Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we once again run the jewels with Killer Mike and El-P; contemplate violence in Chicago with Electric Circus performer Common; and show love to our significant others with Nipsey Hussle. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Aaron Miller, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Joshua Phelps, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.
Run the Jewels ft. DJ Qbert: “Pew Pew Pew”
Unstoppable odd couple El-P and Killer Mike are already working on a sequel to their Run the Jewels – one of Rec-Room’s favorite albums of 2013 – but for the European release of the original, the duo were kind enough to include a fresh cut, “Pew Pew Pew”. (“[J]ust for the record, pew pew pew isnt a song from the cutting room floor of the album. its new and recorded post album,” El-P clarified on Twitter.) The track features a scratch solo from San Francisco’s DJ Qbert for good measure.
Marcus: “You looking at the guy who the guy who that you think that I got my style from got his own style from (what’s up)” – El-P playing Hawk as the Rap Game Legion of Doom hits the industry with the Doomsday Device.
Pro wrestling analogies aside, I appreciate the elocution on this track given the number of syllables spit in each bar. I’m also enjoying the idea of Fools Gold being so cash rich as a label that when one of these kooky “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” ideas comes along, that they can run with it all of the way to the bank and beyond. I mean, El-P and Killer Mike on a track with a QBert scratch solo? Really? The sky’s officially the limit for them, and I’m glad. Related/unrelated, every time I hear a RTJ track, I actually want to hit my Jawbox with a baseball bat like the kid in the Eric B. and Rakim “Microphone Fiend” video. But I don’t. Man. Now I’m ready for this next album. Fuck it. *speaker goes flying*
Leah: *continues circlejerk*
Jose: So I was one of few in this group who didn’t get all wet over Run The Jewels last year – maybe it’s because I didn’t give it enough listens, or maybe it’s because it’s so frenetic that my heart rate automatically increased by 30 bpm by just playing these tracks. My first impression of this song is the same. I know I’m supposed to like it, but I’m just feeling anxious (for it to end, for a dancier beat to drop, for Killer Mike to come to my house and punch me in the mouth for being a fool), but it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s technically impressive, but leaves me feeling mostly uncomfortable and dissatisfied. Sorry I’m not sorry.
Aaron: Man. I just felt a disturbance in the Force like somebody was talkin shit. I didn’t even check my email. It was like a million haters cried out in terror. That’s fucked up, Jose.
Phil: Jose, I’d recommend giving Fantastic Damage a spin. It makes Run the Jewels sound like Miguel. A dozen years have passed and I still have the bruises that record first gave me. Also. if you something softer than Run the Jewels, that’s why Drake invented Drake.
But where are they headed in year three of their partnership? What’s the next act in “Jamie & Mike Take Hip-Hop”? “Pew Pew Pew” may have some answers. The tendency is going to be to write it off – or, at the least, discount it – as a European deluxe bonus track (which it obviously and inescapably is), but I think its a lot more at play here. “Pew Pew Pew” might be the purest combinations of Killer Mike and El-P’s individual styles. The opening bars are on some Bomb Squad, “Big Beast” shit – and, really, who do you want leading off that type of track right now more than Killer Mike? – but when El-P steps on the beat, the bottom drops out, the sky turns dark, and globs of apocalyptic,”Blade Runner” synths begin to fall. Also: cowbell. From there – well, the ground keeps shifting. This production is restless and it’s more ambitious than at least half of what’s on Run the Jewels.
I went back and listened to Cancer 4 Cure and R.A.P. Music this week, and if anything bridges those two records, it’s “Pew Pew Pew”. It’s crazy that these two are going to be following up Run the Jewels this year. It’s crazier that it is has a real shot at being even better.
Aaron: This shit is so good that I’m getting tired of liking it. I don’t even know if I can handle another one. The Q-Bert appearance is 100% bananas. Damn, I miss scratching. And, seriously, this is dopest opening line in a minute.
Phelps: The fact that this isn’t as sonically shocking as some of the stuff on last years record isn’t a knock, we’re just used to being schooled in a master class by two veterans who are becoming rap game Voltron. A fix here and there via singles, bonus tracks, etc. is cool but I’m much more excited for the inferno of the full length.
