Tag Archives: Tree

2016 RAP

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  1. Boosie Badazz – Mann
    Young Thug is still the best rapper breathing but Boosie owned 2016 for me and that’s not just because he gave me a pound on the DFW airport tram wearing pink socks.  After stirring some mainstream attention in 2015 when he got out of jail while simultaneously releasing some of his weakest material to date, multiple personal tragedies struck late last year to reawaken Boosie’s deepest talents and push them to the heights we witnessed in 2016.  Boosie has long been on my Top 5 Rappers with the Most Conviction, but 2016 might put him at #1.  So many have spoken nearly identical words, but with Boosie you believe him; and by that I don’t mean the literal content of the sentences, but the emotional force behind them.  Only a fool would believe the literal truth of every word any rapper says, but let me at least believe that you really feel the way you’re claiming, and not just selecting an emotion or message you think will make people think you’re deep or smart or relevant or scary or whatever image you’re going for.  When you hear a Boosie song from 2016, you know that each time he stepped into the booth he made the only song that he could have possibly made at that moment.  So many rap songs sound like the result of board room conversations or long ponderings about what kind of song would be relevant at this moment in the cultural zeitgeist (e.g. every Kanye West song).  With Boosie you’re getting the rawest, most pure expression of his perfectly flawed self at every moment, and that is a rare gift to receive as a listener.  Everyone wants you to believe that 2016 was terrible (and this song is in fact a great soundtrack to that sentiment), but for me it will forever be the year I proposed to the woman I love and gave Boosie a pound on the DFW airport tram.
  2. Young Thug – King TROUP
    While “Harambe” stood out out as perhaps the most marked development of Thug’s style this year, my favorite version of Young Thug right now (there are so many…) is the delicate, restrained version.  Maybe I’m just always one step behind his movements; last year I thought Barter 6 was boring on first listen and wanted the wild, unpredictable Thug back, now he breaks his voice screaming an entire song at me and all I want is whispers and syncopated empty space.
  3. Spodee – Black & Flashing
    It was almost as hard to pick a Spodee song for this list as it was to pick a Young Thug song for this list, his music touched me in so many different ways on different songs that it’s hard to say what the “best” was.  In situations like these I let the song that makes my body do the most interesting things break the tie, which is how we get “King TROUP” and “Black & Flashing“.
  4. Denzel Curry – Purrposely
    Now that Percocet, Xanax, & MDMA are the dominant rap drugs it’s rare to get such raw aggression from today’s artists like Denzel achieves here.  Boosie of course also achieved it with “Finish U” but he is the exception to every rule.
  5. Kodak Black – Slayed (feat. Boosie Badazz)
    Kodak Black wins Best Pronunciation of 2016.  The dropped consonants and captivating “ur” syllable repetition throughout his verse on “Slayed” are enough to keep my interest alone, but there’s so much more to this mournful track than this, and the mixtape that contains this gem is easily Kodak’s strongest project to date.
  6. Lil’ Wayne guest spots
    Sometimes you give up on artists only to have them nonchalantly waltz back into your life with an impossibly turned-around trajectory and revitalization.  Wayne did this for me in 2016 but puzzlingly only in his features, most notably “I Got A Question“, “Mad“, and “Bout That“.
  7. Tree – Heard Nothing
    We already know Tree had the non-rhyming chorus of the year on “All Dat“, but “Heard Nothing” is actually the best song on that project.  It’s easy to think of Tree as an artist with a single signature style that is just as deep, personal, and sincere as it is predictable (we’re still pretending like Trap Genius never happened, remember).  But “Heard Nothing” truly breaks new stylistic ground for Tree and I’m glad to hear him still experimenting with new flows and approaches to songs.  The almost mumbling, trailing off, crossing-the-bar complexity of phrase in this song is a far cry from the “I’m a better gangster than my father was…” one-liner style we’re accustomed to, and even though I could listen to infinite iterations of Tree rehashing his Sunday School flow for eternity, development and growth are certainly refreshing as well.
  8. Future – In Abundance
    The first few months of 2016 saw an abundance (see what I did there?) of Future releases but this loosie moved me more than anything on those mixtapes/albums/EPs/whatever they’re called now.  You might think of this as Future’s “King TROUP“, which is probably why I love it – constant delicate whispered syncopation.
  9. D.R.A.M. – Broccoli (feat. Lil’ Yachty)
    This song is way higher on the list than it should be but I just realized we’re almost 10 songs in and every track has been pretty heavy on the dark, sad, lonely, angry spectrum so here’s a beautifully fun happy song to vibe to for a few minutes before I make you listen to another song about death and loss.
  10. Chance the Rapper – Summer Friends (feat. Jeremih & Francis & the Lights)
