Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, Escobar “season” has returned; Kayne West has a new pet project; and Lil Wayne gets gritty with the Lox. As always, our distinguished panel consists of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Damion M, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Joshua Phelps, and Weird City Fest‘s Aaron Miller and Leah Manners (of Hip Hop Hooray too).
Nas: “The Season”
Escobar season has returned. After a year of cashing in on the 20th anniversary of Illmatic – with a deluxe reissue, documentary, and full album performances – Nas is back with a new song, “The Season”. The track may or may not be off a new album, which he’s reportedly been working on with Timbaland, Swizz Beats, and No I.D. Notably, “The Season” is built around a sample of J Dilla’s “Gobstopper”, a 65-second track from the late Detroit producer’s final (non-posthumous) album, Donuts. Perhaps hoping to borrow some shine, Nas premiered the song at a release party for Run the Jewels 2, which came out last week on his label / joint-venture, Mass Appeal.
Phelps: But who wrote the lyrics?
Phil: That is a 95 mph heater in the game of inside baseball.
Marcus: Rappers, rap marketers and rap label executives are trapped. They’re trapped in a feedback loop of continuously attempting to recapture things that were cool when they thought rap was cool. Maybe it’s because rap (the art itself) isn’t very good anymore, or because the rap industry is trapped in a cage and everyone is staring at it, stealing from it or profiting more from it than rap people are. So, with all of this being said, we get venerable rapper Nas rapping over a production from venerated in death producer J-Dilla. No disrespect to anyone involved in this, but Dilla’s MPC is in the Smithsonian and Nas is the namesake of a Harvard fellowship. Thus, all of this is really irrelevant as hell to anything I’m particularly caring about in rap (or life) right now. Maybe Harry Potter ghostwrote this, too? Who knows? This is beyond yawn inducing. I thought Nas killed rap, anyway?
Leah: Well, the “Gobstopper” beat has been a perennial favorite off Donuts, copped by many, including Jay Elect, and I don’t know if Nas needs to borrow shine from anyone, even underground hip-hop’s greatest martyr-hero, despite his recent descent in popularity considering people are still arguing he’s the GOAT. I don’t think Nas is the best MC, but I think he does well on this track – better than Jay Elect – and his style fits this beat perfectly, probably because he may not be the best, but he’s certainly a master of the art. I love J. Dilla’s beats, but some of the hero-worship of his catalog makes me a little uncomfortable. Many worse artists have hitched their wagons to his star and failed miserably. Nas’s effort is admirable, successful, and I don’t hold it against him
Phelps: I thought I was going to be on some next level “OH NO HE DIDN’T” shit when I called Nas irrelevant, but then I read Marcus’ response.
If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, Illmatic was Nas’ finest moment and It Was Written falls to an immeasurably distant second place, with everything else pedestrian or just bad. It’s a shame because he’s been chasing that dragon for 2 decades with some tracks that are just embarrassing (“You Owe Me”) so, just when it seemed he conceded to the people’s desire for Nastalgia (ooph sorry but come on he called an album NAStradamus – GTFOH) and toured Illmatic for all of 2014 including TWO sold out Kennedy Center shows with a full orchestra, here we go with an uncomfortable, lyrical back patting (“a rarity, Nas and Dilla beat”) song to expose his insecurity over the oft-discussed charges of using ghost writers.
When author/producer/activist Dream Hampton shined a light on Dead Prez’ and Jay Elect’s contributions to the writing on N*gger, it could have opened a dialogue on collaboration and potentially break down some of the male rapper machismo of going for dolo 100% (check in on Nashville sometime Nas – might learn someting) but instead he called the social media hounds in, threatening all sorts of creative rape and murder fantasies, to protect his precious reputation. She didn’t budge, and for the most part Dead Prez have been tight lipped except when trying to hawk green juices or perform for 20 people at Occupy DC. But in the end, who cares, because who is really checking for Nas these days?
All I can think is what kind of stupid motherfucker makes a whole song “protesting too much” then compares hisself to Shakespeare? Bitch you guessed it.
Jose: “Gobstopper” is a timeless beat, and while I agree with Leah that people are a little too much on Dilla’s nuts (something I’ve been guilty of myself at some point), we can’t argue with the fact that the cream of his catalogue is just absolute fire. Something worth checking out is Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s “Suite for Ma Dukes” – a cool little tribute I found at a roots record store in Atlanta’s Little Five Points back in 2009. They do amazing versions of Jay Dee’s tracks, and it’s really great to hear a 60 piece orchestra interpret what was basically put together on an MPC, a sampler, and some keys.
