Armchair A&R Number 2: Slick Pulla’s “Pushin Pillows” (Remix)

“Pushin Pillows” was one of my favorite last-minute year-end-list additions; the production’s pillow-y textures and dreamy guitar lines have an unforgettable insouciance. Plus, the entire concept of the song is an especially evocative one. That said, as a somewhat-former-Catholic who happens to find a particular potency in the morally conflicted rapper role, I think that whatever the eventual lineup, The Jacka should be tapped for the remix. Not only does his “Aspen” fit in similar conceptual territory, but his lyrical approach parallels the track’s inherent contradictions. Witness his opening lines on the recent “I’m Gucci (Bay Mix)”: “Fuckin’ with my n**** Mess, Neiman Marcus, Saks 5th / Gucci store, Louis store, Ferragamo to get dressed / all because of funerals, n**** that’s doin’ bids stretched.” Very few rappers can successfully juxtapose the recognition of consequences of criminality with the desire to enjoy the rewards; sure, some artists bring it out in vocal performance, but rarely in the lyrics themselves. He sets you off in one direction, as if his verse is going to be one-dimensional bragging; then he undercuts it immediately by pointing to the real cost in theatrical fashion.

Armchair A&R Number 1: Hit Boy and Los

So, I’ve decided to start a new series here I’m going to call “Armchair A&R,” which is where I come up with imaginary collaborations that could impact careers & change the face of hip-hop for eternity. Ideally, this column can help to avert horrible tragedies — like the Shady Records roster — from ever occurring again in the future.

So, to kick this off, we have Hit-Boy & Los. Los is a Baltimorean who was with Bad Boy, but now flies solo. The Crown Ain’t Safe dropped recently, and Baltimorean Al Shipley of governmentnames recommended his tape Shooter. I’ve enjoyed both (definite edge to Shooter), although it’s become readily apparent that Los is about as incredible as a rapper as he is terrible as a songwriter. His verses are that perfect balance of personality and skill, wit and humanity, but I don’t think I’ve heard a single track from him with a halfway-decent hook, and the production tend towards the generic, to the point where I begin to suspect that a few of the beats were actually click tracks. (He actually does the best job when spitting over charting instrumentals). The most impressive song off The Crown Ain’t Safe was “King Los,” which at least has a beat with a modicum of momentum:

On the other hand, we have Hit-Boy, an incredible songwriter/producer who managed to give Jay and Kanye their biggest (and most genuinely impressive) hit (sorry, I don’t fuck w/ “Otis”). I’m not a fan of either rapper in 2012; Kanye is at his most abrasive & Jay his most detached. But Chase N. Cash makes the Watch the Throne duo sound like ’91 Linden Boulevard-era Tip & Phife. “Daily Routine” just might be the most wasted beat of 2011. Like, I fuck with that production for real; that’s a potentially charting beat, a front-to-back song that needs only a mildly competent rapper. Instead, CNC’s verses drain the oxygen from the room; shit would be stronger as an instrumental. That verse is writer’s block in rap form, where every line is a cliche or banality, delivered with a mouthful-of-sand flow and the personality of a 16-year-old with a tumblr account.

Speaking of cliches, let’s see some stars align. People, make this shit happen. Los & Hit-Boy is the next Illmatic.