Rap Up for the Week of 1.15.16

New rap music from Kanye West & Madlib, Freddie Gibbs, Ka, Isaiah Rashad, and some neo-soul from Kendrick Lamar.
By    January 15, 2016

Torii MacAdams purchased Tha G-Code by saving up his allowance

Kanye WestReal Friends/No More Parties in LA

“No More Parties in LA” was produced by Madlib, a musician who pitched his voice higher because he disliked its deepness. It’s being rapped over by Kanye West, a musician with a seemingly infinite appreciation for the sound of his own voice. The outward differences between the two belie a foundational element of each’s artistry: they’re crate diggers. In 2011, Madlib, “the Loop Digga,” sampled the Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” for Big Pooh’s “Wooden Wall Silverware.” It went largely unnoticed. Two years later, West flipped the same recording by the little-known Cleveland group for his (appropriately titled) “Bound 2.” The frequency of sales of Ponderosa Twins Plus One vinyl skyrocketed, and Ricky Spicer, the “Plus One,” sued West.

The 1991 ruling in Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. by a New York District Court essentially gave sampled musicians like Spicer an imprimatur for litigation, and made sampling a fly-by-night operation for most producers. Neither West nor Madlib have been immune from lawsuits; West has been sued multiple times, and Madlib was sued by tut-tutting butthead Bob James last year for an uncleared sample of James’ “Nautilus.” The ruling was (and pursuant litigation is) a grave misunderstanding of art: sampling doesn’t devalue others’ material, but repurposes and re-contextualizes. Just as no intelligent adult would look at Jasper Johns’ paintings of American flags and feel unquestioned jingoism, no intelligent adult could listen to Madlib or West’s production and think it shameless, unaltered copying.

Freddie GibbsHot Boys

Master P’s platinum tank is an indelible representation of success and largesse: No Limit Records went platinum with militaristic efficiency. Juvenile’s Ferrari–an ostentatious canary amid rusted, muted browns, humid, rain-soaked greys, and overgrown greens–was real, was realer.

The twinned images of a tank shooting animated, backboard-shattering shells and a sports car parked in the since-demolished Magnolia Projects probably oversimplify the No Limit-Cash Money diptych. But, I suspect that Cash Money’s embrace of Uptown New Orleans’ creaking shotgun shacks and crumbling projects helped the label resonate beyond the Crescent City in a way that No Limit never did. That’s why Nef the Pharaoh, a toddler in Vallejo when I Got That Work was released, would name his biggest hit “Big Tymin’.” That’s why Freddie Gibbs, who grew up in Gary, Indiana, would name a single “Hot Boys” thirteen years after the group’s dissolution.

Ka30 Keys

Ka sounds like leaning on cold subway platform girders, like scraping your knees and wrists on cobblestones, like 4:30 p.m. sunsets and winter winds on your cheekbones, like a pebble in your sock. The frigidity’s deliberate, because retelling the crimes of a past, disavowed life is rarely warm. Youthful indiscretion is still indiscretion.

Kendrick LamarUntitled 2

As a white man, I know that I can only grasp the richness of Black American life in an abstract sense, and know that I’m not the target audience for the entirety of Black art. I don’t know why Kendrick Lamar isn’t subject to greater critical scrutiny. “Untitled 2” uses the same tropes and motifs Common and The Roots have been using for literally twenty years. God, the perseverance of Black women, the importance of love–these subjects, chicken soup for the neo-soul, clearly have a place in Black life, and, as a result, Black entertainment.

Isn’t art about more than pandering, though? Rap music doesn’t lack for challenging, varied, complex interpretations of contemporary Blackness. The widespread praise for To Pimp A Butterfly felt like an admission from critics and fans that Black music is capital-i Important–particularly during a time of social upheaval–as long as it hits the right notes. Similarly, “Untitled 2” checks boxes without presenting a challenge to the status quo.

Isaiah RashadSmile

Isaiah Rashad – Smile from Top Dawg Entertainment on Vimeo.

“Smile” is the type of picaresque, joyful rap that Lamar is no longer interested in making. Isaiah Rashad tells his homies to shut up while he’s recording, calls his kinfolk, talks some shit. He’s a much-needed voice in TDE; the Chattanoogan, never prone to stale lyrical miracles, appears to be the label’s most vibrant rapper. He raps, and does it really, really well. No artificial moral rectitude, no conspiratorial, Illuminati-fearing whispers, no silly voices, no free jazz, no pretensions–just his voice and an instrumental. Sometimes the best art is simple.

Kipp StoneCult Classic

Jimmy Haslam’s a criminal whose football team won’t allow Johnny Manziel to drunkenly rap along with Future, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to lose in the Finals again, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an facade created to stroke Jann Wenner’s ego. Drew Carey, a Cleveland native whose sitcom was based in the city, once held a “smoke-in” to protest California’s no-smoking ordinance. When I searched “Cleveland” in Google News, the first 15(!) results were either related to Cleveland’s sports teams or violent acts committed in the city. Kipp Stone, a Clevelander, certainly has more to say about the latter.

“Cult Classic” is a pleasant surprise. Stone’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, relatively commonplace as it is, holds appeal, as do some legitimately clever lines like “Boy, I know a nigga one snitch away from Penn State/I mean the State Pen, gotta get my shit straight.”

There’s no reason Cleveland shouldn’t have a rich rap scene–post-industrial decay, bad for nearly every sector of society except junkies scrapping copper, is good at creating the fucked up situations that foment talented rappers. Maybe Stone’s next in the city. He’s already better than Kid Cudi.

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