The Talent was Rapping: Dreezy’s “Schizo”

Written by Crystal (@crystalleww)

Despite its long rap history, Chicago has recently experienced a youthful surge of emcees that are still forming into their musical identities. Katie Got Bandz is the queen of drill with the ability to energize a party, Mikey Dollaz is the guy who sometimes sounds slightly disinterested but can really turn up the sinister on the most melodramatic of beats, Tink is the dual rapping and singing threat who is always negotiating the divide between tough and tender, and King Louie is rapper who happens have an ear for production that helps define a city’s sonic scene. While a number of other rappers are still carving out their space, this generation of Chicago rap have proved themselves to be worthwhile additions to the Chicago rap canon regardless of their age.

Dreezy’s Schizo makes the point that Dreezy is the rapper’s rapper, a MC with impeccable flow and dizzying bars. While the current preference for “femcees” seems to lean towards those good at both singing and rapping—Nicki Minaj, Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, even Tink—Dreezy’s moments of shine are when she’s focused on rapping.

This comes across very plainly in the up-and-down quality of the mixtape. Dreezy gives acceptable efforts on sung choruses, but her most memorable hooks remain the rap ones. “Break a Band,” her late 2012 collaboration with Mikey Dollaz shows up here towards the end of the tape, as the repetition of “I break a band” rockets off into space. Elsewhere, her emphatic “ain’t for none!” and the zooms of “zero” are ready-made for rocking back and fist-pumping forth. It’s much better than the listless, auto tune reliant fare of “Lonely,” “Bad Habit” and “Truth Hurts,” which truly drag in their sung bits. Her vocal limitations drag down the songwriting and lyricism during these parts, but there are popping moments in the rap bits before being dragged down to earth by their generic hooks.

On the other hand, Dreezy emerges as a full-blown artist when she’s rapping. From the impressive display on “Break A Band,” Dreezy’s taken time to try different flows with her voice, all at the same time improving the variety of subject material and thematic content. She snarls on “All the Time,” forcefully spitting out swagger, but can still slow up with “Mind Games,” a surprisingly tender track about an aloof boy that has Dreezy changing up her flow and delivery with total ease. “Heard It All” is generically silly during the sung hook, but the verses are great, with really fantastic moments including using the double meaning of “under cover” and a slew of ad-libs brimming with personality like “duh,” “nope,” and “yaaaaaa.”

The most successful attempt at branching out is “Dreamer Pt. 2,” which explores a different subject without feeling false to Dreezy as a whole. Turning inwards to explore herself, it’s the inspirational rap song that Angel Haze wishes she could have had on Dirty Gold, using her personal goals, aspirations, and details as a vehicle to tell a narrative about her macro environment. Dreezy rounds her story with vividly specific imagery of herself (“blue jeans, Jordans, kinda cute but can still spit mean”), plainly articulating the problems she faces as a female rapper without essentializing them (“they say women don’t make it unless they on their knees so I got down on my knees, started praying, god please”), while at the same time grounding herself at the place she’s called home (“I put my dad to sleep next to a Bible”).

Chicago, and no other city, is what gives these rappers such strong material to take with them into the recording booth. They understand the constant negotiation within the city’s textured hip hop scene much better than any web documentary about “Chiraq.” Dreezy drops specific local references to Lil Kemo and boppin’, Stack or Starve, and Harold’s Chicken on “Zero” showing that these kids might just be figuring out who they are, but they’re doing a hell of a better job than the adults

Link: Dreezy’s Schizo

L O V E Week: Jojo’s “#LoveJo”

Written by Crystal (@crystalleww); Introduction by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

Through a mix of bad puns and interesting Valentines Day releases, this week at is all about R&B. With different writers going in-depth on recent releases from Jojo, K. Michelle, Mya, Ne-Yo and Pharrell, and since Pharrell’s G I R L is coming out this week. The name of this little week devoted to R&B releases is, again bad pun: L O V E Week. Hope everyone enjoys!

The current wave of R&B criticism has magnified the critical attention paid to Abel Tesfaye-inspired female R&B singers and songs that have been incorrectly labelled as part of the genre “Aaliyah-wave”. Even Cassie, whose name is falsely evoked by many as a founding member, succumbed to the trend with 2013’s RockaBye Baby, a mixtape full of utterly forgettable too-cool-for-emotion tunes. While JoJo’s explored the trendier, sexier side of R&B with her excellent flip on Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” and 40-produced “Demonstrate”, it’s refreshing to hear #LoveJo pays homage to the more soulful and overly emotive side of her genre.

