REMEMBER: WHEN A GHETTO CHILD MAKE IT, PEOPLE HATE IT

Trying to make good on my promise to appreciate artists while they’re still alive after Jacka’s untimely passing – here’s a track that could have easily been a jumbled mixture of hot names, but actually coalesces into a complex but cohesive whole as a song.

Mistah F.A.B. – Up Until Then (feat. Boosie Badazz & Iamsu!)

At first listen, this track feels a little pasted together.  Iamsu!’s hook is a bit too postured to blend easily with the street-level somberness of Boosie’s verse, and the divergent styles of these three rappers are not at all an obvious collection for a single track.  But subsequent visitations cause these disparate elements to cohere more and more.

The dark yet bouncy instrumental helps to blend Iamsu!’s boasts with the song’s more melancholy moments.  Both of F.A.B.’s verses pay a thorough homage to the Bay’s preferred term of endearment for males – it goes on to an almost-but-not-quite-annoying degree, and is saved by the compelling blend of nostalgia and clever freshness he leisurely dances around throughout.  I’ve yet to hear Iamsu! put out anything as compelling as his Stoopid / Kilt days, but this beat and hook (I assume he is also the producer of the track?) have plenty of energy to keep the track vigorous and interesting.  Boosie graces the beat with a less emphatic delivery than most of his recent material, but still infuses every word with a level of conviction and heart many rappers never achieve.

This one’s definitely a grower, but well worth the time spent on a few listens, and should serve as motivation to continue the deeper catalog exploration of F.A.B. and his associates.

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FOLLOW ME HOME, COME VIEW THE ABYSS

This one’s for that very small intersection of rap nerds and music composition/theory nerds out there – I know I’m not the only one!  Remember that weird ternary-form RiFF RAFF song from 2014?  Here’s an even stranger Nipsey Hussle & Buddy song that’s straight simple binary form.  “A” section, “B” section, end.  Sounds like they just took an unfinished Nipsey track and stuck a totally hopeless Buddy song on at the end.

Nipsey Hussle – Status Symbol 2 (feat. Buddy)

This one actually sounds better than its predecessor through the verse, but the abrupt ending kinda kills the vibe.  And what’s the deal with Buddy?  I thought “Awesome Awesome” was a fun song, was that just Pharrell’s doing or is there something cool about Buddy himself?  I’ve yet to see any evidence of this but I keep looking…

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BLACK TIGER WHITE JAG

In case anybody was worried that Young Thug might be taking Lyor Cohen’s condescending advice to heart…

Lyor Cohen & Young Thug convo

(The original version of that convo above continues with Lyor getting pretty heated and calling Thug “son” which was pretty cringe-inducing but I guess CNBC wasn’t trying to include that part.  Anyway I’m glad to see that despite this conversation, and I’m sure many others, Thug is still comfortable being his wild self even on official singles.  I love his more traditional songs too but please don’t tell  Young Thug to not freestyle.)

Young Thug – Turn Up

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RAP GAME HUGO BALL

It’s great when completely disparate artists make the same discovery completely independent of each other.  While the Dadaists felt the need to pontificate and publish manifestos about their groundbreaking movement, street kids making the same aesthetic realizations are just posting them on Worldstar.  Check out this new track whose chorus is just as pure sound poetry as Zang Tumb Tumb.

Yakki – Gang Gang (feat. Lotto Savage & Yung Booke)

Gucci got close to this with some of his more hypnotically simple choruses, but was still relying on the sounds he was making to have some semantic meaning.  “Versace” is also in this realm.

Gucci Mane – I’m Up (feat. 2 Chainz)

Young Thug of course comes to mind as well, but even he keeps his guttural chirps and growls in the background punctuating the more traditional vocal sounds that you find in the dictionary.  This is maybe the closest effort from Thug, with a chorus 50% comprised of the word “yeah”.

Young Thug – Dome (feat. Duke)

Who’ll be the one to take it to the next level, with entire verses of utter beautiful nonsense with maybe a few familiar definition-having sounds for decoration in the background?  Maybe rap isn’t that concerned with taking concepts to their logical extreme, but I’d welcome it if someone tried as long as it was a sincere effort like the ones above, and not some silly shit.

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BACK UP WHILE I GET MY SHIT RIGHT

Put your favorite rapper on a 6/8 beat I bet they won’t do this good.

