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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.

Today, the unholy Kanye and McCartney alliance expands to include Rihanna; Aesop Rock falls into a black hole; and Kid Ink tries to be real.

As always, our distinguished panel consists of  Marcus DowlingPhil R, Joshua Phelps, Damion M, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Clyde McGrady, and Weird City Fest’s Aaron Miller.

rihanna-fourfiveseconds

Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney: “FourFiveSeconds”

“FourFiveSeconds” is billed as the collaboration of Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney. (The liberal usage of “and” is their choice, not mine.) Is it a stand alone single? Is it from the Kanye record? Is it from the Rihanna record? Right now, we don’t know. But iTunes credits the “album artist” as Rihanna, so I guess that’s something. And like most Kanye songs these days, a whole lot of people are credited with working on it: Kirby Lauryen, Mike Dean, Ty Dolla $ign, Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth, Dallas Austin, Elon Rutberg, and Noah Goldstein.

AARON: The Doomsday Clock is now officially FourFiveSeconds to midnight because of this track.

This is an interesting little ditty. I don’t hate it, but I absolutely don’t like it. I feel like this sham of a Paul McCartney “collaboration” somehow involves cornering him in an elevator and coaxing him up to the studio under the guise of looking at baby pictures or something. I imagine Paul waking up from a nap in the middle of the “session” and being like, “Just do that voice cracking thing that I stole from Little Richard”

The concept of this being a fully collaborative experience is so thin as to be nonexistent. This is Yeezy using influence to gain influence. This is Yeezy pandering to our soft spot for icons and getting that iTunes money.

To be clear I like Rihanna. At least Rihanna can sing. At least she actually sounds like she gives a shit. There is some emotion there.

Kanye, however, is on that same auto-tuned drivel, because nobody in the Kingdom will tell him that he can’t sing.

PRETTY PLEASE, STAHP, MOTHERFUCKER.

“FourFiveSeconds” sounds like 4 isolated tracks from an unfinished song recorded on someone’s phone.

Seeing as how Macca is an actual old boring analog musical genius, he can probably fart out 100 of these chord progressions in an hour.

And I’m assuming Kanye intends to use every last goddamn one until there is a box set of this low-fruit nonsense.

It’s also a little weird to hear one of these everyman struggle-to-make-it-through-the-day/week/life jams performed by artists who have a combined net worth of well over a billion dollars.

You know Paul still remembers how to stunt in the whip and pop bottles. Just explain to him what ” wylin” means and turn the fuck up.

Can I at least get a beat on this thang?

CLYDE: Two of my favorite things in the world are hot wings and sour patch kids. I have never eaten them at the same time becau— ya know what, fuck this analogy because you already know where I’m going.

Look, I gave “Only One” a chance because that song’s sentiment resonated with me and the melody was catchy. But I still held out hope that it wasn’t a harbinger for Yeezy’s next album… but now, ionno. This does not get me hype for the album. And word is Macca’s producing the whole damn thang now.

McCartney doesn’t have any vocals here but just like on “Only” his melodic sensibility is easily detected. (He churns out those things like Keith Richards churned out guitar riffs in the 1970s– maybe he even churned this one out before???) It sounds like a b-side from the Ram Sessions with a slightly more urban (black) flavor. Such an aggressive message for such feathery light production.

Also, I saw Rihanna live back in November at the Concert for Valor and was blown away. I may be late on this but I’ve been underrating her as a singer, and she turns in a good vocal performance on “FourFiveSeconds.”

I try not to get mad when my favorite artists veer off into new territory, because even as a paying customer, who am I to tell someone not to chase their muse? But DAMMIT KANYE PLZ PICK UP SOME DRUMZ AND START SPITTIN BARZ MAN. I guess this is what happens when a restless creative genius gets bored (see: Below, The Love)?

But really why should Kanye listen to some dude like me? You know who he should listen to? Kanye West, circa 2010: “I was looking at my resume feelin’ real fresh today.”  “They rewrite history, I don’t believe in Yesterday.” “And what’s a black Beatle anyway, a fucking roach?

DAMION: I don’t dislike this, but it’s not going in any rotation.  I’m starting to see that any time “featuring Paul McCartney” is in the title I need to skip the track.

PHIL: A “working for the weekend” acoustic anthem peppered with moderately edgy urban slang? This sounds like a Kid Rock song to me.

MARCUS: You know what this song is missing? A hashtag. Really kinda bummed for the super-corporate push this song is getting RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE that the “#FourFiveSeconds” idea couldn’t have been pulled out of the 2013 bag of corporate tricks for this one. There’s big stars, urban slang and a “disruptive” drop. All that was missing was the hashtag for “social media virality” and we were set. Oh well.

Yes, those four sentences were all facetious.

