Reasons to be Drakeful: Wizkid – Ojuelegba

Wizkid – Ojuelegba (2014)

In an ironically very Drake-like way, I’ve tussled with my feelings towards the Canadian child actor turned childish rapper for the last few years, caught between the rock of his undeniable vocal prowess and glacially impressive production and the hard-place of his transparently fraudulent persona (not coming from a hard-place and pretending to) and tendency to nick musical techniques off less high-profile, much more interesting artists and claim them as his own. He’s like a terrifyingly efficient  and aggressive corporation, insulated against real criticism by success and P.R. He’s even got the one-word, no-meaning name of one of those tax dodging, culture assimilating corporations.

In rap music, in fact, success is the trump P.R. card to hold; as in politics, neo-liberal ideology has triumphed (with a little help from big business, natch) and the argument that success = quality, which used to be rejected with the old argument about Vanilla Ice and Nazi Germany being – fleetingly – successful, is now seen as completely legitimate and any opposition to it pure sour-grapes. This argument can basically be extended to excuse anybody of any act short of war crimes. Calling Chris Brown a woman beater, are you? Bet YOU’D beat women if you could drive a sports car like that!

Was it Puff Daddy et al who ushered in this era of greed exoneration with their “player hater” hating? Drake is certainly a leading exemplar of the ideology, answering any critics by pointing to his palatial mansion, stadium tours and opening day at Wal Mart queues of willing women. He even espouses the classic neo-liberal line of “Started from the Bottom”, which has often been used by rappers before him but somewhat legitimately, given their origins in ghetto communities. I’m sure George Osbourne thinks that HE started from the bottom, too.

OTOH I can really relate to Drake as a skinny nerdy outsider to Hip-Hop culture, now beefing myself up at the gym and singing joyfully along to Young Thug and Migos songs. When I used to write raps myself, I went the Slim Shady route of self-deprecation and “sicko” posturing, (after all, if you’re not REALLY hard then you HAVE to claim that you’ll cut someone’s tongue off and strangle them with it because then it’s OBVIOUS you’re just joking.) but I was ultimately doing the same thing Drake does, just alone in my bedroom with nobody giving a fuck (YEAH I’M STILL TALKING ABOUT RAPPING FFS.)

Drake, the fake who made it, should be an idol to wannabes like me. Is it just jealousy, then, that ruins him for us? Or is it that we can see through him, and – besides that – know that fakes like us SHOULD stay in our bedrooms, recording our embarrassing gangsta raps, not too loud in case our mum hears us swearing? Actually, I think it’s pretty obvious that Drake can both see through himself and see that others can see through him. He’s absolutely riddled with insecurity, behind that arrogant, toothpick chewing front. That’s why he did the song about starting from the bottom. Because everybody knows it isn’t true. In an era defined entirely by P.R., however, knowing something isn’t true is no barrier to believing in it. Does it impress us or not, THAT is the question.

Drake’s latest embarrassing adolescent phase which I can relate to 100% is an infatuation with grime and Top Boy. He’s adopted Skepta, started saying ”linked” and ”ting” etc. and now wears Stone Island clothes as if he’s a football hooligan. Look, I have shouted “Shut ya mout!” at countless dubstep/grime nights. I have worn Timbaland boots and an Ecko football jumper to school. I used American hip-hop slang without irony on internet forums etc. I just didn’t do this on an international stage, and at the age of 28. But then, I never got paid (or laid) for doing it.

I also never really helped Skepta out, even when I was jumping around deliriously up to my ankles in mud at a tiny surprise show him and JME did at Glastonbury one year which I just happened to be walking, in a k-hole, past. Even when naively claiming that him and JME were the best thing about grime on dubstepforum (and being – rightly – shouted at for the infraction). Even when memorising whole Skepta verses from the classic Logan Sama set featuring Ears, Jammer and Riko alongside the man with the mash in the Winnie the Pooh Scarf.

Skepta has been given a huge boost by Drake (though Kanye, as is often the case with Drake, got there first), just like Fetty Wap, IloveMakonnen and Migos before him. You’ve got to hand it to Drake – he identifies great songs, records inferior versions of them and thus points ignoramuses like me in the direction of the unsullied originals. He’s like some weird A&R, one of those “funky” Richard Branson-esque businessmen who play the guitar and know what Tumblr is. His verse on the remix to Wizkid’s amazing ”Ojuelegba” is, as Skepta himself might say, complete “air pie”; it is unmemorable but for gifting us another moment of era-defining cringe as Drake puts on an African accent. Skepta’s verse, by contrast, is actually meaningful, clever and witty. Still, why not avoid the blandening effect of Drake entirely and just listen to the original, like I have? Without Drake, I might not have ever heard this. So thanks, Drake, you cringeworthy prick! It takes one to know one, and I know you better than you pretend to know women.

