D’Angelo - Brown Sugar (off Brown Sugar, 1995, EMI)
Hungover and I need this on repeat so bad.
—I'll Do Better Next Time
Zico on the Block - I’ll Do Better Next Time (off Zico on the Block 1.5, 2012, internets)
This is what happens when a prominent member of a K-Pop boyband goes rogue and records a Tumblr-rap mixtape with raps about how fame sucks and song titles like “Battle Royale” and “Cocks” (yes, honestly). Thankfully, out of this mess emerges “I’ll Do Better Next Time”. The beat heavily bites the twilight atmospherics of 40’s work for Drake, but instead of retaining reverence for the 90s R&B it’s sampling, Zico plays with the pitch and tone of the original parts until the oh-so-tasteful piano and digital snares turn slightly off-key and queasy. The song sounds like it’s melting, congealing into something else entirely, something potentially unnerving. (This drew me to mishear the adlib “what’s wrong, hon” as “what’s wrong, cunt”. Oops. He is a Tyler fan, after all.)
Xzibit feat. King T and Tha Alkaholiks - Louis XIII (off Napalm, 2012, Open Bar Entertainment)
It is 2012 and Dr Dre quietly gave Xzibit a massive sounding C-walk-in-space beat for his indie comeback album, then soundlessly stepped back, allowing a 90s West Coast cypher to happen. IT IS 2012 AND AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS LIKE THIS STILL HAPPEN. (A point deducted for Xzibit dropping Saddam Hussein metaphors in this day and age, but this is still great.)
Lil Poopy - Bout That Life (off Coke Ain’t A Bad Word, 2012, internets)
I’m afraid I still don’t “get” French Montana, a man whose sloppy presence on a song never really strikes me as deserving of more than a shoulder shrug. What he is great at is bumbling onto genius, like a Rap Game Frank Drebin. I could care less about Excuse My French, but I care about “fanute” becoming a buzzword despite not being what he intended to say (“from the hoopty-coupe”). I wasn’t wild about his Lock Out collaborative mixtape with Waka but I’ll forever cherish when he rapped that his guns sounded “like a metal band/Coldplay… U2”. And I can’t say I envision myself following his career after 2012’s faded into the recesses of my mind, but will recall with misplaced fondness that he used his fifteen minutes of fame to put on his own son.
Lil Poopy - yes, really - is an eight year old that recently dropped his debut mixtape Coke Ain’t A Bad Word onto an unsuspecting world*. I can report the following things happen before I resort to fanuting the entirety of my drinks cabinet: On one track Poopy - yes, really - raps about playdates and iceskating while throwing subliminals at Bow Wow and Lil Romeo from fourteen years ago. Mixtape host Big Mike howls “POOPY DA DON!” over every track, his shame softened by complimentary Coke Boyz-emroidered Versace scarves. French shows up halfway through to get bodied by his own seed, his own seed. Somebody really wrote Poopy a freestyle with a double-entendre punchline involving Montana weedcarrier Chinx Drugs and Jeremy Lin that I’ll have to leave to your imagination**. There’s a freestyle over ‘The Motto’ that leads up to the line “OMG daddy, look at her butt, Poopy!” Nobody says “fanute”. Not even once. It’s all just so, so terrible.
The one positive to take from this is the gonzo kid-trap anthem ‘Bout That Life’, where Poopy - yes, really - acquires a cartoonish bully-boy version of his father’s music over an uncredited beat that submerges itself in a rush of abrasive bubble noises every four bars. It’s all very odd, pushed into outright surreality by a famous rapper’s son bellowing the song’s title for the hook and refusing to divulge how much his deal costs. I’ll let you argue amongst yourselves over whether it’s responsible to have a pre-pubescent boy say “you never seen a better price/I get it to you cheap!”*** I’m just glad that French, by proxy, is continuing to accidentally fanute fascinating things into existence despite his lack of talent.
* In the case you were eagerly expecting this and aren’t related to French Montana in anyway, you are either a Coke Boyz fanboy(z) or shouldn’t be allowed around kids. No middle ground here.
** To counter what he’s just said, Poopy goes “—and that’s no racism!” Uh, it is.
*** Hint: Probably not!
The Black Opera - Balcony (off Libretto: Of King Legend, 2012, Mello Music Group)
The Black Opera are a “cast of characters narrating OUR perception of Timeless issues and Universal subjects” (their emphasis). Their upcoming Libretto - “in the world of opera, a libretto is the blueprint” - is the final part of an introductory trilogy for the group. Opera, transatlanticism, ambitious career narratives with prologues. Okay, they’re going out of their way to tell you they’re on that other shit. The recently leaked ‘Balcony’ is an smart way to show it’s not all egghead conceptual rappity-rap.
The anonymity surrounding TBO’s members leaves the listener to guess if they have any allegiance to a particular scene or city* but for now, their influences leave hints at where they may be coming from. ‘Balcony’ presents elements of Diamond District-style DC melodic-yet-hardheaded rap, Shabazz Palaces’ Afrofuturist streak and a little bit of crotchety us-against-them underground hip-hop. The first couplet that’ll jump out at you comes in the second verse: “On the kerb with a skateboard?/That’s cool but don’t be actin’ like you Rick Ross/Rick Ross ain’t even Rick Ross!/Rick Ross ain’t even Rick Ross!”
Ross’s identity/authenticity qualms are common knowledge by everyone with working access to a radio, magazine or modem, so I won’t waste your time in covering it all over again. On first listen, this moment sounds like snide, anti-mainstream superiority. It sounds like one of those sneak disses that post-millenial rappers have tried to parlay into a career for so long, the transparent desire to get your buzz up through obvious drama-baiting. This rarely ever works: look at Tru Life and Slim the Mobster, for instance.** These tactics are like throwing a pebble at a giant. Once that reaction wears off, you’re noticing how the rapper takes joy in impersonating Rozay’s unmistakeable grunt - even going as far to throw in his trademark ruh ad-lib inbetween lines. There’s no real sneer to be found here but a message.
‘Balcony’ comments on the slippery identity that an artist puts on when they appear on record: Rick Ross isn’t “Freeway” Ricky Ross, yes, but Rick Ross isn’t William Leonard Roberts II either. This isn’t an authenticity check in the realm of whether Noriega really owes Rozay a hundred favours. This is an authenticity check for your real life, under the costumes we present ourselves in. Going “do you!” isn’t a new message in the slightest***, but having a group point it out to you while they happily flaunt their borderless anonymity carries a certain thrill.
* Looking at their live itinerary, one would guess they’re Michigan-based.
** I will say this - Slim has a long way to go until he matches Tru Life’s immortal “when’s your album dropping? Neveruary 32nd?” comments.
*** TANGENTIALLY RELATED! DMX’s ‘Do You’ really has aged well, unlike the X Man himself, last seen rapping Baltimore for some reason.
VMAs 2002, Justin Timberlake’s first solo performance (falsettos better than on record), lip-syncing their verses on ‘Like I Love You’ and wearing those t-shirts on stage. Kevin Federline’s somewhere in there doing back-up dancing. There’s a huge boombox. Synchronised shoulder-dancing with the bassist. I feel very protective of my adolescence of fake award shows.
Lady Leshurr - SBTV F64 (youtube, 2011)
YOU MUST BE DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB EAT UP THE BEAT LIKE NOM NOM NOM NOM
That may be my new favourite line of, um, well, ever (at least since “some youtube comments are gonna say ‘get to the kitchen and make me a sandwich’/who d’you think I am, Gordon Ramsey?!”)