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

Today, Kendrick Lamar delivers a powerful message; Meek Mill gets things moving with Big Sean and A$AP Ferg; Chris Brown and Tyga stink up the joint.

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


Kendrick Lamar: “The Blacker the Berry”

Less 24 hours after Kendrick Lamar won a couple of Grammys for this last single, “i”, he dropped a new one called “The Blacker the Berry”. It was produced by Boi-1da with help from Terrace Martin.

MARCUS: Kendrick Lamar is making black music for black people because the last thing that anybody black in the mainstream wants to be is black. Why is this the case? Well, most black folks think that white people have always been afraid of black people’s blackness. This fear then breeds a contempt that turns into white people denying black people opportunities to succeed.

This is that post post-racial music, which according to the laws of mathematics means that this music is just racial as hell. Kendrick not only owns each and every single stereotype of black people, be he’s exultant about it in a way that is almost so alien to all things black people in mainstream America that this song could even make most black people incredibly uncomfortable, too.

This is that music that sounds like that thing that Azealia Banks is trying to do, but she spent way too much time shucking, jiving and bullshitting to be real. This whole time, Kendrick’s been really not down with accepting the tropes of mainstream blackness in the post-racial era. He’s like Tupac’s little brother – the one that Afeni got to and blessed with all of the lessons. Now, he’s old enough to talk and he’s getting rap reparations for his “brother” and his brother’s associates, for black folk who were hoodwinked and bamboozled by bloghouse electro and Barack Obama into thinking that we had overcome… but once our hands were up… we still got shot anyway.

These are deep times and Kendrick’s saying some deep shit. Added together with “i” (which if you’re a black person and hate a song about loving yourself when so many people find so many other emotions to feel about our race these days that damn sure aren’t love… well, Kendrick wants to talk to you), Kendrick’s trying to guide black folks (and not white folks, or brown folks, or red folks or yellow folks) to find a better way. If we don’t listen to him, then there’s really nothing else that we can say when our lives as black people actually stop mattering entirely.

Early contender for a song of the era. It’s that great.

LEAH: This is truth.

CLYDE: This song is blacker than a “Roots” screening at the Apollo Theatre. This song is for every time someone thought it was funny that I love fried chicken, or every time I’ve avoided eating the watermelon at a reception full of white folks. I just wanna grow 100 feet tall and stomp on the National Mall with a pair of Timbs on.

Thank you, King Kendrick.

AARON: I purposely did not listen to this track until this morning and GODDAMN.

Powerful stuff. This is the first joint I’ve heard in a long while that feels important.

This is the part of the conversation about blackness that is usually whispered, and Kendrick is yelling from the rooftops on this one.

“I’m African-American/I’m African/I’m black as the heart of a fuckin Aryan/I’m Black as the name Tyrone and Darius/Excuse my French but fuck you no fuck ya’ll/That’s as blunt as it gets”

Let that sink in.

He just won a Grammy and might be the most important rapper on earth right now and he said, “FUCK Y’ALL.THIS IS NOT A JOKE LIKE THE GRAMMYS. KANYE, DO YOU HEAR ME?”

Is Lamar the best? Maybe. Is he a role model? Probably. Is he the top tier of Black Artistry in America right now or is he just at the bottom of a White man’s game?  Time will tell.

This is not the competitive power-brag kind of angry we heard on ” Control”. He almost seems to be specifically  angry that in 2015 he still has to explain to you, all of you motherfuckers, that:  Black is Beautiful but it’s also dangerous and you owe it to yourself to be better so white people will stop killing you and black people will stop killing each other. White people mostly love you for the wrong reasons, so it’s perfectly fine to blame them for most of your problems, but anything you can’t blame on white folk is probably your own fault, now fuck off.

A lot of what makes Kendrick’s delivery so phenomenal to me is that constant duality. Good / bad; did he do it /maybe he didn’t; is it trivial or monumental; am I the chosen one or just another nigger; you decide or not; fuck it, just ride to it.

This song is amazing and I just listened to it four times in a row while whipping the Navigator impatiently thru rush hour traffic. Windows down, busting U-Turns, and doing the pointy-finger at random white people and smiling and shit.

I am a truly angry person and this song makes me happy.

DAMION: I’m feeling all of this.  I actually don’t normally get down with Kendrick Lamar like that but I like the way he spits on this.  I appreciate the fact that he wasn’t Meek Millin’ the whole time.  I got the head phones in my ear, homey.  I can hear you just fine.

With that said, his first verse is the realist verse I’ve heard in a few years.  The first half I’ve heard in other rap songs: Ok, ok, I get it you’re describing our stereotypes.  At this point, I was still skeptical, because I’ve hard that before; before a song usually trails off so as not to keep it too real.  Then this ninja went full HAM!

“You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture / You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey / You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me /And this is more than confession / I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion / I’m guardin’ my feelins, I know that you feel it / You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’ / You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga.”

This had to be the part where all upper level management went bug eyed and wanted to bounce.

