Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip hop tracks. Today, we summon the spirit of the Wu-Tang Clan with De La Soul, make it a light night with Mac Miller and Flying Lotus at the Low End Theory , and listen to Fat Tony bemoan all the ways The Man is keeping pretty much everyone down. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Briana Younger, Phil R, Damion McLaren, Aaron Miller, Shelly Bell, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
De La Soul: “Get Awaty(featuring The Spirit of the Wu)”
The first proper single from De La Soul in nine years is, oddly enough, a nod to the Wu-Tang Clan. Posdnuos recently explained the genesis of the track to Rolling Stone. “I’ve always loved the ‘Intro’ on Disc Two of Wu-Tang Forever – this erie sample with no beat, that they only talked over. I stumbled on the original sample while crate digging one day, took it straight to the lab and added drums. The feel is definitely gritty, hard and sounds like a Wu record, so out of inspirational respect, we included featuring ‘The Spirit of the Wu’ in the song title.” Maseo went on to explain the lyrical content: “It’s pretty much reflecting on the state of hip-hop at this moment. Everything is redundant. Everything sounds the same. No real lyrical content. Everybody’s just doing business, not really creating.” De La Soul plans to release a new song each month, culminating with the release of full-length, You’re Welcome, in the fall.
Marcus: “This lesson is a line with an undergrad course.” “But I don’t buy rap for excuses.” “This is hip-hop, this is lyrics…you wouldn’t know that feeling if it slapped you.” Let’s all remember that De La Soul have always had issues with how silly commercial rap can become. In 1991, the group released an album curiously entitled De La Soul is Dead, which featured an album cover of a daisy in a knocked over flower pot. De La got in on the wave of free-thinking hippie individualism plus the gimmick of using wavy samples. Throw on top of that the notion of girls (and guys) with flowers in their hair living and breathing not in San Francisco, but on Long Island, and you had a recipe for success. Once the industry attempted to craft and mold that for their own devices, De La killed themselves and reinvented their trio as straight-up, no chaser lyrical masterminds, which is what we get here.
Rap’s at a place where so many young men and women get into the game not as a creative enterprise but rather as a financial one. When you decide to immediately conflate the goals of art and commerce before experiencing success at either art or commerce, well, you lose a lot of art and gain a lot of commerce. However, in breaking the counterbalance of those goals, it’s as if one can ultimately strip rap of it’s pure creative essence. De La does what truly creative types do here. They use a sample to hearken back to a moment, then create something vibrant, vital and new that is past, present and future in one. This isn’t a message for rap’s talented tenth. No, it’s a message for the 90% of other assholes out there who are poisoning the roots of the game and killing the flowers at the top. Amazing and necessary work.
Phelps: De La Soul made the best Wu-Tang song in years.
Aaron: De La Soul is so good that they no longer need reviews and/or criticism of any kind . Top 5, forever and ever. This track is no exception. No review needed. Instead, here’s a story about how I got bitched by three of my ultimate Rap Heroes in one night…
I worked clubs in downtown Austin for a decade. One time, I got to help relocate an Aceyelone/Prince Paul show to the Red River venue I worked at. Gorillaz and De La had played earlier at the Erwin Center down the street. Hip hip was in the air and I was certain Pos, Mase, or Dave would stop by and say what’s up to Prince Paul (who is nice as fuck and autographed my promo-only copy of The Gravediggaz’ “1-800-SUICIDE” double vinyl joint). It was dope, until the cops came and told me to shut it down or else I would get a ticket under the city’s silly post-midnight noise ordinance. Cop said do it. Aceyelone told me to tell the cops, “Fuck you”. Cop said, “Do it or I’m gonna unplug that shit.” I tried hand signals. Aceyelone shook his head: “No.” I stalled the police by pretending to talk to the DJ, who just smiled and reiterated the general fuck you vibe that was happening. Aceyelone finished, shut it down, then promptly came over and told me never ever run up on him on stage like that. Then, he apologized for vaguely threatening me with violence, because he too is nice as fuck. I passed Prince Paul on my way to hiding behind the club in shame. He told me it was OK, but he needed some help – in that wise, slightly judgmental that way your parents tell you that you fucked up but that they still love you. I regained my composure just long enough to help the Undertaker move his decks inside the venue and continue the show. After a quick soundcheck, Paul was up and running, dropping classics for a small, packed, house. I was stressed the fuck out, totally embarrassed and fumbling with my cigarettes when I look up and see Posdnous standing in front of me. All I said was “Holy shit?!” and before I could get a third word out or think of some player shit to say to my second favorite rapper on earth, he says: “Nah, son. Don’t do that. I’m a regular man just like you.” And he walked past me to parlay with Prince Paul. Then I actually said, out loud, to nobody: “But you’re not regular people. You’re in De La Soul.”
