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 ).
“Speak Into The Mic” - Ludacris
JAMES: Ludacris dropped this as a part of his new weekly series, I Don't Give A F*ck Fridays, or #IDGAFF for short, and it’s exactly how I like my Ludacris served. This is the kind of mentality that produces “What’s Your Fantasy,” “I Got H**s,” and “Saturday,” as opposed to a song that I will only acknowledge as “Macy’s.” He’ll eventually put some of these tracks together for a mixtape #IDGAF, and I can’t wait. Add it to the playlist.
VINCE: Wait, Luda, I’m confused. Didn’t you get at Drake in some lean beef (Ghostface called it ‘kid sh**’) for him claiming that you were biting his style? But, now you turn around and, in less than a year, really bite his flow? That whole verse was straight outta the Drake School of Flow. And the track even has the ambient break, right before the hook, which is what 40, Drake’s producer, is all about these days. AND THEN you go and rhyme with Kendrick Lamar’s cadence in the second verse. It all makes me feel uncomfortable. Although, I wonder if I’m getting duped. Luda was correct when he got at Drake in “Badaboom” and claimed that Drake invented nothing, so he couldn’t claim anything. Maybe these young dudes are erasing my memory with their bars and Drake and Kendrick are nothing but retread biters. Doubt it. Step it up, Luda. Meanwhile, this song was made for strippers and I’m sure strippers will follow the hook’s instructions and ‘work it, ’cause practice makes perfect.’ Final verdict: I won’t cover my ears when this comes on.
“High Art” - The Dream ft. Jay-Z
JAMES: I have no real emotion for this song one way or another. In fact, when I first heard it, I knew I wasn’t going to put it on Please Jam because it was so mediocre. I mean, I usually enjoy a Jay-Z verse for what it is, so I don’t mind it here, either. In fact, it almost saves the song. Anyway, it’s on here because you hit me on G-chat and said you were ready to go in, so I’ll stop rambling and enjoy the show.
VINCE: Yo, this is straight-up embarrassing. How is this dude Future making this kind of impact on popular music? It’s astounding. When you posted this on the site late last week, JC, I checked it immediately, which I normally don’t do. But, Jay-Z and The Dream are at the pinnacle of what they do – it’s a must-listen. Jay-Z is arguably the G.O.A.T. (his is the easiest case to make) and there is no one in popular music – especially no black artist – that can lay claim to as many downright smashes as The Dream. In addition, Dream’s solo albums, especially his first three, make him the R. Kelly of his generation’s R&B. There was a piece in the latest SPIN, in advance of Dream’s upcoming release, where he spent some time firing shots at EDM – as he should. For instance, take this quote:
“Records that we’re talking about — dance records — have no message,” he says, careful not to hack away at the credibility of any one specific artist. “It’s not saying anything about anything. It’s not a song, actually; it’s just noise. It’s great for who it’s great for, and it’s fine. But there’s a line. You start to bring your bar down on what songwriting is and what a song should be about, and that’s when it kind of gets messed up.”
But then you go make this ghetto-fab joint in the Future vein, fam? Dumb it down. Very transparent radio ploy here and, although Dream is in NO way above a trife radio single, why waste a Jay-collab on fruit hanging this low? And when Jay comes in, it’s downright face-palm time. What a sophomoric verse, with a sophomoric flow, spitting sophomoric words for sophomoric ears. I bet you DJ Khaled could’ve written this verse – and Khaled doesn’t even write. Again: Why sleepwalk through a collab with such a high ceiling? Final verdict: Gag me with a Casio.
“For Her” - Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y (Cookin’ Soul Remix)
JAMES: Vince, you know I’m a big fan of Wiz and Curren$y. You, on the other hand, don’t really rock with Wiz, at all, so I was surprised to read about how much you enjoyed their 4/20 mixtape, Live In Concert. Mixtape Wiz is much more instrumental, though, and working with his boy Curren$y brings out the best in him, production-wise and lyrically. This track, however, is from Cookin’ Soul’s remix of the entire album, which came out this week as Live In Concierto. It’s equally dope. I got on to Cookin’ Soul, two producers from Spain, when they did some work with Game’s R.E.D. album and haven’t really looked back. This one’s been on repeat this week.
