Catching Up with Waka Flocka Flame on “Re-Up”

Written by Scott Brown (@blackbeanage)

A couple years ago when talking about who’d he work with on his second album, Triple F Life, Waka stated all he needed was Southside, currently head of the 808 Mafia crew, and Lex Luger. Waka put an emphasis on remaining loyal to his team of collaborators—sans Gucci Mane, so even Chaz Gotti is featured and shouted out his newest mixtape Re-Up. Despite this claim of crew love, there aren’t any beats from Lex Luger on this tape and the best songs are arguably the ones 808 Mafia’s Southside didn’t work on.

“How I’m Rockin’” strikes me as a great song on the mixtape and there’s something to London on the Track and Waka’s combination. The depth in London’s sound facilitates Waka’s venture into more refined melodies and flows than his go-to team 808 Mafia. It’s as simple as development requires new surroundings and soundscapes, which London on the Track and Metro Boomin are providing. Maybe I’m just reaching to get another “My Life“-type collaboration in the future.

For better or worse, Waka Flocka Flame has been flowing and rhyming more and yelling and “Dem Gun Sounds” mimicking less. Energy is never in shortage here, which is the least one could ask from Waka. Thankfully, Re-Up is a sweet and short mixtape. There are tracks like “Lottery” that would be boring if there wasn’t as much yelling. It’s a track I could picture this being a song by Plies, a rapper who has tried to reinvent to reinsert himself into the rap discussion with little success. Young Thug is a highlight on “Ain’t No Problem” but it’s interesting that Waka is pretty comfortable within Thugger’s weirdness. But he able to puts everything together on “Word to the Wise,” where his energy via loudness and adlibs sounds as if Waka is almost out of breath half way through the two verses on the song. The song used a beat from rising producer Metro Boomin of “Karate Chop” fame, a selection that shows Waka is still keeping up with the current rap landscape.

The thing I’d like to know is if this mixtape is eleven songs short to be a compact, quality over quantity offering. There are interesting features from Young Thug, Too Short, Young Scooter which lead you to believe there was thoughtful selection. Especially compared to Roaches to Rollies, which mostly featured other Brick Squad Monopoly artists; on the other hand, Re-Up unfortunately ends with songs that are just overproduced demos.

Link: Waka Flocka Flame’s Re-Up

Who Is Que?

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

Talent has never been important for a lasting rap career. The key is even less tangible, but far more valued: Persona, either on or off the record or preferable both. Unfortunately Que struggling to prove he has either.

Titled Who is Que?—a SEO for-pay rap release, genius—the brief EP doesn’t give much time to answer that question. “OG Bobby Johnson” was the single that justified why what was originally announced as a mixtape turned into an EP, but it wasn’t his first “hit.” Last year with the still just buzzing Migos, Que got a hit with “Young Nigga,” a song of that repeated the title phrase to a point of extreme meaning. There was a kind of an inclusion that appear in the track, as if it was really only meant to be for his #newatlanta rapper and producer friends. The song was a basement recording studio anthem that made far too much sense in clubs and cars.

The same crew love aspect applied to “OG Bobby Johnson,” which is named after the song’s lone producer, Bobby Johnson. Unlike the looseness of “Young Nigga,” “OG Bobby Johnson” shows Que as a rapper whose commitment to rap might be a little too much. Where some songs falter after a verse or have a bum line, Que doesn’t allow for that to happen, so the technetronic beat is given equally robotic verses that lock into place. Perfect singular song, but is a hard style to keep interest and successfully repeat. But Que still tries. “From the Jump” and “Time” are stilted triplet rhyming patterns that can be grating with the three members of Migos and certainly so for solo artist. Que and Migos on “Young Nigga” did have something really spark, which Migos picked up and made flourish, but Who is Que? cannot make that connection.

Link: Que’s Who Is Que?

The Frozen World of Vince Staples’ “Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2″

Written by Maxwell Caveseno

In 2016, Barack Obama will have his last term as president concluded. On the very first track of Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Vince Staples snarls dismissively at our first black president, smearing him as a “house nigger” in a nasally “nyah nyah” of a voice that perfectly conveys the disrespect he wants the words to mean. It’s one of many drips of venom the Los Angeles native offers up on his latest offering.

