook. There’s something awesome about these old heads inviting him to the dinner and then seating him at the little kids table. Dilated Peoples is eating right now.

Black Milk ft. Bun B: “Gold Piece”

Black Milk and Bun B on the same track. Rap dreams do come true. And “Gold Piece” has exactly what you would expect from a Black Milk production: an on-point soul sample and impossibly crisp drums. The track is from If There’s a Hell Below, the Detroit rapper’s forthcoming 6th full-length, which follows just a year after last fall’s great No Poisson No Paradise. Don’t knock the hustle.

Marcus: This isn’t fair. The industry of rap is supposed to guard against hyper-lyrical emcees with solid production chops slamming home runs and enlisting their free agent power-hitter friends to play alongside them. But, it is 2014, and just as there’s no rule that guards against Rick Ross releasing two full albums in one year, Iggy Azalea’s accent and Bobby Shmurda making three million dollars out of the gate, there’s also no rule against Black Milk constructing a paint-by-numbers soulful rap hit supreme and calling in Professor Bun B to get trill.

Bun B talking about murder is well, arresting, but, in that it’s more from the “get the hell off my lawn” standpoint, I’m not mad at it. Black Milk’s got the platform for socially informed and aware rap listeners worldwide, so him using his ascendant position to go in and say “something” is appreciated. Nobody’s going to talk about this when the year ends, but as a stand alone listen, these are two grown men speaking honestly and not flinching when they see their reflections in the mirror. This track is as impressive as it is imposing, and deserves all of the respect in the world.

Leah: Black Milk’s haunting juxtaposition of a traditional high school experience vs. that of a life of a kid on the streets is stark and sad, and reminds me a lot of his earlier “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst” dual track.  Paired with the warnings from Bun to stay out of the streets if you’re not ready, we see two distinctly warring depictions of life “in the belly of the beast”: the violence and the pride of young men working in a system they can’t defeat to stay alive.  Just a great, great song.  The production on this track is incredible also, as Black Milk makes a strong argument for Big K.R.I.T. level mastery of the different sonic pillars of hip-hop.

Jose: Talk about soul samples.  This is really groovy, and the production value is impeccable – I can’t wait to see how well this translates to the live stage.  Black Milk’s voice has substance to it, and his storytelling rides the beat very well, using the spaces between snares, basslines, guitar riffs and that jazz flute oh-so-well.  Milk’s lyrics hit home with great consistency, and it paints a bleak picture and cautionary tale for would be thugs.  Bun B’s verse builds on this warning, and is some of the realest shit laid down on a track in a minute.  Bun has grown into his “Elder Statesman of (Southern) Rap” role with incredible elegance, and every word carries heft and significance.  This is not a man whose words you take for granted, and the message resonates whether the reality described is yours or someone else’s.

Phil: When I die, bury me inside a Black Milk snare.

Open Mike Eagle ft. Hannibal Buress:

“Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)”

Earlier this summer, Open Mike Eagle released Dark Comedy, one of the funniest, smartest, and all around best underground rap albums you’re likely to hear this year. On minimalistic highlight “Doug Stamper”, the L.A. emcee recruits comedian Hannibal Buress to help dole out some advice via some honest to goodness rapping. Production comes courtesy fellow Los Angeleno Alpha MC. Shout out “House of Cards”.

Marcus: This is everything. It’s like, Dennis Leary’s “Asshole” mixed with The Roots’ video for “What They Do” processed through the awkward hipster Adult Swim blender. I love it, and I just want Open Mike Eagle to call up random dope artists (of all backgrounds) who want to try their hand at rapping well. The production here is dissonant and crisp, just the way that someone who would spend four minutes and 48 seconds listening to ironically delivered (yet totally not ironic) comedic message raps would want it. There’s a formula for success apparent here, and if there’s a market for “Weird Al” Yankovic, there’s certainly a market for Open Mike Eagle doing this, too. Rap’s ripe for the lampooning, and I totally support it as long as its as well done as this is.

Leah: Mike’s rhymes, rife with popular cultural references and blunt wisdom, and delivered with a droll, drawling tone never fail to touch on something very real about day-to-day life.  This skill has easily landed Dark Comedy in my top albums of 2014 (so far) and this song is a great example.  The riff at the end of the acula real-life rapping of comedian Hannibal Buress is just a total bonus and allows both rappers and regular people to laugh at and with the song.

Jose: You know, I’m not usually one to care very much for joke rap, but this works really well and makes me nostalgic for the heady days of Das Racist.  I don’t know very much about Open Mike Eagle, but this weird flow and beat is doing it for me, as are all the pop-culture references.  Layer Hannibal Burress’ very practical life advice on top of it all, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Also, fuck a Toyota Yaris. That’s a terrible vehicle.  Hyundai Sonata is the king of compact cars.

Phil: TV pitch: A reboot of “From G’s to Gents” with Open Mike Eagle hosting. It’s a can’t miss. Someone get RiFF-RAFF on the phone.


Follow Rec-Room on Twitter, where we’re limited to 140 characters:  @marcuskdowling, @philrunco, @gitmomanners, @jrlopez, @dc-phelps, and @Aaron_ish.