Covering such classic, though a bit old-fashioned, R&B and pop tunes may not be an explicit rejection of that high-profile style, but it certainly feels like a denial of the narrative that forces buzzy female R&B singers within a certain niche. Despite the generational gap with the singer and the source material, both EP covers do a good job of updating their saccharine source material. Da Internz produced both tracks, giving both songs updated beats that bounce. They are largely known for Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$)” and Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake”, but their production here is closer to their work with Tamar Braxton. JoJo’s take on Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture of Love” keeps the original, slightly over the top runs but she injects the track with much needed youth and a waving and stuttering outro that avoids veering into trend-chasing. Phil Collin’s original take on “Take Me Home” was a little one noted, so JoJo takes an updated beat to create space for vocal flourishes.

Final song “Glory” draws on gospel. Unlike her contemporary peers, it doesn’t shy away from melisma one bit. Between her embrace of the trendy markers and the historical roots of R&B, JoJo is showing the world that she is continually undervalued and deserves to be a part of the broader conversation.

Link: Jojo’s #LoveJo

Bow Down Nicki’s Back

Written by Crystal (@crystalleww)

Nicki Minaj continues her string of revolutionary yet highly enjoyable verses
in the remix of Young Thug’s “Danny Glover.” In a week that opened with Macklemore
receiving accolades for his white-splained condemnation of homophobia in
hip hop, Nicki showed what being subversive really looks like. Her verse
contains casual bicurious undertones by at hinting making a pass towards
Jessica Biel while threatening the sexuality of Justin Timberlake. Unlike
America’s Favorite White Rapper who’s compelled to stress his
heterosexuality on “Same Love,” Nicki proclaims “I am not gay” before
explaining “but let’s be precise / Cause if she pretty then watch it / Cause I
might be fucking ya wife.” By labelling herself then saying something
contrary with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer that’s not “precise” at all, Minaj
demonstrates sexuality’s fluidity and the arbitrariness of such labels and

Last week, her verse on YG’s “My Nigga” remix signalled this revolutionary
yet enjoyable direction. Nicki Minaj switches the black bro love of “my
niggas” into her own empowerment phrase with “my bitches.” White
feminists, and conservative cultural critics, tend to single rap out for
misogyny when rappers call women “bitches” and “hoes,” but Nicki, a
successful black woman, take the degrading and anonymizing power away
from the word and give it the power of comradey. Her ad-libbing at the end
calls out to the kitchen not as a site for male taunting but as yet another
place where Minaj can assert her dominance. Never fear: it’s not an adoption
of white feminism; Minaj commandingly ends her verse with a loud and clear
“My nigga!”

Tink’s Language of Love

Written by Crystal (@crystalleww)

Winter’s Diary 2 delves primarily into the R&B side of Tink’s rapper/R&B singer one-two punch. It simultaneously puts together the strongest, most cohesive statement on Tink while exploring a variety of R&B styles and sounds. As the title suggests, the project is all about reflection, a youthful rejection of the notion that the kids are only interested in living in the moment. At the same time, the album flits between quiet and minimal twinkly love songs (“Lullaby”), desperate, lonely yearning set over beats and a couple guitar chords (“Treat Me Like Somebody”), chiptune soul sampling (“Your Secrets”), a skip-hopping track that sounds like it could have been a Bruno Mars track at some point, but better (“Money Ova Everything”), and a weird echoing chamber beat that is definitely collaborators Future Brown rubbing off (“The Confession”).

“Dirty Slang” unlike other Chicago bop jams is a flirty but private party for Tink and her country boy. It’s funny that Rockie Diamonds (from Minnesota aka not a true country boy) is featured here, but he drawls on long enough to effectively play the country boy showing a mutual admiration for the city gal. Tink sounds absolutely giddy when thinking about him, letting the “you” in “put my hands on you” run off into day-dreamy eternity. Her fascination with his slang, his accent, his voice is sweet because she seems to lose the ability for language herself, with infinite runs and cooing during the bridge. All this is set over a twinkle. Of course; it’s appropriate for the starry eyes.