Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.
Today, we survey the landscape of 2016 to pick the best of the last twelve months. Our distinguished panel consists of Marcus Dowling, Phil R, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, Clyde McGrady, Joshua Phelps, and Aaron Miller of Austin Mic Exchange.
As an added bonus, we’re also going to run back the tapes on the saltiest, most heated burns from our beloved, in-house mad rapper.
A Tribe Called Quest: “We the People…”
In a year where post-factual America stole the headlines (and the election, too?), A Tribe Called Quest released the …We Got It From Here single “We The People,” a song that in its first 30 seconds effectively calls for the rise of socialism against the plutocracy coursing through a segment of the nation’s metaphorical veins.
Q-Tip and Phife Dawg (R.I.P.) are magnificent here, not wasting any motion in coming hard at Kendrick Lamar’s throne as rap’s sociopolitical leader-as-essence. From there, over a searing, boom-bap soundtrack, there’s a sense that develops that a Afro-Caribbean derived spirit that’s welcoming of black folks, Mexicans, poor folks, Muslims, gays, and other “bad folks” need to take over the nation.
If this isn’t exactly the thing that hip-hop culture needed to do to galvanize its devotees in the wake of November 8, I can’t imagine what something better would sound like.
French Montana ft. Kodak Black: “Lockjaw”
I have no idea how French Montana got his hands on this beat, but good Lord, this is the shit you listen to as you walk away from a Medellin gun fight in slow motion after murdering your connect because you’ve finally decided to cut out the middle man. Good decision, by the way, because that overhead is a bitch, and you’ve been listening to some Tony Robbins audiobooks on business, so you got it from here.
This beat is so great even “two of rap’s premier word swallowers” can’t ruin it. (Shouts to Jon Caramanica). But credit where’s it’s due: The chorus is pretty dope too.
Isaiah Rashad: “Free Lunch”
“Free Lunch” is truly quality stuff. Like 100% of this kid’s work, it’s somewhere between good-as-fuck and amazing.
Isaiah Rashad is definitely carrying the torch for, well, pretty much everybody. I seriously have not heard a weak track from him yet. His style is both unique and universal, and he is obviously a fusion of all your favorite southern rappers.
Also, slow-ass beats all day.
YG ft. Drake: “Why You Always Hatin?”
YG is making the West Coast party rap I can get behind. While everyone else around him is woke and conscious and thinking about how to address society’s ills, he’s outchea hitting the blunt and dancing to Kraftwerk.
Sometimes you just want to get weird to some neon keys and trap-clap beats, you know?
It’s dumb and fun, and it makes you want to move. That means it has more in common with his Atlanta brethren than the hard-hitting, emotionally and intellectually charged rap Los Angeles has been steadily exporting since the rise of TDE.
Added bonus: Drake’s verse is mercifully short. Even he can’t ruin this song.
Kanye West ft. Ty Dolla $ign: “Real Friends”
Kanye high: seeing his ridiculous floating stage at the Verizon Center, while 10,000 people shaded T Swift, all of us writhing in a floodlighted mosh pit.
Kanye low: This fall through the present day? Not necessarily.
Social media psychiatrists break their fingers trying to get out an opinion faster than the next person, but if your perception of Kanye and his outbursts are filtered through his art, you still may be able to find a shred of empathy. “Real Friends” is a self-flagellating dive into Kanye’s and Ty’s shortcomings as friends and family.
Unless you don’t have any of those yourself, you should tuck your diagnoses in and enjoy the sparse piano on this standout track from TLOP.
Thelonious Martin ft. Joey Purp: “Bomaye”
Want to know how to cram a tour de force into a lean two-and-a-half minutes? Look no further.
In the year where Joey Purp found his audience, this stands as the distillation of his appeal. In the front half, he’s scratching off his skin and pulling out his hair. There’s a genuinely unnerved quality to the distress in his voice, and its magnetic. In the back half, he’s settled deep into the pocket, dishing casual menace.
That flip, too.
Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane: “Black Beatles”
Hillary Clinton would be president of the United States right now if she would have made this her campaign theme instead of “Fight Song.”
