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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 reminisce about the bad old days with Pusha T and Kendrick Lamar, hail Electric Lady Janelle Monáe with Big Boi and Cee-Lo Green, and cruise around in RiFF RaFF’s Rainbow Range Rover with Action Bronson.   Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus DowlingPhil R, Joshua Phelps, Aaron Miller, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.

Pusha T ft. Kendrick Lamar: “Nosetalgia”

Pusha T’s oft-delayed My Name is My Name isn’t out for almost three weeks, but we’ve already heard almost half of it.  First single “Pain” – assisted by auto-croaker Future – dropped a year ago, to be followed over the course of 2013 by “Numbers on the Boards”, “Who I Am”, “Sweet Serenade”, and, now, “Nosetalgia”.  (A sixth single with Rick Ross, “Millions”, didn’t make the cut, despite receiving official video treatment.)  True to its punny name, “Nosetalgia” finds Pusha and Kendrick Lamar trading cocaine memories, though from slightly different perspectives.  Production comes courtesy of Nottz, another product of the 757.

Leah:  Well, for chrissakes, Pusha is making it really goddamn hard for me to complain that all he raps about is cocaine when he does it so well.  From what we’ve heard so far, this album is shaping up to be cold and stark beats carrying the most unadulterated drug raps since Clipse, almost psychotic without veering into Kevin-Gates-needs-a-therapist territory.  The pairing of Pusha and Kendrick is flawless, though my vote goes to Pusha for the win in this round. His lines are so focused and delivery so precise, that even though Kendrick’s “You wanna see a dead body?” give me chills, he can’t match the laser flows of Pusha. There’s a good chance MNIMN will come out near the top of most best of 2013 lists, and with good reason based on what we’ve already seen from it.

Marcus:  As the Judas to Kanye’s Yeezus, Pusha T raps in a manner that is not adorned by noise, hype, or gimmicks. MNIMN is going to be the perfect “fuck you” slamming of the door in the face of the angst that Yeezy let loose upon the world. Pusha T raps about the ultimate rap reality with the ultimate rap flow. His voice is cold, his tone is direct and his manner is candid. When you rap from a place of legitimacy, everything feels comfortable. There’s no wasted breath or half-assed bars, and is dare I say it, perfect in execution in every way.

Kendrick’s on here as if it’s the first test of his final exam year-to-come. I feel like the rap industry feels like Kendrick is the chosen one to “save” his generation of punchline rappers and/or dudes catching feelings and getting laid. Thus, he must excel at everything. He has to be the most evocative storyteller, the coldest spitter, and the hungriest lyrical beast. I’ll give Kendrick a B+ here. The “you wanna see a dead body” call back to “Boyz N the Hood” made my head spin. Kendrick’s from Compton. He’s old enough to easily call himself the next generation Ricky, and smart enough to know that he has to run faster to escape the bullets (there’s something here about Schoolboy Q as Doughboy, but, that’s a whole other article). The rhymes here are crazy. The “taco meat” on the chest of his dad, all of those little pieces – they’re there, but he still doesn’t feel entirely confident in spitting about his life with a cold flow yet. good kid, m.A.A.d. city was all about the art flow, the Andre 3000 style, which is much more his voice. Between this one and “Control” though, somebody got in his head and told him, “The game is yours,” and he’s seizing the day.

And that track. Don’t get me started on that track. Bananas.  When every rap song is as good as this one is, rap will be healthy again. Pusha’s setting the standard.

Phil:  “Cold and stark” hits the nail squarely on the head, even as it only touches on the scene that Pusha seems to be setting with MNIMN.  “Pain” felt cold and stark when it came out last year, but in comparison to “Nosetalgia” and Pusha’s string of 2013 singles, it’s a veritable “Whoomp! (There It Is)”.  This album is shaping up to be a Frank Miller graphic novel: gritty, sinister, unrelentingly dark rap noir.  That Pusha is pulling this aesthetic cohesion off while working with a rotating stable of producers is impressive, reflective of a vision that flies in the face of the kitchen-sink approach favored by his G.O.O.D. music contemporaries. I’ll be curious to see how that plays out over 12 tracks – if MNIMN can avoid turning into a drubbing like Prodigy’s unquestionably good but nevertheless relentless Albert Einstein – but in little nuggets like “Nosetalgia”, it’s perfection.

Aaron:  “Black Ferris Bueller cuttin’ school wit his jewels on”: Goddamned if Push can’t say in one sentence what most rappers waste a whole mixtape trying to.  King Kendrick could learn a thing or two about brevity from his cold ass lines.  That is not to say King Kendrick isn’t perfectly bananas on this verse.  He is obviously in permanent freak-mode. In fact, I just want him to chill the fuck out now that he changed rap last month.  I worry that he may be rapping so well and so much – going so hard that he might just run out of shit to say one day. How sad would it be if he Canibus-ed out one day at the Battle of all Battles and shows up with raps written on his hand or some shit?  I would not rule it out.  But “Nosetalgia” is a solid, menacing, mini-movie of a track.  I’m also a sucker for a KRS-1 sample. This is premium hip-hop.