For the past few years Vince Staples has been a slow-burning flame. Initially a generic hipster rapper, he showed promise and a cruel sense of humor that allowed him to fit well at home with his compatriots Earl Sweatshirt and Mike G on their early Odd Future mixtape debuts. However, his first tape, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 was a surprising departure from the rape fantasies and juvenilia of his former peers. Coinciding with the rise of the “trillwave” aesthetics’ fascination with 90s gangster rap, and aided immensely by the fluidic productions of Two-9 affiliate Snubnose Frankenstein; Staples began to be beholden to the ghosts of rap legends past, marrying his humor to the imagery of decades ago. A simple change of costume, abandoning post-Tyler crewnecks for Raider-cosplay flannel, but it made a world of difference.

Since then, Vince has maintained a significant presence with a guest verse on Earl’s “Hive,” and collaborating on whole projects with producers Michael Uzowaru and Mac Miller, under his “Larry Fisherman” alias. 2014 finds the next installment of his Shyne Coldchain series bolstered by production from No I.D., Evidence & DJ Babu and Scoop DeVille. Everything is in place for the young Staples to ascend and claim his rightful place in the spotlight, except for one significant flaw: he has no interest in trying to catching anyone’s attention.

Blame is not solely the fault of Staples. No I.D. produced some of the most uninspired, dull “hip-hop” beats in years. Polished and clean, they provide little more than retro-leaning pomp, offering little dynamic for Vince to toy with. Whereas whenever the other producers flex their work, you see a significant effort from Staples to negotiate much more delicate samples and sounds. Considering that I.D. handles a bulk of the production on this tape however, you’re left with massive gaps of draining, trench-crawling from our antagonist as he snipes away at the world.

This dynamic isn’t the worst thing in the world, as plenty of rappers have turned the “me against the world” mentality into a universal saga. But Staples lacks the charisma to carry this weight. He’s skilled at his evocative sadistic nature, describing people as “candles on the concrete” or muttering how ‘”church only makes you worse.” Yet his voice lacks dynamic or variation, turning into an irritating drone that needles at the listener. Staples has passed on inviting fellow rappers on his project, leaving the only deviations from his oppressive will in the form of the occasional breaching R&B singer (Jhene Aiko, James Fauntleroy). Surely Vince isn’t devoid of confidence, yet Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 seems hexed with a severe case of rapper’s ego, as he is uncommitted to anything but his own ever-insular world.

Vince Staples is at a curious position in the rap game: most of his peers as far as frequent association have already become phased out from their “next big thing” status, with few maintaining more than an underground audience. On this tape, his scope seems to be narrowing into a magnified sense of tunnel vision put on specific details, but unable to look beyond such a narrow frame. It’s an intense journey that he’s going on, but he isn’t concerned about helping anyone along his path.

Link: Vince Staples’ Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2

The Lure for Potential: Lil Mouse’s “Michael Mouse Myers”

Written by Maxwell Caveseno

If 2012 was the year that “Drill (music genre)” ran rampant, snatching up all eyes towards Chicago as the next “big thing” in rap, then 2014 feels like the hangover. The Chicago youths moved to Bop and it’s sonic and emotional innocence, where now most Drill stars have spent their chips devoid of ideas, if they ever had any to begin with. Curiously enough, however, only two Drill acts appear to have delivered official debut albums. One is obviously enough Chief Keef, the poster boy of Chicago rap for the mainstream world, and the other is the least likely act to follow: Lil Mouse.

Since his viral hit “Get Smoked,” Mouse has remained a key figure despite a comparatively limited output. Naturally the sight of prepubescent youth backed by goons discussing the same street shit of his older peers seemed like simple “shock factor.” Yet Lil Mouse continued to collaborate with figures both in and out the Chicago scene with the release of his debut Michael Mouse Myers to show this wasn’t all merely a trend hopping cash-in attempt.

