The Greatest Name-Checker in Rap History
The Game put out a new album(Born 2 Rap) that is not great. He takes samples from high profile songs and says Nicki’s name a bunch because he wants to have sex with her still (he’s been saying thirsty things about Nicki for YEARS). He talks about Jay a lot. I feel like his reputation is that he is the wildest name-checker in rap and I wanted to course correct.
Chino XL is the actual name. If you know him you remember 2pac cursing him out by name in Hit Em Up. Why did that happen? Well, on his 1996 DEBUT album(Here To Save Us All) he got a Ras Kass feature on a song called Riiiot! And this is part of his first verse.
“Governmently engineered like e bola for this rap garage sale
By this industry, I’m trying not to get fucked like 2pac in jail
You can hate me, but await me like I’m magic johnson’s
Death in a box with jordan’s pops that ass’ll never take another breath
Cuz, I write the songs like barry manilow
I like my sugar brown like hugh grant fucked d’angelo.”
He ends that song with a verse that includes the line “Punchlines with more elasticity than Biggie’s stretch marks.” My point is this: next time we talk name-check rap think about the context. Game keeps talking about Jay because he wants to be Jay. He keeps talking about female rappers he wants to sex because he’s thirsty. All his name drops are out of desperation. Chino XL has a career full of jaw dropping name drops that don’t benefit him at all. In 1996 he was clowning OJ Simpson, in 2012 he was making fun of Muhammed Ali’s brain stem. If you are going to drop the name of someone important do 2 things for me A.) don’t walk it back and apologize B) make it heinous. Do it out of an unparalleled fearlessness. Shake the world up so the people who feel safe don’t anymore….and when the consequences come take them like a seasoned criminal takes a sentence. Or don’t do it at all.
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Tagged Born 2 Rap, Chino XL, Game, Here To Save Us All, hip hop, hip hop reviews, Name check, Name dropping, rap, reviews, The Game
My Favorite Album of 2019
How much do I love Jidenna? I’m not even worried about what drops in the rest of November and December. Bring Frank Ocean, Drake, bring a thousand Future features! None of it will replace the uniquely fly experience of listening to 85 To Africa. My excitement for his music might come from the fact that I never cared about Classic Man. I didn’t have him in my head as anything. First time I saw him work was when he torched his performance on Luke Cage. In 2017, he dropped The Chief and I think Pitchfork called him a “Versatile Dandy” which is the meanest compliment an English major is comfortable with.
The Chief is dope but it has a mix of songs. Some that are perfect 10’s (Trampoline, Bambi, Long Live The Chief) some that are darn good 7’s (Helicopters/Beware, The Let Out) while some are emphatically unimportant and you won’t ever come back to (last 2 songs). It got knocked for its unevenness but I always thought of it as the home run derby where the power hitter gets to flex. I was excited at what he was capable of doing.
85 To Africa doesn’t go from 10 to 7 to 4, every song is an 8.5 and you can let one song run into the next. Can’t go wrong with a triumphant intro featuring the words of the legendary Fela Kuti’s youngest son (Seun Kuti). Like a lot of the years best projects(Bandana, Kiwanuka,Anger Management, Retropolitan) this one is born from the synergistic relationship between producer and MC/singer. Nana Kwabena is listed as producer or co-producer on 10 of the 11 songs. He did 13 of 14 on The Chief. The flavor is even more consistent this time, dope artists growing together is fun. 85 To Africa decided to leave nothing extra. It is 41 minutes and out. Personality wise the album doesn’t care if you think the party is too loud. You might hear him talk about how he didn’t trust Morgan Freeman because of his earing (Babouche) or look at the cover or hear the powerfully catchy beats and think 1. This guy is trying too hard 2. These bars are too cute 3. He thinks he’s cool and I hate that.
I know he doesn’t care because the hottest Jidenna line of all time is “I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket.” He’s dedicated his time to feeling looking and living good in a way that makes him proud. On Tribe, he is espousing his crew but not in a waving guns at the other side sense. He’s flossing the culture, in the video he walks through rooms where games are played weights are lifted and he’s rapping about the varied “funky ways of dancing.” If the Cary Grant cool is too much then be gone and find someone less intimidating or more gritty to bump. Jidenna wants all the bright beautiful colors mixing because what is this all for if we aren’t appreciating the different shades? Not just skin or cultural background but of intellectual oddity, strength and essence. Strong shout out to DJ Burn One who also was involved in the utter head nod capacity of this beat. Five Points Music always.