ScHoolboy Q ft. Jadakiss: “Groovy Tony”
Wasn’t it crazy how Kendrick was performing “Alright” at the Grammys, and at the same time ScHoolboy Q and Jadakiss were in the alley behind the Staples Center serving oxy and robbing seat fillers?
OK, I made that up, but that’s just how I feel when I listen to a track like “Groovy Tony”.
Q and Jadakiss marauding over a sludgy, bottom-feeding beat from Tae Beast is a perfect complement to some of the more conscious material from TDE.
I’m here for it all, but sometimes you wanna dig in the dirt, and no one gets grimier than Q right now.
Childish Gambino: “Me and Your Mama”
Donald Glover’s best post-modern black millennial artistic year ever continued past “Star Wars” and into “Atlanta”, and it concluded with the release of his Childish Gambino project album Awaken, My Love single “Me And Your Mama.”
The song’s greatest victory – besides making 20-somethings worldwide discover Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone 0 was in re-contextualizing ‘late 70s prog-pop’s take on early ’70s black angst as a racialized post-racial era witches brew. Glover’s greatest talent is his skill in using pastiche to guile an audience largely unaware that they’re being magnificently duped into thinking they’re hearing the real thing.
Glover’s performance is the best “method-acted soul” vocal since Eric Burdon convinced ’60s teens he’d been to the “house of the rising sun,” and in aping every ounce of Eddie Hazel’s genius P-Funk guitar work melded with the Family Stone rhythm section, he created a giant song that defies definition and refuses disapproval.
Eminem: “Campaign Speech”
“When I’m President gettin’ off is the first order of business when I get in office.”
Much like our government, the American people get the 8-minute lyrical catastrophe we deserve. We reviewed this song before Trump’s America was a real thing. Back then it was just an unlistenable one-man circle jerk that I may or may not have listened to several times.
Now, it is the most important non-song of 2016.
Not only does this illustrate for the millionth time exactly how you can simultaneously love and hate Marshall Mathers, it is a perfect rap metaphor for the cognitive dissonance that is tearing this country apart.
This song is the sound of a hundred million assholes punching someone in the face for disagreeing with them. This song is a reflection of our collective self-loathing and self-worship.
This song is why we suck at everything and still rule the world.
Never, I repeat, never underestimate the power of a terrible person feeling themselves. America is Donald Trump and Eminem, and there is no beat to ride out for the next four years. Just harsh words, carnival-style exploitation, and awful brilliant punchlines.
Chance the Rapper ft. Knox Fortune: “All Night”
The sound of the nerdiest kids in the club all getting laid.
21 Savage & Metro Boomin ft. Future: “X”
I probably wouldn’t have checked for 21 Savage if this project wasn’t a partnership with Metro Boomin. But since I’m a complete sucker for his melodies and ratchet trap anthems, he could put Vanilla Ice on a track and I’d give it a spin.
Future tosses the assist on “X”, but what’s most notable is how Metro bends the track to fit Savage’s sluggish flow perfectly. Even if bleak lyrics devoid of all empathy and compassion aren’t your thing, Savage slow-flow as pace car to the beat ( and not vice versa) leaves plenty of room for Metro’s orchestration of a beautiful sonic landscape of keys and flutes.
Winter’s here, and this is music for it.
Kanye West ft. Kendrick Lamar: “No More Parties in L.A.”
In retrospect, Kanye West dusting off his six-year-old Madlib collaboration for “No More Parties in LA” and then grabbing Kendrick Lamar as a guest emcee should’ve been our first tip-off that our favorite “international asshole” was in mental dire straits. In fact, The Life of Pablo, the album on which the song appears, is now ultimately best seen as a great artist’s shout both at the devil and into his soul’s darkness.
Finding himself back in a sped-up soul sample mood, Kanye yields his the moodiest Yeezy, a man pretty much pissed at everybody and everything. Wanting King Kendrick at his nit-picking misogynistic best to stand with him in solidarity against fake-tanned brawds who ain’t worth a damn and the parties they love oh-so-much to attend in the City of Angels? That’s a stroke of genius.