Nas is just Nas on this track, and that is good! I fucks with this song. I can run through brick walls on this shit.
Theophilus London ft. Kanye West: “Can’t Stop”
“Kanye West decided he wanted to help the culture through my voice and music.” This is how Theophilus London modestly describes Yeezy’s involvement with his forthcoming record, Vibes!. [Note: That exclamation point is part of the title.] London goes on: “He wanted to help me become a better musician and helped mentor me during the process of Vibes! He agreed to be Executive Producer after hearing ‘Neu Law’ in his car system while driving through Paris.” I am glad to hear that Kanye has a proper car stereo and does not drive around with an iPod boombox. Anyway, the album is out this week, and while Kanye executive-produced the whole record – as he allegedly did with Tyga’s stuck-in-limbo The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty – he appears on just one Vibes! song, “Can’t Stop”. And London has indicated that their collaborative relationship is a two way street: The Trinidadian-born rapper purports to guest on Kanye’s much anticipated, mysterious new record.
Marcus: Theophilus London’s album is executive produced by Yeezy, meaning that this is the first thing that Yeezus himself came down from the right hand of Jay Z to touch with his majestic wallet of black cards and pictures of Anna Wintour bottle feeding North at a dinner party (one can only assume what’s in Yeezy’s wallet is on that level of amazing) to spend on as a rap executive. I get the sense that Kanye sees his idealized self recording Late Registration with this album. Theophilus London isn’t a great musician as much as he is an ambitious creative. London may also be the first rap artist that’s ever been creatively inspired by a photo of Kanye and Don C on the Champs Elysees moreso than anything Rakim ever said. To Kanye that has to be cool, and also gives him a sense of having to be a rap steward, too.
I love Kanye writing “b**ch diss” raps now. It’s like, you can be the most amazing woman in the world to him, but given that you’re not his wife, you’re a second-class nobody. There’s a level of swagger there that’s either ridiculous or incredible, depending on perspective. Theophilus London writes rap songs for basics who just graduated from Uggs and PSLs to faux (not haute) couture and single espressos. Ever since his come up and his first flight to Paris, he’s like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, realizing that the older he gets, [the women] stay the same [emotional] age. Thus, Kanye and Theophilus on this song are speaking the same language but on different levels. To keep it (misogynistic and) 300 (just like the Romans), Theophilus will always be outchea hustlin’ for pu**y and making common ass promises while Kanye dunked on errbody and locked down the illest pu**y in the game.
It’s solid overall, and I think it meets a certain “Forever 21” meets Ann Taylor Loft expectation for rap these days. Yeah. Run that line back in your head two or three times because it’s absolutely true.
Jose: This single has a lot of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy era Kanye all over it, and that can only be a good thing. Not that I didn’t love Yeezus – I still do – but I think there was a quality of beauty to MBDTF that the follow-up album rejected for the most part, taking what had become “deconstructed” hip-hop to it’s extreme conclusion: a sonic puree, almost unrecognizable from the original, but garnished cleverly with white noise, primal yells, and industrial sounds (take that, Ferran Adrià).
“Can’t Stop” is the backlash from the backlash. It’s just really, really cool, man. The beat is sparse, the melody is elegant and opens up nicely, and both Kanye and Theophilus have some pretty solid verses. I can see Theophilus and Ye getting into a deep conversation about their design influences, their respective adventures playing naked Twister with models in Paris, and how nobody else sees the world for the palette of possibilities it really is. Damn. I want in on that party. This is a song I’ll be listening to for a while.
Leah: This beat is straight up amazing, and Jose’s right about Ye slipping into MBDTF mode. I’ve never been a big London fan and I don’t think his verse on this is particularly outstanding. Basically, Kanye’s recycling (it ain’t Ralph tho) and London is just…there. Marcus has a point – I can see my future self trying on clothes and hearing this over the loudspeakers, edited for popular consumption.