Phelps:  On a small stretch of highway in Suffolk, Va – a sprawling, populous countryside known for its peanut festival, and for providing a clear path from Pusha T’s Virginia Beach to the open gun and drug marketplaces amongst the paper mill funk of small I-95 hamlets – there’s an old Mike Duman car dealership.  In huge letters across the building is Mr. Duman’s mantra: “I’D GIVE THEM AWAY BUT MY WIFE WON’T LET ME.”  That’s how much this guy loves selling cars!  He’d give you one if he could!

And herein lies the gift and the curse – but mostly the gift – of beloved 757 affiliate Terrence Thornton.  Over the past few years, and in between Clipse releases, he’s the dealer that keeps on giving via a collection of well-regarded mixtapes and hijacking guest verses.  He has the history, pedigree, and respect to rap outside of the confines of gritty coke anthems, to explore the serious, cornball-contemplation themes of Jigga – but would we, as fans, let him?  Fuck no, and he loves giving it to us as much as we love to cop it.

Here he raps about Dr. Zhivago, my grandmother’s favorite film, and Rocky IV, the first VHS cassette I ever popped into a VCR – a moment not unlike plugging in a color tv for the first time, I assume – while simultaneously flipping bars over supplying the raw to what must have been a fun as shit high school.  “Nosetalgia” is a true companion piece to Lord Willin‘s “Young Boy,” so much so that its awkward title really does fit.  Kendrick Lamar takes Young Boy to a new level, substituting Thornton’s maternal slangers for his father and laying out a prophecy to drop bars much more pure heavier than the small bricks his pops ever dealt.  He makes the song’s second reference to “Boyz In The Hood” with “Y’all wanna see a dead body?”  Or was it “Stand By Me”?  Probably the former, but the point is this song has you reaching back into your own memories while Pusha paves a gold brick road future with young Lamar.  These two should do a whole record together.

Janelle Monáe ft. Big Boi, Cee-Lo Green, & Solange: “Electric Lady (Remix)”

Janelle Monáe’s sophomore funk odyssey The Electric Lady saw release last week, and as was the case with Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, Target was granted the rights to an exclusive deluxe version.  Because when people hear “Target”, they think “music.”  Anyway, the deluxe version features b-side “HYTB”, a cover of “I Want You Back” (!), and this remix of the title track featuring Cee-Lo and Big Boi.  Both have a history with Monáe:  She guested on Goodie Mob’s recent comeback effort, and traded guest appearances with Mr. Patton in 2010 (“Tightrope”, “Be Still”).  Solange appears on both versions.

Marcus: A) This is a go-go track. B) I’m not mad at rich, jolly black people making music for other rich, jolly black people.

Through being creative to an iconic degree, having a tireless desire to protect her creative voice, and having the only absolutely, positively must-see live show in her generation, Janelle Monáe circumnavigated urban pop music’s traditions and fell into adult-contemporary safety and money. Janelle proves that when you learn how to navigate the digital economy – and can plug in at the top of the corporate class – that you win at life.

Leah:  You may connect Target and music sarcastically, but I’ll remind you that the first Blackalicious track in five years came out on a 2010 Target CHRISTMAS COMPILATION and now they’re touring. Take that as you will.

Marcus, I get what you’re saying is that Monáe has settled into a comfortable pop/R&B niche, but I worry that you mean “she’s boring.” I worry a bit that someone with the talent of Monáe and world-class features and production talent will be overlooked by younger listeners because she’s not selling sex like Nicki and not flipping out like Azealia, especially with a track like “Q.U.E.E.N.” or the one above. This is a solid and complex jam with 90’s handclap beat, wailing guitar for Solange who delivers a solid if not overwhelming effort, acoustic framing Cee Lo’s return to poetic Mob form, horns acclaiming Big Boi’s entrance and his tailored smooth flow, and on the regular album version Monáe opening up a bit despite the mechanically cold inference you get from titles like The ArchAndroid and Electric Lady. We lose Monáe completely in the remix, allowing the features to create their own electric lady archetype. It feels more like a tribute song to Monáe by her “rich, jolly” talented friends.

Aaron:  My feelings about Monáe lie somewhere between “meh” and “only slightly interested.” She just doesn’t do much for me. Solange is a loveable character foil to the oversexed Rihanna/Minaj/Ciara school of R & B star, but she is also frustratingly average.Big Boi and Cee Lo usually equal automatic win,but not this time around.pass.

Phil:  In the the midst of the 90s R&B revival, it’s almost refreshing to hear someone not trying to cross-pollinate the genre with current UK dance trends and instead saying, “Fuck it – let’s remake ‘Return of the Mack’.”  Still, this ultimately unnecessary: “Electric Lady” was already a busy enough – and good enough – song that the introduction of Cee-Lo and Big Boi creates a traffic jam and, as a result, the remix never gels into something cohesive. It is nice, however, between this and “Banana Clipper” to hear Big Boi climbing out of that Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors hole.


