Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today,we break the bank with Schoolboy Q, take Kevin Gates’ magical mystery tour, and pull up on Chief Keef. 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. Also, check out recent interviews with Action Bronson. Dom Kennedy, and Tree.
Schoolboy Q: “Break the Bank”
After too many false starts to count, it appears that Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron is actually going to happen. February 25th. iTunes confirms it and everything. And while the final track list and production credits remain unannounced, this week we did get cover art – which falls in line with the market-confusing trend of different images for the regular and deluxe versions. More importantly, though, we also got “Break the Bank”, a six-minute Alchemist production that sits adjacent to Q’s current single “Man of the Year” on Oxymoron. These tracks join the others we’ve heard from the record: the Kendrick-assisted “Collard Greens” and its first single “Yay Yay”, which has now been relegated to bonus track status.
Marcus: It feels as though since the beginning, Schoolboy Q has rapped like he’s assumed victory at the game of rap. Thus, every track feels either laconic, yet somehow still inviting, or in the case of “Break the Bank,” like that moment in the 4th quarter of a Madden game when you’re beating the computer by 50 and decide to injure their quarterback with multiple hit stick blows and run up the score. Schoolboy Q is a rap bully who smiles and laughs at you for trying to fight him with your fists, when he’s had a gun in his back pocket all along. Resistance is futile to his style – his level of skill is so great that he can stand above criticism for his misogynistic and drug dealing ways.
Insofar as telling fellow TDE stablemate Kendrick Lamar to “move from the throne, I came for it,” getting riled up over that bar is as ignorant as Kareem telling Magic that he’s going to win the MVP: The Lakers that are still winning the NBA title at the end of the day. When rap beef turns into friends counting the dozens over their estimated potential earnings, it either means that rap is pathetic, or that TDE is that much better than everyone else I’ll be nice and say that the latter may be absolutely true.
Phil: I’m picking up a strong whiff of Eminem in this chorus.
Leah: I’m not hearing much Eminem, but I am hearing some straight up old-school Cali rap torch-bearing. This may be the new version of trunk bumping on the left coast, and I’m okay with it. Marcus is right about its vocal intensity vs. mellow beat and I think that really draws you in. I didn’t think I’d like much sing-rapping outside of Chance, and I haven’t been keen on what Schoolboy has put out so far for this album, but this track gets me hype.
Jose: I am really digging this song. I hear more YelaWolf than I do old school Em. Q keeps a steady dynamic to his raps, while good ol’ Marshall tends to sprinkle machine gun verses occasionally.
“Break the Bank” is simple and hauntingly beautiful. The piano motif and classic bass line don’t quite put it in G-Funk territory, but it definitely has a groove to it. I can see how it would make one want to light up something strong, maybe drink a forty. The song does feel a tad long – after the second listen, I stopped paying full attention.
Aaron: Ooh. This beat is quite nice. Q has a serious knack for hooks. Is it just me or he getting serious about being serious? “Break the Bank” is a little outside of the class-clown vibe that I got from his previous offerings. This is smooth and menacing. Q somehow manages to get mean and stay funny at the same time. It’s just enough contrast to Kendrick who – love him as I may – is a serious motherfucker. Lamar does not do levity. I guess when verses like “Control” are your throwaway joints, you have no time to smile, because you have gold chains and rappers dreams all stuck in your teeth.
Phelps: I don’t know if it’s because I watched “Blackfish” last night or my love for Gremlins, but the weird, painful whines at the beginning of this track remind me of both movies. But if I may tag along to Aaron’s vibe, “Break the Bank” definitely feels like a metamorphosis wherein Q does more than rely on his stratospheric charisma (although it’s still very much there). He’s rapping his fucking ass off, ready to get this Dre Beats pill money. That can’t be a bad thing, all these TDE dudes moshing against each other, trying to control the pit.
