Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week or so, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip hop tracks. Today, we wander into Danny Brown’s weed haze, make the neighborhood rounds with ScHoolboy Q, and let Black Milk take us to church. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Joseph “Jiggawatts” Minock, Damion McLaren, and Hip Hop Hooray‘s Leah Manners.
Danny Brown: “Kush Coma”
After a busy year of walking away with other people’s tracks (see: El-P, A$AP Rocky, Ab-Soul), lighting up one-offs (“Piss Test”, “Jay Dee’s Revenge”, “Sweet”, “Belispeak II”, “Grown Up”), and staking his claim to be the hottest MC in the game, Danny Brown finally gives us a sneak peak at the forthcoming Old. ”Kush Coma” was produced by frequent collaborator Skywlkr, and is a somewhat unfinished product: A$AP Rocky is reportedly set to add a verse to this.
Marcus: Aside from jacking 2 Chainz’s cadence – without stealing his adlibs – and trying to sound more hinged than usual, I have few problems with the performance of the Wesley Walls of rap on this one. However, I’m bored as hell with Danny Brown until he finally gets put “on.” He’s an engaging personality, and he’s in that same class as Juicy and 2 Chainz of being old enough to know better than to do all these drugs, but not really giving a fuck. But I feel like this track shows him as coasting. I think it’s time for a big budget blockbuster album to really allow him to sink his teeth into something that will prove him to be “the hottest rapper in the game,” as both he and just about every other critic that I pretend like I always read says that he is. Being “critically-acclaimed” is cool, but at some point, it becomes unsustainable. Solid work – just leaves a lot of yet-to-be answered questions.
Phelps: Twenty years after Outkast’s “Funky Ride”, we get an otherworldly update. This bangs hard – I almost mistook it for a Crystal Castles remix. I’m not nearly as much of a Danny Brown disciple as some of you, but this I can get behind: It makes me want to put a bass tube in the back of my sea foam green Isuzu. He’s not breaking new ground for him but I hope he keeps A$AP off the track; can anyone make a solo single these days?
Damion: I never heard of this dude but this beat goes hard. The hook is kind of corny but I ain’t worried about that. This beat sounds like something off jeezy’s first album, where just about every beat went hard. I gotta admit when I heard this I wasn’t really listening to this guy’s lyrics but it seemed like he road the beat well enough. When is every rapper alive going to get on this track?
Leah: I’m a big Danny fan, but the production on this track is actually what spoils it for me. It’s just not very notable; 808s and extended synth notes with a back-up chorus repeating the song title just don’t do Danny’s verse on this any justice. Danny’s noted for switching up delivery styles, and I like this choppier version (that Marcus refers to as 2 Chainz cadence, but I put more in the Mystikal family) but I just find the track bland.
Phelps: “I’m just a gangster, I suppose, and I want my corners” – Avon Barksdale
“I’m just old, I suppose, and I want my 808s” – Joshua Phelps
Phil: In a vacuum, “Kush Coma” succeeds on its merits. The beat makes me feel like I’ve taken acid and stumbled into the finale of “The Lady from Shanghai”, where Danny Brown is barking paranoia and bad vibes through a megaphone. As far as this being a fully conceptualized piece goes then: mission accomplished. But, while I wouldn’t go as far as to say Brown is “coasting” here – the guy is definitely bringing it – I do agree with Marcus that it’s hard to get excited about “Kush Coma”. The song is very much in XXX‘s comfort zone, in so far as such an unrelenting and desperate place can be associated with the word “comfort;” I struggled to make the trip front to back with that record, even if there were songs along the way that I really enjoyed. His string of appearances in the past year had me hoping that he was headed somewhere less claustrophobic. Songs like “Oh Hail No”, “Grown Up”, and “1 Train” put a spotlight not only his dexterity and charisma, but also a newfound confidence to kick back and take his time in doling it out. On “Kush Coma”, that’s nowhere to be found. Maybe that’s the point.
Joey: Yeah, I don’t know how “Kush Coma” is going to fit into the new album, but my hope is that it’s a little less a focal point and more the type of song that sort of nods back to XXX for continuity’s sake, as if to say, “Hey, it’s still me.” I don’t necessarily shy away from it because it feels “too comfortable” for him, because it is and remains genuinely impressive how capable he is of evoking that desperate, clutching aspect of “the lifestyle” and how central it was to his success. (XXX‘s eponymous intro track really sets the stage for this theme.) Indeed, “Kush Coma” feels like another way of expounding on the same theme, though written from a different perspective. I guess my hesitance is more from a selfish perspective, in that I really am not sure I could do another full length like XXX, just like I could never really do a marathon of A&E’s “Intervention”. But for a guy as talented as Brown, I’d get over it pretty quickly.