This is the type of uncomfortable hip-hop music that people who’ve been listening to the genre been waiting for.  Look, it doesn’t always have to be on some black/white shit, but the true aura of the music comes from struggle and your ability to embrace the predicament you’re in regardless of what’s going on around you. I think often rappers limit themselves to the theme  “being black and hood in America” because that’s all they know. I hope Kendrick doesn’t stop here and takes on other volatile situations around the world.

How this is dude related to Swaggy P?

JOSE: The last few years, and in particular 2014, have felt like the universe’s attempt to tell us that despite all of the “progress” that’s been made, the United States is still not the promised land for People of Color. This land is not our land. We are both the threat, as well as the most threatened. There’s an inherent disconnect between being perceived as an agent of danger, while all the while having to guard the way you speak, how you carry yourself and what you talk about so as to not offend white folks/get arrested/shot. You’re either a thug, or “a class act” – there’s no middle ground or space to just be a real fucking person. That’s some real bullshit right there, and why Black Lives Matter and I Can’t Breathe resonated so deeply and broadly.

Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner – unnecessary deaths and an institution that permits them to happen, all while white people (not you, Rec Room – you’re cool) are posting cat pictures and videos of them wasting perfectly good, clean water over their heads. It’s two parallel lanes, and our world has become so fragmented, that even social media has parallel worlds: mention “Black Twitter” in a room full of people, and it’s like you’re evoking a code word – you’re either in, or you’re scratching your head.

All that is my way of saying that Kendrick hit the nail on the head with this song, and it gives me way too many feels. Anger, pride, sadness, defiance – this is not an anthem, but it fucking feels like one. Kanye seems to be more concerned with making lullabies for his daughter, which is his prerogative, but K.Dot is the only one stepping up to the negative space. I love this on so many levels.

Meek Mill ft. Big Sean & A$AP Ferg: “B-Boy”

Meek Mill was released from jail in early December, but his sophomore record, Dreams Worth More Than Money, remains in a hazy limbo. It was supposed to come out in September, and had been preceded by two May singles, “Off The Corner” and “I Don’t Know”, plus a leaked DJ Mustard track, but then Meek Mill violated parole and went to prison, and everything was put on ice. In October, he put out a firebreather with Boosie called “FYM”, which most of Rec-Room loved. But since he’s actually been out, Mill has pretty much stuck with releasing typically furious freestyles. Oh, and he had not one but two looks on Nicki’s The Pinkprint. (OMG are they doing it?) However, the first hint of a promotional machine getting up and running again came recently with the release of “B-Boy”, a Sap-produced collaboration with A$AP Ferg and man of the hour Big Sean.

MARCUS: This shit is wild as hell on multiple levels. Let me break it down.

I like the production here. Total radio single stuff that breaks the monotony of that twerky mid-tempo “not-quite-EDM” club-ready thing that’s the aural equivalent of blue balls.

Contemplate this: A$AP Ferg is now “the original Jamaican don dada” being referenced on this record. Let that sink in. We’re at a place in rap where all you have to do is make a great record referencing something, and this thirsty ass industry just proclaims that’s what your gimmick is, without you having to do much of anything real to back it up. Somewhere, there’s 80 jailed dancehall emcees sharpening shivs against walls WAITING to get asked to be on Ferg’s next album upon release, lol.

Also, apparently all it takes is having sex with Nicki Minaj to allow Meek Mill to rap at a modulated level of volume…yeah, I said it.

Finally, when “newly crowned as dope ass emcee” Big Sean is carrying the torch for “lyricism” on your record, well…yeah. Once again, “Control” will go down in history as the worst idea Kanye EVER had insofar as attempting to showcase Big Sean as an adept rhymer. On this record Sean can appear to be Big Daddy Kane-esque. Yeah, it’s not really a reach when you think about the competition.

But yeah. This is really well done. Like, really well done all of the way around. Kind of amazing when you consider the trio, right?

LEAH: I also like the beat. #rapdiplomacy

DAMION: Two-thirds of this song is aight. Big Sean actually merks his verse, and Mills is coming in 2nd place on this own track, but ASAP – he don’t deserve the $ sign – Ferg is garbage.  I don’t really get what’s going on in that music video either but that’s besides the point.

Sean’s flow totally makes “B-Boy”, and it really needed to stop right there.

I DECLARE BIG SEAN THE WINNER…. on this average-ass track.

CYDE: Couple things here:

1. I wouldn’t think to put this trio together but they all surf this beat so hard.

2. I’m really glad they got the right A$AP

3. Big Sean gonna fuck around and make me actually like him.

AARON: This is better than I thought it would be, which means average. Marcus said all the good stuff, and I agree, the tempo is refreshing. Shit is getting mad slow out here, and this is at least a welcome distraction. I’m assuming that has more to do with Meek Mill’s sensibility for up-tempo trap yelling rather than any influence from A$LOP FLerg. And Big Sean is too busy trying to build lyrical monuments to his unearned rap cred to have any input on the music.

