Saturday, March 26, 2016

Loosies Of The Week, Mar. 19-25

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. Hype singles from SBTRKT, A$AP Ferg, and Blu. Along with spots from underground acts and rising producers.

A$AP Ferg - Let It Bang

A$AP Ferg's Always Strive and Prosper has been long looked upon by me. Not that I'm a huge fan of Ferg's work, I don't like the majority of it, but what I do like, I really, really like. His two big singles, 'Shabba' and 'Work,' are stellar forms of Trap mixed with Reggaeton. His flow is largely impeccable and his style is undeniable. While A$AP Rocky will always be the figurehead of the A$AP Mob, Ferg is the only other one in the group worth a damn. His slight genre-hopping style, able to be goofy and aggressive, means he's able to work swimmingly with a lot of different artists. On lead single 'New Level' Future appeared along side him, while ScHoolboy Q appears here on 'Let It Bang.' Oh, and he's got Missy Elliott saved for the album.

On 'Let It Bang' the two keep it simple. Verse, chorus and verse from Ferg, followed by verse and chorus from Q. While I won't say the result is stellar, and at it's core is rather average, you can truly see how much personality and charisma is able to pour out of these two, even when they're not doing anything particularly interesting. Both of them go hard, if that wasn't obvious enough, accentuating their rhyme styles and voices to intimidating levels. As a look through that lens 'Let It Bang' is a success, but in terms of Ferg's broader appeal it won't do much. There's just no catchy hook or wild enough bars to warrant ooh and ahh over this song, especially compared to 'New Level.' That being said, as an album cut it's quality. Just not for a single.

Blu & Ray West - Black Coffee

You my boy Blu! It's been years but I'm still holding out hope that Blu will return to his short term glory of his Below the Heavens days. It just seemed that following his highly-lauded debut the L.A rapper couldn't find a foot hold. His releases were spotty, inconsistencies made all over the place, subpar collaborations and poor mixing made for a tough career trajectory. In fact, besides Below The Heavens, Blu doesn't have a single understood release in his discography. An impressive statement to make considering how much music he's put out. Handfuls of LP's, EP's, mixtapes, all coming after his seminal debut. It's disappointing considering there are some definitive gems to be found nestled in some of his most unknown works. The Soul Amazing mixtape series has songs that would rival anything he put out with Exile, but with mastering that would make an amateur producer keel over.

And here we find 'Black Coffee,' a single off Crenshaw Jezebel, a collaborative EP with Ray West. I'm sure you can tell where we're going with this. The EP comes out this week. Bet you didn't know that? Neither did I. In fact, I didn't even know it was an EP. Blu's other nemesis is his own promotional wits, or lack thereof. So since the trend has continued, so has the music quality, in that it's frustratingly good. While his last LP, Bad Neighbor, was essentially a Madlib project, the one before that, Good to Be Home was touted as a return. Hell, it's lead song was even called 'The Return.' Unfortunately it was a return to boring West Coast Hip-Hop, something he had never even done before. With 'Black Coffee' Blu awakens to a style entirely different and comparatively similar.

Featuring a minimal beat from Ray West, one that glides off small percussion and luring atmosphere, Blu strides down through a sexual rendezvous. It's a style of Hip-Hop that's often done poorly, with no subtlety and all show, making for an awkward experience. On 'Black Coffee' Blu, as he was at his best, pins words together so flawlessly and elegantly that you sometimes forget he's talking about crude encounters. His flow is lazy, in an off-kilter mumbling way, and actually heightens the appeal overall. It's actually something I haven't heard in Hip-Hop in a long time, and for that reason alone I'm excited, for the first time in a while, to check out a Blu project. Even though, we all know, it won't mean much.

SBTRKT - Good Morning

I've yet to look into SBTRKT's short, but well-known discography, so take this write-up with a grain of salt. Not that I'm going to slight him, or The-Dream who's featured prominently on 'Good Morning,' just that I don't really know what I'm talking about in regards to the London-based producer. I know he works with an eclectic hodgepodge of singers and rapper, but that's about it. So let's take a listen to 'Good Morning.' Right off the bat, it's too strange and experimental to be on Pop stations, but too straight-forward to be accepted by the critical community. The structure, especially in regards to the production, is really, really odd. It's outright teasing at stages, tortuous in others. For 90% of the track those neon-bright synths fetishized by Hudson Mohawke appear, out in full bloom, crisscrossing back and forth between each. And then, not even at the end of the track cause that would make too much sense, there's twenty or so seconds of bombastic drums and bass. It's the ultimate cocktease.

Now let's focus on The-Dream, cause he is meant to be the focus of this song. I've heard his voice many times, spread across such releases as Cruel Summer, Darkest Before Dawn, and, of course, The Life Of Pablo. It's a very noticeable voice, bearing a falsetto that has him besting many female R&B singers, especially considering their transition into darker, more menacing works. I for one like it. But 'Good Morning' showed me that I like it when he's not the lead, but the chorus-maker or background filler. When he's front and center he's not all that interesting, and at least with what SBTRKT did with the production, matching high with high does not result in a relatively pleasing experience.

