(Editor's note: After a few weeks of special edition Please Jams, we're back to our regularly schedule program where associate editor James Carr sends EIC Vince Thomas some tracks he may or may not have missed from the past week ... and we talk a little Jay-Z.)
Jay-Z - “Dead Presidents 3”
JAMES: The timing of the release of “Dead Presidents 3” and MCHG seem pertinent. MCHG was the ultimate album to (kind of) release on a holiday weekend because the production was so up-tempo and it was almost impossible not to move to (and still is). Of course, once it came time for listen three or four by Sunday, it became a little easier to poke holes in, as Bomani Jones did earlier in the week.
“DP3” came out on Monday after Jay gave Young Guru permission to drop it on Twitter. This is the kind of thing people were hoping would be on MCHG, at least those who took issue with the album... even though it sounds a bit like Jay just rhyming tight because he can (which is probably why the track wasn’t officially released in the first place). It’s an update to the slick beat and smooth as hell with Jay on it, even if it still lacks the lyrical punch (no real double-takes on this one, no momentary pondering about bigger ideas, even if the supreme talent is obvious) we haven’t felt in a minute from Jay-Z.
VINCE: So this was reportedly recorded around the American Gangster sessions, huh? That album, by the way, might be my second favorite Jay album. I never knew that this song was even recorded. Wait, now I’m reading this was recorded for the Black Album sessions, which makes more since, given the Beanie Siegel shout-outs and the general “last hurrah” vibe of his initial “retirement album.” this would have tied a bow -- at least in song title -- on his career.
The actual newsworthiness of this track, however, does not lie in it’s production or lyrics, but in its release. As you mentioned, James, this was released amid Jay’s Twitter Q&A, During this Q&A, #MCHG was the No. 2 trending topic in the world, his follower count surged by about 500,000. It was all another brilliant marketing ploy. Everything about MCHG makes it the anti-Yeezus.
Sonically, though, I was disappointed by this track. The original “Dead Presidents” was the introduction of what will probably go down as the greatest rapper of all-time. Even if, like me, you were familiar with the “Can I Get Open” Jay-Z, that rapid-fire, gimmicky emcee was different than the slickster hopping off the ‘copter into the Lex’ in the “DP” video. This track right here doesn’t seem to do that justice. Perhaps that’s why it never made the album.
Jay-Z - “Picasso Baby”
JAMES: I’ve been working on a story about movies which will come out in the next couple of weeks, and a common theme in my research has been human connection, passion and relatability. “Picasso Baby” doesn’t touch on any of those, even if the beat is fly, lyrics are slick and encourages you to laugh like Jay-Z (aHA!) at moments. But no one can relate to Jay-Z legitimately wanting to buy a Picasso for his castle or making love on a million bucks. It’s awesome, but completely unfathomable and unrelatable to the masses, particularly in this era in which the divide between rich and poor is growing rapidly.
To think that Jay-Z would be one of the 23 percent of American children who grow up in poverty today, yet he’s rapping about his condos within condos and that his daughter can lean on a yellow Basquiat because she owns it. I’m not hating on the man for accruing that amount of wealth, but ultimately this song and album are momentary distractions from everyday stress, which is nice but it isn’t what Jay-Z is capable of. He’s got hands in fashion, music, sports and politics, but doesn’t exercise his power to change anything. It doesn’t resonate with anyone except Warren Buffett.
But when was the last time he has resonated with mass culture? He probably accomplished relatability and human connection to a certain extent with Black males on Watch The Throne, but we may not have really seen him really transcend culture since The Blueprint, unless you count his new way of making more money.
VINCE: “Vougeing on these n***s.” I was a fan of that line. I’m also a fan of this “Timbo doing Primo” beat. (Go listen to “So Ghetto,” which Primo produced for Jay on Vol. 3.) My beef with MCHG is similar to what many have stated -- it’s empty. I just think a 43-year-old man -- one that has had the breadth of experience that Jay has -- should be able to make much more emotionally resonant music. With that said, I don’t mind him stuntin’. Stuntin’ and boasting is as hip-hop as scratching, tagging and shell-toe adidas. If you have “twin Bugatti’s in front of Art Basel”...shoot, man, let us know, because that’s some serious stuntin’ ish. Jay’s music has definitely left the realm of aspirational/inspirational and entered the stratosphere of pure fantasy for everyone else, but, on a song like “Picasso Baby,” the product has some charisma and Timberland got busy. That’s my new M.O. with Jay’s music. I no longer anticipate it edifying me. It’s like club music -- just tickle my ears.
Pete Rock & Camp Lo ft Mac Miller - “Meagan Good”
JAMES: I don’t think I’ll be able to convince you that I’m not forcing Mac Miller down your throat, though I legitimately didn’t realize he was on the track until I heard his voice. It’s new Pete Rock! And I just got through with a lesson on Rock in our Please Jam on the 90s.
