The New Rap Language: The Know-Nothing Edition

Don’t blame me, I voted for Millard Fillmore.  “As We Enter” – Damian Marley & Nas The closer Distant Relatives comes to actually seeing the light of day, the clearer it...
By    February 9, 2010


Don’t blame me, I voted for Millard Fillmore. 

“As We Enter” – Damian Marley & Nas

The closer Distant Relatives comes to actually seeing the light of day, the clearer it becomes that I’d rather hear a mixtape of Damian Marley spitting solo over classic soundclash and Ethiopiques instrumentals.  Nothing against Nas (really). But the Bono-like levels of self-importance bound to accompany the pairing of Bob’s son and God’s son inevitably means that he’s more likely to be spewing platitudes about Hailie Selassie than wild “Esco (Let’s Go)” fantasias about getting into semantic quibbles with Elizabeth Taylor. Toeachizown. However, the experiment was clearly worth it to hear Junior Gong and Nasty Nas goofing off over a gorgeous Mulatu Astatke sample. They’re just having fun — Kelis’s ex says the “flow’s effortless” and for once, I believe him. (I realize that this is sort of like that scene in Stardust Memories, where a fan comes up to Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) and tells him they prefer his earlier funny movies, but Nas was only funny when he wasn’t trying to be — like when he told the world how much he loved watching Kathy Lee and Regis in limousines.)

“Devils” – TiRon

Stomping an old Jay instrumental is pretty much a rite of passage for any young rapper, and though TiRon doesn’t decimate “Where I’m From” with the same skill as a pre-Rutgers Symphony Hova, he only needs a 16 to remind people why he’s one of the most promising rappers in Los Angeles. Last year’s Ketchup was heavily slept-on, and one of the first leaks from its follow-up finds TiRon at the tail end of his three year-window where he’s allowed to spit didactic “I Am the Enlightened One” raps  about bow bad KTLA is and why no one should keep up with the Kardashians. Then again, what else are we supposed to talk about? How bad Lamar Odom was in that Taco Bell commercial?

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – “Gangsta’s Glory”

Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony billed “Gangsta’s Glory” as an Eazy E guest appearance, because they clearly knew that everyone would download it to hear Eric Wright’s tales from the crypt. Instead, we get a scratched sample of “Eazy Duz It” on the hook.  Since I am a sucker for Eazy E, Bone Thugs, and scratched hooks, I think the first single from their Uni5: The World’s Enemy is great. Bizzy is back in the fold and this song sounds like it could’ve been made at any point in the last dozen years. Depending on what you think of that idea probably determines whether you’ll like it or not.

Intuition – “Al Bundy”

I first heard about Intuition when Zilla Rocca e-mailed me to tell me that there was a West Coast version of him running around Los Angeles. Two years ago, the pair would’ve been separated at birth, but The 5 0′ Clock Shadowboxers album re-envisioned the Rap Jack Bauer as the rap Phillip Marlowe, while Intuition, the first signee to Nocando’s Hellfyre Records has clearly studied under the Sean Daley school (which taken to the furthest extreme becomes Frank T.J. Mackey Rap.) And at times, his impressive debut Girls Like Me, seems a bit over-calculated in its attempt to sleep with liberal arts students from Occidental to Reed. But more often, Alaska-born Lee Shaner forges his own lane, paring relateable everyman raps about working dead-end jobs, drinking too hard, smoking too many cigarettes, and getting into too many unhealthy relationships. A decade ago, the Dibiase-produced highlight “Al Bundy” would’ve been a West Coast underground hit and a 12″ inch staple in the crates of the Fat Beats set. There’s really no good reason why it shouldn’t be now.

“Fuck the Money” (prod. by Kanye West) – B.O.B. ft. Asher Roth

Like Kanye himself, there’s something alternately awesome and repugnant about “Fuck the Money.” West’s beat’s the star here. Reportedly an outtake from 2005, the clipped soul sample is a vestige to the days before the Louis Vuitton Donatella started spending his time devising new handbang lines and ways to revolutionize the usage of Caps Lock. Meanwhile, Asher Roth should be thanking his astrological fortune that he has a career rather than whining about homecooked meals and how Steve Rifkin won’t send him any more Hanukkah cards if he doesn’t land anther radio hit. But what’s new. Most of B.o.B’s May 25th Mixtape  is solid — at least the parts when he isn’t giving Charles Hamilton another chance or  following Lil Wayne down the road to the Rebirth Mystery Spot. However, the most interesting song is “Fuck the Money,” in the way it again reveals how accelerated the industry cycle has become. The guy hasn’t even released a single official album and already B.o.B. is lamenting the perils of fame and industry fuckery. I know Atlantic won’t release his album until he’s willing to consent to a Flo Rida guest spot, but I assume both of these guys can afford cable TV. Things can’t be that bad.

Freddie Gibbs – “Crushing Feelings”

Joe Scudda ft. Naledge, Mistah Fab, & Freddie Gibbs – “Trunk Rattle”

Cunninglynguists ft. Freddie Gibbs – “Imperial”

No need for hyperbole. Gibbs has gotten the attention he deserves and more. I’m mainly posting these because I figure they slid past a lot of people. Also, because these are probably the three rap songs I’ve listened to the most this year. “Crushing Feelings” is the best of the bunch and it operates as a manifesto of sorts. Of course, Gibbs leaves that sort of thing to the Kweli’s of the words, casually declaring that he does “more than boast about balling, I rhyme about surviving.” Later he claims that rap is “nothing but talking shit, I’m just the best at.” Like most great rappers, he’s highly skilled at condensing lots of information in few words. He doesn’t need to write an entire verse on the attack. When he dismisses Charles Hamilton as the “pussy pink Sonic the Hedgehog,” it’s somehow more damning than the myriad self-etherings that Chuckie handed himself.

Pill – “Thoughts”

I once mentioned Pill and Gibbs and 2Pac and Biggie in the same breath. Predictably, it elicited a virulent response. I never really meant to compare them, though I don’t think either them are as far off as the rear view mirror would indicate. All first-tier rappers are supposed to be versatile. Pill and Gibbs can write hard-core drug raps as well as anyone, but what distinguishes them is how well they sell the listener on their struggle. Pill never sounds anything less than furious and frustrated, as though he’s perenially dealing with life and death struggles. Lots of rappers have grown up fatherless, but his admission that “he never got taught how to throw a baseball or put on cologne” hits particularly hard. It’s simple and concrete and all he needed to say to get his point across. They’re more than just good rappers, like all great writers they understand that it’s less about words and more about detail.

X.O. – “She Posed To”

More on X.O. and his very solid 1.1.10 mixtape soon. In the meantime, rap songs over samples from Fela’s “Water No Get Enemy” are always a good idea. After all, Vampire Weekend and the cardigan brigade are not the only ones who are discovering African music.

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