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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy.  Each week, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip hop tracks.  Today, we join Ciara and Nicki Minaj for girls’ night out, receive some special education from a reunited Goodie Mob and Janelle Monáe, and let Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy crew tell us all about things We.O.N.E.O.   Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of  Joshua PhelpsMarcus DowlingBriana YoungerPhil R, Damion M, Shelly Bell, Aaron Miller, Steve Place, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.


Ciara ft. Nicki Minaj: “I’m Out”

Last year, Ciara guested on Nicki Minaj’s “I’m Legit” and now the rapper and “American Idol” judge has repaid the favor by jumping on the R&B singer’s “I’m Out.”  Produced by fraternal production duo Planet VI, the song is set to opens Ciara’s forthcoming self-titled LP, which has already given us one of the year’s best singles, “Body Party.”

Marcus:  In an ideal universe – where mainstream rap can support more than one female superstar at any given time – Nicki Minaj would be praised as a take-no-prisoners female idol (among many other stars worthy of being idolized). However, this world is far from ideal, so Minaj – possibly the most exciting crossover female act in mainstream rap at the moment – is scrutinized and judged to a ridiculous degree. She’s on an island, and unfortunately marches to the beat of her own drummer, oftentimes in directions that people choose to not understand.

That being said, Nicki as a showstopping pure emcee is the Nicki that the average rap fanatic loves most, and that’s the one we get on “I’m Out.” Quick to wit, quick to dis and razor sharp with the flow, when Minaj returns to her bread-and-butter you see the best representation of what makes her a superstar. As much as I appreciate her bold willingness to rap and sing over David Guetta tracks, or her desire to over-brand herself due to a 360 deal as endemic to an expanded hip-hop cultural ideal, I appreciate this so much more. At her core, Minaj is the girl boldly rapping Salt-N-Pepa lyrics into a hairbrush the night before her first day of high school. She’s not yet radicalized, not extolling the virtues of the voices in her head, and just a girl that raps to play the dozens and because it’s some cool shit to do. I’ll take this performance every day and twice on Sunday.

Phelps:  But Nicki still can’t save one of the lamest R&B songs I’ve heard in a while, and there’s a lot of lame-ass R&B in the world.  Where Beyonce succeeded in giving single ladies a fun, empowering anthem that has somehow become a wedding standard, Ciara sets a scene that would be so sad if it wasn’t hilarious:  Scorned women taking Instagram selfies to make their man jealous and building themselves back up with MC Hammer references.

Damion:  This beat is crazy, and Minaj didn’t slip into one of her weird voice/screaming phases. That’s a win-win.  Josh alluded to this, but I honestly can’t tell if Ciara is singing this or if he she just paid Beyonce to do it for her.  I get it, Beyonce makes a lot of bread off her music, so it makes sense for Ciara to try and sound like her, but for real?  No originality here.

Briana:  “Now which bitch want it? Cuz that bitch get it. I gave him to you bitch, don’t f*ckin’ forget it.”   So many hood joint quotables here.  I love it! And, exactly to the tune of Beyonce, this will most certainly be the Let-Me-Post-Passive-Aggressive-Alty-Single-Lady-Facebook-Statuses Song of the Summer. Nicki definitely killed this one. When she keeps it chill, the results are so much better than all the extra theatrics. And Ciara is just…Ciara.

Leah:  Let’s all say it together: Fuck. The. Haters. Her misguided political rants aside, I love Nicki Minaj. I love that she’s carrying the Lil’ Kim torch, but with more talent. I love that this is her “chill” mode but she goes harder on this track than Jay Rock on “U.O.E.N.O.”  Nicki is in-your-face sexuality and raw raps, and while she can be inconsistent and you can dismiss this song as a meager ladies’ summer anthem to be shelved with Bey’s b-sides, she’s a consummate businesswoman and will be laughing her way to the bank with that aforementioned 360 deal. Of all the artists Rec-Room has talked about this year, she’s the only one I see actually waking up in a new Bugatti. Nicki goes hard. This song bangs.

Shelly:  R&B singers know that the path to success is to do something Beyonce sounding, but Ciara has lost her way. I like her, but I am never sure whether I want her to focus her career on being a dance instructor or actually sing me a song. “I’m Out” makes me lean towards the dance instructor option. I would totally buy her version of “Just Dance”.  And Nicki Minaj can go harder than this.  I keep waiting for her to reinvent herself. I believe where she falls off a bit is her lack of a personal story. Society is a sucker for a monster with a great story. Right now, she’s loved because of her weird. Yet weird without a connection fades easily from view, unless the artist keeps doing more weird things. Even then, it becomes redundant and, eventually, considered just silly.

