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).
“Who Do We Think We Are” - John Legend ft Rick Ross
VINCE: Right off the bat, let me say that I put John Legend in the Alicia Keys category of artists for whom I have tremendous respect, but don’t always dig a lot of their music. Both Keys and Legend are talented musicians, accomplished songwriters and they sing well. They also both make bland music. I find myself digging more Keys’ songs because, well, Legend sounds like a lounge lizard or bad opera singer. It’s like I’m listening to Bill Murray as Nick Winters. Or, better yet, Bill Murray impersonating Mario Lanza.
At any rate, this is a solid track. Very anthemic. I can see him performing this at shows, as his fans sing along. As the song concludes, in what sounds like a live recording, he says, “This is our song and ours for the future.” I guess he’s banking this will become one of his “standards.” But I also think it’s an interesting concluding statement because I can envision a lot of young black couples dancing to this at their weddings – especially the self-aggrandizing type. ’Cause that’s what this track is about, right? “We out here stuntin’, ain’t we, baby?” Or, “ Our love is outrageous and all-time incredible, ain’t it, baby?” There will be wedding dances to this joint by Labor Day. Guarans.
One last note: You know the Bawse is balling if he can afford for Tom Ford to make him an “eggplant double-breasted” suit. I see you, Rozay.
JAMES: I see where you’re coming from on the Legend/Keys comparison, with the main difference being that I rarely get annoyed by John Legend, whereas the only reason This Girl Is On Fire is because I’m holding a handful of matches. This jam features two of my favorite voices, and, as one of our esteemed Twitter followers pointed out, also two excellent beards . Wins all around.
"Valley Of Kings" - Cam’Ron and N.O.R.E (Prod: SAS,
VINCE: Never heard of S.A.S. before. London cats, huh? Unimpressed. But, apparently, last decade Dame Dash was trying to sign them to Planet Rock, which was the UK division of Roc-a-fella. But that folded. Then, I guess, they tried to rock with The Diplomats, but Cam and Jim Jones fell out. I’m getting this from an MTV interview. The most telling part of that Q&A was this nugget: “ It was at this point we thought that we should forget the co-signers. We didn’t really need them in the first place; it’s just that America wants you to have some co-signer to say that you’re official.”
That’s real talk, right there. Hip-hop is not rock or indie or even soul music – it is fiercely American. I’d even say it’s ethnocentristic and jingoistic. Of course, N.O.R.E.’s refrain in the this track’s hook is “foreign ni**as.” I guess he’s saying, “Everything I do is so dope and next level, it makes me different.” But, for Mayhem and Mega (who make up S.A.S.), it means something more literal. I’ll pass on them, though.
The production, but Blue Sky Black Death – a couple white dudes from Seattle (so dismissive, I know...shame on me) – is palatable, but I would never listen to this song for the production. And, as someone who listens to the production more so than the vocals, that pretty much dooms this song for me.
Cam is being Cam, by the way.
JAMES: How are you gonna hate on English dudes and white dudes in the same column you share with me? That's cold, Vinny. Real cold.
But yeah, pretty much all about Cam here.
“Only In Atlanta” - T.I. ft. Young Jeezy and Shad da God
VINCE: You know what, midway through, I thought this was such a typical track that I was gonna go to my crates and swap it out of “Please Jam” for a song off one of the albums I’m digging right now. But then, it kinda hit me that this song is notable for one thing: It’s very indicative of how dominant Atlanta is not only in hip-hop music but hip-hop culture. “Only in Atlanta.” This is Jeezy and Tip basically saying that Atlanta is the vanguard and the epicenter of all things dope or worthy in hip-hop. This kind of knowing, supremely confident braggadocio used to be the sole province of New York. And, although plenty of artists could make an “Only in the city” or “Only in L.A.” joint, there’d be a level of skepticism attached to it, in a lot of ways. I’ve been wondering when Atlanta would fall off for years now and, regardless of what I think about the music it produces, I’m not sure that’s going to happen any time soon.
JAMES: A couple things stood out to me in this one. First, for everything about the Atlanta hip-hop scene, there hasn’t been a jam that rides for Atlanta (which is not to be confused with jams that Atlanta rides to, because that list is ridiculous) since Ludacris dropped “Welcome To Atlanta.” This could be the next. Second, Jeezy has the best verse on the Hustle Gang tape, and I’m not upset in the slightest.
“Yacht Lash” - Harry Fraud ft. Earl Sweatshirt and RiFF RaFF
VINCE: I had never heard of Harry Fraud until last week, when someone hipped me to his EP High Tide. That might have been you, James, now that I think about it. I’ve yet to listen to the EP, so I don’t have enough familiarity with his music to have a super-informed opinion on him. I know he’s a young producer. I know he’s from Brooklyn. I know High Tide has some typical guest appearances – Action Bronson, Smoke DZA – but that’s about it. Listening to this song in a vacuum, I’d say that his production here shows promise. I could ride to this. The Earl verses are underwhelming, but only for Earl. I’d be emailing all my boys if some random dude spit these bars. I will say that listening to this gave me the slightest bit of concern that I won’t be blown away by Earl’s Doris when it drops...but it’s not a palpable concern. Ultimately, after checking this cut, I decided I’ll finally listen to High Tide on the train ride home. So, there’s that...
JAMES : Yes, that was me earlier in the week. I came to learn about La Musica De Harry Fraud off some excellent jams he created for Wiz Khalifa as well as Curren$y (obviously). Now he’s working with all the New York guys. This wasn’t my favorite production of his – actually none of the EP was, really, though the track with Tech N9ne was dope – but he’s clearly going to get some backing in the game, so expect more from this dude. You pretty much nailed it on Earl. Doris may almost inevitably underwhelm given the ridiculous hype, but Earl is still going to be one of the best lyricists in the game for a long time.
“Numbers On The Boards" – Pusha T
VINCE: YUCK! This is so nasty. This dropped in April?! Quotables galore, in the kind of coded, slickest of slick talk that The Clipse – Pusha, especially – perfected. Before I knew who produced this, I just knew it was The Neptunes. It sounded just like “Neptunes for The Clipse.” If you bumped the Clipse’ albums, then you know what I mean. Pharrell and Chad have a “Neptunes sound” and then they have a “Neptunes for The Clipse” sound. It’s like they have this whole other “thing” they go to when it’s time for The Clipse. Production is darker, sparer and grittier than their usual groove-heavy R&B-ish sound. Neptunes are often very sunny, open...they get with The Clipse and turn claustrophobic, paranoid – mean. This joint sounds like it could be on Hell Hath No Fury, which was The Clipse’s 2006 release and the album that got them the Pitchfork, SPIN, Rolling Stone love. It reminds me of “Keys Open Doors.” But here’s the thing – Kanye and Don Cannon produced this joint. Kinda flipped me out when I learned that. Quite honestly, there is really no one who can make a song like this other than Pusha. This is a style and tenor and vibe all his own. Roc Marciano is a similar artist, in that both can pull you into what feels like a black hole sonically and just start spittin’ up a storm. Lyrically, this isn’t Pusha at his best, but homeboy is getting busy. And the hook? “Ballers! I put numbers on the boards.” Now if that ain’t slick...
JAMES: The reason why I’ve come to hold Pusha in the ultimate regard is simply for the fact that he makes tracks you have to listen to three or four times to understand what he’s doing – and they get doper with each listen. This is a perfect example. I don’t think there’s anyone in the game who could come on that beat and do what Pusha T did to it (though I’d love to see Ab-Soul give it a shot). He doesn’t need any help from bass turned up too loud or extravagant beats or ad-libs. It’s just Push killin’ it, line after line.