Torii MacAdams will never be allowed at USC again.
Danny Brown ft. Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt & Ab-Soul – Really Doe
Earlier this week, I interviewed VerBs, who you may know as a rapper, or the operator of Bananas (Los Angeles’ best rap night), or, the omnipresent dude with the near-equally-omnipresent red beanie. A brief topic of discussion was whether or not rap fans want “bars” anymore. “I almost feel like it’s corny to rap good” he told me, fidgeting with his cracked cell phone, “It’s like ‘Oh, you rap good? That’s lame.’” VerBs, who’s done more for Los Angeles’ rap scene than I ever have or ever will, is absolutely entitled to his opinion. Still, I’m not sure I agree.
Take Danny Brown’s “Really Doe”: it features three of rap’s most consistently critically acclaimed artists (and Ab-Soul, a woke-ass Silkk the Shocker), and all three are, in their own ways, virtuosos. Earl Sweatshirt’s a bard masquerading as a disaffected twenty-something; Danny Brown is a Joy Division-obsessed Fraggle capable of contorting to the wildest, jit-and-techno-influenced beats; Kendrick Lamar has a flow for every misbegotten thinkpiece about his music. Moreover, all three are popular. Little of their recent work is easily accessible or easily recitable, yet each new project (even each new preview or guest verse) is treated with levels of scholasticism that’d make a monk blush.
A variation of “These dang kids don’t have bars!” is one of the oldest gripes in rap. In my lifetime, gangster rap, jiggy rap, Snap, Jerk, and trap have all received to the same treatment that dyed-dreadlock internet gremlins are currently being subjected to, sometimes with merit. But these moments were ultimately fleeting, and, for better or worse, rappers deemed “lyrical” seem to have the most rabid, lasting fanbases. Logic’s pet Corgi, Philip J. Fry, has more than 61,000 Instagram followers, Aesop Rock, a reclusive 40 year-old, still packs smelly venues, and–deep breath, all together now–J. Cole went Platinum without any features. I’d posit that lyrics, far more than melody or image, appeal to the type of monomaniacs who transform a rapper’s 15 seconds of fame into decade-long careers.
Geaux Yella – Message to the Streets P.S.A.
Without a doubt, Geaux Yella is from Baton Rouge. He punctuates his sentences with “mane” and “Ya feel me?,” spells his name with a French flourish, and dresses his baby daughter in a miniature LSU Tigers cheerleader outfit. His newest single, “P.S.A.,” sounds like B.R., with his Louisiana lilt and a brassy instrumental heavily indebted to Mouse On Tha Track. Its video, too, plays to type. It’s muggy there, so Yella is sweating through his undershirt. State gun laws are lax–and their enforcement worse–so Yella’s bandana’d compatriots are recklessly waving pistols and long guns, some of which are also wrapped in bandanas. Rap is for the young, so there’s youthful exuberance in someone’s living room, with those standing on couches and chairs only inches below a stucco ceiling.
But I can’t fully endorse “P.S.A.” At one point a toddler is unwittingly–and probably unintentionally–within two feet of the end of an AK-47 barrel. This is a profoundly unacceptable and easily avoidable situation, whose root cause is widespread political and societal failure. Disturbing.
Kevin Hart ft. Quavo & T.I. – Baller Alert
“Baller Alert,” like so many of the drugs Quavo and T.I. have rapped about, has been broken down, reconstituted, and flipped twice. The first, a Champs Sports sports commercial, was billed as featuring New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall and Under Armour. Yes, the home-defense-espousing apparel company. Marshall’s role in the video is nodding his head on-beat and wearing Under Armour, essentially rendering him a polyester-clad, muscle-bound metronome. It’s unexciting stuff, and stuff which doesn’t particularly raise my hackles, dander, or ire.
The second flip–so industrious, these Atlantans–is for Kevin “Chocolate Droppa” Hart’s new “mixtape” What Now? (The Mixtape), to be released on the same day as a new comedy special. The name “Chocolate Droppa,” Hart’s rap alter-ego, is derived from a dumb-ass, Milk Duds-related scatalogical joke not worth copying and pasting. It’s a dumb-ass moniker perfect for Hart, a pint-sized attention whore born to shout “Oh, shit!” in C-minus buddy cop flicks. One of my few remaining hopes in life is to see him demolished Monstars-style the next time he tries too hard during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.
Cousin Fik ft. J. Stalin – Slidin’
I confess, I only recently began listening to J. Stalin. Of course, I’ve seen his name (How could I forget a moniker like “J. Stalin”?) and heard his guest verses, but, inspired by DJ Fresh’s recent iteration of The Tonight Show, I downloaded the duo’s The Real World Trilogy. It’s rap music for moving weight in the green, foggy Bay Area, where kids in Mac Dre t-shirts share the BART with burnt out hippie professors and bespectacled app hucksters. Fresh’s neon palette and J. Stalin’s laidback, rasping flow seem well-suited to a region artistically and politically further Left than much of the country. There’s something about Bay rap that’s hard to pinpoint–it’s a twist, a blitheness, or maybe it’s just the ahead-of-the-times ecstasy consumption that addled brains long before other rappers caught on.
Felly ft. Gyyps – Desert Eagle
Felly is from Trumbull, Connecticut and attends the University of Southern California. Trumbull, where “marijuana fudge” and fall prevention count as news, is a staggering 94-percent white. The annual cost of attendance at USC hovers around $70,000. Felly, a 20 year-old with a dirty blond mane and a speaking voice honed by sailboats and recreational marijuana, also raps.
That he raps is unsurprising–it’s no longer perceived as an inherently dangerous genre, even in the Connecticut suburbs–but how he raps. No longer are Frat Rappers openly embracing their arrhythmic suburbanity, but the hazy, autotuned, harmonizing mumbles of Atlanta. It’s still off-putting, if not outright angering. Sure, Felly’s a fine (if blatantly unoriginal) rapper, but does he need this? What happens if he fails at rapping? If he succeeds in the place of rappers whose style he’s imitating, is it the fault of a rap press painfully incapable of calling time out on fuckery?