    Y’all already know how I feel about Coloring Book, but even I can’t deny the beauty of this track.  Not only is it the only understated moment on that whole album, but it finally pairs Chance & Jeremih on the same song, something I’ve been wishing for since I first heard “Oui” and saw some parallel stylistic leanings.  The only way to improve this track would be to increase the Jeremih ratio by a factor of at least 3; matter of fact they should have kicked whoever Francis & the Lights is off the track completely and let Jeremih do all the singing.
  11. Zeroh – clock
    Zeroh makes rap music that’s actually as crazy as Desiigner and Danny Brown want you to think their music is.
  12. YG – Who Shot Me?
    A lot of the best music this year was the result of tragedy and pain.  Tree almost lost his mom, Boosie got cancer, and YG got shot under circumstances that made him call into question the loyalty of those closest to him.  I’m not thankful for any of these events but I admire these artists’ ability to transform these tragic moments into captivating, timely pieces of music for us lucky listeners.
  13. Ty Dolla $ign – What Are We Doing?
    A rare & welcome moment of honest introspection from Ty.  This song is tied with “No Justice” but wins out on the list because “No Justice” is arguably not even a rap song.
  14. Fetty Wap & PNB Rock – Addicted
    This mixtape was unexpected in so many ways, from the odd artist pairing to its surprising replayability.  PNB came into my awareness via “Too Many Years“, and we all know how Fetty Wap was introduced, but nothing about these artists histories or styles warned me that they’d come together to make this weirdly enjoyable mixtape that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.  What each of these rapper/singers lack in raw talent they more than make up for in chemistry on the best moments of Money, Hos & Flows, and that chemistry is best exemplified on the opening track where they calmly trade fours over an unassuming IBeatz production, somehow able to constantly hold my attention through three and a half minutes of pretty middling rap.
  15. Cousin Fik – Learn Sumn (feat. K00l John)
    Glad to see punchline rap alive and well in the bay thanks to Fik.  Sickest Nigga Healthy 3 is worth your time.
  16. Ezale & DJ Fresh
    See I like happy rap songs too!
  17. Nef the Pharaoh – Michael Jackson
    We’re getting into more stream-of-consciousness selection than song ranking at this point, I’m just gonna go ahead and knock out all the 2016 Bay Area jams now.  I think this song actually came out in late 2015 but it’s the best track on the 2016 Cardo/Nef tape so it gets a pass. “Say Daat” is good too.
  18. Mistah F.A.B. – Up Until Then (feat. Boosie Badazz & Iamsu!)
    Son of a Pimp, Pt. 2 turned out to be pretty disappointing but this track still jams.  I hope someday Iamsu! starts having fun making music again, sometime around 2013 we went this weird serious/aloof direction and his music has only suffered as a result.  This at least has a glimmer of that former lightheartedness, with strong verses from F.A.B. and Boosie.
  19. E-40 – Slappin’ (feat. Nef the Pharoah and D.R.A.M.)
    Before “Broccoli” captured everyone’s hearts and attention, this banger was in heavy rotation in my world, and still gets frequent revisits.  E-40 has a similar effect on Nef that Birdman had on Wayne in Like Father, Like Son – Nef checks his ego just enough to focus on rapping well instead of the kind of self-indulgent wanderings we’ve seen on some of his recent releases.  D.R.A.M. is also great on this song, pulling off a chorus only he could.
  20. Lil’ Durk – Check
    Last year two artists clicked for me after years of being unable to appreciate their music – Jeezy & Lil’ Durk.  I’m still not sure if their styles changed or my brain did (maybe both), but I’m happy I have two more active rappers whose releases I can be excited about.  Durk 2x is awesome, and “Check” is easily one of the best album openers of 2016.
  21. Jeezy – Goldmine
    Trap or Die 3 wasn’t quite as strong as last year’s eye-opening Gangsta Party but there’s still plenty to vibe to on this tape – see “Bout That” on #6 above.
  22. 9% Camp – Shit Right
    Gotta give these cats props for going in hard on a 6/8 beat like it’s nothing.
  23. Jeremih – Giv No Fuks (feat. Migos)
    I know this came out in late 2015 and Jeremih is not a rapper, but this is a rap song and none of us had time to fully process Late Nights: The Album before this year, so it deserves its place on this list.
  24. Nipsey Hussle – Basic Instinct
    Slauson Boy 2 is great, and this song feels like if you boiled that whole mixtape down into its most potent extract and then dripped a droplet of it onto each eyeball.
  25. Ka – Mourn at Night
    Honor Killed the Samurai wasn’t a huge step forward for Ka or anything, but was still one of the albums I listened to the most this year.  This is an especially swirly one that contrasts beautifully with Ka’s stone cold delivery.
  26. Starlito – Greatness
    Now that his friend Red Dot is out of jail, Starlito will definitely have to come up with some more album, shout-out, and song title sources, and I wonder if it might even shift his whole creative direction in some way with how heavy that message has been in the past few years.  Maybe that’s how we got Starlito rapping over a hopeful Jazzy Pha beat and not talking about depression every few bars.