Kendrick’s the kind of rapper who has a lot to say about just about every-damn-thing with a level of dope-ness that Kanye himself used to love to flex. When Mr. West and Mr. Lamar go Proustian in search of lost time, the expectation for excellence should be a foregone conclusion.
Homeboy Sandman: “Talking (Bleep)”
On “Talking (Bleep)”, Sandman is, in his own world, hyper visual and viciously clever. And the Edan beat is basically perfect.
Sometimes, I think a lot of emcees out there are lucky that Homeboy sandman is a nice guy. His skill level is bananas. Can you imagine how shook the competition would be if he was one of those angry,twitchy, beef-hungry rappers like Cassidy or Meek Mill or some shit? Trash rappers should be thankful that.
He is on his art rap shit, or y’all would be in trouble.
RiFF-RAFF: “Carlos Slim”
The world is a different place since we reviewed this track eight months ago, and guess what? Moving to Mexico is a much realer proposition than it was before.
RiFF continues to be one of those smart-dumb cats that people love to hate on and roll their eyeballs out the back of their head, but I’m just gonna light up on a peach beach and enjoy the absurdity of it all.
A Tribe Called Red ft. Yasiin Bey, Narcy & Black Bear: “R.E.D.”
Before A Tribe Called Quest emerged from ether in November, it was looking like a different Tribe might have the year’s best futuristic 1998 hip-hop track on lock.
And if I’m being honest, “R.E.D.” probably still takes that prize. Talk about a visceral rush. The guitars kicking in at the 1:00 mark can make the crippled walk.
Yasiin Bey could probably talk shit like this in his sleep, but the fact that he doesn’t makes us appreciate the rare sightings of his Mos Defness even more.
Also, there weren’t many things in 2016 that made me smile wider than the sight of Bey and Narcy wilding in the desert.
NxWorries: “Lyk Dis”
Franky, we’ve had so much Anderson .Paak that I was initially hesitant to check this project out. It feels like the California crooner was featured on every third song released over the last 18 months, and as DJ Mustard showed after his annus mirabilis, there can indeed be too much of a good thing.
Nonetheless, the collaboration with Knxwledge finds Paak at the peak of his powers, his raspy voice sanding over the smooth, soulful beats and clipped drum beats.
“Lyk Dis” in particular sounds like a track out of time, with clever use of the hiss and pop of vinyl spinning to lend it a dense, marijuana-smoke like quality.
Schoolboy Q ft. TDE: “That Part (Remix)”
Yes, yes, Schoolboy Q is a great rapper.
Yes, yes, Jay Rock gets off some good lines here.
But, really, the only part of this song worth talking about happens between the 1:50 and 2:32 minute marks.
That’s is where Kendrick shows up and preemptively murders anyone who ever thought about picking up a microphone. Seriously, there’s probably a 13-year-old who used to spend homeroom scribbling rhymes in a notebook, now looking himself in the mirror crying and mumbling, “You just ain’t got it.” (On the bright side, he probably just decided to become an accountant, which is a very respectable, lucrative and far more stable career move.)
I mean, the flow is just that ridiculous. This verse has more internal rhymes than a… sorry I can’t think of any metaphors because Kendrick just stole every single one in the English language.
OK, I lied, it might also be worth mentioning Q calling for the execution of the bystanders who filmed the cops killing Alton Sterling instead of jumping in to fight them, whut?
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White: “Check 2 Check”
“Check 2 Check” is one of my legit favorite tracks of the year. Of course, it’s from everybody’s favorite meta-rapper, Mike Eagle.
There are layers and layers of double punchlines about being a regular-ass dude who’s just trying to be the best at being better than you while remaining humble and running errands. To truly understand him, you must go to the Grand Canyon and just fucking looking at it, and then leave. No photos. No hashtags.
Fuck Social Media. Step your game down every now and then, it will make the world a better place.
YG: “Gimme Got Shot”
Things YG doesn’t get enough credit for: a) his verbal dexterity; b) his sense of humor; c) his nuanced take on gender.
OK, that last point isn’t so true, but the first two are on full display with “Gimme Got Shot”.
