Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.
Today, Vic Mensa and Kanye West inquire about our emotional disposition; A$AP Rocky is all about the letter M; and Tyler, the Creator nerds out.
Vic Mensa ft. Kanye West: “U Mad”
A little under two months, Vic Mensa and Kanye West (and Sia!) teamed for “Wolves”, a song that’s purported to lead off Yeezy’s forthcoming So Help Me God. Rec–Room‘s Aaron Miller said at the time: “PASS. THIS IS NOT RAP.” But now the two are back with “U Mad”, a song that decidedly is rap. It’s technically a Mensa song, but Kanye’s production fingerprints are all over it. (His usual team of Mike Dean and Noah Goldstein pop up in the credits too.) Still, two young Chicago producers – Smoko Ono and Stefan Ponce – share the primary production credit with Ye and Dean, and if Deputy’s experience with “Bitch Bette Have My Money” is any indication, you can probably guess how “U Mad” went down.
PHIL: This is hot garbage.
Both of Vic Mensa’s verses are aggressively bad. The attempts at cleverness fall flat, and all that’s left behind is a resoundingly nasty aftertaste. Can we please chill on the Ray Rice jokes? Honestly, I would do a deep dive on Mensa and how great a piece of quasi-EDM-rap “Down on Your Luck” is, but “U Mad” doesn’t deserve the effort.
Meanwhile, Kanye’s bars are pro forma and boring, aside from the Lexapro shout-out, which is incredible. So, credit there.
I’ll pass on the microwaved leftovers of summer 2012.
LEAH: Ugh, this is kind of painful to listen to, honestly. Vic so clearly wants to break through here, and he’s throwing everything he’s got at it, but, geez, his everything just sucks. I feel bad for the kid.
MARCUS: I don’t believe a word that Vic Mensa is saying, and if this is really the life that he’s leading, then Kanye is a culture vulture against his own community in Chicago, and he’s doing nobody any good at all.
You know whose life I know is all about pussy, money and weed? Chief Keef. Vic’s mom was a public school teacher and his dad is an economics professor. If this sort of lifestyle from a hood perspective has trickled out of the hood and into the suburbs, then well, rap’s fucking up the community.
Vic reminds me of the kids I attended middle school and high school with who watched Yo! MTV Raps and stole all of their lifestyle cues from rap videos because they thought it was cool, even though they had no tangible connection to the communities whose lifestyle and clothes from which they were borrowing and in which they were swaddling themselves. All of the cues and culture adaptation are wrong here, and it just feels like Kanye is trying to force a round Vic Mensa into a square Chief Keef hole. That’s frustrating.
Kanye’s smarter than this. Or, maybe he’s not, which is the intriguing thing to consider here. Kanye feels a lot like Madonna does right now, in that he’s trying on all of these tropes of up and coming or just classically cool culture and forcibly adopting all of them. On one level what he’s doing is creatively brave. On yet another, it’s a sign that he’s creatively searching right now, or maybe like Madonna, at a point where he’s bored enough to try but rich enough to be detached from still actively thinking that music is a competitive industry for them anymore. For a young artist like Vic Mensa (or any young artist around Kanye right now) that’s dangerous, because your mentor may be telling you dope things and giving you dope opportunities, but insofar as contemplating your development as a man-as-artist, that’s potentially lacking.
So, the production here is awesome, but I’m still left lacking for that great Vic Mensa song that makes me believe that he’s more than a Kanye olive branch back to the hood. As for Kanye, I’m torn. I don’t know what to think. He’s still gifted, but I actually think he’s slipped a LOT recently, and this does nothing to disprove my belief in this notion.
CLYDE: “We don’t believe you / You need more people!”
AARON: Man. This song is almost something. I actually really like this beat, but it’s wasted on a rookie, flavorless, rap person like Vic Mensa. I feel weird saying this, but if we are gonna go with Keef comparisons on the general vibe and production tip, why not just throw the little psycho killer on the track and be done with it? I mean, these horns call for an actual felon on the beat, not some swag understudy like Mensa.
For the record, his screaming “OOOOOOO, LIKE I DON’T KNOW NOBODY!” cracks me up. It’s like he’s jumping up and down bragging about knowing Kanye, pointing at Kanye, with Kanye in the room. Meanwhile, Yeezy is just playing Words with Friends with Paul McCartney on his phone like “YOU DON’T KNOW ME. Now can y’all little n***as just finish my shit so I can make some money and get on this spaceship? Damn.”
It’s like the kids just made him mad, and he jumped on the mic and rapped about hitting people. (That’s not very Kanye. It’s like being threatened by a dude in a bow tie at an art gallery.)
I had to read the Rec-Room introduction three or four times just to get my head around the production of “U Mad”. How many producers does it take to screw up a light bulb? This is some country-music-17-people-writing-a-song shit. How many motherfuckers does it take to work the machine? You know at least one of these cats was relegated to getting Ye smoothies and shit.
Also, I don’t get any of Mensa’s punchlines. What’s up with that?