Kevin Gates: “Don’t Know”
Last year, Baton Rouge’s export Kevin Gates released a mixtape (The Luca Brasi Story) and a proper album (Stranger Than Fiction) that some Rec-Room staffers considered to be two of 2014’s finest rap releases. Other Rec-Room writers were less impressed. But Kevin Gates doesn’t give a fuck about them. He will not stop releasing music. In 2014, that mean “Don’t Know”, a standalone single produced by Knucklehead and Go Grizzly. “24-hour stunting has become the norm for Gates, who now travels in private jets and frequents designers stores for the fun of it,” Complex wrote in explanation of the song, which, ok, why wouldn’t you go to designer stores if not for fun? Anyway, one thing is for sure: For someone who spent a good chunk of time on his previous releases exploring insecurity and self-doubt, he’s sounding awfully confident on “Don’t Know”.
Marcus: This hybrid 2 Chainz/Gucci Mane action needs to stop. Also, I have zero use for his false stunting and all of that. The beat knocks, but the flow is just so tired and uninspired, and not in that way where Gucci has had so many cars and so much money (even before rapping) that his telling you about his new money ultimately feels so underwhelming, because he actually had to do work for it.
Kevin Gates is a product of that era, and like a father’s son, doesn’t quite get the part of the story that his parent never told him. If you’re going to rap about stunting, like, really live that life before sounding like it’s cumbersome. Otherwise, you sound like someone who as soon as someone else in the industry has the ability to pimp you for your riches, you’re going to be lost as you don’t already know what corner to stand on or house to walk into to make that money back. Just a really underwhelming performance here overall.
Leah: The only thing I can say about this song is that it somehow makes Gates sound like he’s happier but inexplicably needs more therapy.
Jose: OK, how are you guys going to tell me you didn’t get excited when that bass dropped? I understand that Kevin Gates doesn’t get much love around here, but if Rick Ross released this, it would be par for the course. And relatively well received? No? Just me then?
While the overall vibe of “Don’t Know” is quite 2 Chainzian, isn’t most of the rap coming out of the Deep South as excessive? I can’t blame him for trying to get paid and putting out a menace song for people to blast out of their old Toyota Camry’s while driving through Midtown ATL.
The lyrics are infinitely vapid, and certainly hyperbolic, but it’s almost refreshing to see KG rapping about something aside from his feelings, for once. Maybe he does need more therapy. But at least he doesn’t sound as emo here. Leave Kevin alone!
Phil: Invoking Rick Ross in defense of Kevin Gates? That’s like bringing a squirt gun to a knife fight.
Jose: Or ramen noodles when you ordered lobster bisque?
Phil: You guys are approaching this all wrong. You need to free your minds. You need to allow for the possibility that “Don’t Know” is inhabiting a place outside the physical universe. It is an invitation to Kevin Gates’ subconscious. He is literally asleep. He is dreaming. And sometimes dreams are confusing. There are some things he doesn’t know right now.
His new car? It is awesome. Where did it come from? Man, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how he fuck he bought that. Stranger than Fiction didn’t even get a physical release! Is Kevin gonna press the point? Hell no. When I can magically fly in a dream, I don’t say ask shit. I FUCKING FLY.
Oh no, the cops are chasing him now. Fuck. People are always chasing me in my dreams. I spend the whole time running. I’m not even sure who’s chasing me. I wake up all stressed and sweating. This is why I’m supposed to wear a mouth guard. Kevin should be wearing a mouth guard.
Phew, he lost the cops. How? Dude, he doesn’t know. What did I say about asking questions?
BOOM. See what you did with your questions? We just had a head-on collision with a Jeep. Kevin is now a paraplegic and he can’t talk. These dreams suck. Can’t move, can’t speak, but you really need to tell someone something? The worst.
Things were going so well. The girls tonight ? I mean, damn. Kevin don’t know no ugly bitches. I feel that. Last I heard from Kevin, he was hitting on a girl “not too pretty in the face, but she’s super thick.” Now though? Different story. Must be that private jet.
How does he have private jet money? Do you not remember when Kevin’s tour with Starlito and Don Trip sold out Madison Square Garden? Were you not in on that dream? That was off the hook. He played “Roaming Around” six times in a row – even though he couldn’t remember the words! And he couldn’t find his pants!
