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

Today, Big Sean is blessed with Drake and Kanye features; Open Mike Eagle stares into the abyss; and an iron rose blooms for Cannibal Ox and MF DOOM.

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

Big Sean ft. Drake & Kanye West: “Blessings”

A few weeks into September, Big Sean dumped four songs on Soundcloud. There wasn’t much context for them, which is odd because of the names who had a hand in their production: Kanye West, DJ Mustard, Mike WiLL Made It, Nate Fox, Da Internz, Key Wane, L&F, DJ Dahi. Then some funny things happened: one of the songs (“I Don’t Fuck With You”) was so popular that it was then released as a single and sold a million copies; another (“Paradise”) was so well received critically that a lot of people began to backtrack on the prevailing Big Sean hatred. Unsurprisingly, both of these songs are ending up on the Detroit rapper’s forthcoming third LP, Dark Sky Paradise. Last week, Big Sean dropped a third single from the record, “Blessings”. It’s a Vinylz and Boi-1da joint featuring Drake. And maybe Kanye? The initial version posted to Soundcloud featured Kanye. The one that showed up on iTunes the next day did not. We’re obviously going to talk about the Kanye version.

AARON: This is killing me. I was just barely recovering from the damn McCartney thing, and now this: My three least favorite rap saps officially laying the last brick in the Church of Yeezus Christ Feeling Himself.

The struggle can only get so real. Why do these dudes continue to front like they are having such a hard time at having a good time.

I don’t want to hear Drake, Patron Saint of the Soft, or Seanus Maximus, the Struggle King, complain about shit anymore. I don’t want to hear Kanye pontificate about how simultaneously misunderstood and amazing he is.

I have achieved a Grace-like state of not giving a fuck.

From a technical standpoint, I appreciate that Vinylz and Boi 1da tried to get weird on this. The distortion and awkward swing on this beat is nice.

But I have pretty much been blinded by the forced glory of these three jokers.

Big Sean, please stop saying everything twice. It’s dumb.

Drake, which is it? Do you feel blessed or are you having a good time? This hook makes no fucking sense.

Kanye, you can take dick pics or open a school. Pick one.

MARCUS: Don’t hate me, but this is great. I’ll tell you why.

Big Sean was really awesome at rapping when rapping for teenagers impressed by “let me stand in front of my closet and talk about #rare clothes” raps were cool. Of course, when he made the jump into the mainstream he was still rapping about sneakers, and he definitely didn’t have any sort of real bars to actually be a threat. Kanye tried (and tried and tried and tried again) to make it work, and somewhere along the way (probably in the midst of getting dumped by Naya Rivera), Sean woke up cold and alone and was like, “Damn. I might actually suck at rap.” He’s put in a ton of work since faking like he was a rapper with bars on “Control.” Of course, being on a track with Drake and semi-retired Kanye is easier than rapping next to Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica, so his improvement shows on this one.

Let’s be honest here. Drake’s getting really lazy. The hook here is perfectly laconic, though, so it masks the fact that Drake is coasting and likely saving the big guns for the next album. Yeah, this this half-Migos flow thing  that he (and like, everybody) is jacking getting really played out. Half of me wishes that it was Quavo instead of Drake on this, because I actually think he would’ve added more and been a stronger counterpoint to Kanye. Drake sounds ridiculous here, actually, his Tony Montana via Nickelodeon vibes just rubbing me in all of the wrong directions. I mean, he’s not the hardest dude in the game, but there’s something in his voice that tells me that his dad (shout out to Dennis G) has told him some old school Memphis hustler tales, just so he can have that credibility in his voice.

But, yeah. The real star here, as it should be, is Kanye. He’s doing that whole “semi-retired but now actually the most important rapper” Jay Z in 2009 thing… which is understandable, given that he’s his “Big Brother” and all. That being said, dick snapchatting, cross-training, home-schooled daughter parenting and Montessori school opening Kanye has replaced Paul McCartney befriending Kanye as our new favorite Kanye. Maybe after realizing that Sway didn’t have the answers, he got down to business and could be like, #fourfiveseconds from figuring out the solutions to his own questions. Amazing. I can dig it.

PHELPS: Yeezy bats 1.000 when dropping dick pics references. (See also: “Runaway”.) And rapping about your daughter’s schooling in the same song may be of questionable taste, but for some reason, he pulls it off better than Jay-Z’s ultra bougie lines about his daughter going Steve Wynn on a Picasso. Maybe Ye gets a pass from me because, unlike Jay-Z, he still makes some good records.

As far as Big Sean goes, he pretty much murders the Boi 1Da track here. Enough respect due, he’s technically amazing here, enough to get over his annoying nasal flow. First Big Sean song I ever left on my iPhone!

CLYDE: Big Sean actually spazzed on this one. No snark, just props.

PHIL: A part of me has to root for Big Sean. He’s just rap game Charlie Brown.

“Sean, ‘Clique’ is going to be on your record!” *Kanye removes football*

“Sean, come work on my new album!” *Kanye removes football*

“Sean, you should rap on ‘Sanctified’!” *Kanye removes football*

Big Sean is going to release a version of “Big Brother” for Kanye that’s three minutes of sobbing.

Anyway, “Blessings”. Big Sean may be the only rapper on the planet whose music I listen to without any part of me wanting to sing along. That said, I like the minor key, gothic lane he’s carving out for himself.

Side note: “My grandma just died / I’m the man of the house”? No disrespect to deceased family members, but was your grandma previously the man of the house?

Shout out to Drake saying “I don’t need any more press” on the one year anniversary of his Rolling Stone hissy fit. Whatever you say, man.

AARON: That grandma line had me picturing Big Sean alone in a Big House dressed like his grandma on some “Psycho” meets “Madea” shit.

JOSE: This song is one of those minor key creepers that I gravitate towards. It’s a darker turn, and really bangs in unexpected ways. That being said, the best thing about “Blessings” is the production.

Each member of this trio has an asteroid size chip on his shoulder, and there’s a lot of “told you so” in their songs. I can usually put up with it from Kanye, because he’s consistently delivered (with the exception of the recent McYeezus tracks), but Drake and Big Sean are wearing on my patience. Come on, guys, you’re young, successful, and talented enough to be doing this for a living. Look like you’re having some fucking fun.

More than anything, though, I feel #blessed Kanye skipped the singing on this track.

Cannibal Ox ft. MF Doom: “Iron Rose”

It’s been almost two year since we talked about Cannibal Ox. (Holy shit, Rec-Room is old!) Back then, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega were dropping a maxi-single and crowd-funding the resources for a comeback LP. Well, that effort has come to fruition with the awesomely titled, forthcoming Blade of the Ronin – the duo’s first record since scene-defining Def Jux masterwork The Cold Vein. The record isn’t out until the beginning of March, but this week we got to hear lead single “Iron Rose”. Like the rest of the album, the song was produced by fellow New Yorker Bill Cosmiq. Unlike the rest of the album, it features masked anti-hero DOOM, who is maybe back to being called MF Doom.

LEAH: I can’t pretend that I was all that thrilled with “Gotham (Ox City)” when it came out, but hearing Vast Aire and Virdul Mega over creepy astro beats again brought be back to a very sincere appreciation of The Cold Vein. That’s all changed; now I’m looking forward to how they progress. This track is the only so far to make it seem like they still have some magic, some edge, and some ability to creep me out.  I’m hoping it’ll carry over into the other tracks for this album.  (Cover art AOTY, by the way.)

MARCUS: I enjoy everything about this single except for the hipster focus group marketing. Cannibal Ox, MF Doom, Pitchfork and indie distribution appear way too close to each other in the blurb about this track that I had to read while listening. I mean, if songs like this exist because we’re all incredibly mad at mainstream rap, then why not put this on Peter Rosenberg’s desk or have Cannibal Ox and MF Doom on the Combat Jack Show? I mean, it’s really not that hard anymore. Folks just have to step their games up, that’s all.

Bill Cosmiq’s production is crispy as hell here. It’s got enough shimmer to not make him sound like a RZA clone, yet just enough thump to enter the room and have a conversation with Premier and Pete Rock. The “iron” wordplay is awesome in that way that old dudes rapping at rappity-rap concerts is awesome, half of me expecting the duo to pull out the parlor trick of freestyling about six unrelated objects in the outro. Do I want to hear this album, though? Yes. Is it the cover art’s fault more than anything I heard in a solid, yet not incredible track? Absolutely.

PHIL: It’s nice to hear DOOM hanging out in the company of fellow dirtballs. NehruvianDOOM felt like a version of “Training Day” where Ethan Hawke passed on the PCP and spent the next 90 minutes handing out jaywalking tickets.

“Iron clad and rhyming at the dropping of a diamond / Filthy middle fingers get it popping like a hymen.” Never change, DOOM. Never change.

On the whole, I couldn’t agree with Leah more. “Iron Rose” puts some air back in the tires deflated by “Gotham (Ox City)”. We know that Blade of the Ronin isn’t going to have the luxury of next level El-P sonic landscapes like The Cold Vein – though, to be honest, neither do the Run the Jewels records – but this is the audio equivalent of a grimy, New York subway station.

I’m back on board.

CLYDE: You might as well call this song “Five Beers, Two Melatonin and a House of Cards Marathon” because it put my ass straight to sleep.