Lil Mouse is no longer worth noticing for his actual baby-face, but now instead it’s his skill set. While “Get Smoked” at best is a noxious ear-worm, Mouse Myers’ intro is an absolute thunderstorm. Deploying dense flows and a technique that would leave your average Tech N9ne fan moderately impressed given the source, Mouse easily surpasses his idol Lil Durk’s detached cold Meek Mill impersonations. One has to marvel at intensity from a rapper, whose career could’ve easily been mistake for a cheap gimmick a year ago.

But after the remix of “My Team” from last year that featured Durk an especially jubilant Young Scooter, the album’s patchiness is revealed. Dull hooks, generic flows borrowed from Keef or Durk, gaudy singers take and beats that range from startlingly forward (“She Going”) to woefully generic (“Came Up”), unfortunately take up the rest of the album. It’s a highly professional effort, working hard to establish him as a serious rapper, but it’s incredibly undercooked and just plainly lacking in presence and quality.

One’s expectations for someone of Lil’ Mouse’s age and stature in his scene might be dreaming the impossible dream. But the more discouraging matter is the severity of the gaps between his highs and lows. Lil Mouse has the potential, if he truly dedicates himself, to make himself into his generation’s Lil Wayne (something Dewayne might’ve recognized himself, given the remix of “Get Smoked” served as a distant acknowledgment of the other’s significance). Unfortunately he also has the ability to prove skeptics right and remain a Worldstar-casualty. And with the clock starting to wind down on his niche, Lil Mouse has to decide how to evolve and age gracefully into a rapper to watch.

Link: Lil Mouse’s Michael Mouse Myers

Suge Knight’s Long Shadow: Max Minelli’s “Dope Boy Chad”

Written by Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (@danielmondon)

Hip-hop is happy to rewrite and revise its own history. It’s a culture that devotes support to who yelled last and who was the loudest to do so. A lot of people never get their dues and outside of a few savvy supporters’ fandom, never will. Sometimes those who once yelled loudest are written out regardless. We shrug off the unseemly and the creepy, a culture’s selective memory at work.

Suge Knight is somebody that hip-hop culture turned on. It’s also not hard to tell why the culture turned on him; he remains the genre’s poster boy for hubris. Suge’s violent tactics and linebacker-sized ego were as elemental to Death Row’s downfall as it was to their uprising. Though hip-hop can easily root and cheer on a villain, Knight did not appear to be a character as he was upfront about his Blood connections and famed for his strong-arm tactics. When Death Row fell apart, Suge descended into a vortex of unsuccessful label reboots and TMZ-era villainy that he’s never really bounced back from.

So it comes as a surprise to hear the 90s version of Suge brought back to life at the start of Max Minelli’s recent mixtape Dope Boy Chad. Minelli–a long-time Young Bleed affiliate and Baton Rouge mainstay since the late Nineties–is a passable rapper, the type to enunciate the most mundane bars (“I put on for my city like Jeezy” reappears countless times) in a wonderfully sticky drawl. The instrumentals he chooses are meant to evoke particular pangs of nostalgia: the synthetic regality of early T.I., Boosie-esque fury, the Spanish guitars of Ja Rule’s slow jams. Yet Suge hangs over the tape.

“Dopeboy TV (Intro)” flashes between nuggets of d-boy specialisms and TV static, a sure signal of nostalgia, before arriving at Suge’s infamous speech from the 94 Source Awards. That speech fanned the flames of the East/West conflict, with Suge and Snoop causing a tense New York crowd to nearly explode. You know the moment from clip shows and from having even a passing interest in hip-hop’s history: “the executive producer all in the videos, dancin‘” et cetera. Minelli decides to let the entirety of Knight’s speech play out, and the fact that he thanks God and “my entire Death Row family” at the beginning came to me as a surprise: it’s a moment of faith and unity that humanizes the Death Row owner, an acknowledgement that I was unaware had even been said, a moment erased from the record for not being juicy enough. For a moment, you can bond with Suge Knight as a relatable human being proud of his success rather than a tyrannical ogre.

