This is Bullshit

As a Clipse fan with waning interest in their musical output, I wanted to not invest much time or energy into thinking about this new mixtape. It was done for a magazine, in promotion for a clothing line and name drops Nah Right in a verse eight months after Mickey Factz or something probably did.

But seriously, when are we going to forever write off this rap group? They’ve released two generally garbage mixtapes this year, plus an “album” where half of the verses were directly lifted from a mixtape and placed over one Storch beat and a bunch of fake Storch beats and they asked you to pay them for it. For dudes who rhyme all day about 09 Benzes and Parada shades and Italy this strikes me as a supremely dick move. Where were you internet?

More importantly: do these guys have a fire anymore? Even in this era of trapper-not-rapper/got rich before rap, are they even trying? Yeah, they had great punchlines on both volumes of We Got It For Cheap; some of those verses are my favorite rap verses ever. But wasn’t the most galvanizing part of those tapes the fact that here were two dudes rapping their asses off for their lives basically? Maybe they were or maybe they weren’t. Maybe if those tapes never jumped off they’d have faded away forever to get rich off coke money. Or maybe they would’ve hung around spitting verses on N.E.R.D. records until Pharell finally got their album off. No one knows, but in 2005, when it felt like their careers— and lives— hung in the balance, it made for some really powerful rap music.

But the way they rap now, this is sloth rap. These are verses and ideas and styles and flows not just recycled, but back in your fridge again as another soda can. Say what you will about Wayne, but he’s still worth following because he’s still going places. Both him and The Clipse are arguably at the lowest creative points in their careers, but look back to December 2007. Wayne’s notably deviated from that time, both with awful stuff like his dialysis-esque attachment to AutoTune and with great stuff like “A Milli” and “Dr. Carter”. It’s entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that Wayne is going to snap out of his funk and return to rapping like he was two years ago. Does anyone— stans included— think that The Clipse, as they stand now as these self-fulfilled gluttons, are going to return to the rappers they were on We Got It 4 Cheap? (NB: I’m not saying Hell Hath No Fury because I think that album is plagued by lots of the problems that I’m outlining here, a few songs excluded) Even more to the point: does anyone believe that Clipse want to return to the rappers they were on “Zen” or “Cot Damn”? Even if circumstances prevented them being able to mentally return to that point, does anyone get the feeling that these two guys strive to be more than they are right now. I see this desire in Jeezy. I see it in Kanye. I see it in Ludacris. I see it in Boosie and Webbie and Freeway and even Gorilla Zoe. Wayne had that fire back when no one believed him when he said he was the best rapper alive, and now that he’s been validated, at least commercially, he hasn’t showed even the slightest hint of slowing down. These guys, they see frontiers. The Clipse, they seem pretty comfortable giving us the same tired rhymes over other people’s beats.

Anyone who has been with The Clipse since 2001, or even 2005, should resent them. If you’re one of those people, you should resent this bullshit they’re handing you. You should resent the fact that they’re going to whine about their third LP, that they’re going to suck you in, and that it’s going to be exactly like the shit we got this year. I would demand more from them— from us— but think about The Clipse in 2008. Is there a point?

One

Every time I listen to The Recession or just see Jeezy on TV or in a magazine or whatever it reminds me that he’s the only real rap star we’ve got right now. Wayne stopped trying over a year ago, to the point where I can’t decide whether him mugging it up with Kid Rock at a country awards show is worse because I didn’t even bat an eye or because he mugged it up with Kid Rock at a country awards show. Kanye was always more pop star than rap star but even on that front he’s on a sabbatical. You could maybe argue T.I., who sold out but still really went at it in some places on Paper Trail, but we won’t be seeing his face for a while. After that who’s left? Jay? Nas? Plies and Ross? BET is still trying to pretend like Nelly is famous.

I feel kind of lazy even writing about this video. For one, videos don’t matter anymore, so this doesn’t carry the weight of “Ha” or “Get Ya Hustle On” even though it desperately tries to. I felt this way after the “Put On” video emerged, which did way less than this video does with a song that’s worth way more. Secondly, Jeezy’s not doing anything special in a video that is pure formula (right down to the McCain/Palin masks), so it would be foolish to classify it as anything more than a bullet point as to why The Recession is great and why its existence matters.

Still, it’s intense and moving to see Jeezy rapping this dark, sinister and hopeless song in the middle of a mosh pit. It’s still prescient to see a song called “Crazy World” visualized like this. Even the splices of video showing falling buildings and alligators are artfully done. And for some reason, Jeezy riding around in a Go Kart seems to oddly fit in.

Put simply, Jeezy seems to be the only major rapper that cares, not even about real rap, but about the way a famous rapper should carry himself. There’s no Ross-like fake kingpin shit that is appropriate in song but smothers you elsewhere. There’s none of the shameless genre-hopping that’s makes Jay and Wayne fans embarrassed to own their albums. He doesn’t play the acoustic guitar or have a blog or a freestyle up on YouTube every two hours. He’s humble, smart and judicious. He has the hood on his back but he doesn’t flaunt it, and in the case of “Vacation”, he gives them as much power as they give him. He puts his art out, take it or leave it.

I sense that Jeezy feels like being a rap star is his duty, both to rap and his fans. I sense that he feels like he’s carrying the torch, whereas Wayne and countless others feel like they’re the flame. This is why, to me, he carries himself so gracefully.

And lastly, besides the music being really great, there’s a reason why The Recession is so powerful: Jeezy lets it speak for itself.

Soulja Boy + Gucci Mane

Soulja Boy + Gucci Mane – “Bands”

Soulja Boy + Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti – “Shopping Spree”

Soulja Boy + Gucci Mane, Shawty Lo (<–please ignore) – "Gucci Bandanna"

Where Soulja Boy sits commercially now is, I imagine, a mystery to everyone at his label. After coasting into 2008 on the back of one of the biggest pop singles of the decade, he’s trickled out a few more singles off his album, the biggest of which, “Donk”, made a small dent on rap radio in the South but that’s about it. The supposed first big single off his follow-up, “iDance”, was directly passed along to the morgue about two days after it showed up on YouTube. His new single, “Bird Walk” (video at the end of this post), is a Soulja Boy single to the core: clattering percussion, simple but catchy keyboard line, tons of chanting, huge chorus. If the kid is able to get something this confrontational on to pop radio then he might actually be sticking around for a while.

Over the summer he started posting mixtape tracks to his YouTube channel, some of which featured guest verses from Gucci Mane, one of the first major rappers, to my knowledge, to collab with Soulja Boy. For Soulja Boy, having a respected Southern MC on his songs both legitimizes his art in his mind and, more importantly, gives him a foil aside from the legitimately brain dead Arab. As for Gucci, the Soulja Boy tracks provide for him harder, rawer beats unlike the (really well-produced) Zone 4/Zone 4-rip off joints that highlight his last solo album Back to the Traphouse. But, unlike countless other stuff that Gucci’s gone over this year, the Soulja Boy beats aren’t too mixtape-y. They’re noisy but not muddled, not at all hi-fi but not DatPiff quality either.

Mostly though, the songs allow Gucci, a dude who has his eyes on pop music (or at least commercially successful rap music) and a knack for hitting his mark, to enter into the world of a kid who’s trying to make the hardest, most nonconforming, most singular pop-rap around. They also make sure that Soulja Boy has good rapping on his songs. It’s an excellent mix.

Soulja Boy – “Bird Walk”