This song is Rihanna’s next attempt at “Cheers (Drink To That)” five years later. Kanye singing is him pretty much going rogue from rap for a while, which I think is deserved. The game is in a place where he’s basically irrelevant if he keeps on spitting bars, so doing this sing-song thing with Sir fucking Paul McCartney actually does well to keep him out of the messy and re-developing fray of rap, but still musically in the game.

All that being said, do realize that we’re one month into 2015 and the pieces are already falling into place to make it entirely possible that at the end of 12 months of 2015 that 74-year old Giorgio Moroder and 72-year old Paul McCartney could be the most important pop artists of the year.

If that happens, I’m going to be #fourfiveseconds from laughing my ass off. So awesome, yet so unfortunate, too.

JOSE: Nope, nope, nope. Come on, guys. You have sold like a billion fucking records between the three of you. Give us a real banger. I expect this kind of bullshit from Avicii, but not from Ye.

Listen, I thought 808s was totally weird and off-putting the first time I heard it, and won’t pretend otherwise. Obviously, I recognized the true genius of Kanye’s Bjork tribute album after a couple of listens, and it’s probably my favorite alongside My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But this? Are they just trolling us? They’re definitely just releasing B-sides to get people frothing at the mouth before the real, genius, amazing Yenius* drops on Valentine’s Day, triggering mass divorces and uncontrollable shade thrown between couples. Right?

*Would be a pretty sweet title.

AARON: Could we at least get a Yeezus H. Christmas album from these two saps? That’s probably more Paul’s speed.

PHELPS: Neverrrrrrr ever go full Everlast, what the hell? I hope Yeezy is just messing with McCartney to see what it’s like and will realize this is trash. I’m in the bag for Ye and for 808s, but he’s ultimately the worst part of this song. I still fuck with him on autotune, but not this singing in the shower bullshit. It actually makes “Only One” seem eons better by comparison.

All is not lost, however – this may be the best if not rawest I’ve ever heard Rihanna (I’m no expert; hits only.) Her voice is pained and crackalackin like L Boogie! I’ve always hated on it, but she’s phenomenal here because you can actually hear it.

Drop Ye for the album version and maybe this is OK.

Aesop Rock: “Cat Food”

Late year, Aesop Rock – quasi-scientifically, the wordiest rapper in the game – collaborated with toymaker Kid Robot on Whiskers the Undead, a 10.5-inch “mid-battle feline” that came “complete with exposed innards and detachable crow enemy for maximum death-play.” As an added bonus, the figurine came paired with a free 7-inch: “Cat Food” b/w “Bug Zapper”. This month, the San Francisco rapper went ahead and gave those songs a proper digital release. Today, we listen to the A-side, “Cat Food”, which was produced by longtime collaborator Blockhead, the New Yorker responsible for a majority of the tracks on Aesop Rock’s 2001 landmark LP Labor Days and 2007’s None Shall Pass. We heard the MC rip Busdriver’s “Ego Death” last summer, but he last released a record of his own – the underrated Skelethon – back in 2012.

PHIL: This song this song this song so tough can’t even here we go.

MARCUS: Damn. Everything about this is tough.

I like how the song’s title isn’t in the hook, and that it feels like a loosely correlating stream of consciousness rant. There’s a level of craftsmanship here that pop rappers who are cool right now can’t even nominally wrap their minds around, and the hyper-lyrical folks have to sit in awe and wish that they’ll be half as great as this one day.

And that track? Where’s that sample from, because that shit is HARD. I’ve been listening to Outsidaz, Pace Won and Rah Digga this week, so, yeah, this fits right in the dissonant, stentorian – and yet still melodic- space that a lot of their stuff resides with me. Fantastic all of the way around.

AARON: This one wins. This song is nice. Another anti-anthem for the disenfranchised from a modern master. I’m getting distinct notes of sinister irony and over-the-head fuck-yous. Like most of Aesop Rock’s raps, it’s the perfect mix of poetry and fighting words.

It has always been fascinating to me that Aesop Rock has created so much of his own thing that he kind of floats above, or at least off to the side and to the left, of most traditional hip-hop criticism. Back in the day, it was just a niche, then that niche turned into a genre. As it stands now, his style could be considered an archetype. It’s the gold standard of weirdo rap. It’s just really hard to find a problem with this guy.

One of the ways I have always used to judge exactly how good an emcee is by how well I can rap along with that shit. I’m no slouch, in a karaoke kind of way. Busta? No problem. Eminem? Sheeeeeeit. Bring it. fuck it…I’ll do Good Kid Mad City right now like a fuckin one-act play no breaks.

But I’ve been listening to Aesop Rock albums for a minute and I struggle to hold onto a precious 16-32 consecutive  bars of any fucking track.I’m all out of breath. I gotta wait for the hook and pick it back up. It’s frustrating. To be clear: I am not a rapper, but, damn, that’s got to mean something.

