Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we debate, discuss, and dissect recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we withdraw an unreasonable amount of money from the automated teller machine with Azealia Banks and Pharrell, fire up the bullshit-detector with Future, and ingest hallucinatory drugs with the Chicago duo of ProbCause and Chance the Rapper. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Damion M, Shelly Bell, Brianna Younger, Aaron Miller, Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners, and DDm.
Azealia Banks ft. Pharrell: “ATM Jam”
How do you follow a 2012 where you had a hand in making the year’s two most critically acclaimed albums,Channel Orange and Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City? How about ubiquity? “Blurred Lines”, “BBC”, “Feds Watching”, “The Problem (Lawwwddd)”, “Get Lucky”, “Get Like Me”: Pharrell Williams has been inescapable this summer. His latest production-feature combo is “ATM Jam”, the second single from Azealia Bank’s perpetually delayed Broke With Expensive Taste. Rec-Room Therapy discussed first single “Rapunxel” – and all of Banks’ baggage – back in March, but, in contrast, this track is sending out decidedly more radio-friendly vibes.
DDm: “ATM Jam” caught my ear immediately, but it gets old really quickly. It sounds like Pharell featuring Azealia Banks, and not the other way around. I could see it working well in clubs, but I want to hear a remix.
Leah: This track kind of gives me a seizure. It’s too all over the place, and the beat is cray. I don’t know that is has enough continuity to be a club hit.
Marcus: Here’s a free idea: Maybe it’s time for Interscope Records to blow up the Broke With Expensive Taste album concept and go back the drawing board, A great way for her to not lose the hype she’s gained and to increase her buzz exponentially would be to release an EP full of posse cuts called Azealia Banks Has No Friends. The idea would be to play up the fact that everybody thinks that she’s an asshole, when in fact, the album’s marketing would attempt to prove otherwise. I’d love to hear “ATM Jam” with her, Chippy Nonstop, Zuzuka Poderosa, and Angel Haze – multi-ethnic party cut with four distinctly different flows. What would be even funnier is if the bars from the other chicks involved throwing shade at Azealia as well. Just sayin’.
And, yeah, Pharrell – and/or whomever is working the boards and supplying him with these crazy ideas – is pretty much having the best year ever. Sampling the Joker’s laugh from the 80s era Batman film? Tight. But, it’s such a difficult sample for the ear to handle that I’d actually prefer a plethora of flows over it to make it less prominent and more of a cherry on top of the pie.
Shelly: I agree with DDm: This sounds like Pharrel featuring Azealia. In fact, I would prefer it that way. If I was in the club, I would totally rock to this joint without remotely caring that Azealia Banks is on it. I could see people dancing to this while wondering aloud, “Who is that chick rapping? Is that Nicki Minaj? No? Whatever!”
The beat reminds me of a sped up version of Wale’s “Slight Work”, a song which did not get enough play. She needs to make a dope video with amazing dancers that go a little old school and actually perform a dance routine (axe the sexy booty gyrate). Banks has talent, but just needs some serious coaching on how to build strong bridges, walk across them, and then burn them. Marcus, it’s a shame too, because she’s much sexier than Angel Haze (no offense to Angel), and everybody loves a sexy asshole. But even an asshole has to know when to shit on people.
DDm: Yes for the sexy asshole, Shelly! I live! But you are so right: The verses just aren’t memorable enough. This is why I love Minaj – even if you don’t like her, you always remember her part on a song. Banks verses here are nondescript.
Phelps: When Hudson Mohawke dropped the “Twerk It” remix at U Hall on Tuesday night, people went buck. Banks is trying so, so hard, but she just can’t get there – to Nicki. She’s so, so thirsty, even tweeting about collaborations that haven’t even happened. Everything feels forced, even this. Yes, Pharrell’s hot this year, and someone on their suit ‘n’ tie shit put this together, but who in these clubs or streets is really going to feel it?