  27. Justiiice – Running in Circles
    I’m pumped that my Justiiice pick for this year is still on Soundcloud to post after having my 2015 pick disappear from the Internet before I could pay it homage.  Anyone still doubting Chief Keef’s influence on today’s rap or auto-tune’s emotive power should study this song thoroughly.
  28. Vince Staples – Big Time
    Little Bit of This had a cool video but I think “Big Time” is the best Vince Staples song this year.
  29. ScHoolboy Q – By Any Means (Part 1)
    How “That Part” became as huge as it did this year will forever be a mystery to me, but this track might actually be my favorite ScHoolboy Q song ever (which isn’t saying much because I don’t actually like him but one of my favorite things is when an artist I don’t like makes a song I do like so enjoy).  Parts 2 & 3 ain’t bad either.
  30. Danny Brown – Lost (as of this writing, the only YoutTube link for this is actually weird instrumental funk song that has nothing to do with “Lost“, so this is the only link to a paid streaming service, sorry for it)
    Maybe it just needs a little more time to grow on me, but Danny Brown’s Warp debut didn’t quite rub me the right way.  Unlike the best moments of XXX and Old, Atrocity Exhibition shows Danny Brown at his least synergistic with the production he’s choosing.  Most of the raps don’t feel like they were written or even chosen for the beat they’re on, and as a result the rhythm and cadence of the individual lines don’t interlock very well with the rhythm and cadence of the music.  It sounds disjointed and sloppy and not in the good ways that Danny Brown can sound disjointed and sloppy.  The off-kilter production serves to highlight not Danny’s weirdness or individuality, but rather exposes his rap style as being surprisingly basic.  The dominant aesthetic is warbly unquantized sample with disconnected single couplets in a weird voice.  There are a lot of cool textures and gestures throughout, but “Lost” is one of the only tracks that feels cohesive in the way I know Danny Brown can be; and by that I mean cohesive within a single song, the album as a whole is quite cohesive.
  31. Curren$y – Told Me That
    I’ll admit I haven’t paid much attention to Curren$y since he left Young Money and the best parts of his rap style behind back in ’07 or whenever that was.  Luckily I try to listen to everything Starlito puts out so I happened to catch this moment where a glimmer of Curren$y’s former A game peeked out from the darkness.  For the first time since the “Ridin’ with the AK” era we hear Curren$y making the words fit the groove instead of the other way around.  This is when Curren$y sounds his best, putting just the right syllables on the right places in the bar, and emphasizing just the right moments to pull you into the flow of the beat even more strongly than before.  Now that I know he’s still capable of this, it makes me wonder if these gems are sprinkled through his whole back catalog just under the surface.  Anybody know whether or not that’s the case so I don’t have to spend the next month listening to a bunch of weak ass Curren$y songs?
  32. Lil’ B – Finess ‘Em
    Now more than ever we need to remember that Lil’ B exists and take his music to heart.
  33. Mozzy – Messy Murder Scenes
    Rap game Energizer bunny on this one.
  34. Ralo – My Brothers (feat. Future)
    I’ll admit a lot of the driving force of this track comes from Southside and Future, but Ralo holds his own on this uncharacteristically upbeat track, and is definitely an easier listen than most of the other tracks on Diary of the Streets 2.  It’s possible that my ear just hasn’t quite adjusted to Ralo’s usual voice and delivery, but I find that I enjoy his songs most when he’s got a little bit of staccato mixed in with the constant dragged-out lilt of his crazy ass voice.  I’ve got faith he’ll catch his stride and hone his sound, or that I’ll come to realize he’s been great all along and just couldn’t hear it.
  35. Earl Sweatshirt – Mirror
    Earl stays comfortably in his own lane with this one, relying on the strength of his lyrics and delivery to keep you engaged with this wildly gritty production.  I’m absolutely in favor of this kind of under-produced basement rap, as long as it has the urgency and vibrancy Earl exhibits on songs like “Mirror“.
  36. Tate Kobang – Oh My
    Also in favor of the stripped-down physicality of songs like “Oh My“, it’s a nice break from the hazy somberness and detachment of so much of today’s rap.
  37. Butch Dawson – Ain’t No Limit I Go
    This song does a great job of never giving  you quite what you want but in a very endearing way, like an older brother holding a piece of candy just out of your reach with a big grin on his face but you know he loves you.
  38. Noname – Sunny Duet (feat. theMIND)
    I haven’t heard a female rapper be this playful and lyrical at the same time since Ladybug Mecca and its wonderful to hear.
  39. DJ Carnage – Mase in ’97 (feat. Lil’ Yachty)
    Here’s a pretty serious rap conundrum – Yachty spitting “hella bars” on a song named after a 90s rapper [scratching chin emoji].
  40. Z-Ro – New Shit
    Ro keeps it almost too real on this one with the “I don’t do this for y’all” line but by now we should be used to Z-Ro’s keeping it a little too real.

