Rec-Room #52: The Universe is Listening
Rec Room Therapy | Mar 21, 2014 | 12:05PM |

Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we jump into Fat Trel and Wale’s bag, imagine a drum-free world with Jay Electronica, and begrudgingly pay attention to the Wu-Tang’s half-assed reunion.  Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus DowlingPhil R, Aaron Miller of Austin’s North Door, Joshua Phelps, Damion M, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.

Fat Trel ft. Wale: “In My Bag”

When Fat Trel signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group this November, he doubled the size of the label’s DC delegation.  The other half, of course, is DC’s most prominent hip-hop export, Wale, who brought home a #1 album for MMG this summer.  And on “In My Bag”, the elder statesman joins the recent signee.  The track is report to be  the lead single from Trel’s forthcoming mixtape, Gleesh, which has a tentative street date of April 1.

Marcus: Well…you know…I guess as a DC native and a rabid DC music supporter, this is where I’m supposed to stand up and wave the three stars and two bars, right? Well, I won’t. There’s something so perfunctory, so professional and meeting expectation about this that you lose that either of these guys are a) from DC or b) even particularly super-talented. I guess that’s where we’re at with rap right now, where the southern trap-by-Chicago drill standard is so ingrained in artists’ skulls that it’s the default sound for radio banger/underground club smash. There’s something so top-tier paint by numbers about this that lifts my hopes (because it means that Trel’s seen as a “top-tier” rapper) and crushes my soul (because it’s just so sophomoric in content and aurally boring) at the same time. Hoping for something more substantive in a “not another story about molly, bitches and lean” format from Trel (and I feel confident I’ll get it), but this just makes him another voice in the crowd. Solid, yet meh.

Leah: BBBBBOOOOOOOORRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGG.

Aaron: Not a fan. I’m not sure if I even know who Fat Trel is. This joint sounds like it has tracks missing. I keep waiting for a drop or a melody or something. Gimme something – a fuckin’ airhorn or gunshot, maybe some creepy strings and some jungle noises.  All I hear is dead air all over the place. This is a snoozer. There was a time when I thought Wale was going to impress. That was three years ago.

Phelps: I don’t know you guys, I think it goes pretty hard for a song about purses.  That’s what it’s about right?

Jay Electronica: “Better In Tune With The Future”

Jay Electronica – the enigma, the legend, the other guy on “Control” – has had a fairly quiet few months, which is same old, same old in the world of Jay Elec.  As background, he said in July 2011 that his debut Act II: Patents of Nobility was finished, then in March 2012 that it had been turned into Def Jam, and yet, two years later… crickets.  But now, as some sort of consolation, the world has been blessed with two new Jay Elec verses. The first came on “In the System”, a remix of Big’s “The World is Filled…” from J. Period’s #MARCH9REVISISTED mixtape.  The second, more intriguingly, is on “Better In Tune With The Future”, a track released with little information aside from it being a proper Jay Elec track.  It features a sample from The Wizard Of Oz and another from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. What does it all mean?  Who knows.

Marcus: I’m absolutely, in no way, whatsoever angry with Jay Electronica being as obtuse and flat-out weird as he wants to be. This is fantastic. It’s deep, honest and truly powerful. You get the sense in listening to this song that he’s finally starting to process the whole lot of things that he’s been through in his bizarre career. He’s obviously one of the best lyricists of this (or arguably any) era, yet every time he’s confronted with the notion of commercializing his style, he turns away. If you really consider where rap is right now, you honestly can’t blame him. For a better perspective, let’s take a look at those similar to him, and where they are right now:

Talib Kweli: Making rock/rap fusion with Res (as Idle Warship) and sporadically appearing as a feature guest on rap songs.

Mos Def: Now releasing records as Yasiin Bey, largely more concerned with social justice issues, and recently moved to South Africa

Lupe Fiasco: Outside of condemning Barack Obama and rapping in German on “Control” remixes, he’s pretty much persona non grata in the mainstream music industry.