Marcus, I think it’s time for a hot post-Drake-make-out Madonna + Kanye single. It may well be the height of pseudo-visionary pop star irrelevance. And it might actually be good. Can you imagine if Kanye was inspired by one of the few egos on the planet bigger than his own?
MARCUS: You know Aaron, related to this I think that Kanye’s still mad that he didn’t think of “Drunk In Love” first. I mean, he spazzed on that remix, in that petulant younger brother, “my chick is hotter than your chick” sort of way.
Insofar as post-make-out music and the still-apparent “Drunk in Love” bitterness, I’m sure he’s going to go there, and it’ll probably be on some really not-socially-OK Caligula-type shit. Like, I think his realization that Drake is better than him has caused Kanye to start slipping in and out a semi-Phil Spector dementia. The the dude on Tyler’s “Smuckers” is absolutely not the same guy here, and he’s not the same guy that’s on “FourFiveSeconds,” either. It’s really odd.
PHIL: If there’s anyone out there who’s feeling Mr. Mensa’s verses, I want you to close your eyes.
Listen to these lines…
“And all my women in doubles / I’m at the DoubleTree.”
“All praise to Allah / not Ramadan, but these bitches fast.”
“Drinkin’ like it’s no tomorrow / What’s today? I’m in the Matrix.”
Now imagine that the rapper is Wiz Khalifa.
Would you still give this song a pass?
MARCUS: If Wiz were on this song I’d love it because it would be Wiz occupying his own lane. I mean, Vic’s like a doppelganger for Chance the Rapper, except more like Chance’s fucked up friend who owns knives and pellet guns and wears metal band t-shirts from Hot Topic. Him doing angry trapped-out swag raps just doesn’t feel organic.
A$AP Rocky: “M’$”
Rakim Meyers – better know to the world as A$AP Rocky – claims that his second proper LP, At.Long.Last.A$AP., is coming “seriously soon.” Here’s what he had to say about it recently: “I’m claiming ownership of my legacy. Look at it: At.Long.Last.A$AP. A-L-L-A. Like slang for ‘Allah.’ It’s the return of the god MC. I’m named after Rakim, and I’m finally facing what it means: I was born to do this shit.” Despite the lofty intentions, initial singles, “Multiply” and “Pretty Flacko 2”, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The third track from the record is “M’$”, and it comes produced by the odd combination of Kanye’s right hand man Mike Dean and Atlanta’s The Honorable C-Note. It’s worth noting that Rocky will be seeing completion of At.Long.Last.A$A.P through without A$AP Yams, the tastemaker who guided the rapper’s career to this point, but passed away unexpectedly this winter. (Juicy J and Danger Mouse have since been named executive producers.)
PHIL: Rocky was never more than the guy in the right place at the right time. It was as if Yams conjured him for the ether to execute the ideas in his head. And the fact that Rocky was a wholly blank canvas mattered less when the production was exciting – or at the least, au courant. But I’ll put it this way: Long.Live.A$AP sold 500,000 copies and I bet you can’t quote three things that Rocky said on it.
The problem is that Rocky’s giving his proponents less and less to hide behind these days. When you’re consistently the least interesting thing on your own songs, you can’t afford to tread water sonically, and “M’$” – like “Multiply” and “Pretty Flacko 2” – does nothing but regurgitate the parts of Long.Live.A$AP that hewed closest to Live.Love.A$AP. Don’t get me wrong, this is an exquisitely produced song. But it’s the equivalent of something that I might find in a Sharper Image catalog: sleek, expensive, and totally inessential.
I’m still waiting to see if this guy can turn left.
MARCUS: Not to be racist against myself and my race, but the only thing that keeps running through my head when I hear this is and think about A$AP Rocky is the idea that “we should’ve never given this n***a money.”
Like, seriously. This song is so paint-by-numbers that it bores my ears shut after listening. It’s like, we’re at this point after nearly 50 years of rap where rappers still write songs that are all about “Oh shit, look at how fucking rich I am.” I mean, we all know how wealthy rappers are, because Dr. Dre is a billionaire. Actually, I think he’s the only guy I want to hear rapping about having a lot of money because I can’t even fathom what kind of car, chain, drugs and women a rapper could purchase a billion times over.
I’m really sad that Yams is dead, because at least with him around, it felt like there was some sort of devious quasi politically-motivated plan for A$AP Mob world domination. Now it just sounds like a whole bunch of rich dudes just hanging out counting their money, and that really isn’t very entertaining at all, actually.
However, for a certain population of the world that just cosigns whomever Complex says is dope, Rocky, Ferg, et.al. exist as dudes who can put on Hypebeast clothes and make blog-friendly content forever. That being said, the music that like, Kendrick, Drake and J. Cole are making these days is so far beyond the blogosphere, swag, Facebook likes and Youtube dollars that this just sounds incredibly tired.
AARON: Whoa. 50 Years Of Rap. Mind-blowing, Marcus. Can you just do the world a favor and start writing that book already?