    These next 5 I’m still on the fence about

  41. Aminé – Caroline
    It’s hard to say exactly what’s holding me back on this one, I just have this feeling my future self will find my current self naive for thinking this was cool.  I should probably just enjoy it for the fun song it is, but I can’t shake that sinking feeling…
  42. 21 Savage – No Heart
    I’ve listened to Metro Savage or whatever that album is called  a few times now and I sorta get it I think but I just don’t yet feel like it achieves what so many people think it has.  I see what he’s going for, but it doesn’t feel to me like he actually got there.  Might just take a few more listens.
  43. Kevin Gates – Really, Really
    I like Kevin Gates a lot but I’m never actually in the mood to listen to his music.
  44. Gucci Mane – Dirty Lil’ Nigga
    Gucci is a legend and I’m glad he’s fit and out of jail and has shiny teeth and everything but every song I heard from him this year just didn’t quite hit home for me.  I like a lot of things about a lot of it, and this one’s probably my favorite, but it’s still a little lackluster compared to what I know he’s capable of.
  45. Brodinski’s collaborations (Dead People, Get Me Some More, Big Dawg, etc.)
    Feel kinda the same way about these as I do about “Caroline“.  I can’t deny the immediate physical response I get from these songs but something feels suspicious about it.  I feel like I’m almost being catered to too much, and it leaves me wondering about the hidden agenda there, or worse what better music might I be missing?