All that being said, yeah…a track consisting of a Wizard of Oz sample with a minute and a half Elijah Muhammad speech, with lyrics delivered at a slow, measured and deliberate-on-purpose pace? Yep, seems pretty much par for the course. If you let it, the music industry with totally kill everything about you except for the breathing.

Damion:  The one word that came to my head listening to this song is beautiful.  You aren’t given a lot, but its just enough to make me want to hear more.  I’m a Jay Elec fan though, so I could be biased.

Leah: This is a track that answers the question, “Do you need drums in hip hop?” with “No ya goddamn don’t.”  This is the track that answers the question, “When do we get a new track from Jay Electronica?” with “When somebody tweets him to ask for it.”

This is a track that answers the question, “Could Jay Elec be one of the deepest rappers around right now that makes you cry but can also go so hard you want to punch a window?” with “Yes, obviously.”

Phil: I think that Leah is in tune with the other Future.

Phelps: I thought Damion wrote “so I could be blessed” instead of biased, but, both could be true.  This is a track that makes you remember what you were missing in this era of “talking loud but ain’t saying shit” songs (or songs that actually only say “Shit!”) and choruses that dribble from mixtape websites like festering wounds.  For Jay to drop something as delicate and powerful does make me feel #blessed as a hip hop fan but also sad that we may not see another record like this for a while.  I hope it’s not true.  The game could use some gravitas from someone as well respected as Jay Elec and less Migos impersonators.  It’s a lot easier to scream and yell than to address your deepest insecurities solemnly in front of the world, your family, your girl or guy or just the mirror.

Aaron: This song gave me the chills.  Elijah Muhammad + Wizard of Oz + Jay ElecHannukah is obviously the deepest track ever made.

I am all the way in the leave-Jay-alone camp. I secretly thought his verse on “Control” was better than you know whose.  His verse sounded like dad getting home from work and scaring the kids without saying anything.

I don’t care if his album never comes out. Ever. He is the Hip Hop monolith from 2001. He is the Black Yoda.Rap Game Methusela. All weight and no hate, like if Pliny The Elder wrote raps.Or maybe like a runaway slave got in a time machine and went all the way to the end(beginning?) of the universe and came back with a microphone.

(Time is a flat circle, shout out True Detective)

There are very few emcees, past or present, that can deliver  with such brevity and authority (KRS & GURU maybe)

Fuck drums. For now… I want Just Blaze on the remix eventually, though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oyHt63gtVY

Wu-Tang Clan: “Keep Watch”

“There’s one last job Wu-Tang Clan must do,” RZA told the New York Times in October 2012. “The 20th anniversary [of “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”] is next year. And we need to, one time, completely, efficiently, properly, professionally represent our brand.. Do it one time, perfect.”

For the last year and a half, though, assembling the Wu for a sixth LP has proved to be a difficult task.  “It’s like, wow, I kept trying to pull people together. I spent a lot of money and a lot of time this year. I put my movie career on hold for the first half of the year because I was focusing on making this,” he told Grantland this fall. ” I went down to Memphis, I went down to Philadelphia, I came back to the East Coast to reopen the Wu Mansion. I invested thousands of dollars to rebuild it so that we can have a place to record a new album. And when I scheduled that to happen, only a few good brothers showed up.”

The most prominently absent member has been Raekwon.  In a recent, lengthy Wu profile, he opened up as to why: “I would be the first one to say that we cannot leave everything in RZA’s hand no more. He has done his job to the greatest of his ability when we were younger, but now every man plays an imperative role in this situation. His plan was to do a more humble album. We was like, Nah. You can’t do that with the hardest group in the game.”

That “humble album” is A Better Tomorrow, which is “in the works and almost ready to ship” per a pre-order page. And now, the Wu have dropped “Keep Watch”, a new single featuring Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, and GZA.  The beat was produced by long-time Wu associate DJ Mathematics, and the hook comes courtesy of a dude named Nathaniel. Just Nathaniel.

