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).
“Funeral Season” Statik Selektah ft. Styles P, Hit Boy and Bun B
JAMES: This song sounds exactly like what you would think from the title and artists involved. While a lot of artists crank out some upbeat jams for the summer, Statik keeps it real to talk about the bittersweet summer season. He recruits one of my all time favorites, Bun B, as well as Styles P and the up-and-comer from the West Coast, Hit Boy, to complete the picture. Dope track. The kind of song that's on your evening spliff playlist.
VINCE: There is no doubt in mind that is the exact name of one of your playlists … Meanwhile, when it comes to producers, especially the newer ones – and by “new” I mean entering the hip-hop conscious, at large, in the last five years or so – I look for their cosigns. And by “cosigns” I mean the emcees that have said, “O.K., sun is dope, let spit me on this track.” And by that estimation, Statik is a made-freaking-man. First, he put this album out by partnering his Showoff Records with Duck Down. Well, Dru Ha and Buckshot aren’t rocking with squares.
But, not knowing much at all about Statik, I checked his guest appearances on his new LP Extended Play. And, I mean…geez, Napoleon. He’s got the usual suspects like Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Joell Ortiz, Styles P – the cream of the NYC crop that spit on a ton of albums. It’s not necessarily a “get” if you got Styles or Joell to rock on your song, but, for me, that’s a solid cosign. But then I see names like Blu, the Strong Arm Steady crew and Sean Price. Those cats are super-dope, but also very selective. So, I’m thinking, “O.K., there’s a willingness here for emcees to spit on this album that belies a considerable degree of respect.” But, THEN I see that he snagged some legends. Raekwon, Black Thought, Tony Touch, Posdnuos. Pos-d-freaking-nuos?!?!?!! Real talk, I haven’t heard Pos’ rhyme on a non-De La Soul album since, like, One Day It’ll All Make Sense. That might be a slight exaggeration and I’m sure Pos’ track with Statik won’t even be in the same solar system of dopeness as “Gettin’ Down at the Ampitheater,” but still…consider me considerably impressed. In fact, judging from this track “Funeral Season’ – which I found boring – I’m not even sure I’ll listen to Extended Play and come away feeling Statik is especially cold. I’m just saying that if Pos’ rocks with you, I’m rockin’ with you.
“Special Education” Goodie Mob ft. Janelle Monae
JAMES: You introduced me to the talents of Janelle Monae a few weeks back when she was featured on a song with the legendary Erykah Badu. Her vocals don't shine here like they did there, but she compliments Goodie Mob well. Moreso than the song – which I thoroughly enjoyed and which got me even more excited for an absolutely loaded June 18th (when Kanye, J. Cole, and Mac Miller also drop albums). I really just want to hear your take on Cee-Lo's back and forth transformation.
VINCE: That was actually Badu featured on Monae’s track, not vice-versa. That’s why it was so special, remember? I was asserting that the song was essentially the passing of the baton. At any rate, you ask me talk about Cee-Lo’s back and forth transformation. If you remember, late last year, I had planned on writing a profile on Cee-Lo. It was on the eve of him releasing Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment, a Christmas album he released that he accompanied with a doggone variety show special on NBC. Right around this time the dude was prepping for a Vegas residency, too… “Cee-Lo Green is Loberace.” Ummm, yeeeaaahhhh. And, at the time, I’m wondering, “How did Lo go from that viciously provincial, country-boy ATLien that dropped one – maybe two – classics with Goodie Mob (Soul Food and Still Standing) and a near-classic solo debut (Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections) to this campy pop star that judges televised singing competitions with a pink cockatoo on his shoulder?” I didn’t get a chance to write the piece because, well, unfortunately this gig makes it difficult for me to find the time to dig deep and right anything too substantial, these days. But I did do a good amount of research prepping for the piece before I had to flake. And one quote from a 2011 Esquire interview with Lo stuck in my head. Peep it:
“I'm a greater fan than I am a rapper. I'm a greater fan than I am a singer. I only want to rap about that beautiful black thing that is hip-hop. If it ain't about that, I have no desire to rap. I come from a time where we didn't say, "He can rap." We said, "He can rhyme." I want to get back to that, and I need Goodie Mob to do that. But I am a fan of black people, the black struggle, black music, and the extreme it can be taken to. I want to burn as a beacon of possibility. I don't want nobody to misconstrue the commercial success I've had as anything other than an example of what black music is capable of. And what it's capable of is being more than just black. I'm not black or white anymore. I'm Cee Lo Green.”
That said it all, to me. I have a lot more gems (revealing quotes from previous features, cues in his lyrics when I revisited all his Goodie Mob and solo work), but that above quote, aside from being so beautifully pro-black is one of, if not the, most germane reflection of his when it comes Lo’s transformation. The point is, if you believe Lo – and I most certainly do – it’s never really been a “transformation.” It’s always been Lo.
“Doin’ It Good” Daft Punk x Kanye West
JAMES: Have you heard the new Daft Punk album? My guess is that you aren't a big fan overall, but I've had it on almost every time I step outside. Mix it with Kanye? Now we're really cooking. It's a fun song, combining artists who are going to be played, overplayed, remixed and rewound all summer. Add it to the playlist.