The songs get prettier and prettier. Is it an escape, reading Rumi with a fly Sufi Woman? Comfortably falling asleep with her? Or heeding Jidenna’s voice as it echoes and the music stomps, shakes, and sweats on Pretty & Afraid. Thinking of it as an escape pre-supposes that the best music must suffer as the world does. It leaves suffering as the only part that’s real and paints all the smiling as a big cover up. Artificial light is bad for you but honest light replaces darkness with not just sight but clarity. If you make the suffering all that is real it is all you will have.
I hope I wasn’t the only one who sang loudly “Pop, I’m working all night JUST LIKE YOU!” as he walked us through his parents relationship (as well as his childhood) on Jungle Fever. I made fun of Pitchfork earlier but their review of this album ends with a begrudging acknowledgement that they are onto something. My 5th favorite album of this year is Burna Boy-African Giant which is monstrously catchy creative and fun Afropop in a similar sonic language. I know next to NOTHING about African music but I can see the shadow of a wave as it starts to break. Jidenna is calmly atop this one synthesizing the best parts of large sections of American and African music into something that is new and radio ready. Nana Kwabena and Jidenna have been looking for this balance since Classic Man and in 2019 they hit on its head. May their next move be their best move.
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Tagged hip hop, reviews, Dj Burn One, Jidenna, The Chief, best albums of 2019, 85 To Africa, Seun Kuti, Cary Grant, Afropop, African music, Nana Kwabena, Classic Man, Luke Cage
Song of The Year-Wolf Mode by Chris Rivers
When talking about Noname a friend of mine made the argument that while her follow up album was very good(Room 25), she will likely spend her career measured against the song Casket Pretty from her first album (Telefone). This isn’t about producing an insurmountable hit. Casket Pretty is a hushed poetic eulogy to all the people who shouldn’t have had to die. It’s succinct, dynamic, and gripping. That song will be something a lot of people never ever forget and when her name comes up that song will be the first reply.
I mention this to say Wolf Mode is that song for Chris Rivers. His whole career has been building to it. Wolf Mode is what makes hip hop more than a financially successful genre it can act as a method of group therapy. He combines multi-speed raw flow excellence with an ease in discussing mental illness that few have. He chides someone for never giving love unconditionally and then hopes they die, and pretty immediately admits he has attempted suicide. This isn’t a sad song where the piano helps us cry with him. This is a bass heavy chant about how tough are skin needs to be, how the trials we have been through have built us scar and scab by scar and scab. With under a minute to go Chris double times “I’d rather have the hard truth than a sweet lie because the hard truth still apply to me…” and he’s nailed it. The gorgeous glimmering jewel that sits in the genres heart. This space is where you can tell it how it really is. The Jonas boys make fun music but you’ll never know if they battled sobriety.
I remember watching the documentary and seeing Big Pun hit his wife with a gun while a room of his associates bowed their head and said nothing. This is the guy who gave me the best hip hop album of all time(Capital Punishment, no arguments). As Rivers came up I always wanted to ask him how he balances those contradicting ends of his fathers legacy. This many years later to have his son spitting about self love and forgiveness, mistakes and how the deep scars mean the most has been therapeutic for me. I’m sure many have “canceled” Pun based on the documentary but River’s new album G.I.T.U. makes an important case that a person with a good heart can fix themselves if they have the time. Pun was robbed of that. I’m so glad Chris hasn’t been.
Stream or download G.I.T.U. below:
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Tagged Big Pun, Capital Punishment, Chris Rivers, G.I.T.U., hip hop, hip hop reviews, Mello Music Group, Noname, Room 25, song of the year, Songs that define a career, Telefone, underground hip hop
#Bandcampgold-Black Beans by Exile x Choosey
The world makes us feel terrible. Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle are dead. Ogres are in power and they don’t even lie to us about how old evil and full of greed/hate they are. Music is necessary, all kinds of music. Black Beans is a beam of light on the dark days and because of that it holds an important place on my favorite albums of 2019 list.
I have to start by talking about Exile. I haven’t done it enough on this blog. I’ve been debating how I feel about his strengths since Blu linked up with him for Below The Heavens. While other boom bap producers (Daringer, Roc Marciano) are superb at twisting the instrumentation and sample into an evil snarl that suits the goon rappers spitting over them; Exile is the best at optimizing his soundscape for warmth. You can listen to the Intro or the first song (I Did) and none of the production is overly dense or crowded. Exile chooses the right elements and places them properly making great use of background vocals, samples, and background vocals. His production perfectly captures that Rawkus records feeling of hearing Mos Def spit on Respiration from the Black Star album(a Hi-Tek comparison is not a bad one). Black Beans is Exile’s best work in YEARS and his work over the years was impressive before it.