Aaron: I’d first like to shout out Pharell for stepping outside of his jazz chord, minimalist, bongoes and bleep bloops production style. This is a very dense track for him, and I’m a sucker for a good airhorn. But the hook bothers me, and I’m not sure how I feel about Banks yet. I can’t figure out why someone who can obviously rap so well just irritates the shit out of me. Maybe it was too many articles about Twitter beef. Maybe it is her odd accent/affectation. Where the fuck is she from? Where do people talk like that? Is it a speech impediment? So many questions.
Banks does do the beat justice. The tension is pretty ill when the verse starts, but I can never really tell what she’s talking about. Her rap persona and what little I’ve read about her complaining about weird shit make her seem bratty and shitty and shallow. When did the idea of being a competitive female emcee shift from being strong, proud, women to bitchy princesses with shopping problems and funny accents. I bet her girlfriends all secretly hate her.
Damion: The beat hits, and I’m feeling the uptempo pace, but this is the song that the DJ uses for 10 seconds (and even then, just the chorus) to transition from one upbeat Pharrell song to the next upbeat Pharrell song.
One of the few producer’s who might give Pharrell’s omnipresence a run for the money is Mike Will, who’s been behind a ludicrous number of hit singles (Lil Wayne’s “Bitches Love Me”, Ace Hood’s “Buggati”, Future’s “Fo Real”, Ciara’s “Body Party”, Miley Cyrus’ “We Don’t Stop”), and contributed to mixtapes and albums both hard-nosed (Trap God 2, Fredo Kruger, Free Bricks 2, the forthcoming Stay Trippy) and slightly softer (RockaByeBaby, Ciara, Talk a Good Game). Then, of course, there’s his production on Magna Carta… Holy Grail, “Beach is Better”, which ended up being a 56-second interlude and somewhat of a nonevent. Currently in the pipeline: A joint mixtape with Future, who’s somewhere in between Mike Will’s muse and and biggest patron. “Sh!t” is the first track from that record, La Familia, which will ostensibly build hype for Future’s second proper full-length, Future Hendrix. (The Atlanta rapper recently made both Rec-Room’s best songs and albums of 2013 lists.)
Leah: So, this is just a drill rap set to a pretty stellar beat. Mike Will’s appeal with the production on this track is the sound cycling between that hi-hat tapping with trap beats and rainbow synths. He’s a hitmaker, and this will probably be a hit, but the hit here isn’t Future. His choppy, half-vocalized word salad is just another percussive instrument here. His voice propels the track in its aggression, though, but I could see virtually any trap/drill rapper creating the same momentum, and while autotune is admirably minimal on this track, the lack of it only exposes Future’s creative shortcomings.
Phil: TRYING TO BE OBJECTIVE ABOUT THIS. AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH. [Wall punch]
FUTURE IS ANGRY. I AM ANGRY. WHY ARE WE ANGRY? DID MIGOS DO THIS? DID THOSE PUNK BITERS AWAKE THE SLEEPING GIANT? DON’T THEY KNOW ALL FUTURE WANTS TO DO WAS MAKE LOVEEEEEE SONGS WITH J LO AND SHAKIRA? GODDAMMIT, MIGOS. YOU AIN’T POPPED SHIT. MIGOOOOOOOS. [Wall punch]
WAIT, WE’RE YELLING. WHY ARE WE YELLING? DON’T ANSWER THAT. RHETORICAL QUESTION. [Wall punch]
“KARATE CHOP” HAD A FIRE-BREATHING BABY. FUTURE IS THE FATHER OF DRAGONS. RAP GAME KHALEESI. TURNT UP. [Wall punch]
Marcus: This is terrible. Somewhere, an industry executive smiled at Future and demanded that he make a Migos-meets-2 Chainz track that folks could “turn up” to and subsequently run the Atlanta club scene. Though entrenched (and probably quite happy) as the Internet and underground rap’s favorite creative force and damned near sainthood, he acquiesced, and we got this steaming pile of turds. Future’s the kind of artist who puts such appreciable effort into appearing dissonant in a dramatic manner that it’s so terribly easy to tell when he’s phoning it in and just making a song to fulfill a need for an “industry record.” It’ll be fun to see this get pushed and do exactly what it’s supposed to do, though. When rap can literally be anything, yet becomes tripe for the lowest common denominator of Moet sipping, knockoff Jacob the Jeweler watch-wearers who scream “Versace” but can only afford a button from a Versace shirt, first I get angry, followed by depressed, then finally just ambivalent to it all.