This song goes boring in the paint. Beat: boring. Verses: boring. Hook: barely there.
Marcus, it’s real. The “cars, clothes, hoes” shit is dead.It goes like this: I only want to hear dead rappers rap about being the best ever. I only want to hear actual rich as fuck mogul dudes rap about money. I only want to hear Pusha T and Jeezy rap about cocaine. I only want to hear young dudes rap about young shit. I only want to hear old dudes complaining.
GET IN YOUR GODDAMN LANE, PEOPLE. I’M NOT TRYNA HEAR $OME $LOB PLAY HALLOWEEN ON MY THROWED $HIT.
It’s been long enough. I can finally come clean: This whole crew is pretty unremarkable in the rapping department. They seem to be good on swag, style, videos, and beating up security, but the rap game is more like nap game. I don’t get it.
I don’t like A$AP ANYBODY. I apologize to the world for not realizing how much of a trendsetter Yams was until he was gone. From what I’ve read, the arc of his story is pretty bananas. Tragic Bananas, but inspiring nonetheless.
I tried so hard. I really did. I mean what the fuck? We already have Atlanta. We already have Houston and Memphis. Southern Swang in full effect. Then there’s a whole West Coast full of Grade A pimp shit to fill in the gaps if that’s not enough. Why do we need A$AP Rocky?
Is there a such thing as black-on-black cultural appropriation? Or at least regional? I wanna hear a Harlem dude sound like New York. Is that so wrong?
What do we, as hip hop fans, have to gain by pretending this is not straight perpetrating?
LEAH: I really don’t hear much of anything that’s redeeming in this track; it’s all the most tired thing I’ve ever heard, including Rocky himself. Did he roll out of bed and fall onto a mic to record this?
CLYDE: More like A$AP Klonopin, amirite?
AARON: Feelin’ A$AP Woozy.
PHELPS: To hear Rocky invoke Rakim’s name is just sickening, and any publication that would reprint that without an editor’s note should send their article to Columbia Journalism School for an investigation. I’ve got purple label ties more interesting than this fucking song. Ferg should sign with TDE and abandon ship, ASAP.
Tyler, the Creator: “Deathcamp” + “Fucking Young / Perfect”
Tyler, the Creator is now an ancient 24-yeards old, and this week, he releases his third solo record, Cherry Bomb. Some details: He has cited Stevie Wonder as the inspiration for the album, and has said that no Odd Future members will appear on it, because “everyone’s on their own island.” Cherry Bomb was preceded by the release of two pretty different songs, “Deathcamp” and “Fucking Young / Perfect”, portions of which were rolled into one video. He also unveiled a monthly-subscription app, Golf Media, which, OK.
MARCUS: It’s almost fucking adorable how much Tyler, the Creator is inspired by Pharrell Williams. I also think that because Pharrell is at that space as an artist where he’s completely incapable of being hated for anything he does, Tyler aping all of the swag of N.E.R.D.’s In Search of… and Fly or Die is actually going to benefit him greatly in pushing this album. Of course as those of us who follow all things Golf Wang already know, Pharrell loves Tyler too, so the idea that Tyler’s album could’ve always been planned as a giant 2008-era love-in wouldn’t be surprising.
“Fucking Young, Perfect” has the lyrical content of Slick Rick’s “Teenage Love,” the feel of N.E.R.D.’s “Maybe” and the angst of Tyler’s “Transylvania.” That’s actually a wonderful combination. “Deathcamp” is a whole bunch of the rock-driven N.E.R.D. records combined, but with the lyrical energy of “Yonkers,” which really gives it a fresh feel. Neither of these records are pop hits, though, but that’s okay. They’re more lifestyle songs, the kind of things that fans love because they can connect better with an artist because of them. Given that the sustainable money in music these days are in apps and touring, well, this whole album for Tyler is an excellent move.
AARON: I was not expecting this.
Pharrell is no doubt shedding a single tear over these fan-Stan N.E.R.D revival tracks.
I generally like all things Odd Future in spite of my advanced age and my usual intolerance for dumb shit and non-justice related violence.
“Deathcamp” is just aiight. One of Tyler’s biggest weaknesses from a production standpoint is all those emo tracks with no beat. They have great tension for a few bars but always lose me by the end.
“Fucking Young/Perfect” jams. Straight. Up. Jams.
I’m not sure if Tyler will ever show the maturity we are waiting for. His production keeps getting better and better but the raps stay roughly the same. He’s no Earl.
Ten years from now Earl will be releasing albums telepathically, Mellow High will be wearing dashikis and all married to Badu, and Tyler will still be rapping about his dick.
Can’t win em all.
That being said, I fucks with this a little.
PHIL: N.E.R.D.’s first record came out when Tyler was 11, so he was right in the core demo of tweens and teens that find edgeless rawk and corny, horny jokes most appealing. Thirteen years later, that’s exactly who Tyler is making records for. Unfortunately, I just can’t find a way in. And even though he’s mildly moving past shock tropes, Tyler still manages to trigger my gag reflex every 40 seconds or so.