Minelli allows the ogre to live again, cursing the Bad Boy empire and drawing a line in the sand. In the current super friends era of hip-hop—an era where people lost their shit over Kendrick naming names out of respect –that speech sounds more unhinged. Suge fans the flames with wild abandon, sneering and mocking the crowd; drinking in the boos directed at the stage. The very moment where Suge yells “come to Death Row!” is edited and replaced with a bellow of “come to Crook Muzik Creme Team!”, a cute effort to paint Minelli’s clique as a new Death Row. Its placement at the head of Minelli’s tape shows that there are people that still sympathize and admire Knight’s hard-headedness, his desire to promote realness and strike fear in the hearts of his competitors. It functions to remind people that despite his diminished role in the hip-hop pantheon, Suge Knight still matters to people: not as a warning but as a gully inspiration.

Link: Max Minelli’s Dope Boy Chad

9 Songs to Slow Down on a Ratchet Weekend

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

The obvious term is “Ratchet & B.” That’s what Jeff Weiss coined talking about TeeFlii early last year, when his mix of YG raunch and The-Dream’s slyness sounded a bit more unique if not wholly original. A year later: TeeFlii is on a major label, Ty$ got his own Top 40 hit and the minimalist Cali sound that seemed so limited before has found its way across the country. History is usually not too kind to forced genre names—reveals “Witch House” tattoo—but “Ratchet & B” feel right for these strip club, sex obsessed tunes that beg for summer sun after this polar-vortexed winter.

“2 AM (Young California Remix)” – Adrian Marcel (feat. Problem & Sage the Gemini): Problem and Sage the Gemini are two guys whose careers could easily subsist on R&B singles and being those “California Ratchet Guys.” Not that they haven’t created excellent music on their own, but their respective personas only need 16 bars to shine. This “2 AM” remix from the young singer Adrian Marcel proves this fact, because while I’ve been told that Marcel is one to lookout for, the late-night minimalism here fits effortless rapping far too well. And, I’ll admit this might just be myself, but there is a very “Chill Out” vibe to “2 AM” that almost hints at Owl City, which a place I never thought I’d desire R&B to approach.


“2 On” – Tinashe (feat. Schoolboy Q): To keep chucking up 2s, here is Tinashe’s “2 On” with a sadly leaned out Schoolboy Q. But no amount of mediocre rapping can hold back this immaculate single. DJ Mustard’s production and Tinashe’s suave recall less Cassie’s “Me & U,” but one of Diddy’s late 2000s singles which had a sonic tinge of one too many shots of Ciroc. But, Tinashe isn’t dealing with love lost, she’s faded with her clique on a mission and DJ Mustard and Schoolboy Q are just buzzed along for the ride.


“24 Hours” – TeeFlii (feat. 2 Chainz): The good and bad column for TeeFlii is pretty even. On the Pro-side is that hooks practically form from him just saying any phrase; on the Negative-side is that he leans on repeating certain words (“Annie”) to a point of obnoxious meaninglessness. “24 Hours” leans on his strength, where nearly every line could be its own hook and it doesn’t hurt DJ Mustard’s beat is only a side-step away from his biggest 2014 hit “Show Me.” And just in case future radio listeners want to be even more confused by this potential hit, 2 Chainz verse regurgitates a number of lines from previous songs. Ratchets don’t need originality.


“Do It To Ya” – YG (feat. TeeFlii): The way that 2010s rap has started to cannibalize its own history could be a cause for concern for the genre that traditionally treats history as an unwanted used napkin but that isn’t the case here. DJ Mustard swiping The Dogg Pound’s “Let’s Play House,” reduces down the song to just a few piano chord and snaps to distinguish it from the suave of the original. And while TeeFlii might have the unfortunate task of repeating “do it to ya,” YG even on his major label debut remains a going down first kind of nigga. *praying hands emoji*


“Drop It” – Trevor Jackson (feat. B.o.B.): This is probably the least “R&B” song on this list and honestly fits closer to the more party oriented Ratchet songs I discussed a couple months ago. “Drop It” doesn’t have the personality of “Paranoid,” the fucking perfect sample of “Show Me,” or even the star-studdedness—Chris Brown and Lil Wayne—of “Loyal,” B.o.B. doesn’t count. But, Trevor Jackson, again could there be a less star-ready name, has an effective song though not thrilling song that unfortunately cannot keep up with its sonic brethren on the radio right now.