Leah: Really not enjoying the chorus on this otherwise pretty solid track.  The biggest problem with it is that, honestly, it sounds like classic Wu (minus The Chef).  Twenty years later and they still sound the same? Surely that can’t be a demonstration of their progress – maybe one of profound complacency and desire to cling stubbornly to a brand they built with a lot of sweat? Anybody know? Marcus?

Marcus: One time before a Record Pool meeting/industry party at U Street Music Hall (during the push for his 2011 release Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang), I had the opportunity to eat dinner with/interview Raekwon. I had no idea that this interview would involve breaking bread with the legend, so, it quickly became a question of how long would I be allowed to interrupt his meal with my questions. The first question I asked him was why on this record did he feature no beats from the RZA. His response? “[This album] comes from where there was a problem with The Abbot, the RZA. It wasn’t on no beef, it was a tough love type thing. If you know your brother could be way better, production wise, you just wanna see that come out of him.” The answer didn’t so much surprise me as leave me really depressed. I mean, “Chef vs. Meth” is one of my favorite Wu-Tang jams, so I have 20 years invested in The Chef rapping over RZA’s beats. What followed after that (when he told me he had converted to Islam) speaks a lot to why he’s not on the album, either. (Converting to Islam) absolutely makes me a more spiritual writer, a bigger thinker. It’s the same thing that happened to Rakim when he converted. You want to think more, and say more as well. Your rhymes become deeper.”

So, yeah. By classic Wu standards (and, well, there’s no other standards by which to judge the Wu-Tang Clan, right?) this song is hot garbage. Mathematics (or Scram Jones, or anyone the Wu has used instead of RZA) creates tracks that sound SIMILAR to that class Wu-Tang sound, but miss the unique intersections (that only come from the mind of the RZA) that give Wu-Tang tracks that little something extra. That being said, everything about this album smacks of desperation and thirst. Somebody in the Wu family is broke, and somebody is trying to make a star out of their cousin’s boyfriend’s homeboy. Trotting these legends out here for that? Well, I can completely understand how Rae (who’s now in a VERY different head space) would absolutely, in no way, whatsoever want to be involved.

Phelps: Just because your name is Mathematics doesn’t mean you have to be as boring as 8th grade algebra.  I like the beginning where it sounds like we might get some sort of banger descendant of “A Million” then it just digresses into a forgettable…. what was I saying?  Oh yea, this is like the embodiment of that Raekwon quote.  The hardest group in the game wouldn’t team up with some low cal smoothie named NATHANIEL, they would find a parking deck cashier during the shit years of Atlantic City singing from her booth, name her Blue Raspberry, and just put her and her questionable talents on classic fucking jams that worked because they were so, so raw.  Method Man did this for the team, Nathaniel did it for the fame, Deck and Cappadonna did it for the money, but RZA?  Stop it, don’t turn the Wu legacy to dog shit.

Aaron: FUCKFUCKFUCK.Say it ain’t so.

I’ma go with Rae on this one “…Nah. You can’t do that with the hardest group in the game.”

You just can’t.

I’m sorry.We don’t listen to Wu Tang for it’s humility or nuance or any of this bullshit new-age RZA shit. We listen because it bangs hard rock from the streets.period.

I feel like I’m in dangerous territory hating on the God, but this just won’t cut it. I would rather him re-release 36 Chambers with some b-sides,outtakes, and a fuckin t shirt and call it a day.

Movie career my ass. Nobody is checking you for an Oscar anytime soon.You better borrow that time machine from Jay Electricity, take your “humble’ James Blake hanging ass back to ’99,go to Blockbuster and rent a copy of “Ghost Dog” and just start over, son.

You can’t do this to us. Fans deserve more than this.

Also, Meth is still doper than most even when he’s phoning it in.

I think they need to stop fucking with ALL former Wu-related producers and holler at: 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, Premier, Madlib, Statik Selektah, Harry Fraud, Flylo, Samiyam, GLK, etc. Just all-star that shit and get real weird.

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