Beautiful Lou ft. Action Bronson & RIFF RAFF: “Long Pinky”

San Antonio’s Beautiful Lou has produced “bomb-weed instrumentals” for the likes of A$AP Rocky (“Kissing Pink”, “Trilla), Lil B (“Cocaine”, “Illusions of Grandeur”, and Kitty Pryde (“Orion’s Belt”).  That last track featured an appearance from king troll RiFF RaFF, who pairs with the producer again on “Long Pinky”, the last song in Adult’s Swim’s Summer Single Series.  Also popping up on the “Long Pinky” is gourmand, potty mouth pol Action Bronson.  The production was initially intended for Lil B, but something yet to be explained happened.  So now we have this.  Mr. RaFF and Mr. Bronson will soon be reunited – alongside Mr. MFN eXquire, and Nicky Da B – on Diplo’s forthcoming “Rocky Steady.”

Marcus:  Man. So this is what the end-of-the-line looks like for all of this Lil B love, huh? This Adult Swim thing feels like some kind of Peanut Butter Woolf/MF Doom.Stones Throw/Rawkus Soundbombing thingamajing. That being said, the branding, marketing and execution of all of this is so on point. Beautiful Lou produced “Orion’s Belt” for Kitty and Riff Raff to “kill rap” on, so he’s a fucking legendary dude in my book. I’m getting a sense that all of the dudes you think are puffing pounds of weed to be fat and cool are actually eating two times their weight in lobster and steak to be out of shape, and doing mountains of blow to maintain their schedules these days, so a song called “Long Pinky” makes all of the sense.

RiFFRaFF is actually so confident in his flow these days. Signing to Mad Decent was the smartest move for him, because he’s surrounded by people who enable him to just be himself. I can imagine that for years, Riff Raff had to wake up every day and hate himself for loving hip-hop culture so much. It’s like, what else is he going to do with his life? He can’t say, get a job at 7-11 and feel fulfilled or stable. To see him now able to hop on a track and bang (albeit in his own unique manner) is actually really cool. And of course, Bronsolini can do no wrong. He’s just sitting there, eating #rare foods and spreading his gospel of more than competently delivered – but now without that hint of irony – 90s New York raps to the universe.

Leah:  I love this dusky, loose, reeling beat, but this track doesn’t capture the same magic that hearing Bronson and Jody on Harry Fraud’s “Bird on a Wire” did. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but the MCs feel dragged on by the beat like Dorothy in the field of poppies.  Something about “Long Pinky” feels distorted and lethargic without being purposeful.  I like Jody, but his verse could have been 16 bars shorter as he goes off the rails toward the end, but how perfect is it that he’s in a Bronsolino sandwich (soon to be the special at a hip-hop deli near you)? I completely agree with Marcus on the Adult Swim packaging and marketing of these series – they have captured a sense of cool youth that Target never will.

Phil:  I’ll just never get past the clumsiness of his flow, and his unquenchable desire to awkwardly cram words where they don’t belong.  In terms of content, it’s not a good look for Bronson to share tracks with him – the inanity of the latter’s free association only shines a light on the often feather light tenuousness of the former.  I dig the hazy knock of Beautiful Lou’s production, but like, say, Friendzone’s, it needs to be paired with a specific type of rapper, and Bronson’s the only one here capable of summoning an appropriately laidback vibe.

Aaron:  This beat is so nice, but RiFF RaFF drives me nuts. I can tell that he truly loves to rap. He delivers every line like it’s the freshest thing he ever heard himself say while rapping in a mirror.  I know he’s full of shit, and he’s taking liberties with the most garish ,dumb stereotypes in the rap game, but he just grows on you. I really want there to be some kind of Andy Kaufman-meets-Charlie Kaufman meta-art punchline at the end of the RiFF RaFF story but they’re probably won’t be.  If you pull down the many masks of RiFF RaFF, there is just another RiFF RaFF under there, balling harder than the last, on into infintity.

Action Bronson is firmly in can-do-no wrong territory. It’s Boutique Rap. Farm-to-table shit. He’s pop culture-obsessed with esoteric street cred, a vintage sports worshipper, and seemingly a connoisseur of fucking everything eaten, smoked, worn, or driven.

I will now add “Rainbow Range Rover” to my list of RiFF-related imaginary products that I want, right after “Gucci green beans” and a “Versace helicopter.”

Phelps:  I have developed a soft spot for RiFF RaFF over “Orion’s Belt” and his previous, stellar Bronson duet, “Bird On A Wire,” but come on:  Dude says “Candy” more in 4 bars than Cameo in a whole song called “Candy.”  He’s a lovable dude and his passion is undeniable but if he ever wants to put a proper record out there’ll have to be some sort of narrative right?  The thing is, narrative, serious RiFF RaFF will be a hell of a lot less fun RiFF RaFF.  I’m conflicted, so I’ll just say:  Don’t ever change, Jody Highroller.  We’ll give you a trophy just for playing, like youth sports.  Meanwhile, Bronson is quite aware of his looming status: “You gotta pay for my appearance it will never be on clearance.”  He force feeds gruff street raps in accordance with brutish physicality, pairs them with smart rhymes, and pieces it all together to make something as perfectly delicate as the raw crudo he loves so much.  Running just as many circle around over this Beautiful Lou beat as he would a Harry fraud production, he’s still my #1 for 2013.