Damion: This song is only acceptable as an album intro. It’s more of a chant than anything else, but lucky for me, I’m a big fan of chanting songs. Part of Future’s allure is how good he is at talking shit, an he turns that up a little bit on this.
Aaron: Oh hell naw. This is straight garbage. It’s all of the shit I hate compiled on one track: One big long hook, sleep-inducing BPM, and dumb raps. I’m almost impressed by how shitty it is. It’s as if I missed some crucial, taste making co-sign that tells me it’s ok to like this.
I’m not so PC that I mind when rap treads that socially irresponsible line. I like that the genre has been around for decades, been intensely commodifed, universally marketed, and still manages to scare ,shock, and intimidate. I like my shit dark and I don’t mind violence. But, I do like my dark violent rap to be smart too. I’m more of a Malcolm-in-the-window kinda guy. In a philosophical sense, often times the Club that one tears up is ones own. I find balance in the space between “fuck everybody but me and mines” and “fuck you/them for specific reasons I shall now rap about.” I gots no love for this nihilist autotune thug nonsense.
Shelly: This is technology’s spin on the Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz. Future capitalizes off of the evolution of hip-hop (ie, production, use of autotune) while retracting back to the spirit of the early 2000s in an effort to “turn up” the Atlanta club scene. Get enough thugs in the same space and “Sh!t” has the potential to start the club riots that everyone loved so much at the height of Lil Jon’s power. In the South, these songs create fun for kids who haven’t experienced anything close to “thug life,” or create danger for those who are actually yelling this to people they think they hate. However, for a short time, it creates an enormous career opportunity for the artist(s) who can make it work.
Phelps: “Sh!t” sounds like when my mom used to try to make fun of hip-hop when I was growing up. Or maybe this guy from “Chappelle Show”: an irrationally confident dumbass. The difference is that I’d rather listen to him saying “Oops, Pow, Surprise” for 4 minutes than this “shit.” I’m trying to get into Future, I really am, but he’s making it so hard. He poisoned this Mike Will beat. I need to go listen to some real hip-hop making use of ominous bells.
Bri: This is one of those songs that you don’t mean to like, but you find yourself running it back multiple times, failing to contemplate what you’re doing. It’s definitely all about the beat here. Anyone could’ve got this beat and made a “hit,” but I can settle for Future’s yell-raps.
ProbCause ft. Chance the Rapper: “LSD”
On last September’s The Recipe Volume 1 EP, Chicago emcee (and artist) ProbCause surrounded himself with hometown talent including Rocko Fresh, YP, and Mic Terror. Nowhere to be found? Chance the Rapper. But what a difference ten months makes: This week, ProbCause puts out The Recipe Volume 2, and two advanced singles have featured Chance. First came “3 Course Meal” – with gourmand and sin enthusiast Action Bronson too – and, now, appropriately enough, “LSD”, a track produced by Drew Mantia. Chance – who remains unsigned since the release of one of the year’s best releases, Acid Rap – also recently popped up on another fellow Chicagoan’s track: trumpeter Neco Segal’s “Zion”, where he appeared alongside rising star Vic Mensa.
Leah: Damn, this beat. This fuzzy club-style takes me more to the Bay Area than Chi-town. Chance deals much better with the beat than ProbCause, who comes across talented but without the musicality of Chance. Though, we know from Chance’s output that this is absolutely his wheelhouse and he should expand and diversify his delivery style if he wants to keep listeners engaged.
Phil: Two fun facts about ProbCause and me: We’re both white guys, and from the sound of of “LSD”, we both like Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor a lot.
