I’ve said this a few times before, but I’ll say it again: I’m loving 2012. We’re halfway through and it already surpasses last year — one of the most miserable in my life as a rap fan. R&B briefly supplanted rap as the genre of ideas and that probably hasn’t happened since rap was created by the Based God in 6 days at the beginning of time.
Last year was a transition for Hip Hop, with much of the old guard showing their age and a bunch of upstarts not quite ready to make the leap. In just about every way, this year reverses that trend, with great rap coming from all corners of the map and in all forms. From East Coast Boom Bap to Southern Club to West Coast Backpack, it seems like every mid-level rapper in the game got hungry and made the album we’ve been waiting for their whole careers — or debuts from unexpected places that shatter expectations. It’s slightly anti-climactic that the best album of this great year dropped in May, but it’s a classic that will be just as good 20 years from now. So if you’re in the glass half-full camp, we’re just getting ourselves acquainted with a soon-to-be-an old friend.
So yeah, brace yourself for a lot of superlatives. Basically what I’m trying to say is if you haven’t found something out there you’re excited about this year, your brain is no longer producing the dopamine necessary to enjoy new music and you should probably blow it out. Here’s my month in Rap. — Abe Beame
Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music: Remember when Kobe got that lifetime achievement MVP that clearly belonged to Chris Paul? What if he had deserved it? That’s the blessed position veteran grinder Killer Mike has put us in with R.A.P. These dream team underground Marvel/D.C. crossovers never pan out, but here it did with unimpeachable, glorious results. Mike is fully evolved, a gumbo of George Clinton/Big Boi, Twista and obviously Ice Cube. But it’s the melody, the patience, the dexterity that he attacks these 12 beats with; he curates the perfect flows to pair with each beat, switching it up from verse to verse. It’s captivating, and some of the best pure rapping I’ve ever heard.
This is a very angry, politically charged album, but the most accessible of its kind. While Immortal Technique, Alex Jones and Byron Crawford compare notes on the Bildenberg committee thread of their conspiracy web board, Mike is more agnostic. He grounds his anger and disappointment in his immediate environment. Real everyday pain and suffering you rarely need Wikipedia to relate to (yes even “Reagan”) and it makes all the difference.
I chose the title track because it was the moment in which the album finally sold me. While this was a hands-down album of the year candidate before this, it became unfathomable for me to conceive of anyone topping it with this song. The album’s drawback that no one will admit is there isn’t a listenable hook on this thing, a failure of song composition I’m going to attribute to the producer. This can make the listening experience monotonous at times, basically an exercise in waiting for the next verse. That is, until Mike assumes hook duty (and surprise, its melodically rapped rather than terribly sung) on the grand finale.
Mike’s passion and hard work finds its outlet in homespun and rational anger; it turns in on itself and the result is one of the greatest anthemic odes to Hip Hop ever. It’s the probably the only El-P beat you’d ever describe as “warm” and Mike uses it to paint a picture of a lineage in which Hip Hop is a bright and shining coronation. But even without telling us that, he’s showed us with this astonishingly accomplished effort.
Ab-Soul- “Illuminate (ft. Kendrick Lamar)”: I certainly didn’t see this coming. Now we just need Jay Rock to drop his Ironman and Black Hippy Forever should wind up being one of the greatest albums of all-time. Control System may shockingly be the best release in this solo album cycle by the collective, or the most solid if it doesn’t quite achieve Section 80’s dizzying heights. There’s been a million “Black Lip Bastard” links, so for the tape I had to go with “Illuminate” because it’s the only other Kendrick Lamar feature. Kendrick is killing everything he’s in the vicinity of right now, oozing star quality and clearly ready to take his music even further, quite possibly to the apex of the game.
DJ Drama- “We in this Bitch (ft. Future & Drake)”: Drake and Future reunite specifically to make me happy, but this song makes for an unlikely moment to take a look at Drake’s output post-Take Care. I’m going to get killed for this because I’m always fighting with the crew over this kid’s legitimacy, but his hook on “No Lie” with 2 Chainz is kind of a dud, a big summer anthem that isn’t. Call me crazy but when I listen to it, I can actually hear 2 Chainz putting a stack of 100s in Drake’s hand and asking for a “Money to Blow.”
The concern continues here, where on a radio single Drake relinquishes the hook to Future, who unsurprisingly kills it. It’s extraordinarily unfair to critique a guy like this off of 2 songs but then again this is the internet and what else do we have to do with the little free time we have. But what do you think: post-masterpiece fatigue or is Drake starting to run out of ideas?
Goodie Mob- “Is That you God?“: So what did you want from this reunion? Cee-Lo to go back to rapping about the gate surrounding his PJs? This is about as good as it’s going to get. It feels like a one-off that you might’ve found on the Sprung, How to be a Player, Rush Hour or Ride soundtracks a decade ago. A big splashy number wedged in between unexpected rapper collabs and Sisqo hooks. Commentary with no urgency but hey, at least it’s not “Fight to Win.”
Chris Brown- “What Your Girl Like (ft. Lil Wayne)”: You ready for another Chris Brown Summer? No? I know this guy is a shit bag, but it annoys me how he’s probably made the most interesting mainstream R&B over the course of the last 2 years, to a chorus of boos. Meanwhile, critics will fall all over themselves for the next sleepy Beyonce record. This song is decent mainly due to the Virginian pastiche of N.E.R.D. and vintage Timbaland production, stolen and re-purposed by whoever made this beat. I can’t find a producer, I’m just going to guess Polow because it reminds me vaguely of an old beat he made for Chris.
Meek Mill- “Flexin”: For our monthly MMG update, Meek dropped his highly anticipated follow up to Dreamchasers that apparently broke the internet and was spotty but great. If I never hear “Racked Up Shawty” again it will be too soon, and there is some concern that the influence of billions of dollars will lead to more shameless crossover bricks of this nature. But when this kid puts his mind to rapping, there are few better.
His mastery of verse on a bar to bar level, switching speeds and syllable counts effortlessly, makes anything he touches a must listen right now. I very nearly ignored the Rick Ross “POOFS” and threw “Black Magic” on here instead because Meek goes batshit on it, but a moment like “Flexin” on a tape like DC2 demanded a brief moment of our time.
Childish Gambino- “Silk Pillow (ft. Beck)“: Psyche!
Jadakiss ft. Styles- “Dope Boy”: When I’m 70, if Jada and Styles are still making songs like this, I’ll still be listening to them. Also it reminded me to scroll over to “Dope Money” on my iPod as soon as the song ended. Which I hadn’t done in 2 or 3 days.
Gucci- “Cyeah Cyeah Cyeah Cyeah (ft. Chris Brown & Lil Wayne)”: Wow. There are 2 Chris Brown songs on this tape. I’m as surprised as you are. Here is an actual Polow production and it’s insane (paging Rich Boy: Polow is making rap beats again). Even crazier, guess who has the best verse on this song?
Killer Mike- “Untitled”: You know, just cause. Skim this at your peril. You’ll miss the greatest 20 second verse ever recorded.