ScHoolboy Q: “Yay Yay”
The hedonistic id of the Black Hippy crew, ScHoolboy Q is set to follow-up last year’s excellent Habits & Contradictions with Oxymoron, his first record to receive Interscope backing. After being the first of the collective to crossover, Kendrick Lamar has said “the future is now” is now for Q. ”Yay Yay” is Oxymoron‘s first single and it finds him working outside his usual stable of producers, with Boi-1da.
Marcus: God bless Schoolboy Q. Dude has all of the unfair advantages – he can speak with 100% accuracy about real gangsta shit that he’s legitimately done, and is a part of rap’s overall best unit – and is just calmly squatting and shitting on everybody. I enjoy Q because you get the sense that he knows that he’s the guy that everyone else in the room can universally agree is dope in his own lane. That confidence always shines through in his delivery, and the tracks he raps on tend to feel like they comfortably fit him, as opposed to so many younger emcees who rap on things that they have to impose their will on in order to make them hot. And as always with Q, he’s got hooks so big you can fit your life into them with room to spare for the other million people who are listening as well.
Leah: First, what did I tell y’all about that new north?! Boi-1da repping Toronto in here! I just love his production on this track; anybody that can drop in hand claps like this track does to control the emphasis of the narrative wins my vote. “Yay Yay” also captures that slow-rolling West Coast car culture. It’s just really spot-on. Second, I love a good come-up story, even street-style like Q’s got going on here, but I can’t stop picturing Muppets mouthing the “dat yay-yay, dat yay-yay, dat yay-yay” part. It sounds kind of cartoonish.
Marcus: You certainly can’t mean cartoonish like… this?
Leah: It’s more like seeing the video from “Mahna Mahna”. It’s the gruffness and repetition that kills me.
Joey: I really have a hard time coming up with anyone that’s been as solid (or fortunate) as Q has been when it comes to finding the type of production that works for him and using it to his advantage. I love this song. I love so many of his songs. I just have so little to say besides that.
Phil: Habits & Contradictions was probably the most accurately titled record of last year: ScHoolboy Q is a walking contradiction, and that may be his greatest strength. He’s deplorable and he’s utterly charming. He’s the menacing thug and he’s the hornball jester. He’s morally bankrupt and he’s a doting family man. On a song like “Yay Yay”, Q is all of these things, and he is without a hint of pandering or self-awareness. A lot of rappers try to have their cake and eat it too, but Q is the only one who’s face-planting into the thing and walking around for the rest of the night with icing all over his face.
Phelps: I wish I hadn’t read the Muppets comment before listening to this. Damn. I like this, but the Oxycontin stuff is all re-tread and that record title, Oxymoron, is a groaner. Schoolboy is genial, humorous, and skilled, so I’m hoping for much more than this on the official record.
Black Milk: “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst”
Over a year removed from collaborations with Jack White and Danny Brown, one of indie rap’s leading producers returns to the mike with this double-single, ”Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst”. Not someone to stay in one place for long, here Black Milk makes a surprising trip back to the dusty soul samples that marked his earliest recordings after largely avoiding that style on 2010’s Album of the Year and 2008 classic Tronic.
Marcus: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? I have to suppose that for veteran, non-progressive dudes who just dig rappin’, this era has to be completely frustrating. Pop ears aren’t checking for you, and if you don’t want to sell your soul to hipsters, then you’re a niche artist for a niche market that is largely disenchanted with the industry in which you create. All that being said, this will probably be the best pure classic rap song I’ll hear all damn year. So much to love here. So very much. I’ll just concentrate on the brilliant duality here of how the boom bap track is used for the “Sunday’s Best” exposition on church and religion, while the track with the organs usually reserved for spirituality accompany the “Monday’s Worst,” which is quite the excellent exposition on the struggles and realities of everyday urban life. It’s the little things that separate the great from the legends, and in an era where legends as judged in the same class as those deemed as such in the 80s and 90s are hard to find, it’s inspiring to find someone driven by and adhering to that standard.
Leah: I just don’t remember the last time a song gave me goosebumps, and this one does. I’m with Marcus: “classic” is the very best term we can apply to this track. He’s able to distinguish his sound from the modern trap wobbles and synth lines by making it just an outstanding example of why rap was built on samples, without sounding old or derivative. The duality in this song is absolutely masterful, and no less that what I’d expect from an artist like Black Milk this far into his career.
Damion: I’m feeling this. Everything that’s been said is right on. The duality of the track is what gets you, and I like how the beats accentuates what he’s saying at all times. If you watch Premier League soccer, you’ve noticed that announcers will yell “class” in a very British, casual manner after a player makes a great play that puts his skills on full display. Class.
Phil: “Took some time to work on my sound. Now, I’m back,” Black Milk wrote on his Facebook wall recently, announcing his candidacy for Understatement of the Year. While so much of his past work earned my respect without necessarily my affection, “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst” is a different story. How it fits – or, more to the point, doesn’t fit – into hip-hop’s current landscape is an interesting discussion to be had, but check back with me in a few weeks when my all-consuming desire to crawl inside this production and subsist off its anachronistic warmth for the rest of my life begins to wane.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Linda Flores