VINCE: What a letdown. As you know, I’m always up against the clock when I finally sit down to write “Please Jam” every week and, typically, I’m usually in a stream-of-conscious haze. Well, when I first checked this Soundcloud link, I thought I was going to be listening to a song called “The Hood Internet” by ‘Ye, featuring Daft Punk. I’m thinking, “YES! Leave it to Yeezy to take the most popular and influential EDM group of all time and feature them on some trife joint about these chicken heads and, uh, fuNk boys that infest the Internet and all the shenans they get into.” Then I press play and, Wait!! This is just “The Good Life” remixed by some jack-leg hack?!?!?!!! You played me on this one, JC. I hope I never hear this song again.
Lastly, I’m assuming you think I don’t dig Daft Punk and its new album (Random Access Memories) because of my unabashed hate for EDM. That’s not an unfounded assumption. But, FYI, I dig Daft Punk. I dig those two dudes because they are unassailably great at what they do. What your Millennial cronies pop pills and “lose themselves” to is not the EDM that Daft Punk perfected. It is a degraded version. And, furthermore, that new album is not so much EDM, as it’s an EDM-disco-funk mélange. Shoot, it features Nile Rogers, groove-master Pharrell and session musicians that Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson used for Thriller. That album is killin’. Here’s to hoping I hear it at my fair share of parties, this summer.
“U.O.E.N.O” - Black Hippy (Remix)
JAMES: There have been about 16 remixes of this joint since Rick Ross got kicked off for rapping about rape. This is the best one and it doesn’t feature anyone from the original track, though ScHoolboy Q did shoutout the molly line from Rick Ross. All of Black Hippy killed this one. They're all hitting their grooves as artists, especially when you go back and listen to the Black Hippy mixtape from 2011, which was dope because of their interplay. But now these dudes are all carrying tracks. It'll be interesting to see how their next projects fare, with ScHoolboy's Oxymoron up first.
VINCE: First of all, this track is so profane. In my old age, increasingly, strings of super-profane lyrics can feel like ear-battery. Second of all, for the life of me I don’t hear Schoolboy in that second verse. It’s him, I guess, but he sounds wholly different for some reason. Maybe it’s because he’s not his usual manic self…but he also sounds gruffer. I’m with you on the fact that all these dudes are growing. My takeaway from this joint was how much Jay Rock has come up. It’s like he heard what Kendrick, Q and Ab were dropping and thought, “I will NOT be the ‘Pras in the Fugees’ here.” He ripped it. This remix is definitely a group of talented, super-mean emcees basically saying, sonically, “Y’all can’t mess with our crew.” I won’t check for it too often, though.
“Hard Times” Dirty Sanchez x Capital STEEZ
JAMES: The Pro Era crew is putting out an album to honor their fallen member, Capital STEEZ. This is the first joint, I believe, from the cut. Like most Pro Era tracks, it's got a dope, relatively simple beat and the kids spit lyrical wonders over it. These guys put out so much music at such a young age and it's going to be fascinating to watch them grow up. Sadly, STEEZ will never get that chance, which is a sobering reminder to ride the highs of life while you can.
VINCE: Ha! I really love how Pro Era is such an old-soul collective. I really feel like those kids could’ve went to high school with me. For real, if we would’ve went to high school together back in mid-‘90s – that would been crew or, at least, our crews would have vibed. And I don’t feel that way about the A$AP crew or Odd Future, at all (Black Hippy crew is a lot closer to my age). This track is just another indication of how they can somehow seem so authentically throwback. The rhythm they used here is originally from “Sneakin’ in the Back” by jazz saxopohonist Tom Scott and The Jazz Express. They made some smooth cuts in the 70s. Not smooth jazz, but jazz that was smooth. But I’d bet my summer’s salary that the Pro Era cats and this tracks’ producers The Entreproducers (some young cats from Rhode Island) got this from The RZA, who used the “Sneakin’” sample for “Bells of War” off of Wu-Tang Forever.
Capital STEEZ, meanwhile, is such a sad story. I don’t know if you know this JC, but, Jaimie Sanchez (the only person other than founder Keith Clinkscales to work on The Shadow League before I came on) put me onto Pro Era. I had just moved to NYC to kick TSL into high gear, Jaimie were meeting for the first time at this Starbucks on the Upper West Side and we got on music and she started raving about this young pack of Brooklyn teenagers. So she e-mailed me the video to “Survival Tactics,” which featured Joey Bada$$ and STEEZ. Jaimie had a lot of dealings with them because her boyfriend’s company, Creative Control, shot all their videos. She always told me STEEZ was a different cat, a “beat of his own drum” type – maybe even dealt with some personal things. But, man, the suicide. My mood drops a little every time I think about it. “Survival Tactics,” was my ISH last summer, though. Loved it righteously, given that it was basically some new young Brooklyn kids gettin’ nuff busy over what sounded like new (but not too new) take on O.D.B.’s “Brooklyn Zoo.” It was immediately clear that Joey was a prodigy, someone destined for greatness or, at least, considerable acclaim. But I hold special affection for young emcees like STEEZ, young heads that you can tell are trying to be dope, wanna be dope and will keep at it until they can body a track. One time for STEEZ, though…