Lucas Foster misses Jordan Clarkson.
MURS – “Same Way (Feat. Tech N9ne)”
On paper, the concept of a Murs and Tech N9ne Valentine’s Day duet in 2018 is kind of uncool. Before the internet became The Internet, these artists served a necessary role as key architects of a backpacker counterweight to what some in their fanbase saw as a creative nadir in the mainstream. In the decade since their aughts heyday, things have changed. The “lyrical rapper” niche has exploded into a brave new world of microgenres ranging from lo-fi wordplay wizards, ambitious avant “art rappers,” and midmajor NYC revivalists. In the mainstream, plenty of artists have absorbed parts of these sounds and much of the hip hop media industrial complex is dedicated to churning out volumes of heady internet discourse dissecting it. All of these historical machinations haven’t quite left them in the dust, it has just changed the way they are discussed and thrown a wrench into the way they wheel and deal social capital.
This song is proof that their touch for lyrical craft and studious studio sessions wasn’t lost because internet nerds decided to ignore them. “Same Way” absorbs protests about uninteresting beat selections and “lyrical miracle” jokes while jabbing back at the discourse with a gorgeous maximalist beat and a beat change up so pronounced it makes Tech N9ne’s verse more of a bridge than a hot sixteen. Instead of directing angst towards imagined enemies in the second person, the song is directed at a lover’s jealous friends, a smarter way to go about a Valentine’s Day song than most other music released on 2018’s first Hallmark Holiday. It’s not the type of music that generates retweets but neither of these guys ever made music with that in mind.
JayDaYoungan – “Interstate (Prod. TwoFourFlex)”
19-year-old JayDaYoungan is already shaking things up in the South. His taste for care free and bouncy songs with analog piano keys placed front and center has influenced the palates of emerging regional peers everywhere from Dallas to Atlanta. On “Interstate,” he so perfectly executes the sunny and crowd-friendly Louisiana sound he patented that he’s soon going to be putting on sold-out shows in any state.
Twofourflex’s .daw of what seems like a hundred pianos is somehow extra tall and ultra-catchy. The space is perfectly tailored to let Jay display his joyous and percussive rapping. On the hook and first verse he sounds like Lil Boosie if Boopac took a Valium and didn’t have junkies knocking on his bedroom window, and the deft flow switch up on the second verse sounds like something only JayDaYoungan could lay claim to.
Sherwood Marty & Lil Baby – “Day In My Life”
As much as rap seems to be shifting under our feet in the ultra-accelerated monoculture, the deep talent pool in the South seems to be constantly be refreshing itself. Whenever I find myself bored with a sound, something new and enticing pops up to renew my interest in the region. “Day In My Life” by Sherwood Marty & Lil Baby is another song anchored by a Louisiana rapper and a few piano ditties. While it doesn’t quite have the instant zing of “Interstate’s” pop appeal, the duo’s chemistry shines through on this street record, almost more than Marty and Peezy on Young and Reckless. Whereas OMB Peezy’s penchant for pulling deep from his chest in trap carols made Marty’s more traditional approach to raps seem kind of bored, Baby’s more measured singing style here matches his energy.
Lonzo Ball – “LaVar (Born 2 Ball)”
Unless you’re a crazed fan or an outrageous nerd, keeping up with regular season NBA basketball through the dog days of January and February is taxing (unless you read the hilarious POW column, “Full Court Digress”, by Atticus Grinch). By now, even the players seem to be collectively distracted, bored (European centers relegated to rim runs and rebounds), hungover (LA day games), and agitated (imagine getting barked at by Chris Paul for being a half step slow on help defense up 20 in Indiana).
Luckily, somewhere between A.I. and Shaqobe, the soap opera narratives injected into every game started becoming a lot more culturally captivating. NFL players usually sound like heavily Christian cops in media and look like hyperactive helmers on the field, MLB players literally chew tobacco and try to aw-shucks you to death in fitted caps, but NBA ballers are cool, or at least unscripted enough to be relatable. Paying attention to them as personalities makes games that much more interesting.
This is why bloviating about the headaches LaVar is giving the Lakers front office or engaging in armchair psychology about his projection of id is boring. The NBA is the best sports league in the world because (opening up the game with rule changes, adequately compensating players, and having decent policies on social issues aside) it’s entertaining as hell. Besides just being entertaining, though, there’s something kind of touching about him living out every father’s fantasy in real time.
I have rarely seen my father as happy as he was when he watched me get trophies in surf contests. There’s something satisfying and primally beautiful about mastering and excelling at a complex task taught to you by a parent. We don’t know enough about LaVar’s relationship with his sons to make ethical judgements about his behavior, but his joy at their success and their unrepentant defense of his outlandish celebration of them is pretty great. Maybe there’s some Joe Jackson stuff behind closed doors, but unless that stuff surfaces to the point of being tangibly real, I wish the Big Baller Brand endless success.
This song reads like a thank you note to LaVar from Lonzo for allowing him the opportunity to build generational wealth and be world famous. Stylistically it’s rowing down the exact middle of the stream, a neat little song pulling a lot from Drake and a bit from Chance the Rapper. But expecting too much from a part time rapper is a fool’s errand (like Jeff Weiss said in his ranking of NBA rappers “most great MCs are usually Thesaurus-obsessed rap nerds”). It’s not world beating music, but neither is anything Chance the Rapper has put out. He made an enjoyable tune, stayed on beat, and most importantly, rapped slowly and clearly around the limitations of his talent. Long live the Big Ballers.
Nispey Hussle & Kendrick Lamar – “Dedication”
King Kendrick and Duke Nipsey have seen their fortunes rise alongside this decades resurgence of Los Angeles rap back to its rightful place in the vanguard of American pop music. Though there is a new crop of Angelenos playing around with new takes on G-Funk, both figures are so beloved at this point—both locally and nationally—that the idea of their progeny rising up to unseat the crown is barely conceivable.
This song is a celebration of their historical junction. It’s Nipsey’s song, and the icy, modern G-Funk sound is readily apparent. It kind of scared me at first: Sometimes Kendrick features fight the beat and inject heady storytelling haphazardly when another artist is behind the wheel. Given their geographic familiarity though, it was silly to think Kendrick would make the mistakes he did on a Rich The Kid song. They made an ode to Los Angeles’ past, present, and future with the subtlety of two artists ten years into their careers.