Leah: De La forever and ever, for sure, and Marcus may have answered the “why” of this track, but I can’t figure out who this track is for. Is it for people like us, who have them on such a high pedestal that we nod and agree about their summation of the game as it is and two minutes later neglect to completely tear apart a new Mac “Party Rapper” Miller joint? Is it for Mac or A$AP or Drizzy or Rape Ross or Wheezy? Because those rappers have already outright rejected much of the hip-hop fore bearers’ wisdom and positive energy (for example) in order to cater to white suburban kids with a glamorized image of inner city life. Is it for new listeners who don’t like mainstream rap, but don’t know what the Golden Age is? Is this basically a promo piece for people to check out De La’s catalogue? I like the track. I don’t love the track.
Shelly: I don’t want De La Soul to be the people on this track! I want fun, hippies-with-an-underlining-message music from them. I love the beat, but I want Wu Tang on it, and De La Soul to be back on some other “Me, Myself, and I” track. And I’m annoyed by the line “This is Hip-Hop right here… This is lyrics.” Thank you for stating the obvious. Old school hip hop artist have this need to resurrect themselves by yelling, “Hey, I’m alive.” Just be alive. Evolve and take the world by storm again. It won’t be as easy as it was when you started. The level of creativity needed is jaded. I get that they’re annoyed with the evolution of hip hop. I don’t get their methods for trying to regain relevancy or their mission to bash the evolution of what they’re having difficulty grasping. Who is this for, Leah? It seems it’s the “We Out Chea” for the Hip-Hop heads.
Leah: STARTED FROM THE BACKPACK NOW WE HERE.
Phil: In terms of delivery, De La Soul does indeed sound more vibrant here than it has any right to be at this point in the trio’s career. As Marcus and Aaron acknowledge, all three of these guys are, amazingly, still on point as MCs. But the decision to associate the opening shot of their comeback effort with “the Spirit of the Wu” feels misguided. “Like the Wu, we bring it to you in the purest form”? Isn’t that like a band saying, “Like Radiohead, we aim to bring you pure rock and roll”? Point being: When was the last time people associated Wu-Tang with rap purity? Ghostface and Raekwon each produced classics for the Wu cannon, and RZA seems poised for renewed relevancy, but sporadic victories aside, what has the last decade meant for the Wu? There’s a reason Biggie and Pac samples live on forever: They died before they could sputter out creatively, or worse, embarrass themselves. And allowing RZA to go on about how weak rap’s gotten and how it’s trying to R&B is self-defeating too. RZA was saying that in 1997. It’s 2013. That line is tired. You can tell, or you can actually show. You can malign what’s happening, or you can move things forward. RZA’s working with Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt and James Blake: He’s having a dialogue with the current state of hip-hop, whereas on a song like “Get Away”, De La Soul is shouting for it to get off their lawn.
Shelly: Old school hip hop artists criticizing new hip hop as a path towards becoming fresh again is becoming a trend. I wholeheartedly agree with Phil. I hate to break up the “We love De La” sing-a-long, but I never looked to them for dope lyrics per se. I looked to them for entertainment, focused fun lyrics, funky groovy beats, and silly videos.