If you think this album is corny I guess you’re right. If you think the loving poetic tribute to heritage at the end of the title track is corny, I’m fine with that. If you don’t understand why Choosey is rapping about the candy lady on his block on Satisfied when he could have fake murdered someone in that verse… it is a natural hip hop reaction. It’s a perfectly adequate short term coping mechanism for living on this scary cock-eyed planet. Shut all those instincts off and listen to tracks 4,5, and 6 in a row. Four is single ready it is called Low Low and the horns are PERFECT, Aloe Blacc nails the hook with pinpoint accuracy and emotion while Choosey paints the scenery of a nice day with a pretty lady. Track five is Show You and Choosey is at his most melodic. The West Coast MC doesn’t need any help on the chorus sing-rapping a hook that burrows deep in my brain to this second. It’s a relationship song without the nasty baggage. He wants to show her what the future can be and never turns into the darker or condescending tones a lot of rappers do when trying for these songs. Track six is so great. You Got It is all hand claps and mixing while Choosey spits fast but seemingly effortlessly. Jimetta Rose is another fantastic guest singer woven into the fiber of the song. You Got It has a noble mission: to get you up and dancing. These three songs get to the heart of celebration that Black Beans is crafted around.
The candy lady verse that starts Satisfied is my favorite of the album because I am corny. It is so unexpected. The first line of the song is “Every hood had a candy lady,” said with a smiling nostalgia. He’s talking lollipops and getting candy out of her hand. Choosey’s mission is to celebrate his shared black and Hispanic heritage. Through the thirteen songs he applies his determination to painting the picture to it’s smallest detail. It’s not just about lowriders, Cadillac’s, and jewelry it is about the people. In that verse he also says “Them cop’s was all in our face saying ‘don’t hang with them bangers’ N_ the gang was the neighbors…” he doesn’t shy away from the violence and terror present in his environment. America knows gangs as large scary groups but Choosey knows them as people and sums it up our national tension quite nicely with, “They hate the fact but can’t deny that we some damn creators.” Choosey knows you think you know his hood. He also knows you haven’t felt the sunshine on your face there. You haven’t kissed for the first time as Salsa spilled out of an apartment window there. Listen to the song Sangria, pour sangria over some apples and cantaloupe (don’t forget diced pineapple) and let Exile teach you how to relax as Choosey brings you where he’s always been.
Stream or Download Black Beans below:
Fight for The Future of Lil Uzi Vert
We complain a lot. All of us do. In Hip Hop, we get mad at youngsters for not doing what the older generations would do. Real rap problems exist: loss of interesting word usage, too much of a focus on ad-libs, drug addiction creating a generation of junked up kids with no goals. Take a moment and acknowledge that Lil Uzi Vert is a strong component in resolving some of these.
At first, Uzi was discounted simply because of the Lil. The Bad and Boujee feature was blistering but Uzi’s audience is his own and real. He has their attention and uses it. XO Tour Lif3 by September 2017 had 1.3 BILLION listens counting all streaming platforms (Wiki info). That song is about suicide mental breakdowns and heartbreak. He helps a suffering generation express acknowledge and process feeling like crap. In and of itself, that is important.
You might have heard he announced his retirement, announced he had label issues. We can’t let any of this happen. We can’t let labels hinder him. We can’t let him fall into whatever took Mac Miller away. I am not just saying this because he means a lot to his generation. I am saying this because I love this genre.
When he dropped the loosey Free Uzi as a youtube video (not on streaming services) it racked up 9.6 Million views but, more importantly, it’s an incredible song. Free Uzi is the Philly phenom exploding with bars, stringing any word he wants easily onto one of raps best flows. The propulsive beat allows him to easily surf while maintaining perfect breathe control. He’s not a mumble rapper, you can hear him saying things like “I remember when them N_’s all laughed at me,” as he dances in a convenience store with his friends. It’s just him having fun and stretching out his legs while breathing fire. It seems like the giant response to Free Uzi pressured his label into letting some more of his music loose.