    Best from other people’s lists:

  46. The Team – Can I (RAP MUSIC HYSTERIA!)
    It’s embarassing but also beautiful that this video was shot 4 blocks from where I live but it took a blogger in Florida posting it for me to find out about it.
  47. Smino – Zoom (Noz)
    This dude is pushing into Zeroh territory as far as actually-crazy-sounding rap music and not “look how crazy I am” rap music.
  48. NBA Youngboy – 38 Baby (The Martorialist)
    I saw this video when it came out and loved it but then forgot who it was or where I saw it posted or anything about the dude’s name or where he’s from so it slipped through my fingers in the moment.  Luckily it popped up on a few of these lists this year so I could rediscover it and share.
  49. WNC Carlos, JMM Larry, & SOG Sherwood Flame – Cross Me (So Many Shrimp)
    Rap can do relentless like few other genres can (see “Messy Murder Scenes” above and “Gas Chamber” below) and this is an especially fun version of it.
  50. DB tha General – Gas Chamber (RAP MUSIC HYSTERIA!)
    Speaks for itself.
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SOMETIMES THE TRUTH DON’T RHYME (PART 6)

Once again Tree resurrects this series after another long break!

This is not my favorite song on the new I.B.TREE tape, but it might have my favorite chorus all year.  Other rappers would sound like they were auditioning for the audiobook of The Hood Phrase Book if they tried to rap this chorus – “My bitches is perfect / My niggas is awesome / My mama’s amazing” but Tree can make you feel the depth and profundity of these sentiments in ways no one else could. Glad this refrain had no rhymes in it so I’d have an excuse to write about it here.

Tree – All Dat

This whole tape is such a breath of fresh air after having only the somewhat hit-and-miss #Treestyles to get us through 2015 (at DRIVE SLOW we just pretend Trap Genius didn’t happen).  I’ve heard haters griping that they’re disappointed by the project because Tree did not rap and produce the whole tape.  It’s unclear if this complaint is driven by some kind of rigid purism they imagine must be in place for good music, or if there are people out there that think Tree sounds bad over other people’s beats, but either way I totally disagree and think the pairing is quite complimentary and brings out some of the greatest Tree moments we’ve seen in years.  The mumbling, crossing-the-bar complexity of “Heard Nothing“, the mounting emotional intensity in the verses of “Kinfolk“, and the compelling storytelling of “Couple Nights” are right up there with the strongest points of Sunday School I & II or The MCTREEG EP.  I mean people do realize that half of Sunday School II was produced by other people, right?

Check out the whole project here, and take a moment to relish the unrhymed beauty of the opening track before falling in love with the rest.

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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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2015 RAP

‘Tis the season for spending time with family and loved ones, sipping egg nog, and coming up with ranked lists of your favorite rap songs from the past year.  I used to be a staunch anti-lister: how could we attach such a rigid hierarchy to such personal, subjective material?  I also hated all the petty, pointless arguments that always ensued – such a waste of time that we could be spending on listening to more music.  I still think most of those arguments are dumb, but I’ve recently realized that, like many things I initially disliked, I was just thinking about them in the wrong way.

More and more I’ve come to see the value in these lists; not as what they seem – rigid value judgements about inherently unquantifiable subject matter – but as a starting point for conversation and possible introduction (or re-introduction) to material that might have slipped through the cracks for some listeners.  So this year I’m throwing in my votes for best rap songs of 2015.  I have purposely not looked at any other end-of-year lists so as not to be swayed by the judgements of others.  No doubt I will discover countless songs I should have included once I do see everyone else’s, but maybe someone else will discover something in these 35 selections from this great year in rap.  After the first 5 or 6 songs, I didn’t put much effort into the order so don’t get too caught up in that part of it.  Let me know if you agree, and DEFINITELY let me know if you disagree or have alternate selections, I hope to learn more than teach from this first attempt.

To keep this from being a list of Young Thug and Future songs I stuck to the standard format of doing one track per artist, except in a couple cases where groups have gone solo and where artists have been featured on another song elsewhere on the list.  I definitely see Rich Gang, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan as three separate entities, and Nef the Pharaoh gets featured twice since I didn’t put any of his own solo material on there.

Here we go!