Phelps: De La Soul would probably be horrified to be defined by “groovy beats and silly videos.” Sure, a lot of material was delivered tongue-in-cheek but you just reduced them to Kid-N-Play. Look, De La was hollering this same shit back in ’96 and it, like this, was dope. It ain’t nothing new. Hip hop is built upon the dozens, fake emcee arguments, and battles. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing for them to come back every 10 to 15 years and remind us of that era. Hip hop will continue to evolve, and there will always be good shit, but we’ll always be clamoring for that first heroin shot of 90s rap that we’ll never get again. The hot shit is just harder to find these days because the stakes aren’t high – the barrier has been permanently lowered with Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter, Soundcloud, and myriad other distribution channels, and there’s way more bad music because of it, hands down. If De La doesn’t like what they hear on the radio or internet, and they wanna play the grumpy old men dropping irritated witticisms over a sick track, I’ll sit back and enjoy it because I’m a De La fan. That is who this is for. As a group we may be able to summarily and swiftly dismiss this as unnecessary, but there’s a lot of young artists and hip-hop fans who I’d say need this. De La Soul doesn’t need to become fresh again, they just need to puff out their chest. Let’s not be too busy rummaging in our backpacks to miss the comet when it flies by. And Phil, I agree with your Wu argument, but they’re referencing the spirit, that otherworldly feeling we got with the double album, I believe.
Shelly: Ah, this was for De La Soul fans only? I missed that memo. I grew up listening to them. Did I run out to buy all of their songs? No. Am I against them in anyway? No. Do I think they’re great? Yes! I’m only expressing what I remember most about them, which is not deep, serious, mind-blowing lyricism. It is the “Me, Myself, and I” funky anthems that made me feel cool to be an individual. My use of the word “silly” was not to minimize their talents, but to express the manner in which they chose to mainstream their art. This is how I remember them. The “Spirit of Wu Tang” is not my most easily accessible memory of De La Soul. You may remember them underground and backpacking. I remember them mainstream and in, yes, silly videos.
Aaron: Damn, De La got everybody all serious. I wouldn’t have resorted to campfire stories and humblebrags if I had known it would go down like this. Maybe it’s just the old dude in me that agrees with the overall message in this track. I truly believe one of the most important things old rappers can do is remind kids how good they are, where the art came from,and how to do it right. De La is one of those groups that have earned the right to scold the industry and the young players in the game. It may sound like some old-man-get-off-my-lawn shit, but when they came out the lawn had potholes in it. They spent 20 yrs fixing it up and now the Neighborhood has gone to shit around them.
Damion: I disagree. I think whats wrong with this track is that they’re trying to teach other people how to rap. If you’re really nice with your flow, you don’t have to talk about anyone else. We’ll all just know. I was feeling the beat, but the verses made them sound like bitter old rappers. Its not like the younger rappers stopped them from making music the younger generation would like. De La’s style got old and they didn’t adjust. That’s life. Keep it moving or come out with something hot. Nobody is trying to hear these old man campfire stories.
Aaron: I think I must have listened to a different De La, in a parallel universe where they stayed totally relevant in spite of an industry in constant flux. The De La I remember did everything first: secret code names/multiple names, concept records, destruction/reconstruction of their own brand. The Hip Hop Collective. Admonishing the wackest parts of Hip Hop culture while sustaining the best of it. The De La I know got J Dilla and DJ Premier on the same track, because they could, not because it sells. The De La I listen to worked with everybody and never got dissed hard enough to stick. Top Notch production and subtly devastating emcee’s is a can’t loose combo in my world. Shit, they even managed to turn NIKEs parasitic, semi-exploitive relationship with hip hop into ART with that 2009 R.U.N mixtape. which was pretty well recieved by everyone except for those dicks at Pitchfork.
Also, Phil, I would submit that De La Soul is actually the Radiohead of hip hop: They both make powerful, consistent yet innovative, and game-changing albums, some of them loved and worshipped, some of them for fans only, and all of them made by old dudes.
Mac Miller: “S.D.S.”
Six months after Mac Miller announced sophomore effort Watching Movies With the Sound Off, the Pittsburgh rapper has released its first single, “S.D.S.” Of significant note: The track was produced by L.A. heavyweight Flying Lotus, who’s expressed a desire in the past to be more involved in production for other rappers. Miller took to Twitter earlier this week to discuss the forthcoming album: “i’ve been working harder on this album than any project i have ever been a part of. This is by far the most time i have spent on an album… the album has gone thru so much. i only wish u were here to witness this process. but maybe its better u just get the finished product.”
