June 28, 2010

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This space is usually dedicating to self-aggrandizing links to my own work, a shell game in which I re-direct traffic towards third party, corporate-owned entities, who insist upon paying me in pennies and gift certificates to Buca Di Beppo. This payment plan has resulted in allergies to fried vegetables and heavy pink sauces. Under strict doctor’s orders, I have not been allowed to leave the house prior to 6 p.m. Yesterday, I was told I looked like Edward Scissorhands, and I’m only half-certain the comparison stemmed from my facility at cutting up greens.

But like Passover, today is a very special day. Shea Serrano, an occasional contributor to this blog and a regular columnist for the Houston Press, has penned an exceptional cover story on Trae, one that I recommend, nay (yes, nay) implore you to read. For those unaware of the situation that has erupted in the epicenter of grilling (both kinds), Trae has been blacklisted from airplay on KBXX (a.k.a. The Box), 97.9 FM, a Radio One-owned company operating as the only hip-hop and R&B station in Houston. One half of A.B.N. and an H-Town legend, Trae has responded with the threat to his livelihood by suing the company. If you’re looking for an insightful and even-handed look into the corporate chicanery and petty drama at play in regional rap radio, you’d be well-served to read the article, complete with Harry Potter metaphors.

In conjunction with the feature, I asked Shea to pick his five favorite Trae songs and explain the reasoning for his choices. MP3’s and write-ups below the jump. Please excuse the Kings of Leon sample.

Trae ft. Z-Ro – “No Help” 

Trae and Z-Ro have recorded several monster songs together: “Ummm, Hmmm”; “Still Throwed”; “Rain”; basically, the entire It Is What It Is album. Fundamentally, this song is the best. And the chorus has become one of the more popular concert refrains. So much so that it’s borderline okay for white people to sing it at concerts.

Best Line: “I’m an asshole. And I ain’t trying to be rude, but I don’t really give a damn about none of y’all.” Incidentally, this is exactly how I started my Valedictorian speech in high school.

Trae – “I Could Use Somebody” 

To fully appreciate this song, you need to know about Clip. Clip is Trae’s handler. And he’s a bad motherfucker. In the three years that I’ve been working with rappers and the people surrounding them, he remains to be the most organized, most professional of them all. He’s also the only one that I’ve met likely to wear a muscle shirt to go out to eat at Pappadeaux like it’s a goddamn suit jacket. The two of them have been together since forever. So when Clip’s mother passed, it was almost a given that Trae was going to write something to pay tribute. As an incidental bonus, you can now drive through the worst parts of Houston and momentarily see very intimidating looking gentlemen blasting Kings of Leon, similar to the Thugs Playing Alphaville conundrum after Jay-Z released “Forever Young.”

Best Line: At the end of the song Trae sings, “All I know is that pain got me feeling ashamed and I can’t breathe.” It’s heartbreaking. Few people have ever rapped about their hurt as well as Trae does.

Trae ft. Big Hawk  & Fat Pat- “Swang”

With regards to rap and rappers, Houston, by and large, has been a very territorial place. There was a good long bit when guys from the North and the South actively hated each other. Even still, Big Hawk, the guest MC here, was universally loved and respected. This was supposed to be the song that not only launched Trae’s career, which it mostly did, but also cemented Hawk’s status as a Houston legend. Right before the album that this song was on came out, Hawk was murdered. Nobody saw that shit coming.

Best Line (from Hawk): “I would give my last just to bring you back, bring [DJ] Screw back, matter of fact, bring the whole crew back.” This became the spine of “Give My Last Breath,” which Trae released on his sophomore album, Life Goes On.

Trae ft. Slim Thug – “Nuthin 2 A Boss”

This is probably the most underrated track in Trae’s discography. The synthy whine in the background is wildly clever, and probably a precursor to the high-pitched tinkering that dominates his latest single, “Inkredible.” Also, and this is usually completely overlooked, but Slim Thug here is just about a perfect feature, a job he has become remarkably adept at over his career. He’s not quite so great a rapper that he’ll steal your song if you ask him to be on it, but he’s good enough to never drag it down. There’s something to be said about consistency.

Best Line (from Thugga): “I’ma shine now, I ain’t trying to tone shit down.” How this line has not become an Algierz t-shirt is beyond me.

Trae ft. Bun B & Lil Keke – “Grey Cassette”

If you’ll notice, almost all of Trae’s best songs take on either a menacing somethingbadisabouttohappentoyou-ness, or a somber somethingbadjusthappenedtome-ness. No different here. If any other rapper from Houston takes on this song, it becomes a semi-fun summer track. Trae bends it to his will. Bun and Keke follow suit.

By the way, it’s near impossible to put together a Best Of… list without having a song that Bun B is a part of. It’s like trying to put together a list of most overrated MCs and not including somebody from New York. Or a list of the richest people in the world, and not including someone that’s Jewish.

Best Line: “Leanin’ through the hood like I’m gone off a six pack.” Not many people mention this, but Trae doesn’t drink or smoke. Ever. He gives a wink towards that fact here.