VINCE: Why do I feel like you’re always trying to indoctrinate me with Europeans’ takes on hip-hop. I guess that’s what I get for hiring a Brit. I don’t mind this remix at all, though. It’s just not as dope as the original. Anything that messes with that Fancy Dancer/Bobbi Humphrey/Mizells soundscape of the original is taintin’ my jam. I like the names of the Cookin’ Soul producers: Big Size and Zock. That’s Grade-A. However, none of their production credits push me to do too much knowledge on these cats. Yet, based off of this remix, it is possible that I might check the full remixed album…so long as they’re not drowning out Bobbi’s flute. Final verdict: Going on the ’Pod.
“Life Long” - Rockie Fresh ft. Rick Ross, Nipsey Hussle
JAMES: I’m actually not a big fan of Rockie Fresh, a young gun with MMG. His recent mixtape, Electric Highway, didn’t do a whole lot for me. But this track is solid, which is often the case when Rick Ross puts his hands on a track. Nipsey Hussle spits, as well. Hussle often shows up randomly, writing songs, helping on production or adding a verse, but he hasn’t shown any signs of putting out an album. So far, he’s mostly running laps. Overall, definitely an addition to a short-term playlist.
VINCE: That’s a simple-minded, sing-songy hook right out of the Wiz Khalifa wheelhouse. I had to do a little knowledge on this Rockie Fresh kid, since I had never heard of him. Apparently, this dude counts Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy as influences. That is the worst influence a music artist could possibly have, because it means that you’ve been influenced by music that sucks. Nipsey Hussle looks very West Coast – South Central Los Angeles, in particular – but, in a peculiar way, he rhymes like Jim Jones to me. Jim isn’t anything close to a talented emcee, but he’s at his best when he spits about a bar’s worth of words in two bars’ time (like this winter banger, right here). Never thought I’d say another emcee “sounds like Jim Jones.” The Bawse, meanwhile, always hits me with at least one “delusions of grandeur” lug that is so outrageous it’s astonishing – in the best way. This time it was ‘At the games, I’m known by the refs.’ Sure, Rozay. Final verdict: No gracias.
“Queen of Hearts” Black Opera ft. Mayer Hawthorne (Oddisee Remix)
JAMES: I was introduced to The Black Opera earlier this year when Bogar Alonso wrote about their hard-hitting, socially aware music in January. The tracks he wrote about are an entirely different vibe to “Queen of Hearts,” though. It’s much more laid back with instrumentation to put you in a trance. Definitely sticks around on some chill playlists. Definitely. Now, educate the people with your knowledge.
VINCE: I’m with you, JC. Wasn’t expecting this. But, I guess as soon as I saw retro-retro Hawthorne as a guest feature, I should have known it was only going to be but so bellicose. Hawthorne is a bookish looking white cat from Detroit that I first got hip to back in 2008 when he dropped A Strange Arrangement. You could play that for a group of Baby Boomer black folks and they’d have trouble telling that it was contemporary, let alone a dude that looks like he could star on The Big Bang Theory. It was a cold LP. I like his guest feature here. His harmonies are always evocative of only the best things. What strikes me most about this joint is how much it sounds like a Little Brother tune. Little Brother debuted early last decade. They were a humble trio from North Carolina whose sound seemed smitten with ’90s-era hip-hop, much like Joey and his Pro Era crew. But, slowly, they made that era’s sound their own (which is what I’m expecting out of young Joey) and developed a very unique aesthetic. I’m not the biggest LB fan, but I respect what they did, specifically on their first two albums (The Listening and The Minstrel Show). For some dudes that refer to themselves as ‘artistic freedom fighters,’ Black Opera is deep into their LB-steez here, fit with the 9th Wonder (sounding) production and the whole nine. I’m feeling this, though. Final verdict: It might make a few summer BBQ playlists.