Shelly: Flying Lotus gives you that out-of-body groove (“OOBG”) every time! OOBG is defined as that undeniable combination of musical elements that makes your head bop, neck pop, shoulder bounce, and/or limbs flail in awkward directions unconsciously. When the beat drops, your mouth forms the sound “Aaaaaayyyyyy.” Mac Miller flows over it effortlessly. I love the lines that challenge organized religion, as well. Even though it’s six months late, it’s just in time to work with Flying Lotus, who has expressed readiness. The stars aligned and bam: OOBG
Leah: I haven’t been the biggest Mac fan – some of Macadelic excluded – since he seemed like a one-note rapper who was blessed with dope producers. This track feels different, like he’s growing up, like he’s finding his voice (with a flow that sounds like it’s inching toward Earl Sweatshirt territory), and like he’s not afraid to rap about nothing, in the best Seinfeldian way. He still sounds young, though – he’s only 21 FFS – but I’m feeling the slightest glimmer of anticipation about his new tape. Obviously, Flying Lotus is a gift and can do no wrong. THANK YOU BASED GOD.
Bri: Well, I was about to like this song until Ab Soul got on a track with Mac Miller, and now I like it instead. (Mostly because of Ab, but hey, who’s being technical?)
Marcus: Mac Miller’s “SDS” reminds me of every bored suburban and rap-loving white kid from Philly and Bmore that I went to summer camp with when I was in high school 20 years ago who’d talk about smoking blunts in the woods and “kicking dope freestyles” “back home” over “Tribe beats.” The thing was with these kids when they would actually rap against kids who really lived and breathed rap’s truly urban culture of the era, their Phife rip-offs would sound so trite up against the flows of my friends who were from the Bronx, DC, or amazingly enough, the hard streets of Paris, France.
Mac Miller isn’t a bad rapper. He’s serviceable, and clearly did his whole “let me drop acid and listen to Flying Lotus for a whole night on my personal tour bus” thing. Similar trippy moments for Lil Wayne created a legacy, for but Mac, he’s got a really good song, but nothing really unique and legacy creating. Flying Lotus is at a place where he’s a master creator and doing what he wants. Buoying Mac Miller’s “deep” desire to be a 90s backpacker? Probably the biggest single production paycheck day he received in the last year.
Flying Lotus is supported by indie folks who bemoan buying albums unless they’re special edition vinyl. Thus, some douchebag at some college somewhere downloading this off iTunes, burning one with his skanky Jersey Shore wannabe girlfriend under a Bob Marley blacklight blanket and getting it in to this is exactly what’s going to happen. Hey. A dollar is a dollar. It is what it is.
Aaron: I dig this with a small shovel, but mostly because FlyLo is a genius and tends to elevate anything he touches. His work is almost a genre unto itself. He’s got producers, rappers, and superstars like Thom Yorke riding his jock worldwide. I have beef with internet rappers like Mac, however. They come out of the gate all shiny and new with their inexplicably large following and hot videos and party raps and 10 minute freestyles. You think it’s hot and you realize that freestyle was not a freestyle but was just every rap you ever wrote done back to back and then switched around. You can’t fool me Mac Miller. Also I will never forgive him for trying to steal a Lord Finesse beat for that Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza joint. Not a good look.
I have to give Mac credit for being earnest and affable. He’s the kind of kid that could smile in your face, steal pills from the medicine cabinet, wreck the car, get your daughter pregnant and you would still like him. Mac might seem like a threat in a controlled experiment where his promo machine handles everything- but just imagine him compared to that real shit. But Philly’s rap pedigree is extra deep: Black Thought, Jazzy Jeff/Fresh Prince, 3 Times Dope, Bahamadia, Schooly D, Cassidy,Beenie Sigel,Jedi Mind Tricks,King Britt and shitloads more that I forgot/don’t know about. He needs more than a hot beat from FlyLo to get his shine on in that crowd.
