September 30, 2016

Art by Fred Zilla

Torii MacAdams writes with a Doom mask on.

DJ QuikBlack Friday

Every new DJ Quik song is a small gift to Los Angeles, like sputtering, unexpected rains, al pastor burritos, and our former undersherrif’s pending imprisonment. He’s creeping up on 47 years old, has a noticeably slowed work rate, and were he to quit making music immediately, he’d arguably be the greatest producer of all-time. But he remains as sharp-tongued as his younger, jheri-curled self–albeit more judicious with its application. A beef with YG–improbably raised on the same block of Piru Street–was settled with an apology over misdirected rage. He hasn’t set fire to MC Eiht’s career in years. And, he’s even gotten a little political.

Last Friday, Quik tweeted “You’re about to hear some new Quik music from the heart. Relax and celebrate this weekend loved ones,” and punctuated it with a Black Lives Matter hashtag. “Black Friday” is, appropriately, about the imperilment of black people; he ruminates on Tupac’s death, his own struggles, and Donald Trump’s calls for patently unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policing. It’s discursive without being over-ambitious. He’s not trying to illuminate every dark, discriminated corner–he, too, is stumbling around in a dim glow of grief and worry.

Spark Master Tape / Captain MurphyNikes (SWOUP Mix) / Crowned

Spark Master Tape has done what Flying Lotus couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do: remain anonymous. While FlyLo’s alter-ego, Captain Murphy, was revealed shortly after the release of his debut (“debut”) Duality, Spark Master Tape’s identity–if it’s even a single person–remains opaque. We know little about the mysterious, voice-shifted rapper, and the extra-musical stakes remain high. Comparatively, the L.A. producer’s grand reveal immediately erased the mystique of Captain Murphy: the nefariousness of his animated, not-so-secret identity is literally more cartoonish than other rappers’ fakery. Despite its accomplished production, “Crowned” can’t help but seem gimmicky, the result of vanity rather than necessity.

And maybe the belief that a piece of art is the result of necessity, rather than boredom or playfulness, is what imparts a work with vitality. There’s an overwhelming amount of music being released, and, as rapping isn’t Flying Lotus’ priority, Captain Murphy doesn’t have a white-knuckled, hear-this-now immediacy. Unintentionally, “Crowned” is a beat scene Puff Daddy single: polished, somewhat enjoyable, and ultimately condemned by its origins.

Juicy J ft. Kanye West / Sonny Digital ft. Sizzle & Juicy J Ballin / Don’t Play

Juicy J, the Louis XIV of rap. With uncommon vigor, he’s committed himself to rapping about gilded decadence, evergreen (and purple) herbs, and bone-colored pills and powders. His late-career renaissance is a one-note masterclass, and that one note has begun to feel, like so many cocaine-blasted nasal cavities, a bit dry. This isn’t to say “Ballin,” or his guest turn on “Don’t Play,” are bad, so much as the zeitgeist has again passed by the Juice Man, even if that same zeitgeist owes him a huge debt. The music he made between 2010 and 2013, fueled by Lex Luger’s hammering instrumentals, was muscular, aggressive, and superbly anthemic–qualities that have been momentarily replaced by melody and harmony.

On a tangentially related note: A project which went mostly unnoticed this past summer, Yung Simmie’s It’s Simmie Season, lent credence to my long-held belief that Raider Klan will eventually be remembered as the internet-era Three 6 Mafia. Simmie, the group’s Juicy J, has a similar (“Simmie-lar”?) gift for recitations of nihilistic violence and sex. He’s consistent in his belief system–again, nihilistic violence and sex–and equally consistent in the quality of his releases. In rare, bad moments he’s repetitive; in his best he’s an obvious star with a sound and vocabulary clearly his own.

Homeboy Sandman Bus (A Rhyme)

In July 2010, I moved into a nondescript brick duplex in Astoria, Queens. My roommates, Stuyvesant graduates both, were Indian and Pakistani; my curt landlord and her polite, mustached father were Greek; my bakeries, separated by four storefronts and Ditmars Boulevard, were Italian. On Greek Easter, those too frail to walk clutched plastic cup candelabras in the passenger seats of warm sedans whose routes mimicked that of the upright devout. On snowy days, I’d stand on the south end of the elevated N/Q platform and feel the silver, cutting breezes on my rosy, Yakoubian cheeks. To celebrate my 21st birthday, I purchased a six-pack of beer I thought would make me look sophisticated. I celebrated alone, and I do not miss living in New York.

But I do miss feeling like a small part of the massive brown and olive constellation of Queens neighborhoods. When Homeboy Sandman raps about Maspeth, Elmhurst, and Sunnyside, I remember my teammates and classmates who yeah, son’d and ay, B’ed and said they were from corners of South Queens that I, once and forever a rube, had never heard of. When I hear Homeboy Sandman’s pronounce his r’s as ah’s, I hear Queens in its infinite density and complexity.

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