For every Aesop Rock track that I hear, I have to listen to two M.O.P. tracks to unwind and stop thinking so much.

I think it’s OK to not like Aesop Rock. It’s perfectly fine to admit that it’s easy to get smothered by the headiness and the sheer volume of words. But once you let go and realize that you are a growth-stunted hater who is scared of smart people, it gets so much better.

JOSE: This is fucking awesome. Aesop Rock is on a whole other level, with so much lyrical density that he’s actually off the charts. This song does not disappoint – the beat is excellent, his raps are crisp and on point, and each word propels you forward with so much coiled menace that it’s hard to focus on anything aside from his delivery. Really great stuff.

CLYDE: I’m by no means a rap purist, but this song is the essence here: Dope beat, dope rhymes, and a charismatic MC. And I can’t stress that last point enough. Rappers can’t just get by throwing a word salad at the audience. Those words need to reveal some kind of personality. And I tend to like it more if that personality doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Looking at you, Jermaine Cole).

Here, Aesop spits clever shit and you never get the impression that he’s trying too hard. He lets the game come to him as they say.

And dude is clearly a pop culture maven. I mean, the references alone are after my heart: “Game of Thrones”, Mitt Romney, Jimmy Hoffa, “Super Troopers” (j/k I don’t really get that movie).

These days, I’m impressed any time a rapper can be bothered to write a hook. This one isn’t super complicated, just a simple call and response, but it’s catchy.

Great track.

PHELPS: My homie had a friend who worked nights at the local power company just sitting there, flipping switches, eating Lays and Lance and all sorts of snacks and shit. Sometimes he’d get stoned and just start calling people out of the phone book and recording shit. My favorite was his Meow Mix bit where people would answer and he’d let the silence breathe a minute before they said “Hello” a second time, and he’d interrupt them and start going “MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW,” then stop. Usually it was some old lady and she’d stay on the line, “Who is th-” then “MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW.” Shit would go on for like 4 minutes and be absolutely fucking amazing. Like this song. Goddamn ,who pissed off Blockhead?! Bangerooni. Cat-approved.

 

Kid Ink ft. Dej Loaf: “Be Real”

A year ago, L.A. rapper Kid Ink released an album called My Own Lane and a bunch of people bought it. This was largely because of its two hits, “Show Me” and “Main Chick”, both of which featured Chris Brown, and both of which were produced by DJ Mustard. There is no rest for Mr. Ink, however: His next LP, Full Speed, comes out next Tuesday. It has been preceded by the singles “Body Language” (a Cashmere Cat production featuring Usher and Tinashe) and “Hotel” (a reunion with Chris Brown that featured a beat by Baltimore’s The Featherstones). Now we get “Be Real”, a reunion with his other cohort, DJ Mustard. The west coast producer’s output hasn’t been as prodigious as usual since the release of his 10 Summers album in August; there was a Beyonce remix, a few tracks on YG’s Blame It on the Streets, and Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You”. But DJ Mustard is still ubiquitous, because his 2014 hits (Jeremih’s “Dont Tell Em”, Tinashe’s “2 On”, Rick Ross’ “Sanctified”, the aforementioned Big Seany song) won’t go away. Plus, there is a lot of shit that just sounds like DJ Mustard these days. Anyway, “Be Real” also features Dej Loaf , the sinister Detroit MC responsible for crossover hit “Try Me”.

PHIL: It’s a little frustrating that Dej Loaf keeps getting relegated to strictly hook duty, but, man, she can rock an understated shit-talking hook. As for the track’s nominal star, Kid Ink, he exists, admirably even. Honestly, when a great hook and a great beat goes to someone like this, my only thought is: “Please don’t ruin this for me.” So, I am pleased to report that Crystal Lite Drake does not fuck this up. I mean, he doesn’t molt his wackness and transform into a butterfly, but for all the shots that Kid Ink takes, there’s nothing here that isn’t at least on par with West Coast dudes like Iamsu! and Sage the Gemini, who are oddly well-respected. Also, that “The Shining” reference is good!

Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is DJ Mustard’s ongoing development, however incrementally. The half life of hot-shit producers with a definable sound gets shorter and shorter every year. Once the mainstream gets a hold of your sound or Kanye sucks its lifeblood, the jig is usually up. R.I.P. Young Chop. R.I.P. Lex Luger. R.I.P. Clams Casino. Adapt or perish. And Mustard is proving that he may be capable of the former. “I Don’t Fuck With You” and “Sanctified” showed that his strain of production is genetically compatible with others’ styles, but his own move towards overtly dance music on “Be Real” and the “7/11” remix is more promising. It may only buy him another six months, but he’s already survived longer than anyone here would have reasonably guessed.

