Rap Up for the Week of 1.29.16

New joints from Trae the Truth & Travis Scott, B.o.B. Earl, Freddie Gibbs, 2 Chainz, Jay Dot Rain & Lil Nardy, Big Shane
By    January 28, 2016


Torii MacAdams is the celebrity judge at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend Fashion Show.

Trae Tha Truth ft. Travis Scott Trap in Mexico

Trae Tha Truth is a legend in Houston. Travis Scott, a blustery charlatan, is not.

In 2008, then-Houston Mayor Bill Brown formalized July 22nd as “Trae Day” to recognize the rapper’s work in the community. To celebrate Trae Day, Trae Tha Truth hosts a free festival with gratis backpacks, school supplies, HIV testing, immunization shots, rides, face painting, and a concert. Aside from a shooting at the 2009 festival (which fortunately resulted in no deaths), Trae Day appears to be a uniformly positive event for the city’s underprivileged children–where else can you see OG Maco shout “Bitch, you guessed it!” at a crowd of excited 12 year-olds? Few rappers, from within Houston or outside of it, can claim to have similar aspirations of communal involvement.

Travis Scott is from Missouri City, a mostly middle and upper-middle-class exurb immediately to the southwest of Houston’s Beltway. Musically, Scott is amorphous, a plant so obvious that his roots are borderline immaterial. He offers nothing to Houston that he doesn’t offer to Seattle, Buffalo, or Phoenix.

The sad truth of “Trap In Mexico” is that Scott has as much to lend Trae as Trae does Scott. Trae’s bonafides are undeniable, and, for young Houston rappers, there’s great symbolic significance in having one’s name alongside his. This is doubly true for a rapper who claims a city he likely has little rapport with. The grim reverse: Scott is immensely popular, and reaches an audience both unlikely to be familiar with Trae and far greater in number than Trae would have hopes of reaching otherwise. While it’s important to acknowledge these marriages of convenience, it’s ultimately hard to fault either rapper’s motivations: Scott is a parasite, and shifting from host to host is what he does. Trae is, as his name denotes, Tha Truth, but veracity only goes so far when teenaged fans plunk down $150 for rapper action figures.

B.o.B. Flatline

Earlier this week, fellow Weiss-er and Associate Editor at Vice Drew Millard wrote a piece for his day job about the prevalence and popularity of conspiracy theories in rap music. J-Zone, rap’s best curmudgeon, was quoted as saying that, with regard to black Americans, school curriculums “skim over your history. It’s just that you were enslaved, then Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks happened, now it’s gangs and drugs and poverty. They slide over everything you accomplished, and you’re forced to think, ‘Everything the establishment told us is a lie.'” Bun B, one of the genre’s most thoughtful voices, echoed that sentiment. “He’s one of those guys who because of the music he’s made, has seen a lot of the world, and probably had some preconceived notions that were dispelled as he went around and saw things. And once you start to question some things, you start questioning everything.”

Both J-Zone and Bun B’s responses are true: black people have been deliberately underserved and discriminated against. But there’s a reasonable scope of wariness and intrigue; had B.o.B. expressed interest in COINTELPRO, or had questions about the Iran-Contra affair and the sharp spike of crack addiction in America’s inner cities, no one would’ve batted an eyelash. Had he gone to Tokyo and been surprised by the prevalence of cat cafés or the efficiency of rail transit, he wouldn’t have drawn the ire of Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Internet’s most beloved and most pedantic astronomer.

I hope B.o.B. is susceptible to conspiracy theories in the way other people are: simple, linked actions which negate humans’ immense fallibility appeal to our desire for well-ordered explanations. The reality is that B.o.B. might be in need of semi-urgent or urgent mental health care. Rap music as a whole seems to respond particularly poorly to mental health concerns; SpaceGhostPurrp is widely mocked, Blu’s recent tirade against Alchemist and Evidence was treated lightly, and B.o.B.’s conspiratorial flat earth truthing (understandably) has drawn its share of laughter. Cases like these are why, at various points, rappers have talked of unionizing–there’s not a greater body invested in the well-being of artists.