OK, wait, was that a Macaulay Culkin reference? We’re starting to dig deep here. Childhood. Elementary school. Someone saw Kevin’s pee-pee and he’s embarrassed. WHAT ARE YOU REPRESSING, KEVIN? LET IT OUT.
Aaron: Methinks the emperor don’t have “know” clothes. Even if I play along and buy into the bizarre construct that is Kevin Gates – which by the way, I like this song just a little bit – is he really stunting that hard? If he really “don’t know” all of the people he claims, who the fuck is he hanging out with?
I mean, c’mon, Gates. Seriously. That doesn’t even happen to rich white people. Look at Bill Clinton. He was the fucking POTUS and there were ugly bitches, broke niggas, and snitches at every turn.
So, basically, this track is strangely interesting to me, because Kevin Gates has everything and knows nobody. Where did he get it? Who does he share it with? If a Tree falls in a blog post and no one is around to hear it… etc., etc., so on and so forth. Some kind of Trap Rap Buddhism going on here.
Phelps: “Keep a chick in Michael Kors”? Must not be listening to a lot of Pusha T these days, eh, Gates? I’m fucking with this beat, but I prefer the sad sack stuff – Sea Change Kevin Gates. The cover art is goddam hilarious, too. Coming out the Gate stuntin’ new like Rachel Leigh Cook’s friends got hold of him.
Phil: I would invest in a “She’s All That” remake starring Kevin Gates on the condition that it’s titled “He’s Retauded”.
Chief Keef: “Pull Up”
You would think that Chief Keef might want to retire his “Bang” series after last year’s poorly mixed and generally maligned Bang Pt. 2, but a Bang 3 is slotted for any early March release. Per Keef, production for the mixtape is being handled almost entirely by GBE’s other in-house producer – the one not Young Chop – 12 Hunna. That’s the case with “Pull Up”, a single from the mixtape that was released this week. Unlike much of his 2012 output, this song finds him getting back to rapping.
Marcus: You know, I believe Tupac became a better rapper once someone actually shot him, because once you actually know what a bullet feels like piercing your skin, I’d presume that rapping about guns comes from a place of really connecting with the pain they can cause. I’m not saying that someone should shoot Chief Keef, but I am saying that there’s an empathy lacking between Keef and his material that now – two years into a now-mainstreamed rap career – that he desperately needs to have in order to maintain his career’s existence. “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” were awesome because he amazingly enough had a deep connection with what he was talking about. If you ask anyone about things they actually do (or perceive that they actually do) like, you’re going to get a really specific and inherently personalized response.
Also, anyone rapping a song that presents them as a Lothario will also clearly want the song to be as personal, unique, and connective as possible. “Pull Up?” Not so much. The track sounds great, but Keef really needs to connect with himself again. I mean, I don’t exactly expect him to be Wordsworth, but I’m totally okay with Keef just being an entertaining version of himself.
Aaron: Pass. After last week, I am not about to piss off another super [redacted] rapper from Chicago.
Marcus, I was just thinking that like a thousand people a week get shot in Chicago and somebody keeps missing lil dude.
Leah: I hate this. It sounds like it was compressed so many times it may as well be asphalt. It’s tin with shitty sound effects on top. It sounds like a small child who knows guns and cars reciting what he did after school one day.
Jose: SHUT IT DOWN. Nope, nope, nope.
Aaron: Usually when I listen to bad rap, I feel bad for a second, put on some good rap, and, boom, it levels out on some yin-yang shit. I pray to Kanye it works.
It’s not working.
The dystopian future of rap. All lizard brain. Permanent glory in violence, forever and ever. There is some ‘Lord of the Flies’ rap going on up there in Chicago.
This shit is scary. OK, I’m scared of Chief Keef, I said it. He frightens me. If I ever meet him, I will do my best to apologize and/or leap through the nearest window.
I will fake a seizure in public if I have to. I can’t die like this.
Please, please, please, for the love of GOD, Mr. Keef, I don’t wanna die.
What Would Common Do?
Phelps: I thought I loved Sosa, but I think I just love Young Chop. “Pull up” the needle on this record. “Pull up” to the curb and throw this record in the gutter.