Conversely, Sanguine Paradise (the first single they let out whatever prison they keep his music in) is a fully fleshed out single ready for the pop charts. The beat is beautiful (very pretty piano that does not slow down the speed of the song) unlike the speedbag flow of Free Uzi, Sanguine Paradise is a more melodic. Every line feels like a chorus.
This dude can dig into mental health, relationships, or just brag on a level where he becomes James Spader from Pretty In Pink, and SPIT. Find 1017 vs. The World mixtape and listen to him trade with a sober Gucci and stand tall. Not anyone can do that. I genuinely think this dude is the light of a new generation and if you don’t understand “the kids” you should listen to him. He’s the best chance you have.
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Tagged 1017 vs the world, Free Uzi, Gucci Mane, hip hop, hip hop reviews, James Spader, Lil Uzi Vert, Mac Miller, Pretty In Pink, Sanguine Paradise, XOTourlif3
Song Of The Year-Young and Invincible by Zacari featuring Lil Yachty
If you are old like I am (old enough to call Mark Wahlberg Marky Mark) and you dislike/can’t figure out new school rap and its value I can help. This song can help. If Young and Invincible was a rap song from the 1990’s it would be a Lost Boyz song dripping with bravado and name brand name checks. Importantly, it would be shouted at us by Freaky Tah and the gang.
Zacari got together with Lil Yachty to create an anthem in the spirit of this generation. It’s cool and convincingly effortless with an big juicy out-sized stretched autotune hook. Teddy Walton gives the entire Run Wild Run Free EP its sound, its vastness but on this song he is aided by Gubeatz & IAMNOBODI. The tempo is a strange combination of anthemic and bass driven booty music.
Lil Yachty comes through with a fabulous floating guest verse. Yachty is so much better on guest verses (my theory: Yachty reads all the garbage written about him and tries to make albums that “prove critics wrong” which is a bad way of doing things. When he is guesting he creates with no pressure. When he created his Lil Boat mixtape it was pressure free which is why it is still his best project. STAY CENTERED YACHTY!)
Zacari really does represent what I like about this generation of music. He’s weird, emotional, and his lyrics pay off because he connects to what he’s talking about. On top of that he’s an expert vibe creator with beautiful hooks. It’s different but when you clear your expectations and kick back it is really quite dope.
#Bandcampgold-Cover Art by Anderson Paak
If you didn’t know who Anderson Paak was after summer 2015 I don’t think you’re a hip hop head. When Dr. Dre came out of his cave August 7th 2015 to release Compton everyone in hip hop noted it. Thumbing through the sixteen tracks listed Paak was on six of them. I know that I let out an audible “Who the F#$% is Anderson Paak?!” That is when I found his bandcamp. Once I heard Venice I knew to pay attention to Malibu.
Now he is climbing to the top of the world. He was on Saturday Night Live playing his own drums, he was on Marc Maron talking about this covers album from 2013. I remembered having dug into that project post-Compton and threw it back into the mix. If you haven’t heard his explanation on Maron: Cover Art aims to reverse the polarity of musical manipulation. While historically black artists like Jackie Wilson get their music made into Elvis hits he wanted to take very white very good music and put the funk back in.
His cover of Seven Nation Army sold my wife on the project. The original reclaimed a good deal of swagger that post-Radiohead rock had lost and Paak by keeping the guitar parts splashy and the vocals as smooth as Brenton Wood singing Oogum Boogum (if you don’t know this song you need to) it actually raises the overall stakes on how pimpish this song is. The other high point is his cover of my favorite Beatles song (Blackbird). While Paak can get super funky and joyously silly he knows a precious moment and how to care for it. Blackbird finds the groove with fingersnaps and he gives it his absolute most concentrated effort vocally.
We love that Paak is talented can play instruments sing and rap but its way more fun that he is nuts on top of that. This dude took Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and threw rap verses on his cover of it (Nocando, himself & milo). The final product is mad weird but valuable and interesting. Cover Art is a short form introduction to the capabilities of Paak with nasty bass lines (MAPS!) and signature flair ever-present even while doing other people’s music; people who couldn’t be more different from what Paak’s music turned into. If you listen to the Maron WTF interview that’s his real secret, he’s so nuts he can sit across from an old crunchy dude like Maron and talk classic guitar rock until he’s comfortable. Year before that he was on Snoops podcast passing a blunt comparing the discographies of overlooked soul legends. If you like music Paak will get you somehow. He’s everywhere.
Stream or download Cover Art below: