The Rap Up: Week of September 2nd

The Rap Up returns with new ones from Paul Wall, Action Bronson, a short film from Vince Staples, and more.
By    September 2, 2016

paul wall

Torii MacAdams and Steve Aoki’s Grey Goose party together.

Paul Wall ft. Z-RoThangz Are Crazy

Mouse On Tha Track made the instrumental (and received partial writing credit) for Foxx’s “Wipe Me Down,” an accomplishment that easily outstrips the entire resumé of the Republican presidential candidate. Were we living in a magical, mythological world full of unicorns and justice, Mouse would be on a small denomination of American currency. Alas, no unicorns, no justice, no Mouse On Tha Three Dollar Bill.

Like Mannie Fresh at Cash Money, or Beats by the Pound at No Limit, Mouse was the sound of Trill Entertainment–vocalists rotate, but in producing effectively all of the label’s hits, his punchy, swaying beats arguably defined Trill as much as stars Boosie and Webbie. Maybe he needed that infrastructure, or maybe rap accelerated too quickly. Since his departure from the label, he’s managed to carve out a niche career producing for headstrong, mid-2000’s peers who’ve soldiered on and, on occasion, rapping. It seems like an honest living, albeit a difficult and marginal one. His work on Paul Wall and Z-Ro’s “Thangz Are Crazy” (an interpolation of Fat Pat’s “Reality”) is outstanding. And, like his last album, No Commercials, it will probably go unnoticed amidst a Biblical flood of 808 Mafia wannabes.

Maybe a career at the margins is inevitable for every rap producer–the genre moves so quickly that what sounds fresh today will almost inevitably sound petrified and desiccated within a few years. But the mothballing of beatmakers seems to inordinately affect the West and the South. Every New Yorker who so much as farted at a SP-1200 or a MPC60 between 1987 and 1996 can still profitably tour Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, Warren G is the subject of hoary retrospectives, the Bay Area’s DJ Fresh lost out in an SEO battle to some ghastly-haired English DJ Fresh, Trackademicks is dealing with the ignominy of working with Kool A.D., and DJ Squeeky is treated like a footnote to footnotes. I could go on. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to apportion blame for the erasure and forgetting of some of rap’s best producers: does the blame fall on an under-informed press, the artists themselves, base, human fallibility, or some combination of the three?

Vince StaplesPrima Donna short film

The coda of Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06 was a snippet of “‘06,” prefaced by a gauzy voice saying “Next time, on Poppy Street:.” In retrospect, what I thought was a preview of his next project–the then-unannounced Prima Donna–was something of a throwaway track, belonging not to the LP or the subsequent EP, but the neither-world of the Adult Swim Singles Club.

First, a summary:

The film begins with Staples leaving a video shoot, which entails weathering the clumsy handshakes of its white director and avoiding the white woman who’s asking about scheduling. Led from the shoot by a black man who alleviates an obviously uncomfortable situation, he gets in a cab driven by a Slavic-sounding man who, with promises of relaxation after a long day, takes him to a hotel. An elevator with an interlocking hexagon wallpaper patterned after The Shining’s Overlook Hotel takes him to the “Prima Donna Hotel,” where, after being given his room key by a white concierge, a white bellhop leads him to his room. On the way, he sees Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Tupac, and Amy Winehouse, and seemingly hallucinates a horde of fans barely contained by muscled security guards. After he enters his room, the door thuds: it’s more fans, just as rabid and eager. Only after shooting his reflection in a mirror, and bleeding out beneath a tree canopy, does Staples get the rest he so desires. A crowd applauds.

Now, my interpretation:

Vince Staples can’t escape the awkward daps, bang-bang rapidfire scheduling, and prying eyes of white people, and, by extension, can’t escape work. And worse, the only way he can receive critical acclaim is through self-harm. Or at least that’s how I, a man white like cauliflower or Huey Lewis and the News VIP passes, interpret the short film attached to Staples’ Prima Donna EP. Still, I don’t know what to make of the sweating, dark skinned dancers in tribal garb who seem to appear at random. Are they reminders to Staples of his (and, factually, everyone’s) African origins? Are they warning signs planted in a postmodern nightmare, one which stands opposed to his heritage? Were Staples to read this, he’d probably mock me.

Action BronsonDescendants of the Stars

I was going to call Action Bronson a punchline rapper, but that’s an uncharitable phrase. Rather, he’s a one-liner rapper. Instead of “Take my wife, please!,” it’s “I did an interview with GQ while taking a shit.” Instead of “I’m now making a Jewish porno film: 10% sex, 90% guilt,” it’s “My jump shot got an Ark like Noah.” Had Bronson, a Red Sea pedestrian, been born 80 years earlier, he could’ve been a Borscht Belt star. Just behind the veil of comically overwrought rap braggadocio are the elements of a great Catskills comedian: he’s overweight, has suffered physical ailments, and was raised in Queens by a Jewish mother. All that’s missing is wife upon whom he dotes but pretends to hate.

Scotty Cain ft. Dame CainReal Shit

Over a mouth-watering (and heart-stopping) dinner of Korean barbecue earlier this week, Jeff “Passion of the” Weiss and I were talking about the invaluableness of YouTube comments on regional rap videos. At best, they’re informative or revealing–like Lil Ruthless commenting on a video of slain former labelmate Ace Nitty. At worst, they’re entertaining–like user “The Real J” asking, with regards to a very, very fictional robbery in Scotty Cain’s video “Real Shit,” “did dese niggas actually kill pabelo.” Pablo (“pabelo”) tha Capo is a Baton Rouge rapper. He was not murdered.

Steve Aoki ft. Lil Uzi VertI Can’t Lose

I’m too old to like this bubblegum bullshit, and Steve Aoki, who’s turning 39 this year, is definitely too old to be making this bubblegum bullshit.

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