Pour one out for good ole’ Gimme. Can’t say he didn’t have it coming.
Post Malone: “Go Flex”
“Man, I just wanna go flex, gold on my teeth and on my neck.” This is a sentiment I can get behind. I’m just out here hoping to be neck-tat rich one day. I don’t even need the gold.
I’ve had an affinity for this dude since “White Iverson,” because, hey, #757. I grew up balling with Iverson. (OK, he played with my Hardee’s ACC rubber ball once while singing Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya”, but that counts right?) I’m just not able to not like someone who wraps a song around a hometown icon.
Whatever the story is on this kid – I think I’m twice the age of his fan base – he knows his way around a hook and a melody. “Go Flex” is a simple, earworm ode to aspirations that flame out in the blunt ashes. It carries more emotional weight upon multiple listens, too. If you’ve been in your room, basement, kitchen, or garage woodshedding, then you know the nerves that accompany striving for that goal.
Or maybe this shit is just about weed and chains. It’s catchy as hell, regardless.
Earl Sweatshirt: “Death Whistles”
This song is pure fuck you and the least accessible rap song of all time.
There are fifty-five seconds of disjointed noise and sporadic shit-talking before the rapping even starts.
You have to squirm through a minute of uncomfortable nothing to get to the top-shelf disgruntled bars about all kinds of vague terrors that happen to wack rappers, over a Krule track that is weird to the point of being physically stressful.
It’s hard to appreciate the dedication to not-giving-a-fuck that Earl brings to the table, and I like that. We live in uncomfortable times and you don’t get to dance all the time.
Young Thug: “Harambe”
1999-2016. Gone from this Earth too soon.
BJ the Chicago Kid ft. Kendrick Lamar: “The New Cupid”
Chicken soup for the soul. Oysters and chocolate-dipped strawberries for the libido.
And now, some hatred from the desk of Aaron Miller.
Oh Birdman, you clown. You just had to do it.
For a guy that keeps saying he “won’t say it no mo,” you sure keep saying it don’t you?
Respekgate was one of the shortest, sweetest, highlights of an otherwise super shitty 2016. Oh the dank memes, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I love seeing the hive-mind just tear people to bits when they deserve it, and let’s not fuck around: Turdman has always deserved it. His internet roasting is right up there with making fun of Nic Cage.
Has anyone ever loved this dude or did people just smile and nod ’cause he was holding the duffel bag?
This song sucks. Are we done or are we finished?
Tyga: “1 of 1”
I don’t make the damn rules, but I’m pretty sure you have to make a choice: You can date children or get respect as a human being, and Tyga has made his racecar-shaped bed.
Banks & Steelz ft. Ghostface Killah: “Love and War”
AWKWARD HOOK CHRONICLES, PT.II
I can just see Ghost in the studio ,whisper-yelling at RZA like “Yo, Bobby who is this Chadwick lookin’ motherfucker on the boards, B? Oh word? Aight, aight, I didn’t know, you got mad white friends, God, you gotta warn a n***a, ok let’s do this.”
Justin Timberlake: “Can’t Stop Feeling”
Y’all know I think JT is the most talented, charismatic dude on the planet, but “Can’t Stop Feeling” may well be the first time “they” have extracted all the sex from a Timberlake joint.
Hadron Collider? Voodoo? I’m not sure how they pulled it off, but here you have it: The first Justin Timberlake song that absolutely no one will ever get pregnant to.
He has been on the smoothest grown man shit for the last few years, so I can give him a pass. I’m sure the marketing and delivery of this feel-good, G-rated, hand-clapper has his tailored pockets on swole, and this will get play at kids parties and church camps all over.
I find myself simultaneously disappointed and wishing I had some roller skates.
Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa & Imagine Dragons ft. Logic, Ty Dolla $ign & X Ambassadors: “Sucker for Pain”
TFW the squad commit suicide by jumping a shark.
Logic is the best rapper I hate right now with his rapping ass.
I can never tell if Weezy is on a comeback or dying of acute Lean poisoning. He’s pretty lively here, but they could’ve just given him one of those “Pulp Fiction” shots in the chest. Don’t trust it.