Kaytranada - Bus Ride

So here's a name that likely won't ring a bell but if you've been anywhere in the middling scene of Hip-Hop you've likely heard his beats. Kaytranada, a young upstart born in Haiti, raised in Quebec, has been quietly assembling his resume over the past few years. Gathering small steam with a stream of DJ releases, Kaytranada, with 'Bus Ride,' has finally announced his debut album off XL Recordings, 99.9%. Knowing his voice won't be heard a lot resides in the track list to tell the tale of the album, and there's a lot to be found. Little Dragon, Anderson .Paak, BADBADNOTGOOD, Phonte, and Vic Mensa are just some of the names to appear here. It'll be Soulful, that much is obvious. 'Bus Ride' clearly shows that direction, seeing small guest spots arise out of drummer Karriem Riggins and singer River Tiber.

I forgot to mention just some of the names he's worked with. The Internet, Mick Jenkins, Anderson .Paak, Freddie Gibbs, Azealia Banks, Talib Kweli, and Mobb Deep. That is an extensively diverse list coming from someone who's only 23 years old. And while he dabbles in Gangsta Rap and Trap, the base of his influence arises out of Soul and R&B. 99.9% will come from that quiet, hushed, delicate place. 'Bus Ride' though, despite fitting the bill of this to a tee, isn't all that interesting. Not that it won't fit nicely on the album, it likely will, but as a lead single the track doesn't do him much justice. With a handful of Internet big names on the LP it's odd he chose this, a small two minute instrumental piece, as the lead. We shall see where he goes with this, but chances are the live instrumentation and orchestration found nestled in the small percussion will parallel the sounds found on 99.9%.

Zion I - Saving Souls

I guess this is the year of semi-returns of long-lived underground rappers. Now, unfortunately for them we've past the age where the likes of Zion I, Mr. Lif, and Atmosphere are particularly interesting, and while they've all released singles this year, to varying degrees of goodness, none of them have received much attention. You can thank a constantly changing Hip-Hop landscape for that, where to be noticed in the 'underground' (i.e. relatively famous on the Internet) one must be well versed in the global language of social media whilst providing music that entertains or intrigues. Turn of the century underground Hip-Hop was rarely that, relying on straight-forward flows and bars through a conscious perspective with beats that did little to manipulate. Not a surprise that the handful to remain relevant, El-P, Killer Mike, and Busdriver to name a few, have done so because they added reinvention on top of an already creative template.

So where does that leave 'Saving Souls,' the lead single off a as-of-yet unnamed Zion I record? In relatively decent footing, but one that won't sway the perception at all. While some, like Slug of Atmosphere have regressed, others, like Aesop Rock, have maintained the same level of quality. The same could be said, rapping-wise, by Zumbi. With 'Saving Souls' he comes with some much-needed swagger. He may be getting up in age but the emcee stays as hip as ever, eloquently maneuvering through bars with ease. And while he doesn't say anything interesting, he sounds interesting himself, utilizing his raspy voice in ways that vibrate off the bass and synths. The production, from Amp Live, isn't anything to stand in awe at, merely facilitating the rapper without adding any life itself.

Royce Da 5'9" - Which Is Cool

So Royce da 5'9", nearing his mid-life crisis at 39 years old, makes a song criticizing anyone who fails to be completely original while simultaneously creating it with the help of Monster Energy drinks. Not to mention the fact that Royce, an able lyricist sure, might be one of the most boring rappers to make it this far in post-2000's Hip-Hop. He teams up with the least interesting side of Eminem, follows structures that are vastly outdated, and leverages his entire persona by being a Hip-Hop purist long after its been fashionably uncool. At least he has self-awareness, accepting this in the song itself, a small saving grace. Surprisingly, and annoyingly enough, 'Which Is Cool' is actually a pretty good track. His lazy, relaxed flow works well over a classic Boom Bap beat. Nothing special, of course, would never expect it from the guy, but it's solid.

Don't think I'm siding with the trend followers here, I agree with most of his points. The message, not following fads and being yourself, is totally acceptable. But wouldn't you consider it hypocritical for Royce to attack only social media-obsessed fans, ones who make fools of themselves in public, and not his own kind? You know, the Hip-Hop head that aggressively defies progression by lamenting himself as "real Hip-Hop." They've both equally trend followers, just in different regards. Unfortunately for Royce he comes off as the grumpy old grandpa who disdains anything anyone not like him does. Even the video, which has him swaggerly strolling around a convenience store making fun of people, attempts to send that message that it's cool to feel superior to others. "Nigga you'se a bitch, but your bitch a dude." Good one, making fun of how someone presents themselves. But according to some I can't criticize any of this because of the addendum "which is cool" that follows every line.

No comments:

Post a Comment