Jose: LOUD NOISES.
Leah: JOSE IS OUT. WHO INVITED JOSE? THEY’RE OUT TOO.
Jose: I think my work here is done.
At some point in 2014, 41 year-old rapper / actor / Gap model Common is expected to release his tenth full-length, Nobody Smiling. Like mid 90s classics Resurrection and One Day It’ll All Make Sense – as well 2011’s pretty solid and completely slept on The Dreamer / The Believer – the album will be produced in collaboration with Chicago mainstay No I.D. In a recent interview with Revolt TV, Common said the album is a response to the much reported violence in his native Chicago and in inner cities around the world. The first song from the project is “War” and it features some ominous horns.
Marcus: I liked this song better when it was called “Black Republicans” and Nas was dropping conscious rhymes about the ’08 election. I have a lot of issues with Common (who is by all means still a dope emcee) getting all deep about his hometown. I just don’t think that the kids in the hood really even care. Lil Reese’s mom was shot by a fellow rapper. Like, that’s incredibly fucked up. As well, I still get so angry about Chief Keef basically getting exploited by Pitchfork, and so many other unfortunate pieces of new from there. Thus, I don’t think that Mr. Smokin Aces (or Yeezus Christ, even) dropping bars about how tough things are in Chiraq is going to make a difference. I applaud him for his flow, but I think he’s a bit too removed from these streets to have it make any difference. I mean, ever since I saw Kid Cudi cry when he walked the streets of Chicago, I have had the sense that the mood in that city has entirely changed. Now, if, say, Common wanted to invest money in anti-drug and gun programs, that’s probably better than an album right now. Rich artists should know better than to think that their words are a better service than putting their money where their mouth is these days.
Leah: This plodding dirge is hamfisted, too serious to the point of cheesy and sounds like it was recorded with a leftover enchilada. Common needs to aim a little higher.
Phelps: I haven’t liked anything Common has done since “Soul By The Pound”, and since that was, like, 20 years ago, I guess I’m just not into Common. He writes shit raps, makes shit movies, but I hear the railroad show is ok. The concept is nice – he’s just so boring! (And common.) Just get your movie money and go away, man.
Jose: The beat has a quality reminiscent of those old sword and sandal epics, or a 1960s science fiction flick. I can kind of picture some ridiculously costumed action star delivering over-wrought lines. Actually – more specifically, I’m thinking Sean Connery in Zardoz.
Much like the former Mr. Bond, Common is guilty of taking himself too seriously on this track. Do not care for it, and haven’t been able to stomach any of this man’s work since Be (which was extremely saccharine, but somehow worked despite it). It’s kind of tacky to hear him talk about the streets of Chicago when he’s obviously so far removed from them. He hangs out at the White House for sake!
Aaron: I like this. Why y’all gotta hate on my mans? Dude has, like, movie money and neck muscles and 20 joints that rock across the ages – evenly spaced over a shitload of albums. He has Grammy’s. Also, he permanently stole everybody’s girlfriend eight years ago with that Dilla Jam and UENO.
In 1994 I listened to Resurrection more than Illmatic.
Fuck that – I’m lying, but you get the idea.
Common is a truly solid emcee who has managed to out-COOL J Cool J on that sensitive shit and to out-conscious KRS on that positive shit. Is it too much to ask that we just let him have spastic bouts of keep it real-itude like this track and that overly hard, random (Drake?) beef track, “Sweet”, from a couple years ago. I wanna hear a whole album of this shit.
I will not hate. Just let him be. We know he’s not hard. WE KNOW THIS. Just let him have it. Can you imagine how angry you would get on the inside if you had to be so handsome and positive all the time? I might want to shoot a motherfucker under that kind of stress. Or, at the very least, roll around with with some dudes that would shoot a motherfucker and write a song about it… or maybe just a quick Skype over lunch at the vegan spa (between photo shoots and charity work) with some dudes that work for some dudes that live up the way from my old neighborhood where motherfuckers get shot. It’s all the same, right?