  1. Rich Gang – Up, Up, and Away
  2. Future – No Compadre
  3. Young Thug – No Way
  4. Rich Homie Quan – Flex
  5. Tree – Well
  6. Dr. Yen Lo – Day 3
  7. Juego the Ninety – D’Juego
  8. Vince Staples – Norf Norf
  9. Earl Sweatshirt – Solace
  10. Kendrick Lamar – These Walls
  11. Foxx – Don’t I (feat. Wacko)
  12. Boosie Badazz – Mama
  13. Bandit Gang Marco – NO CASH (feat. Bandit Gang)
  14. Yung Gordon – Finna Hit My Walk (fast version)
  15. Black Zheep DZ – Ice-Hot
  16. Starlito – My Love (feat. Don Trip)
  17. Corn – Old School Hyphy (feat. Nef the Pharaoh)
  18. The Jacka – Ancient Astronauts (feat. Goldie)
  19. Bloody Jay – Want it Like This
  20. YG – Twist My Fingaz
  21. Butch Dawson – Brain
  22. Chance the Rapper – Israel (feat. Noname Gypsy)
  23. Young Jeezy – Birds Could Talk
  24. Jay 305 – Goin’ Up (feat. Dom Kennedy)
  25. DJ Chose – Everywhere I Go (feat. MC Breezy)
  26. Pablo Skywalkin’ – Feeling Myself
  27. Earl Swavey – What Would You Do? (feat. DJ Worm 2G)
  28. 22nd Letter – Blunt on Me
  29. Don Trip – Eviction Notice
  30. Kevin Gates – Khaza
  31. Denzel Curry – Lord Vader Kush II
  32. Zuse – Till I Die
  33. Shabazz Palaces – The Mystery of Lonnie the Døn
  34. Danny Brown – Worth It
  35. Rocko – I’m High

Honorable mention to “Coldest Summer’s Mine” by Justiiice which has inexplicably disappeared from the internet.  It probably would have bumped Rocko off the list had I found a link.

Special thanks to Rap Music Hysteria, The Martorialist, and Tumblin’ Erb for their constant inspiration.  This would have been a much shittier list without y’all.

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STUCK FOR DAYS

When I wrote about Tree & Chris Crack leading the rap vanguard over the cliff into formlessness I didn’t really think the era of rap’s version of free jazz (“free rap” sounds too much like a cheap poster board sign I’d see at the mall around Christmas… “Chaos Rap”?  “Loose Rap“?  “Disarrap”?) was truly at hand.  Justiiice and Satchel Stokes are causing me to reconsider.  It’s a shame Ornette won’t be around to see it happen, if it does.

Justiiice – Coldest Summer’s Mine (feat. Satchel Stokes)

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SOMETIMES THE TRUTH DON’T RHYME (PART 5)

Tree gave me a great reason to resurrect this series from two years ago.

Tree – Well

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CHANGE THE COLOR OF YOUR BLUE TOPS

This is a real eyes-closed-head-nod-lip-biter.

Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Street Knowledge (feat. Tree)

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I HEARD THIS AND SAID FUCK SLEEP

I always wondered if rap would develop along the same path jazz did when free jazz came along.

Ornette Coleman – Free

All the gestures are clearly still jazz gestures, but the theoretical harmonic glue that usually holds those gestures together in unfree jazz is dissolved.  The gestures take on a life of their own outside of their usual boundaries and seem to float chaotically like released balloons.

Rap has different restrictions to break from since harmony and melody have consistently (thankfully) taken a back seat to rhythm and texture.  Deviations in texture have been common for decades, but a true break from clear rhythmic structure is far less common.  Some spoken word and some Lil’ B experiments remove pulse altogether, but this isn’t quite the same as what free jazz did.  It’s not like Ornette removed notes from his music, he just freed them from their usual restrictions.  I think this Tree/Chris Crack song is the best example I’ve heard of a rap version of this.

Tree + Chris Crack – Marv

As with free jazz, all the gestures are still rap gestures, but the drum programming is confusing enough that it’s easy to lose the bar and both rappers seem to pay no attention to the pulse and rap at their own chosen writhing pace, it has that same refreshing chaos that I hear in the free jazz that I love.

I’d welcome any other examples if anybody knows some (and if this post makes sense to anybody but me).

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GOOD GOODBYE

Tree – Goodbye Summer

It’s funny because summer’s just starting in the Bay, I’ll definitely be saving this for November though.

Oh right, the original

Misun – Goodbye Summer

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