Marcus:  Not to worry, Shell; in two years, Nicki Minaj will have a Vegas show with Cirque du Soleil and Angel Haze will embody all of these features. Songs like these are basically the equivalent of us having to play the waiting game.

Leah:  Were we supposed to be talking about Ciara? Is she on this song? I.N.E.N.O. it.

Shelly:  Like I said, my hope for Ciara is a “Just Dance (When Your Singing Career Is Over)” video game for Wii and Playstation Move. Rated “EOC” for Everyone’s Over Ciara.

Phil:  That comment is rated “AHOCSSMAASLTBPI” for Anyone Hating On Ciara Should Stop Making Acronyms and Start Listening to “Body Party” Immediately.

Shelly: Hating on Ciara? Blasphemy! Hating would require me to attempt to interrupt her path to success. I am trying to promote her success by suggesting an option that fits her best: fitness.

Aaron:  Willnothatewillnothatewillnothate.  Fuck.  I can’t help it.  I’m all for fucking some haters, even if I have to resort to cloning- or some kind of quantum mental state whereby I can actually go fuck myself.  I have a hard time with Minaj.  I followed her early on in the youtube-Dirty Money-freestyle/battle rap days and was genuinely excited.  The transition from outta nowhere MC threat to whatever she is now has left me less than inspired.  Her rise to super stardom is hard evidence of how mainstream marketing pressures can force quality into the gutter in favor of wacky over-branding,big asses,and shiny rainbow shit.  They turned her into Rap Game Phyllis Diller – who, incidentally, died very rich, respected, and famous with a voluminous catalog of original material.  So maybe the joke’s on me.

This song is 51% wack and 49% predictable club/radio jam. Having said that, I’m a total hypocrite when it comes to Ciara. That one song/video for “Ride” is like, the sexiest stupid R&B jam of the decade. She can fail forever but she has already Flash-Danced her way into my heart/pants.

Phil:  YMCMB is notorious for the exorbitant rates it charges for features, but is there anyone who can take an otherwise utterly disposable track – like this – and flip it into a something worth listening to, and, more importantly to the people paying the bills, a hit, like Nicki Minaj and Drake right now? We can all talk about what we want and expect from Minaj (and Drake), but there are few artists with as reliably a Midas touch. There’s nothing sexy about efficiency, but you get what you pay for with these two, and in both cases, it’s a lot.


Goodie Mob ft. Janelle Monáe: “Special Education”

This summer, Goodie Mob will release its first album with all four original members since 1999’s World Party, the amazingly titled Age Against the Machine.  The record’s opening shots – “Fight to Win” and “Is That You God” – are over a year old at this point, but the reunited Dungeon Family click is making a renewed push with “Special Education.”  The track features a hook from Janelle Monáe, and perhaps more notably, actual rapping from  Cee-Lo.

Leah:  I forgot Cee-Lo could rap.  He rips this. TYBG. They are not playing around with this beat either: equal parts Southern banger, industrial grind, and psychedelia.  I can’t get behind Monae’s chorus though. It just drags the track down, which I’ve officially been trained not to accept thanks to Killer Mike and El-P.

Phil:  Leah’s breakdown of this song’s recipe hits the nail on the head.  It succeeds in a way that most all of Big Boi’sVicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors – along with previous entries in the Goodie Mob comeback – didn’t: It grabs the Dungeon Family’s blend of stomping funk by the ears and yanks it headfirst into the present day.  Or maybe past the present day into the future.  I don’t have any issue with Monae’s chorus though.  If anything, it suffers most from the expectations of the “Goodie Mob ft. Janelle Monae” billing.  That is to say:  If this was some nameless singer on the hook, you wouldn’t think twice about it.  That may also be the point. On a banger of this magnitude, with all four of these guys bringing it, Monae’s chorus is a somewhat necessary breather.  As for why she chose to channel the cadence of an Oompa Loompa, I mostly blame the presence of Cee Lo.

Aaron:  Yes, please. This is my jam. Real Heads have been dying to hear these cats go at it again. Cee Lo is solid gold on this track and the Freak Flag is still waving. His flow is always so crispy-clean and genuinely weird that it gives me the chills: “Scientist stood around in silence as I was being born/Was I quote-unquote-special or was there something wrong?/My skin was wet / My heart was cold / And my tongue was silver/And the fact that I could talk already – that was a [in Vincent Price voice]  Thrillerrrrrrrr.”  Ba.na.nas.