9% Camp (Juego TheNinety & Witty Rock) – Shit Right

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L TO THA IZZIPS

And I thought I was slick catching Bootsy’s raucous bass explosion at the beginning of “Royalty” – the homie and DRIVE SLOW contributor mattisonherenow just pointed out to me that hometown heroes The Flaming Lips once provided the source material for a small snippet of Jay-Z history!  I promise this is the only time I’ll ever ask you to listen to a Flaming Lips song here.

The Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly

Luckily you only need the first 0:05 of the video to catch it, it’s the opening intonation of this nearly insufferable song.  Upon reflection it makes some sense that Kanye would be aware of fellow egomaniac Wayne Coyne’s early musical efforts (rock and roll fans out there confirm my suspicion – Wayne Coyne is the Kanye West of his genre, no?), at least to the level where he could grab that goofy guitar swoosh from the track above to punctuate every 4th bar of the “Izzo” beat; a song which unfortunately has been not-so-mysteriously wiped from every corner of the Internet.  Hopefully your Blueprint CD isn’t too scratched so you can pop it in your Discman and hear this new perspective on Jay’s “Izzo“; I would feel terrible asking you to listen to 90s Oklahoma alt-rock and join Tizzidal in the same post.

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I’MA DARK MY LUNGS I’MA HEAL MY SOUL

Maybe it’s just because he’s not wearing a bucket hat anymore but this is my favorite thing I’ve heard ScHoolboy Q do.

ScHoolboy Q – By Any Means (Part 1)

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HOW GREAT?

Jesus-Coloring-Book

While I was examining shards and glimpses of the black church in Spodee’s recent material, apparently the rest of the Internet was basking in the floodlights of Chance the Rappers’s much more overt gospel-rap project.  Oddly enough it never occurred to me to speak on the church’s influence in rap while listening to Coloring Book despite all the blatant talk about blessings and appearances by Kirk Franklin and the Chicago Children’s Choir.  Realizing this made me pause and wonder why such an obvious train of thought passed straight through my brain without making a stop, while songs like “All I Want” that bear  no obvious resemblance to any form of gospel music spark that idea in me instantly.

To satisfy my confusion I revisited Coloring Book alongside all the music I referenced in my previous post, as well as my own writing about it, to help me discover the subconscious forces at work in these thoughts and connections I have, or don’t have.  The moment that finally revealed the answer was rereading the three words that I associated with the particular Tree/Spodee flavor of gospel/soul rap, the words that for me sum up the basic elements tying these two distant relatives of music together so closely – conviction, levity, humbleness.  I make no effort to use these terms to define the black church or its core values; in fact I would not attempt to use any words toward that purpose, since as a white non-Christian it is simply not my place to make such claims or evaluations.  These are simply the concepts, dare I say “virtues”, that I have most valued and resonated with in my experiences attending black Protestant church services and the music that has emerged from that wellspring of culture.

My experience of both gospel and rap has always been abstracted from the explicit claims of either genre.  The overt, superficial subject matter of these musics rarely resonates with me directly, it is only through metaphor, comparison, and emotional extrapolation that I’ve learned to decipher the more essential feelings and values expressed in this music.  It’s only through this lens that I can listen to a song about murder and hear a song about loyalty, or listen to a song about eternal damnation for the unrighteous and hear a song about the urgency of doing good in the world.  Chance’s recent efforts stick much more closely with the superficial characteristics that define gospel than Pimp C or Boosie – choruses of exuberant Kanyes singing “We might as well give it all we got”over untainted major-key horn stabs tracks pretty closely to a surface-level scan of a black gospel performance.  But the underlying elements that, for me, are so vital to that genre are mostly absent, yet I find them regularly in songs like “Forgive Me For Being Lost” or “The Game Belongs To Me”.

I’ll admit Chance hits pretty hard on the levity scale, and that side of him has always appealed to me ever since I first saw the video for “Juice”.  I’m always struck by how playful and funny ministers in the black church are, and how much wisdom can be transmitted through this playfulness.  And an argument could be made in favor of his humbleness based on the subject matter of some of his lyrics – “I know the difference in blessings and worldly possessions”, but others aren’t as modest – “Ain’t no blood on my money” is not as humbling and does not ring nearly as true for me as UGK’s “No matter how you make it, it’s all dirty money”.  And aesthetically speaking, this project is actually quite grandiose, self-indulgent, and unrestrained.  Overall it is much more victory lap than it is mid-race tribulation.