JOSE: I want to like everything about this a lot more than I actually do. Historically, seeing the words “MF Doom” on a track listing has been enough to work up a lather, but I’m just kind of bored by it. It’s alright, and maybe that same “old dudes rapping at rappity-rap concerts” vibe is what flattens it for me.

AARON: When exactly did we stop wanting raps with our rap?

Y’all some haters. Big SH-Yawn got y’all fucked up.

Sorry. It’s just that songs like this pretty much give a snapshot of “underground” hip-hop at its finest, old dudes or not sellable single be damned. Can Ox’s last underwhelming effort notwithstanding, this shit is tight.

This track is on that faceless warrior monk shit. This is secret code bitches. This is the kind of rap that opens the Hellraiser box and kills everybody but you so you can tell the others. Can Ox is like you gave Pliny the Elder and Ghengis Khan a microphone.

There’s an intro to an old Smif n Wessun track that pops in my head every now and then. It explains this shit in clear hip-hop terms: “This ain’t for y’all.”

Tragically true. This is not for most folks and never has been.

I’m a little upset with the current reverse zeitgeist that allows for hating any rapper over the age of 30. Rap Game Logan’s Run. I don’t think rappers should be held to the same unrealistic standards as ,say, teen gymnasts or sexy pop stars.

There is no expiration date on skills.

DOOM is beyond reproach and immune from criticism. Who raps like that? Nobody. That’s who. Not one dude ever. He should be universally in everyone’s top 10.

I would like to see Big Sean stand on a chair just to look Vast Aire in the eyes. Either his face would melt off like Indiana Jones or he would just start crying.

I’m going to go to the pawn shop and buy a sword, climb the nearest mountain, and listen to this track over and over again.

Open Mike Eagle:

“Raps For When It’s Just You & The Abyss”

Open Mike Eagle released one of Rec-Room’s favorite albums of 2014, but he’s already back with more: The L.A. emcee released an EP called A Special Episode Of on Tuesday. Last week, he premiered one of its tracks, “Raps For When It’s Just You & The Abyss”. The mouthful of a song was produced by Austin native Lo-Phi and features an interpolation of Broken Social Scene’s beloved “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl.”

LEAH: Open Mike continues to be one of my favorite pop-culture touching, phrase-twisting slightly sardonic art rappers.  Lo-Phi does a beautiful job on this trippy and smooth track, and I’ll have this one on repeat for a while (til I buy the EP).

MARCUS: Jesus tap-dancing Christ, this is excellent. It’s the cadence of his stream-of-consciousness flow that’s really winning here. It has the aural feel of following your weird-ass homeboy (and we all have a weird-ass homie) telling one of his weird-ass stories. Do you care if there’s a logical conclusion? No. You’re just following along, filing away all of his stream of consciousness stops and starts as you try to piece together where it’s all headed – again, not that you really even actually care – but, you do.

I have incredibly high hopes for Open Mike Eagle. He’s truly one of the most refreshing voices bubbling up in the underground right now.

AARON: Yep. Mike Eagle is riding the perfect wave right now: Insider cred with outsider raps. It’s refreshing to hear an emcee tell a fucking story, you know, with words and shit.

This is rap for when it’s just you and some smart people. This is rap for when you took some mushrooms and then got called into work. This is rap for anyone who still wants poetry in a rap song.

It may well be the End of Days for intelligent rap keeping a foothold in mainstream society, but songs like this offer an alternative to the ham-fisted blessings of the watered down Trap shit they shovel at us all day long.

I heard him on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” singing a They Might Be Giants song and it didn’t phase me one bit. I was like, “Damn.” And then my respect for the man crept up a little higher.

I think Open Mike Eagle might be telling us the story that doesn’t require an ending if you listen hard enough.

Lets talk about Lo Phi. I know this man pretty OK and he is a Beast. Not like a Beast-Mode beast, but like a mythical beast in sandals with the head of Lion and wings and shit. He’s easily one of the best producers in Austin. His swag lies somewhere between 1970’s basketball player and wise street preacher. He sing-raps when the spirit hits him, he wears two pairs of glasses, and he always appears to be on a little bit of drugs.

CLYDE: “My lady gets her haircut at the local salon / And doesn’t have to hide from ISIS and Boko Haram.”

Open Mike Eagle out here giving more coverage to psychopathic terrorists than the U.S. media SMDH.

Also, that is a dope line, and this is a dope song, and thank you, Mike.

JOSE: I have to thank you, fine folks of Rec-Room, for introducing me to Open Mike Eagle last year. He has since become one of my favorite rappers, due to the combination of unusual sample and beats, ambling delivery, and clever, multi-tiered lyrics.

This song is no exception. He just does things by the beat of his own strange drum, and it works. It really fucking works.

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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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