Certified music head and TSL EIC Vince Thomas doesn't have time to scour the web for new hip hop (not that he's all that impressed with it anyway). Luckily he has editors. Even more fortunate, he has associate editors. Every week, one of them -- James Carr -- presents his top five(ish) of the week, keeping Vince's Walkman bumping while he keeps James in check. (You can catch last week's edition here).
1. "High Life" - Talib Kweli ft. Rajah and Rubix
VINCE: Real talk, I was about to close the YouTube window right around the 2:20 mark. I heard enough. Talib Kweli has been involved in some of my most cherished sonic experiences. That goes without saying. Black Star with Mos Def, Train of Thought, Quality, Liberation with Madlib – the man has built up a lot of equity. But I don’t really check for his new material. Sometimes, vets run out of rhymes and style flippings. Hence this track, which is a back-n-forth joint in the vein of EPMD/Run DMC/Tip & Phife/Rae & Ghost. Except, this ain’t 1999 Kwe’, and the dudes he’s rhyming with – Rubix and Bajah – are more Rapper Big Pooh than Ghostface. It’s an earnest joint, but I’ll pass.
I did dig the production, which borrows superficially from the Fela Kuti catalogue of motherland rhythms. Maybe this (Fela-aping) will be the new EDM. Thom Yorke loves it. And I like how a recent GQ article reported that Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, of Daft Punk, overheard Solange’s “Losing You” for the first time and remarked, “That’s good.” Fela’s fingerprints are about to start appearing on popular music in a more conspicuous way. That’s my prediction.
One last comment on this track: I’m glad I let it rock past 2:20, because the last 90 seconds of the song – the rideout, fit with a trumpet solo – was a slick move.
JAMES: My collection of Talib consists mostly of guest verses, so I’m always looking to add more, even though a lot is up on YouTube. I thought it was dope, but apparently you need to let me snag some vinyl from your collection.
2. "Lighters Up" - Snoop Lion ft. Mavado and Popcaan
VINCE: I’m feelin’ this one a little. You saw Snoop at South by Southwest, James; but you wrote more about the documentary he screened than his performance. I saw Snoop perform “No Guns Allowed” on…I think it was Letterman. It was awkward. Snoops voice was light as a feather and he stood there placid, like, a statue…or one of those nervous kids on the National Spelling Bee stage. I definitely wasn’t checking in for this puzzling Snoop Lion, ahem, reincarnation. But this joint right here has a meanness to it. Well, it has an edge. It still features more of the Snoop Lion motif – the hokey, utopian, preachy lyrics – but the Major Lazer/Dre Skull production has some sharp edges. I’m not dropping this on any iPod playlist, but it gives me, at least, a modicum of respect for the project.
JAMES: The rebirth of Snoop has been fascinating. His music is not nearly on the level of his original genre, but it’s clear that Snoop has musical talent, not just rap talent or freestyle talent. This song was awesome live at SXSW, but it didn’t hold a candle to his reggae mix of “Gin and Juice.” That’s where he can knock this transition out. But I couldn’t find a version online without experiencing epileptic symptoms.
3. "This Ain't Love" - Derran Day
VINCE: My hunch is that you’re baiting me with this one, JC. So, I’m not gonna fall into your trap and waste commentary on this tripe. This tune is soft. Sounds like something Frank Ocean made when he was in the 6th grade…or a demo track from an American Idol reject. Who is this dude? Derran Day – never heard of him. Let me ease up on him, though. Best wishes, Derran. Sincerely.
JAMES: You’ll know when I’m baiting because 2 Chainz will be on the track. This is my homeboy from high school who recently moved west to see what he’s made of...so your assessment may not be far off. Neither is your comparison. Don’t tell me you can’t hear shades of Frank during the middle of this one. Give it another listen, in context, and focus on the talent. The rest – songwriting, production, etc – will come later.
4. "The End Is Near" Ab-Soul and Mac Miller
VINCE: I’m an Ab-Soul fan. I definitely put him under Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, within the TDE crew, but that crew is the thoroughest out here, so… Admittedly, I’m not super-hip to all the details of the Mac Miller story. I just know that he’s a young, white kid from Pittsburgh, and that I’m no huge fan of his music. I did not know the kid was a producer, too, though. That nugget gives me a little more respect for him. The beat he laced Ab with here is actually kinda cold – a head-nodder. Down-tempo, spare, some ominous key-chords…well done.
Now, James, I know you were telling me that Ab killed it, and I’m not saying he didn’t…well, yes I am. It was a very solid verse. Let me tell you why I think you think he killed it (get it?): Because he spit more than 16 bars. Hip-hop songs are so formulaic, these days. It’s “intro-16 bars-hook-16 bars-hook-outro.” So, whenever a dude goes in for 20 bars, or so (not sure, but Ab probably spit about 28), you Millennials act like you just heard Cappadonna getting busy on “Ice Cream.” Be easy.
JAMES: You should check out what Earl Sweatshirt had to say about Mac down at SXSW. Apparently, the kid has been putting in crazy hours in the studio with basically anyone who will come chill. He’s put out a couple of interesting, self-produced beats on mixtapes just trying new things. The musical career of Mac Miller is bright, even if you don’t get down with his rapping. As far as Soul goes, he killed this beat. The number of bars is irrelevant.
5. "Do You" - Miguel (Cashmere Cat Remix)
VINCE: James you know I’m an avid, passionate, committed, diligent, fiery, manic, soulful hater of EDM. Electronic dance music, in my opinion, is not just ruining music; more specifically, it’s ruining black music…especially black popular music. With that said, I am an almost fully converted admirer of Miguel the artist. His Kaleidoscope Dreams album started the process, but, after I saw him absolutely detonate the Saturday Night Live stage, I became a believer. So, naturally, he’d offer an EDM remix to “Do You” that I can stomach. The maestro here is EDM producer Cashmere Cat. This is my introduction to him. I like the wink-wink nod to “snap music” here – even if I hated snap music. But, ultimately, EDM can get the warm bozack. I feel about it the way that Krumbsnatcha felt about the champagne-poppin’ hip-hop of the late-‘90s, immortalized in his classic verse on Gang Starr’s “Make Them Pay.” That Krumb’ verse, James, is what you Millennials need in your life.
JAMES: I actually got EDM relatively out of my system. Hit a Rusko show in a warehouse in New Orleans and had Skrillex blow my mind at Hangout Music Fest. Since then, eh. I have to have a certain amount of vodka to really get down. It’s only 7a.m., and I’m not quite there yet. With that said, I still have an appreciation for the vision and ability, and what Cashmere Cat did to this Miguel track right before the summer is genius. Better get used to this one.