Sean’s verse is OK, but he is about to implode from the intense pressure created from feeling himself. Let’s just get it straight. Sean, you are not famous yet – I don’t care what the internet says. At least, you’re not famous the way you want to be, and definitely not the way you see yourself when you are standing in front of big gilded mirrors licking hundred dollar bills and sticking them all over your face or whatever the fuck it is you do when we are not looking.

At this point, I’m just assuming that Big Yawn is gonna be on a track with everyone eventually and I will just have to deal with it.

JOSE: The beat is really good, but there’s not a single “oh shit” line here – probably because the rapping sounds muddled. Maybe it’s my speaker system. (IT’S NOT.)

I’m surprised that people still get this kind of budget to make music videos.

Chris Brown & Tyga ft. ScHoolboy Q:  “Bitches N Marijuana”

The world didn’t see it coming… Chris Brown and Tyga have an album coming out at the end of the month. It’s called Fan of a Fan: The Album, a reference to Henry David Thoreau’s short story, Fan of a Fan. Just kidding; the two made a mixtape called Fan of a Fan in 2010. Anyway, the credits for the record are somewhat interesting (Pusha T, Boosie Badazz, T.I., Fat Trel, Ty Dolla $ign, and 50 Cent show up; DJ Mustard, Nic Nac and Mark Kragen produce stuff), which leads to one of those awkward “Damn it, am I going to have to listen to this?” moments. And while lead single “Ayo” featured just the two headliners, its follow-up – ahem,  “Bitches N Marijuana” – boasts a cameo from ScHoolboy Q. Both songs were produced by the Bay Area’s NIc Nac, the man probably best known for previous Chris Brown-Tyga collaboration, “Loyal”.

MARCUS: I thought that for average mainstream rappers and superstar R&B singers that the point was the get spun on the radio. Well, this song sounds like “Rack City” meets “Loyal,” which if the scant few times per month I ride in cars for more than 30 minutes mean anything, would imply that this song should be called say, “Ciroc and Tropicana.” But, no. Chris and Tyga’s mutual admiration society album is a record meant for the clubs and half-sold out arena concerts, which means that it’s just another terrible misfire by a mainstream label taking a desperate stab at relevance.

This is actually really fucking bad. Like, REALLY bad. I mean, a lot of industrious rappers who foolishly are still signed to major label deals are going to earn massive checks from this album, which is great. However, can we just put Chris Brown out to pasture finally? Like, can’t he just be put in a cushy, comfortable prison somewhere? I mean, seriously. Prison. And can’t Tyga just play “evil thug rapper #1” on an episode of “Fresh Off The Boat” already? I mean, let’s be frank here. He’s been acting like he’s an actual rapper for some time now. Pathetic.

LEAH: Finally found a Chris Brown song I couldn’t stand listening to long enough to be insulted. This is wack.

DAMION: For a long time I thought some of you music heads were over the top with your disdain for current rap music.  “This doesn’t feel like the first time I heard Krs One!”  “These new kids don’t speak to me like public enemy!” I knew some of the new stuff I was hearing was wack too but not all of it.  I still do think there are many artists today that are making really cool tracks, some of which are mainstream.  However after hearing 40% of this track, which is all I can stomach,  I’m starting to realize why yall have been so vocal.    This song is straight trash and it kind of does sound like a lot of stuff that’s really popular right now.  I’m hoping the title of this track keeps it from ever being mainstream.

I feel like this hook is something the fat dude in 8 mile would sing to get people in the mood to start a rap battle in a parking lot.  NOT AN ACTUAL SONG!

CLYDE: Like, who is the target audience for this album besides those two little Kardashian sisters? No one asked for this!

I’m also tired of “___ and ___” song titles.

“Bitches and Bottles”

“Bitches and Gold”

“Hoes and Ladies”

“Hoes and Housewives”

I’m tired of these Mustard-lite beats with wack-ass rappers throwing Lambo keys at me and beating me over the head with bottles of D’usse. I am so fucking bored.

AARON: This is bullshit. I am actually shocked how bad it is.

I’m even more horrified that ScHoolboy Q would even hang out with these busters. EVEN FOR MONEY. I JUST DON”T UNDERSTAND IT.

Is this song for 10 year-olds? I don’t get it. Like, everyone has weed these days. Your boss, your mom, the mailman, 10 year-olds. Everyone.

Tyga is wack city, and Chris Brown needs to be tarred, feathered, and tied to a fence on the outskirts of town and eaten by coyotes.

One more track like this from Q and he’s dead to me. I usually like him a lot. He’s pure id and drugs and visceral imagery with the occasional accidental deep observation about something. But, bruh, please get your money somewhere else.

So, yeah, fuck this song a lot. I had to force myself to listen to it. I was standing on my porch smoking with the door open and a white lady jogger ran by and I actually ran in and turned it down real quick like please, please, please don’t let this jogger mom catch me slippin that would be the worst.

PHIL: This is like a sad episode of “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” where neither annoying character dies.

JOSE: I just listened to “Blacker the Berry” ten times in a row, and then put this shit on. Couldn’t make it past thirty seconds. Sorry.


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