Damion: I am a Mac Miller fan but I I’m not feeling this. “On my Shit’ off the most recent Harry Fraud mixtape stays in rotation – he goes in on that. But this beat sounds like two different songs playing on top of each other. Maybe I’m giving Mac the benefit of the doubt, but I just don’t think he could get into this.
Fat Tony: “I Shine”
Compared with gentrification-cum-party anthem “Hood Party”, Fat Tony’s second offering from debutSmart Ass Black Boy is a more reserved affair. The track – produced by Tom Cruz – finds the rapper in a more contemplative space, touching on issues like gay marriage, abortion, and racism. Smart Ass Black Boy drops in full in early June, while Tom Cruz released a mixtape of his own – featuring Fat Tony – last week. Note: “I Shine” not currently on Youtube, but listen to it here and enjoy “Hood Party” above.
Marcus: I’m impressed by Fat Tony’s wordplay and I’m impressed by the production of this track, but to use it – as-is – as a promoted single is incredibly short-sighted and a fail for his entire team. There’s nothing in the cadence of his flow or in the articulation of his voice that really makes this stand out and demand multiple listens, purchases or a need to hear this greater than for this exercise. If he learned how to use tones and inflections better, then this track would have some color and the ability to really stand out. The better look would have been to say, pony up some money for say, Killer Mike to drop 16, in order to accentuate Tony’s strength – his intellectualism (as he’d be sharing the track with someone similarly gifted) and hiding his weakness in developed nuances in his vocals. I like what he’s saying, I just don’t like how it’s being said. Anybody can rap, but it takes true talent to be able to really rap well and achieve a top career with sustainability. I feel like rappers like him get a chance because of their progeny (he’s from Houston and has ties with Atlanta), then get pushed because bloggers and industry people appreciate hype and promise more than talent and the ability to deliver. Rap’s in a different place right now. If you’re going to do this intellectual Southernplayalistic thing that everybody and their mama’s on now, then you REALLY have to bring it.
Phelps: A shame to waste a great track on someone so boring, it sounds like he got stoned and recorded it on his iphone passed out next to a bag of cheetos. I know it might be cool to not try but even Spiccoli had style.
Shelly: As a poet, I appreciate the level of consciousness in this joint. The interesting thing about this “who’s the most conscious” competition for “weird-cool rapper of the year” is that these mofos were always conscious. It just wasn’t cool to talk about. Now that it is cool to rap like you’re a reader, Fat Tony must find the aspect of the “cool conscious guy” he wants to provoke. Hopefully he discovers it before everyone falls asleep on this track.
Aaron: I have recently been diagnosed with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congenital_analgesia, so you will have to forgive me if I’m not feeling this one. Also, while I was at the doctor, I had to ask the nurse to get on wikipedia and help me remember who the fuck Fat Tony was, possibly due to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-traumatic_amnesia caused by listening to that weak track.
Phil: I’m not going to drop the hammer on Fat Tony the way that some of you, distinguished colleagues, have. I think his heart is in the right place and I have no problem with him laying back on this beat. But this track goes completely off the rails in its back half. What little focus was holding the front half together evaporates when he starts rattling off his list of grievances against the nebulous “They.” Unlike “Hood Party”, where he set his target on one issue and eviscerated it – and had fun doing it! – he’s trying to sum up the state of oppression (racial, sexual, everything) in about a minute’s time, which would be a tall task for even the most accomplished rapper. By the time he’s in my ear about the third world, I’m realizing I’ve fallen into a “Rapper You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started a Conversation with at a Party” situation and eying the front door.
Leah: I’m not against Fat Tony in general, and I think he’ll do well if he steers more in the “Hood Party” direction. This track, by contrast, is stilted and rudderless. I also have a personal rule against accepting “up in this bitch” more than once in a track. He’s playing with the secretly-super-smart-rapper persona throwing out “bitches” and “hos” and club hooks and veering off to clever, righteous, and political on the verses. We can all tell that he’s smart. I think that he needs to get a bit smarter about his delivery.
Aaron: I think Fat Tony sounds like a stupid rapper pretending to be smart.