But, you know what? I don’t even feel the need to defend myself anymore. Mac Miller has more co-signs from legit artists than anyone else in the game under 30. Do you know of anyone else who has been on a track with Pete Rock, Jay Electronica, ScHoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt, Action Bronson and Lil’ Wayne? There isn’t any choice but to accept Mac Miller as both the corny white dude who blew up on “Donald Trump” and a legitimate artist who will be a mainstay in hip-hop until he feels like doing something else.
Anyway, this is about Pete Rock, and I’m ecstatic to hear some new material. He and Camp Lo have a collab album coming out on July 30, in what continues to be an incredible summer for hip-hop. There’s something about the simplicity of the beat that makes this stand out. Really draws you in and makes you listen to the lyrics. It’s a cold track. And, of course Pete Rock had to autograph this one at the end with a signature sample. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
And in the middle, Mac Miller comes on and rachets it up. What are you gonna do?
VINCE: I can’t believe the downright silliness of Mac Miller’s verse. How did Pete allow that to happen? Talk about co-signs -- I think Mac song-bombed this track. The verse doesn’t even fit -- the tone, his voice, his existence. That verse is an abomination. Also, none of those co-signs, save Jay Electronica, are all that incredibly impressive (I refuse to believe Pete really allowed this). Q, Earl and Bronson are all new artists. Lil’ Wayne co-signs any and everyone with guest verses. But I digress...
As for the rest of the track, it’s slammin’. That hook? They pulled that one out the cooler. Camp Lo and Pete Rock dropped an album together a couple of years ago, 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s. So, apparently both parties thought it was a fruitful partnership if they’re set to drop a new one.
James, in case you’re not familiar, Camp Lo is a hallowed group from the ‘90s known mostly for a sound, lingo and fashion sense that harkened back to the Blaxploitation days of the ‘70s. Their all-time classic is “Luchini (AKA This Is It)” and if you drop that for any rap fan born before 1983 they will lose their mind. Check it and thank me later...
Dillon Cooper - “State of Elevation”
JAMES: Technically this shouldn’t be eligible for this week’s Please Jam because this track didn’t come out this week. But for a 20-year old dropping his first mixtape, I’m making an exception since it just came to my attention. This is my bad, not his.
The hook was Complex’s description of Dillon Cooper as a cross between Joey Bada$$ and Chance The Rapper. Woah. That’s a big comparison, even if those two only have a total of four mixtapes to their individual names and might be as old as you with their ages combined.
It’s an accurate description. He’s slightly more up-tempo than Joey and has a little more fun with his raps, though not quite as much fun as Chance (who does?). He’s got some swag to boot too (I mean, he is from Brooklyn). By my count he’s got five throwback jerseys in the video, which looks like his boy just followed him around with a camera...and it still looks dope! Kids these days, man. The Takeover. Jay-Z better sign him up quick before he goes the route of Earl Sweatshirt.
Plus, these guys roll joints, so you know I’m down.
VINCE: I will reserve judgment on this kid. My initial thoughts are that, 1) he doesn’t sound very “Brooklyn”; 2) he’s not exceptional. The first time I heard Joey and Chance, respectively, I was floored. Both of those dudes represent the type of talent to be among their generation’s transcendent artists (if it produces any transcendent artists). I’m not sure if this kid Dillon is of that caliber. But I am definitely going to check his mixtape. I did, however, enjoy the guerilla-style video.
CJ Fly - “Still The Motto”
JAMES: It is so easy to talk about Joey Bada$$ as a unique prodigy, which, to a certain extent, he is, and forget that he has an entire crew of talented artists. CJ Fly is probably the closest to Joey in terms of ability and preparation for a solo project (RIP STEEZ, though).
Keeping with the Pro Era’s old school hustle, Cookin’ Soul (you a fan yet?) provide an updated version of Gang Starr’s “Deadly Habitz” for the Flyest member of the Era to spit over. He doesn’t disappoint, especially considering my immediate thought upon hearing the first few seconds of the beat is that it needs a verse from Curren$y. The first verse is solid, but he steps it up in the second.
I’m excited for CJ’s future. He’s not quite a game-changer, like his comrade Joey, but CJ is a talented dude.
VINCE: I remember Cookin Soul from a previous edition of “PJ.” They had remixed “For Her” off of Curren$y and Wiz’s LP and they were drowning out Bobbi Humphrey’s flute. I’ve yet to check their El Pais mixtape. I like what they did here. I’m sure they got the “idea” from Primo’s “Deadly Habitz” production (that was one of my favs off of The Ownerz), but they actually sampled the original here, which is Steve Gray’s “Beverly Hills.” In fact, they stay a little more true to the sample. I don’t think they did so out of respect, I just think they can’t freak ish like the icon Primo. I’m still not sold on these dudes. I like where they’re going, but I’m not sure they’re just not some Spaniards, enamored with soul music, getting their appropriation on.
CJ is my guy, though. Another legit jam for the Pro Era crew.