Sludgy beat and weak hook aside ( I assume that if Prodigy hasn’t thrown a Twitter fit or rocked any nose-bones yet, that hook has been approved by the streets.) I like it because it’s mean and serious. Every commercially successful rapper does this shit. You get famous, fall off, make a track every now and then to remind people not to fuck with you. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Marcus, I’m pretty sure Common actually does a shitload of charity stuff (for a rapper): Common Ground Foundation, Red Cross, AIDS awareness, healthy food eating, and a bunch of other inner city friendly shit. I’m sure if he won an Oscar he would sell it to feed a homeless child.
Also, shout out “Hell On Wheels”. Great show.
Phil: Does anyone have the blue pill? The one that makes me unhear the sound of Common shrieking “We are at war!” towards the end of this song? Is Common capable of hitting a note that high as the result of a freak horse riding accident? Can AMC not afford stunt men?
Aaron offers as reasoned and passionate a defense of Common as possible. I’d add that when he’s stayed in his lane over the past decade – Be, The Dreamer / The Believer – he’s still capable of very good music. When he steps out of it, the results are more often than not disastrous. (I’ll take another blue pill for Universal Mind Control, please.)
“War” isn’t a disaster. It is, however, strikingly misguided. I think Common’s heart is mostly in the right place, but at least part of this feels like an attempt to appropriate what’s going on in Chicago as a vehicle to talk tough. Jay Z pulled this trick with “American Gangster”, but as that man once said elsewhere: “This ain’t a movie, dog.” I’m reminded of Meghan Garvey’s recent piece on “Chiraq” documentaries: “While noble in intent, these documentations often come with a skeevy sense that the story is being told by an outsider looking in. The resulting works are incomplete at best, Kipling-ly imperialist at worst…”
Nipsey Hussle ft. June Summers: “6 Inch Heels”
After a 2013 most notable for the $100 mixtape thing, L.A.’s Nipsey Hussle is preparing a proper debut, Victory Lap, for 2014. Yes, a debut record called Victory Lap. Whether or not “6 Inch Heels” is from that project is unclear, but the song’s production – courtesy of G. Ry and B. Carr – and subject matter is decidedly less gristled than anything on Crenshaw. The “underachieving” rapper told Complex in October that the album will be “completely independent and… under the Fuck the Middleman pay model.”
Marcus: Maaaan, I love me some Nipsey Hussle these days. Back when I used to download rap mixtapes before putting on my pink sneakers and dancing to indie electro, I thought Nipsey was wack as hell and stood no chance of succeeding as a label artist. Well, time proved me right on that analysis, but the fact that he’s become jaded and embittered has actually steeled his resolve and made him a better emcee. He’s economical with his bars, says exactly what he means, and has a great talent for wedding the right bars to the right tracks. Now do I think that Nipsey Hussle is a gigantic pop star with radio hits who will win Grammys? No. But, I did see Tech N9ne tour the country with an album from his OWN Strange Music label and do very well as being a rapper plugged into his community of fans and delivering what they want. I see Nipsey hopefully excelling at pulling a solid cadre of West coast rap aficionados who will happily attend his shows and give him a solid fanbase to turn into a sustainable commodity as an indie artist.
Leah: Guys, Jose made me so mad with what he said about Run the Jewels that NOW I HATE EVERYTHING. Or maybe I just spent the Rec-Room hiatus immersed in my own universe of largely conscious and positive, usually avante hip-hop, but this track sounds absolutely terrible to me. On top of that, it’s so boring, the production is legit slo-mo music effects.
Phelps: This dude trots out more rap cliches than props at a Carrottop show, holy shit. I’ll give you that he’s economical, like ramen and government cheese. Why would you eat it if you didn’t have to? That’s how I feel about listening to this.
Jose: I’m bringing a lot of hate to the Rec Room this week, possibly because I’m too cold for happy thoughts. The best thing I can say about this guy is that he sounds like a broke-ass J. Cole. That is in no way meant to be a compliment.
Nothing is memorable about this song – not a single verse, not the beat. Nothing. Good for Nipsey to have made that $100k. Just goes to show that some people will buy somethings simply because they’re expensive.
I fucking hate rich kids of Instagram/Jay Z.
Phil: Sounds like you all could use some of Nipsey’s rose colored glasses. You should make a trip to Forever 21.