“Na Na” – Trey Songz: There are a number of sonic tics that give away a DJ Mustard song. The “Ha” chants, the drums, the way that the subject matter seems to be invoking a strip club no matter the artist. Not that Trey Songz hasn’t relished a kind of Post-R. Kelly kind of sleaze (see: every time attempts to rap), it’s just that with a Mustard beat everything gets an intentional, or maybe not, layer of grime. The song isn’t a great Mustard or Songz single, but it’s an interesting show of form in just how malleable a singer and a producer can be for a specific sonic moment.


“Or Nah” – Ty$ (feat. Wiz Khalifa & DJ Mustard): Ty$ already has a one Top 40 single with the insta-classic “Paranoid.” “Or Nah” doesn’t have the immediate narrative conceit that makes “Paranoid” so repeatable even after one knows “that having two bitches in the club” cannot be a good idea. Instead the song leans on the other strength of Ty$ as a songwriter is that he understands how is voice can linger to string out a song’s hook. The song takes on a smoked-out conversation where our narrator is either talking to a woman, or maybe just himself, once he asks a question like “you gonna make these eggs cheesy or nah?”


“Slide Through” – Rayven Justice: First off shout to site owner and untouchable random regional hit finder, David Drake with mentioning this over at Complex last week. Somewhere between an YG mixtape deep cut and John Hart’s “Who Booty,” this song again shows the kind of amped up bro-ness of these “Ratchet & B” songs. A hook that interpolates C-Murder’s “My Niggas,” which has become an almost foundational text for this current rap generation, and a silk smooth beat makes this worth every listen after the first two dozen.

 

“$nitches” – Lupe Fiasco (feat. Ty$): Lupe Fiasco at one point rapped on a major label rap album from the perspective of a hamburger. Though Fiasco has been a strong rapper for over a decade and his sneaky ear for pop hooks, which he and others would likely deny, has been lose recently with him too caught up in his own #twitterdeep thoughts. “$nitches” isn’t a Rashomon like tale of black love instead it’s a 5pm three drinks deep convo amongst the bros talking shit and scheming about the opposite sex. Uplifting or conscious-minded this isn’t. Enjoy the Cali weed, a cold Lime-a-rita while relaxing with those closest to ya.

A Reverse Crossover Hit: Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse”

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

A few months ago visiting a friend at school, and we went out to a bar where Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” was played over and over and over again. I’ve already written about the song before, but each time I hear it fills it with a fresh context. Since coming back home for spring break I’ve heard “Dark Horse” multiple times on the radio, the first time on a late night mix, where I assumed it would just be the Juicy J verse, but nope the entire song played. Then on an afternoon countdown segment where it appearing right after Rich Homie Quan’s “Walk Through” and K. Camp’s “Cut Her Off,” which made my mind melt just a bit.

Despite the Clear Channelification of terrestrial radio, there is still a unique character that can shine through certain stations. Charlotte’s Power 98 (WPEG) has a strong lean towards R&B, which I’ve heard more Marcus Houston than probably any one person would like to have heard, but it also means that in 2014 there is a number of Ratchet&B singles on the station’s playlist. But, where does Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” fit into that station? It doesn’t.

The song with Juicy J and produced by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Cirkut was an attempt at “Trap (electronic genre),” which somehow claims roots in “Trap (rap genre).” But that variation of Rap at best right now is floundering as California is stealing the shine away from Atlanta; so while people were quick to yell “Versace Versace Verse,” DJ Mustard and Ty$ are the ones with the Billboard  Pop hits to back up their urban radio spins. Yet “Dark Horse” has found a way onto at least this rap station’s playlist. This could be the post-“Royals” effect starting to show, as that young New Zealand singer got a hit that read as “rap” even though sonically it sounded like nothing else on rap radio, see also how “Team” has receive no rap/R&B station airplay. “Royals” wasn’t the only hit, as “23” by Mike Will Made and Miley Cyrus was another white girl rap track that rap stations fully embraced.

A song produced by one of the biggest white American pop stars, produced by some of the biggest pop producers in the world and featuring a rapper who’s had at least three career revivals is suddenly “rap.” And Kanye didn’t put out any singles for Yeezus on the radio for what reason.