Lil Wayne ft. The Lox: “Gotti”
If our discussion of Lil Wayne in recent months is any indication, Rec-Room is heavily invested in Tha Carter V. We’ve already taken a look at the oft-delayed record’s first single “Believe Me” and its follow-up “Krazy”. We also talked about tracks with Young Thug (“Take Kare”) and Mike WiLL Made-It (“Buy the World”). We did not talk about the record’s third single, “Grindin” (because yawn) nor the street single “D’usse”, which is perhaps the best of the bunch. So, if you’re looking for discussion of whether Lil Wayne is “back”, we point you in that direction. Today we’re just going to talk about “Gotti”, another street single and definitely the most street single. The track features Styles P and Jadakiss – who are billed as the Lox despite the absence of Sheek Louch – and was produced by Miami beatmaker A. Jayones. The release of “Gotti” was paired with news that Tha Carter V has been pushed to December, and will now be broken into two parts. “I recorded so many songs. I got too many songs. I worked way too much to give y’all half of it,” Weesy said in a PSA. “If I would’ve dropped the album today, it would have to be 12 or 13 songs. I refuse to cheat my fans. I refuse to cheat myself.”
Marcus: Jadakiss is consistently delivering rap music I love to listen to these days, so this gets a listen based on his involvement alone. If you’re one of those folks on the trendy “New York rap sucks” bandwagon, just type “Jadakiss” into DatPiff and zone out for an hour or two.
For real though, I’ve always felt like Lil Wayne was so much more influenced by New York rappers than anything the South ever did. His style and swagger always had that “no fucks given, I’m too cool” Harlem thing associated with it, and his hustle always read “Juice” more than “Hustle and Flow.” Thus, him on the same track with the Lox feels comfortable, like Wayne finally being welcomed into the New York familia for good. Wayne’s like your favorite NBA team that infuriates you because he plays up or down to the level of his competition. Stepping on the floor with the Knicks here, he’s not a (New Orleans) Pelican, but is bringing his Charles Oakley flow and bodying weak ass Scottie Pippens in the process. Instead of quoting Lil Wayne’s verses, I’m going to commit his verses here to memory. SO great. Back in a bit…
Damion: *FLAMES* This is that old Wayne. That Dedication 1 and 2 Wayne. If this is the Wayne that’s around the corner, I can’t wait for Tha Carter V.
Leah: “Dead men don’t talk / and the Feds don’t have seances.” By the time Weezy lights into his second verse, I’ve completely forgotten about Jadakiss and Styles P. I don’t know if Wayne is re-inhabiting himself circa C2, or if his newfound maturity has made his verses as confident as his youthful hubris allowed him to be, but this track is the first that has made me believe C5 will deliver some quality Weezy material that could actually live up to his early output.
Jose: I love what Wayne is doing here, and it makes me excited for C5. I’m not sure that I care for the beat, generally, but whatever let’s our man find his inner spirit beast, by all means please do.
Phelps: This song is a perfect example of a whole not being greater than the sum of it’s parts. Yes, the beat sounds like the dudes putting down chords with Rufus in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, but fuck if Wayne doesn’t continue to whet our C5 appetites. The Lox are fine if out of place, but what are they supposed to do when Wayne takes 75% of the song to aggressively placate us with one liners while we wait, and wait, for the new record.
Phil: I could do without the moment when the beat drops out for Wayne to spotlight the nitty gritty of vagina smuggling, but, overall, I concur with Damion’s *FLAMES* assessment. Major artist street singles don’t come much better than this these days. Let’s also take a step back and recognize that a year ago Wayne was putting out the *FLAMING GARBAGE* Dedication 5 and many of us (note: mostly me) questioned if he was even capable of doing much else aside from haplessly string dick jokes together. So, “Gotti”: A whole song without a dick joke. That alone is a Veterans’ Day miracle. It’s an added bonus that Wayne’s verses here are on point. I could listen to him reminisce on the Hot Boys’ glory days forever. And I’ve always been fascinated by his relationship with Birdman. It somehow comes off as something both sweet and profoundly fucked up.
Damion: Wayne’s first verse is what really does it for me. We’re the same age – I probably started listening to the Hot Boys at, like, 16. I remember when Birdman had a fade! “Gotti” is Wayne finally remembering where he came from after all that skateboarding and rock album nonsense.
I hope he’s at the stage of life Jay was when he dropped The Black Album. I hope Wayne is just gonna start recounting the street life he grew up in – that’s the shit that got him the second wave of fans during the early Dedication years.
I never left Team Wayne, but I gotta say, I wasn’t rocking the jersey like I use to. I can’t say for sure, but it sounds like my man chilled with the syrup and got back to really focusing on lyrical content.