Earl SweatshirtWind In My Sails, Bary, & Skrt Skrt

Teen stars don’t usually age well–doe-eyed chicanery, deemed adorable during pubescence, grows stale when it’s done by a dude with hair on his neck. It’s immensely difficult to mature as a human, and as an artist, when every move is micro-analyzed. Earl Sweatshirt’s late-night Soundcloud uploads, “Wind In My Sails,” “Bary,” and “Skrt Skrt,” (probably) aren’t overly calculated maneuvers meant to preview a new album or debut a boutique streaming service. He wanted to make thudding, disjointed remixes of 21 Savage’s “Skrrt Skrtt” and Kanye West’s “Barry Bonds”–which, honestly, sounds like cuts from Lil Ugly Mane’s Three Sided Tape–so he did. It’s refreshing to see a popular artist releasing rough-hewn work.

Freddie GibbsCocaine Parties in LA

Speaking of random releases, Freddie Gibbs’ “Cocaine Parties in LA” is a barometric reading of rap music. Gibbs rips the Madlib-produced instrumental from Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar’s “No More Parties in LA,” and uses it to interpolate Plies’, uh, non-traditional pronunciation of “back” (“byke”), mock Stacey Dash, and elaborate on his plans for All-Star Weekend. On the dossier: “pussy, head, mouth, ass, and all that shit.” To paraphrase Daniel Burnham, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s dongs.” Or something like that.

2 ChainzWatch Out

2 Chainz’ persistent popularity is almost entirely based on his charisma, but it’s hard to begrudge the Atlantan his success. He appears to actually enjoy his fame–Tity Boi from Playaz Circle was not a pre-ordained winner. Using his mostly weed-based pulpit, 2 Chainz has argued with Nancy Grace about marijuana, sold “Dabbin’ Santa” sweatshirts for charity (in cannabis leaf snowflake and non-cannabis leaf snowflake varieties!), and donated a house to a family in need. While I’ve never been a huge 2 Chainz fan, I can appreciate that he’s taken time out of his life to stunt on Skip Bayless on ESPN’s “First Take.”

As of this writing, the video for “Watch Out” has almost 660,000 views in three days. The song follows the same formula as 2 Chainz’ biggest hit to date, “I’m Different”: sparse, plinking keys and an easily memorizable chorus. More notable is that, in accordance with the grander 2 Chainz canon, the video is pretty fucking ridiculous. 2 Chainz’ oversized head is superimposed on others’ bodies, like a more absurdist version of Ludacris’ “Roll Out” and Young Thug’s “With That.” I fully support major label artists taking themselves less seriously and using their budgets to recreate the “Why You Always Lyin’” vine.

Jay Dot Rain & Lil NardyLook At Me Now

Jay Dot Rain and Lil Nardy, two of the South’s most promising rappers, are forming like Voltron for the forthcoming Smoke & Mirrors. On “Look At Me Now,” the duo navigate a fog of personal tragedy and restless, hardscrabble nights. Nardy’s father’s murder led to substance abuse, Jay Dot Rain expresses gratitude for a relatively modest 10,000 views. This is music from the fringes, of limited budgets and narrow margins, of honesty and yearning.

Big ShaneFor My Homies

Big Shane is from DeRidder, Louisiana, which is about 25 minutes south of Buttfuck, Egypt. His most in-depth press clippings are an Associated Press report syndicated by the Washington Times (owned by Sun Myung Moon, leader of the “Moonies”), 107 Jamz, a Lake Charles, La. radio station, and the Beauregard Daily News, apparently DeRidder’s paper of note. Were it not for Dirty Glove Bastard posting it and the reliable quality of Stunt N Dozier’s production, I almost certainly would’ve ignored “For My Homies.” I’m glad I didn’t. Big Shane’s tales of small-time criminality are perfect for Stunt N Dozier’s soulful production–modest crimes for an understated sound.

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