Marcus: All this track makes me want to do is find Marcus circa ’01 (backwards and upside down worn Kangol golf visor, Bono sunglasses, personalized “DJ Casanova” Phoenix Cardinals jersey, two sizes too-big cargo shorts, shell-toed, black high-top Adidas Superstars and cherry red Dodge Neon with the tricked out system) at the Warped Tour and tell him to play this when the college girl from Occidental wanted a ride back to her house, and he knew he was in there, bro!
Chance the Rapper wins because young dudes feel mad awkward and unsure about everything, and do dumb shit like take LSD to feel “connected” and “aware.” Most young dudes who rap these days about things that young dudes do don’t rap about the actual taking of the drugs and the immediate ignorance that comes with getting hilariously high. Rather, they talk about the druggy moments of intense introspection. I like Chance – and most others do too – because, frankly, when I was a 23-year old alcoholic, I didn’t need to listen to songs about the intense emotional awareness found at the end of a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I just wanted songs that said, “Hey asshole! You drunk yet? If you are, then fuck bitches and scream!!!” Thankfully, Chance the Rapper is infinitely more witty and soulful than Crazy Town’s Shifty Shellshock, so, yeah, I dig this. ProbCause is solid, but Chance is a superduperstar just havin’ fun.
Aaron: As someone who has taken just a touch more than my fair share of acid, I approve not only of this song. I wholeheartedly approve of LSD and the consumption thereof by young people that make art. It’s the only drug that makes you smarter, you can buy it with your lunch money, and it’s connection to greatness is pretty much evident everywhere in the last 40 yrs of pop culture.
ProbCause has not been on my radar, but the dude is pretty nice. Chance, meanwhile, is growing on me. I really can’t handle more than a hot 16 from him, because that sing-song style is nerve-wracking, but there’s no doubt the kid is skilled.
I was a little wary about these acid-themed personal brands. It seemed inauthentic at first, but the more I pick apart the flow and check the videos for telltale signs of genuine weirdness, I’m pretty sure these kids are on drugs. They are not as weird as they think they are, but they are giving it the old “I dropped out of college” try. They are but young apprentice-level weirdlings. You have to eat acid for years to hit that Bill Hicks listening to Sun Ra, x-ray vision, transcend-the-bullshit level of weird. They might get there,they might not, but at least they don’t make trap bullshit and put Molly in your drank.
Briana: My mind is always blown by how effortlessly Chance outshines pretty much whoever he’s on a track with. I love this song, the production, the rapping – everything. LSD was more than fitting, because it’s absolutely trippy as hell.
Shelly: Somebody out there is doing LSD, so rap about that shit! I love it! It’s like Sid from The Internet saying “I wanna, I wanna…do you wanna do some cocaine?” Of course people do! I am hoping that hip-hop evolves more in the direction of people rapping about the feeling of doing something rather than what they are about to do or have done. Eminem was on to this at one point in his career. I think I learned more about the effects of drugs from D12 videos than from any classroom. I’m not saying that everyone should start doing drugs and making songs out of it, but there is something unique about being able to articulate the actual feeling of a thing without resorting to just calling it a high, or beating pussy up, getting wasted, or killing the club. I’m unfamiliar with ProbCause, but his flow here most definitely makes me want to hear more. Chance is a winner as always, though.
Phelps: This is by far the best song on RRT this week. I didn’t know I was looking for a beat that sounded like Justice dragging Ghost Town DJ’s into their dirty bass dungeon and adding piano like it was classic Digital Underground, but then Drew Mantia smacked me in my mouth with it. I can’t expand too much upon Aaron’s eloquent drug breakdown, but if I may make a comparison to the Underachievers, who are competing for ears in this same space: This is how you make psychedelic rap fun. The end of that Underachievers video gave psilocybin a bad name. Can you imagine eating an eighth and having to listen to their monotonous wordplay on a park bench? Alternatively, Chance and ProBcause attack this track like they’re showing and proving during a midday slot at Bonnaroo on day 1, blasting off on that first trip with the crowd equally zooted.