I see your Oompa Loompa reference, Phil, and raise you a sea-shanty: Yo ho ho and a bottle of Drank or something?  I could definitely do without Monae on this track. She has always been a little boring for my taste in second string R&B Divas. It’s too bad my girl Ciara was too busy making that wack joint with Icky Minaj to get on this hook.

Bri:  Though Monae doesn’t necessarily ruin this song, every time it’s her turn, I think, “Ugh, let’s get this over with.”   But Yes, Cee Lo definitely went off on this joint. It was as if he sat down and made the conscious decision to make sure everyone remembers who Cee Lo Green is by the time it’s all said and done. This song has game-changer-potential all over it.  More please.

Damion:   I really like Janelle on the chorus.  Her voice is captivating – no matter what she’s saying, I’m paying attention.  Y’all are right about Cee Lo: He did his thing on this track.  But while this beat is growing on me, I just can’t get down with its style overall.

Phelps: 90/70/30:  Those numbers roughly represent the percentage of tracks on the first three Goodie Mob records that were produced by Atlanta pioneers Organized Noize.  The data tells a story, and that story is that Organized Noize – in-house producers, and unarguably Godfathers of the revered Dungeon Family, and 5th Beatle to all of them but Outkast – are fucking instrumental (pun intended) to the true Goodie Mob sound.  This track, like the TLC feature on the insufferable World Party, is What It Ain’t.  What it is is eerily reminiscent of a cash grab 14 years ago with “Get Rich to This”, although, ironically, they’re pleading the opposite this time with the “I’m different” angle, but it’s a grab nonetheless.  It may be more lyrically sound than 2 Chainz dumb banger, but it feels less fun and more calculated, and Janelle Monae over generic dirty electro makes it even less “different.”  The Goodie Mo’ B classically claimed “they don’t dance no’ mo’, all we doin’ is sittin’ around chillin'” in an ode to lackadaisical and irresponsible club behavior, but those words could just as well be describing “Special Education.”  I’ll take my mob as hallucinators and schizophrenics, not street preachers wielding feel-good children’s rhymes.

Marcus:  This track ain’t nothin’ special, because we’ve seen the two biggest stars on this track do something so much better together in the same ultra-corporate situation.  We all love Cee Lo and Janelle. Cee Lo was in the Goodie Mob, and, yeah, as Josh points out, even though their sound declined (rapidly) as their mainstream potential rose, this was still a man who rapped on “Cell Therapy”, so he was a part of my (and probably your) coming of age as a rap aficionado. Janelle’s the hipster princess, kinda like the little sister of Erykah Badu. Thus, she was birthed by Ohio Players cover models and the falsetto of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey, then swaddled in Black Panther Party newspapers and fed the breast milk of Nina Simone. That being said – like Cee Lo – she’s pretty much beyond reproach by mere mortals… until commercialism gets involved.

Again, this song is bullshit. Yeah, Cee Lo raps his rappin’ ass off – he’s a 20+ year rap veteran, so this shouldn’t surprise anybody – and gets all weird, and Janelle does absolutely nothing with the hook. Know when else they did something similarly strange, yet better? In this 2009 “Open Happiness” ad for Coca-Cola (alongside the hilarious trio of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Gym Class Heroes’ Travis McCoy and Panic! At the Disco’s Brendan Urie). Only if Cee Lo Green magically morphed from a zebra into a rapping human, and Janelle were a singing professor in some sort of corporate Hogwarts academy on “Special Education” would it be any good. Otherwise, this is some second tier, “let’s get Khujo Goodie and crew some big checks”  – cause, hell, they are the GOODIE MOB – bullshit.  I can’t cosign anything here, even if I wanted to, because it’s all so much generic, modern era, paint-by-numbers and utter horseshit rappity rap.

Shelly:  I agree with Marcus. This was an attempt to be current, while still being Goodie Mob.  I am not a fan. There’s more bounce and less soul than I expect from anyone in the Dungeon Family clique. While Janelle Monae doesn’t add to the track, she doesn’t take away from it either. She fits the Goodie Mob sound, but this chorus wasn’t the best blend of her sound and theirs. Cee-Lo’s verse reminds me of one of the tracks from his second record, “Soul Machine,” where he reminded everyone that he was still a rapper. I agree that this should be no surprise, but even Cee-Lo must realizes that most folks have no clue that he’s an MC first.


Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, & Jay-Rock: “U.O.E.N.O. (Black Hippy Remix)”

Perhaps no production this year has gotten more attention than Childish Major’s “U.O.E.N.O.,” for reasons good and bad.  First came Rocko’s initial version, and with it firestorm over and fallout from Rick Ross’s date rape lines.  Then, despite those bad vibes, 78% of the world’s rappers released freestyles over the beat.  Now, West Coast supergroup Black Hippy let loose with its own version of the song, presumably released to further chum the water for the collective’s latest effort:  ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron.  (A second sampling of that album – “Hell of a Night” – was also released last week.)

Marcus:  The Black Hippy dudes rap like it’s their job. They feel like a crew of “bring their lunch pail to the worksite” type emcees, giving the quartet a level of professionalism to all four of them that make the crew uniquely set for a high level of success. There’s nothing super special about this remix, but it’s the little things about it that makes it an entertaining listen. Kendrick’s special, yes, but in no way the G.O.A.T. However, there’s an assured nature growing in his voice that makes his bars feel more authoritative than ever. Q’s a superduperstar, his simple, arrogant flip of the Bawse’s ill-advised lyric doing more with less to make Rape Ross look like an idiot than anyone else has done to date. Ab-Soul’s solid here. This track not being a great showcase for his style, he definitely tries to do what he can. Of all four, Ab-Soul’s the one best suited to solo performances, as he falls VERY short on posse cuts and features. Jay Rock eats this track whole, the crew leaving room for him to shine, like those random ’90s Bulls games when Horace Grant would go for 30 points and 15 rebounds just so that you wouldn’t forget that he was just as much of a beast as Jordan and Pippen.

Steve:  Marcus touched on this, but it’s funny how Jay Rock really steps on this, but is somehow weaker on his solo stuff, and that Ab-Soul loses a lot of depth on here, but then crushes everything else. Hopefully we’ll hear a lot more from both soon though.

Damion:  This was awkward like DMX on a “Beauty and the Beat” remix. The original version of “U.O.E.N.O.” is just infinitely better.  All of these dudes should be ashamed that Rocko sounds better on this than all of them.

Phelps:  I’ll admit I’m not as familiar with Jay Rock and Ab Soul as I am with Kendrick or Schoolboy, so my excitement for this was tempered, and after listening I can fall back on Marcus’ comments.  It’s serviceable, but by no means exceptional and it feels so way too long.  Apropos of the 78% comment in the introduction above, what’s next – a “Harlem Shake” video?  Maybe this will be a radio win for them, and I won’t be mad:  More TDE in the public consciousness is never a bad thing.

Damion:  This is a beat tailor made for down South rappers.  If you don’t have that sound, you either have to adapt to the beat a little bit or leave it alone.  These four should have left it alone.

Bri:   I’m going to have to side with Damion. It’s not that the song is bad by any stretch, it’s just Black Hippy isn’t ratchet enough for this type of party. Perhaps if I didn’t know the song in its original form, I could unbiasedly critique this and give it endless thumbs up. But instead, when this Childish Major masterpiece of a beat drops, the only thing I want to hear is Rocko doing Rocko-esque things.  At least they left Future on the end though.

Leah:  Holy sheeit, do we all (mostly) agree? Then that makes this week’s Rec-Room about as exciting as this song, which is to say, not very. For the most part, this feels like band practice for TDE, except Jay Rock who didn’t get the memo and came full dress rehearsal.

Shelly:  We all rap, but we don’t all rape, and UOENO’it.  We consciously less ratchet than all the other rappers, and UOENO’it.  The less ratchet can challenge the ratchet on their beat, and UOENO’it.  Black Hippy is attempting with rap what the Soulquarians did with soul, and UOENO’it.

I like this joint. I agree about Jay Rock stepping up and Ab-Soul stepping left with depth. It’s interesting to see what putting a team of artists together as a supergroup will do to the efforts they place on a track. I wonder if they subconsciously considered each other’s talents while writing and recording.   Kendrick’s verse had me hype.  I just like his Andre 3000-cloned flow. But, growing up, “UOENO” was a word I heard as regularly as “FINNA” or “BOUTO” – it’s not considered ratchet at all. It suggests a certain pride that equates to “you had no clue I could do it like that did you?” So, I disagree that Black Hippy is not ratchet enough for the beat or the concept. They did make it a little boring though.

Phil:  This may be band practice, but we’re still talking about some exceptionally talented MCs, so that jam session is one that I’m happy to sit in on.  And if this sort of (free) track gets us closer to an “Avengers”-esque collaborative full-length, then they can crank them out ’til their hearts content.