MARCUS: Okay. So in 1998, Ruffhouse Records-signed Yonkers, NY-based trio Sporty Thievz released a single, “No Pigeons”, which was an answer record to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” When I listen to this record, all I hear is that Kid Ink – a rapper who feels like the second coming of Tyga (and let’s contemplate that for a minute) – is rapping an answer record to “No Scrubs” (as sang by Lisa “Left…” oh wait… Dej Loaf) almost 20 years later.

If needing undeniable proof of the absurd level of basic-ness of mainstream music at present, look no further than right here. Dej Loaf is really talented, and her management is basically shoehorning her into being an artist who already existed 20 years ago.

As well, here’s “Kid Ink,” and WTF is a “Kid Ink?” Is it WIz Khalifa? Is it Tyga? Is it a Tyga/Khalifa clone? Who is he? He’s undefined, and somehow has radio hits and relevance, though not from any sort of organically developed place.

This song is frustrating. I think we should all revisit the ridiculousness that is the video for “No Pigeons” instead.

JOSE: The first 39 seconds of this song are absolutely banging. Then Kid Ink starts rapping.

Seriously, Loaf and Mustard –  which sounds suspiciously like the contents of my refrigerator – are unarguably the best parts of this track. She sings the hook like Akon after a sex change (a good thing in this instance), and Mustard’s production has indeed improved, while remaining very obviously within his wheelhouse.

Neither Kid Ink is a Frankenrapper. I’d note that there are big chunks of Big Sean in his stylistic gumbo as well. I’m sure there’s more to him than what we’ve seen here. I want to believe. He’s not bad on this track; it’s just that compared to the other two parts to the song, his forgettable raps settle at the bottom of this stew.

AARON: GODDAMN YOU JOSE FOR BEATING ME TO THE MUSTARD LOAF JOKE. MY WHOLE STEEZ IS FUCKED UP.

AND MARCUS JUST MADE THE MOST ACCURATE ANALOGY OF ALL TIME.

NOW I’M JUST LEFT HERE WITH HATE IN MY HEART AND NO SANDWICH JOKES.

CLYDE: Guys! I never thought I would say these words but Kid Ink just changed my life!

Here I was going about my day, tossing and turning in an uncomfortable bed of lies that I’d made for myself. My face itching from this false mask I’ve presented to the world, too scared to show who I really am. “What if no one likes the real me?” I asked myself through sobs and tears this morning in the bathroom.

But then I clicked on this song.

“Let’s just be honest, let’s just be real,” said the rapper who’s a “boss like Gotti” and “reps Tom Ford and still pops molly,” and technically doesn’t trick because everybody knows “it ain’t trickin’ if ya got it.”

So starting today, I’m just gonna keep real.

Here is my first truth: I fucking hate Kid Ink.

There.

AARON: Let’s just be real: This song is wack. When the high point of a track is the “Mustard on the beat ho” tag in the first few seconds, you know you’re in trouble.

I suppose every one on this track is saved by their own buzz. It has all the right parts,right? Big names that worked for bigger names. Dudes that sound like Big Sean. Internet-born gangsters soaking in hood cred and Twitter promo.

It ain’t trickin’ if you got it, right?

Wrong.

It’s not good. It’s not terriblem but I will most likely never listen to it again on purpose. Almost every time I hear the new Hit Single that everyone is checking for, I get a piercing headache and the El-P voice hits my brain like a cold knife.

“WE ALL CAN’T BE PIMPS AND WE ALL CAN’T RAP”

Let’s just be honest, OK?

I never cared for Mustard’s production.

I had to Google Kid Ink just to learn enough to hate on him.

And I thought Dej Loaf’s  “Try Me” was a fluke. It’s 51% jam and 49% internet curiosity.Ms. Loaf is onto something. I just don’t know what it is. She barely registers as a rapper or a singer.I think it’s just good ole fashioned marketing, flashy production, and cult of personality. Props for that anyway. The internet told me to like it so I did. That is not my usual style, but I have been known to hitch a ride on the bandwagon every now and again. I will give her a couple more tracks before I move on. Can’t knock the hustle, etc, etc.

As for these other jokers, I’m just tired of trappy sounds-like-the-last-track club bangers. This hip-hop is serious biz and y’all can slide over to the pop side and do you until you die in a big pile of advance money. I don’t give a shit, but you no longer get brownie points for talking about dumb shit on a slick beat. It’s 2015 and every form of real urban culture worth a damn is dying off and being stealthily replaced with a corporate bodysnatcher doppleganger version. It’s Rap Game 1984 out there and the struggle is real. Do better.

“For your protection, go sit in the R & B section, for this session.” -Redman

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

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