Art by Kmeron
Torii MacAdams is Theophilus London’s haberdasher.
BadBadNotGood ft. Mick Jenkins – Hyssop of Love
[Ed. Note] Unfortunately this track has been scrubbed from the Internet.
This is how you make a rap beat with live instrumentation. It’s an inherently backward-facing sound–sampling’s existed since the late-70’s–but it doesn’t need to be absent of verve or invention. BadBadNotGood are well-versed musicians, and “Hyssop of Love” sounds like MF Doom meets Ka, equal dollops of light and dark. Credit, too, to Mick Jenkins, who ebbs and flows with the Canadian trio–he’s pliant because he needs to be, not because he likes lingual contortions. “Hyssop of Love” is, on a very fundamental level, an excellent rap song.
Theophilus London – Stay
And this is how you make an in-flight hip-house safety video, Virgin America. I get it: rappers of a more (often pseudo-) intellectual bent are trying to transcend rap. That’s commendable to a degree–I don’t want to be the grump who browbeats rappers over wearing witch hats, or jazz scatting, or, in this case, sounding like a private school Twin Hype. But does rap always need to be transcendent to receive critical approval, like it’s beneath a class of true artists and thinkers? Do we need to indulge everyone’s pretensions? No and no.
“Stay” is bad, and no amount of genre bending, apologia, or equivocating changes that. The first 30 seconds of it could pass as a crackling, ‘80’s house cut. The following three-and-a-half minutes is singing that barely registers and herky-jerky, nearly indecipherable, and breathy rapping that uses the same -er rhymes for almost every line. For example:
Oh my, he sanctified her
Some talk, can’t decide (?) her
You can’t deny her
Just quit yo’ nine-to-five-er
Some trips he tried to buy her
This is boilerplate gobbledygook. The put-upon female subject, “her,” is an indistinct trebuchet from which London launches fatalistic and maudlin platitudes. “Stay” needs to get the fuck outta here.
RJ – Double Standards
Los Angeles is in the throes of a gangster rap renaissance. Not since the early-mid ‘90’s has the city had such a deep, engrossing cast of characters; for every The Chronic, a Curb Servin’, for every “Gin and Juice,” a “Dippin’.” There’s an entire alternative (if largely underloved) canon of Ben Davis-wearing gangster rappers who still perform at KDAY summer concerts and lowrider shows in Gardena. As an unrepentant rap nerd–and an unbearable rap opiner–I’m constantly searching for corollaries between generations, and I can’t figure out how RJ will ultimately be remembered in L.A. rap lore.
[Some stray comparisons: Joe Moses is Kam, ScHoolboy Q is King Tee (Jeff says MC Eiht), and Cam & China are a more prolific Menajahtwa.]
It’s probably his moment right now; last year’s “Get Rich” was a bonafide regional hit, he’s featured heavily on numerous DJ Mustard projects, and his new mixtape, Ommio 3, has been downloaded more than 31,000 times in less than a week. The swaying and lewd “Double Standards” is, like much of RJ’s oeuvre, spiritually indebted to G-funk: he talks immense shit over a beat that thumps and “Funky Worm” wails. It’s low-stakes, knuckleheaded fun–values that’ve been missing from rap exegesis of late. He’s a card-carrying member of the I Fucked Your Bitch Benevolent Society, but, judging by his taste in literature (He showed up to an interview with a copy of A Tale of Two Cities), he’s a nuanced person. Showing more of that depth might be beneficial.
Clams Casino– Blast
It’s been three years since Clams Casino’s released a solo project, although calling them “projects” might impart in them a sense of narrative or continuity. The Instrumentals series was, a few unreleased beats aside, a collection of work he’d done for other people. The most famous of the lot, the drizzle-dappled “I’m God,” transformed the humble hospital intern from a MySpace denizen into an in-demand producer.
Clams Casino’s instrumentals in the past couple of years (particularly those for Danny Brown and Vince Staples) are texturally rougher than the sparkle and sheen of his early work, which makes his return to the clouds on “Blast” surprising. Whether the airy “Blast” and its ascendant harmonizing will be the dominant sound on the soon come 32 Levels is worth monitoring.
Green Ova South (Squadda B & Pepperboy) ft. Lil Flip– Kome Ryde
It’s an overcast week in the Rap Up! Clams Casino is back, and Squadda B of Main Attrakionz (and Pepperboy) just released an album, Kome Ryde With Us, entirely produced by Ian Taggart, better known as Young God. “Kome Ryde” was actually released in January but, because it escaped my notice and the full length was released this week, it gets a pass.
Lil Flip and Taggart are, outwardly, an unusual pairing. Although cloudy production from Clams Casino and Blue Sky Black Death never really seemed to take hold in the South, Lil Flip’s unhurried pace is well-matched to Taggart’s pneumatic instrumental. The pimp-permed voice of Pepperboy blends so seamlessly into the marine haze that I was surprised to learn he’s from Little Rock, Arkansas, not Berkeley or Oakland.
Fun fact: Squadda B and MondreM.A.N. once crashed at my friends’ house and smoked all their weed, much of it supposedly without permission. About 8 guys lived there at any given time. It was a lot of weed.