Most of all, what’s missing for me is the conviction, and, if I may add a fourth element to this formula, urgency.  Nearly all the featured artists on the tape seem to be present much more for talking about than for what they actually contribute to the song they’re on (“yo he got Yachty and Jay Electronica on the same album CRAZY”).  The features act more as decorations rather than pillars of the songs they grace.  Jeremih is the most stylistically appropriate complement to Chance’s style and actually makes the song he’s on better with his presence, unlike most others, but I’ve yet to hear anyone mention his contribution as noteworthy to the project.  Sure Chance mentions heavy themes like death, belief, and becoming a father on this effort, but his delivery of these lines doesn’t actually make me feel any feelings about these concepts.    My mode of listening is so shifted toward abstraction that the overt subject matter washes straight past me and the depth that I hold so dear in the best rap and gospel music is simply not there in the execution.

In that way, Coloring Book is probably the most apt title Chance could have chosen for this project, and I don’t mean to portray this project as a failure in its mission.  It’s a fun album in a lot of ways, and his raw rapping prowess is still impressive at many moments throughout.  But it crosses the line from being playful to just playing around – it’s the minister’s jokes without the wisdom they subconsciously instill.  And I must reiterate that this is not a reference to the overt lyrical content, he certainly makes a concerted effort to include “wise” passages quite often, but I don’t see him demonstrating this wisdom aesthetically in the execution of the album, thus these wise messages evaporate instantly upon hearing them.  At the end of the tape I find myself unchanged, and thus unsatisfied.  I know Chance is capable of immense emotive power, I’ve felt it on “Acid Rain”, “No Better Blues, “You Song”, even “I Am Very Very Lonely”.  These songs transform me like a good sermon or poem;  Coloring Book has only about as much effect as its namesake.

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WON’T COMPROMISE WIT NO SNITCHES, WON’T PLAY ROUND WIT MY FOES

Ever since Tree started to stumble in his previously steady flow of great bluesy, soul-imbued rap music and SE over at RAP MUSIC HYSTERIA put me on the The B.I.D. II, Spodee has been my go-to guy for that rare, as Tree would put it, “soul-trap” blend that actually works.  I can’t speak with certainty on the personal histories of Tree or Spodee but they at least sound like rappers that grew up going to church, and their album/tape titles certainly support this hypothesis – Tree with his Sunday School series, Spodee with The New Testament as the subtitle to the above mentioned project.  Feel what you need to feel about ol’ Yahweh and his followers but that Southern church environment can bring about something very special in a musician.  From Coltrane to Pimp C we see it manifest; there’s an endlessly compelling mixture of conviction, levity, and humbleness that comes from the best versions of that atmosphere and some of the best artists we’ve had owe much of their persona and style to it.

Spodee – All I Want

“All I Want” may not have the same clear-cut gospel connections that a song like “Don’t Say My Name” has, but even among the distorted synth bass and ticking hi-hats, the church still seeps out in the lilt and drawl of his cadences in ways that humanize the often lifeless and mechanical Atlanta sound of 2016.  His lyrics don’t grip my heart like Tree’s best moments do.  Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, it’s hard to debate that “I call ’em all hoes, I ain’t have a sister” or “I’m a better gangsta than my father was” are incredibly compelling lines that Spodee has yet to rival, but there’s a very satisfying forward momentum to this track that makes you not really mind, at least on the first few listens.  I haven’t heard the new tape yet so I can’t speak on its consistency, but my money is on Spodee to deliver the warmest, most human rap music out of Atlanta this year, unless Archibald SLIM leans in on Don’t Call The Cops 2 or something.

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NEFFY BABY

More evidence that DRIVE SLOW is actually the nexus from which all new rap developments emerge: all I have to do is mention a resemblance between Nef’s newest material and Wayne’s golden years and 5 days later he releases what amounts to an unofficial Weezy appreciation tape, complete with confusing self-indulgent spoken intros (“I guess you could say… I don’t know what you could say, fuck it“), a straight remix of “Shine” from Lights Out, and numerous outright references to Wayne and pervasive mimicry of his style.

Nef the Pharaoh – Cole

Yeahh, I’m sure “Daghe stole your laptop“, whatever Nef my blog got 11 views the day that original post dropped I KNOW YOU FOLLOW MY SHIT AND GET ALL YOUR IDEAS FROM ME.

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