Wiz is like is in my Bottom 10 Forever list, so there’s that.
Drake: “Pop Style”
Drake really said “Chaining Tatum. ”
He said that.
Hands down, that’s the 9/11 of goofy-ass punchlines.
I can’t deal with Drakes undeniably supernatural ability to flip tropes that he doesn’t even live into a lifestyle or his constant aping of styles. How does he turn such weakness into a weapon strong enough to kill untold millions? It’s baffling. We went from “rap is not pop / if you call it that then stop” to “Pop Style”. He seems so soft it’s unreal, and yet still keeps talking all this side of the mouth gangster shit.
It makes no sense. Nobody gives a fuck at these meeting where they are urging checks and passing off briefcases full of 500 Euro notes? Nothing succeeds like success. I guess they stop checking bona fides at the door if you tip big enough.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Jamila Woods: “White Privilege II”
Is this what the inside of my white ally’s head sounds like? I had no idea. It’s like five white guys having a guilt summit in a piano lounge.
It’s like a rich high school theater production.
It’s like how white people talk over me when I am trying to agree with them, and then I just get mad, and they say, “You mad, bro? We’re cool, right?” and then I get more mad because I can’t tell if they are fucking with me or actually learning something, and then I have to say, “We’re cool, bro” because if you say anything else it just starts all over again.
Why is post-racial society so hard? It’s only been eight years and I’m exhausted.
Look, he seems like the nicest guy on the planet. He seems like the kind of guy you wanna have a non-alcoholic beer with in a safe space. I would let him babysit my imaginary mixed race babies with no background check.
But this is smothering and pandering.
Don’t get me wrong: I would rather have this than bullets and trap music. I’ll take compromise over conflict, etc. Peace, love all, that shit. But this song makes me uncomfortable. It makes me squirm and there’s no revolution gonna be sparked by this anti-heater.
Great message. Bad song. Too long ding dong.
Lil’ Kim ft. Kevin Gates: “#Mine”
This song is fucking gross. I cannot believe I live in a world where I am forced to imagine ole cat lady, Michael Myers-lookin-ass Lil Kim having sex with rap subhuman Kevin Gates. Where is my safe space, huh? Trigger warning and all that.
To quote Immortal Technique: “…written in code, so if your message ain’t shit, fuck the records you sold. If you go platinum, it’s got nothin to do with luck, it just means that a million people are stupid as fuck”
Gonna go peel my skin off and bleach my brain right quick.
Where to start with this corny motherfucker? I’m trying to calm myself down by chalking this up to the current trend of American anti-intellectualism and that we are all made of stars and everyone’s gonna die but we really live for eternity.
I can see how how some of these rappers think the world is flat from the way they keep falling off. *pops collar*
I think B.o.B. just took one of the greatest L’s of all time. Like, he was wack anyway before this song but this is next level, old world dumb. I am glad Neil DeGrasse Tyson got sucked into this bullshit because we might actually need an astrophysicist to calculate exactly how large and dense this L is.
It’s not the LSD. This kid just has garbage brain. Acid always made me acutely aware that science was real as a motherfucker and we are germs on a living spaceship.
You can’t even get on that level without basic 9th grade science class. Oh what’s that, Bobby? You dropped out to follow your dreams of being a wack rapper?
I am a connoisseur of modern conspiracy and it’s like this dude went to a conspiracy garage sale, and all that’s left is trash-lizard people and holocaust revision.
How do you beef with an actual scientist on some flat earth shit? How do you step to the smartest man on earth with this baby talk? How do you not know that Immortal Technique is the only one allowed to even speak on the holocaust and/or fucking reptilian shape shifters in the same track? KNOW YOUR HISTORY, SON.
I hate it.
The first thing that should happen is Neil Degrasse Tyson needs to sue for sample clearance and get in this kids pockets for being dumb. If he doesn’t comply, Tyson has no choice but to show up at the next Wack Rapper Awards and pistol whip him like it’s the 1990’s. Then B.O.B. needs to quit rapping, get a J-O-B and a G.E.D. and FOH.