The Rap Up: Week of September 9

The Rap Up returns with new ones from Thugger, Jaden Smith, Zack de la Rocha, and some words on FX's Atlanta.
By    September 9, 2016



Torii MacAdams has Travis Scott ghost write his rap ups.

Young Thug ft. Quavo & StarrahPick Up The Phone [Original Version]

The song is no longer internet accessible so here’s the Travis Scott version.

The origins of “Pick Up The Phone” are, like so many things involving unrepentant plagiarist Travis Scott, extremely murky. In June, Scott prematurely released a version of the song featuring Young Thug and Quavo, and wrote in the Soundcloud description that “THIS SONG WAS SUPPOSE TO GO TO ITUNES BUT LABELS ARE MAKEING THIS MORE COMPLICATED THAN IT ACTUALLY NEED TO BE THIS WAS GONA BE MY SINGLE BUT NOW IM GIVING A WAY FOR THE KIDS” [sic, sic, sic…]. This all-caps note was probably false, like all-caps notes tend to be.

His narrative–the altruistic rebel versus the pencil–pushing label greedheads–was quickly refuted in a series of tweets by Young Thug’s sister, Dora, and 300 Entertainment A&R Zeke Hirschberg. Most damning was Dora’s allegation that Scott had heard the original version of the song, but, instead of “drop[ping] some vocals on it” as he’d asked, had a producer substitute his vocals for singer Starrah’s before leaking the ersatz “Pick Up The Phone.” There’s a counter-argument: it’s possible that the original was a reference track, a point supported by Thug shouting out Scott at the beginning and Starrah, who regularly works as a songwriter, publicly supporting the version without her. Still, if it was a reference track meant for Scott, then why did the song end up on Thug’s album as well? I suspect shenanigans.

Even if Dora and Hirschberg’s accounts are never officially confirmed, it’s more fun to add this to the Scott-as-thief ledger, right? The sole idea Scott appears to have about music is, ironically, borrowed from Pablo Picasso: “When there’s anything to steal, I steal.” Were Scott preternaturally gifted like Picasso, his sticky fingers and moral flexibility would perhaps be forgiven. That’s not the case here. While expanding others’ work is something of a creative grey area, shallow imitations and outright thievery are vomitous.

Rich the Kid & Jaden SmithLike This

Jaden Smith normally raps like an angsty suburbanite who’s listened to too much Earl Sweatshirt, because that’s who he is. So, imagine Jada and Will’s shock when their squinting, caramel-complected progeny showed up at the family estate with Rich the Kid in tow. Will probably tried launching the Atlanta rapper out the front door, Jazzy Jeff-style.

The combination of Smith and Rich the Kid is absurd. Of course, any rapper being paired with Smith would be absurd–he was thrust into stardom as a child by his remarkably attractive and famous parents, and his spiraling, migraine-inducing wokeness feels overblown, even for an 18 year-old. The wealth that Smith was born into is beyond aspirational for most rappers–it’s impossible. Rich the Kid’s insertion into Jaden’s weird world is meant to legitimize it, but all he does is tug at its frayed edges. He doesn’t reinforce the fiction. He unravels it.

The fault of this undoing lies at Smith’s delicate feet. Rich the Kid is happy to play his part: he’s a forgettable Migos affiliate with an encyclopedic knowledge of gull-wing car doors. There isn’t a luxury automobile this man can’t convincingly rap in front of! But, when Smith is doing rhythmic trap rap gymnastics with a floral scarf in the foreground, Rich the Kid feels ornamental, or sacrificial. It’s a misapplication of communitarian lessons learned from homeschooling. These two, rapping amidst dusty ranchland on the outskirts of Los Angeles, feels like a waking nightmare in which everything is just a bit wrong. “What the fuck?” doesn’t quite do justice to “Like This.”

Zack de la RochaDigging for Windows

Zack de la Rocha has nothing to do with Prophets of Rage. The left side of my technology-addled brain comprehends that. My smaller, even stupider amygdala, though, associates “2016 rap-rock dud” with “Zack de la Rocha,” and that’s obviously unfair. I thought “Digging for Windows,” the first song from his supposed full-length collaboration with El-P, would be bad. I was wrong–it’s good.

“Digging for Windows” continues what the former Rage Against the Machine singer and the grumpy producer started on Run The Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck).” The new song sounds approximately like the old song, because the dudes who made them are in their 40’s; El-P’s instrumentals deafen ears and kick shins, and de la Rocha, eight years removed from his last album and two years removed from his last guest verse, hasn’t lost his cutting, confrontational delivery. If their respective styles of pugilism appeal to you, then the barely-contained, unhinged synergy of “Digging for Windows” surely will, too.

Atlanta on FX

The buildup to Atlanta was worrying. After three years of development, FX released a series of promos soundtracked by Tame Impala’s wistful “New Person, Same Mistakes”–hardly the thumping, snarling trap viewers were promised by the series. These promos made it no easier to set expectations for the show; rap has long begged for a sitcom, but Donald Glover seemed an unlikely savior given the supposed source material and his own history with the genre.

As a rapper, Glover makes moderately clever music for severely uncool people. On-screen, though, the sense of pervasive make-believe which pockmarks his rap career is no impediment–we expect rappers to be honest and actors to act. When rapping, he can hit all of his (mediocre) punchlines and seem disingenuous. When acting, his sense of comedy and hangdog determination are immersive.

My fears of mediocrity (or worse, downright inaccuracy) were almost entirely allayed by the show’s opening: a beautifully shot altercation (during which someone off-camera shouts “Worldstar!”) and a title sequence scored by OJ Da Juiceman’s “No Hook.” The two episodes currently available perform an admirable balancing act: they’re laugh-out-loud funny while addressing serious issues. [Warning: spoilers ahead] In a scene that recalls the Tamir Rice murder, a child’s mother warns her young son to stop playing with toy guns before having an about face and asking Paper Boi, the show’s drug-dealing trap rap star, for a photo.

A night waiting to be processed in jail turns into a meditation on police violence, the nonsensical callousness of the justice system, and homosexuality in the black community conducted via a Greek chorus of miscreants saying “Nigga, you gay,” to a fellow arrestee. There’s great nuance here, and a keen sense of humor and drama that mirrors the twinned intensity and surreality of trap rap.

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