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“Martin” Never Meant Shit To Me

Big Sean feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign – Play No Games

Fresh Prince was on after CBBC had finished so that’s where I went to get my black comedy scriptures back when I was a yoot. I never saw ‘Martin’ apart from that one bit where he gets beaten so badly in a boxing match that his head swells up like Quasimodo’s back. Still, this video is fun in spite of the references going over my head; you can tell that they actually had fun making it, too.

Actually, one of my gripes with Big Sean’s album was that it had that self-seriousness that Sean’s soundalike Drake insists on smothering all of his songs in; ”Play No Games” is a throwback in more ways than one, then, and was probably my favourite tune off the album other than the neon Mustard-riff powered ”I Don’t Give A Fuck” and the ”College Dropout” era Kanye channeling ”Outro”.

Rappy Meal (Rap Up Jr.)

Bleezy – Kyrie Irving (2015)

Absolutely love this. Bleezy is from Brookyln, N.Y. Him and his crew are all wearing Cleveland Cav jerseys cos that’s who Kyrie Irving plays point-guard for, apparently. Basketball, eh? It’s just not cricket. Ever since (I’d guess) ”The Bridge Is Over” and right through ”Ambitionz Ov A Ridah”, rap producers have been proving that all you need in this life of sin to make a street banger is a piano melody you can play with one finger and some banging ass drums.

E-40 – Choices (2015)

This song has been a squad anthem for a hot minute and now it’s got an ace video in which various stars of the rap world contribute ”Yup” and ”Nope” mimes while E-40, as rotund men are wont to do, sits at a desk on his computer. Presumably, given E-40’s age, he struggles to understand how the copy-paste function works and has embarrassed himself at least once by accidentally publishing “big boobies video” as his Facebook status. But when it comes to making quirky, funny and yet still hard as Iain Duncan Smith’s heart rap music, this old dog’s old tricks can’t be questioned.

Gunplay – Commas Freestyle (2015)

A short reminder that Gunplay’s lonnnnnnnng delayed album ”Living Legend” is still worth anticipating.

The 10 Tracks I’ve Caned Recently On My Commute

In reality, I’m sweating buckets on the Circle line, squashed between a guy watching American Dad on his phone with his legs splayed out too far and a agony-eyed middle aged woman laden with shopping bags that are, I assume, filled with chocolate and a lethal dose of paracetamol,  but inside my headphones I’m dressed like Rich Homie Quan in the ”Flex” video and I have a full time job and a girlfriend and everything.

Theo Parrish – Falling Up (Carl Craig RMX) (2005)

Young Thug – Halftime (2015)

Young Thug – Check (2015)

Galaxy II Galaxy – Timeline (2001)

Handel – Chaconne for Harpsichord in G Major HMV 435 played by M Perahia

Fetty Wap – RGF Island (2015)

The Vision – Modern & Ancient (1996)

Joey Beltram – Subsonic Trance (1990)

Chic – Everybody Dance (1977)

Rich Homie Quan – Flex (2015)

Wrap Up Vol. 2

Here’s some bits and pieces I’ve been feeling lately which there’s no point me posting on Facebook cos 99% of my friends think rap music died in 1988 with the release of Jurassic 5’s last album.

Fabolous – Been Around The World RMX Freestyle (2015)

This is my favourite rap thing of the year so far, and it’s a New York veteran doing a sorta-impersonation of Ma$e and Puff Daddy over a beat from the late 90s. I remember Martorialist saying that Pusha T had lost the nonchalance he used to have, and when you hear how much nonchalance Fab has here it makes you realise that Pusha probably owed some of that nonchalance to his love of Bad Boy rappers (hence his Biggie impersonation on that one Clipse track, and his more recent Ma$e impersonation). Maybe it’s New York rap’s number one problem, this inability to sound calm and composed? It has lost its arrogance, its imperial swagger.

Young Thug – Pass Me The Lighter (2015)

Just as I have failed to listen to the Kendrick album, I have also failed to listen to the recent Leakening of Young Thug tracks, the most momentous event of its kind since Wikileaks exposed the military-industrial complex. Of those leaked bits that I’ve heard, this is probably my favourite (although “Flaws” is also up there). This music is uniquely suited to listening to while travelling around London on a sunny day, waved off that second pint of Kronenberg. It might be even better suited to smoking blunts and cavorting with strippers, who knows?

I could write at length (and have) about Young Thug’s avant-garde appeal, his mixture of infantile-sounding inflection with (ostensibly) grown-man gangsta lyrics, even his Liam G-esque androgynous sex appeal, but let’s leave it at praising his endless store of catchy melodies and flows, his superior technique. Some people would laugh at claims that Young Thug is a technical rapper, because he sounds a bit like a retard rapper, but don’t be fooled by his foolery – listen closely and you can hear how crafted his raps are. He knows what he’s doing, even if the rest of us (joyfully) can’t.

The absolute best thing about these leaks from my point of view has been that they’ve sent me back like the prodigal son to last years Rich Gang: The Tour mixtape, which on certain sunny, Kronenberg-waved days, strikes me as being the crowning achievement of rap from 2010-2015.

Rich Gang – See You (2014)

Kevin Gates – Chico (2015)

I prefer Gates singing to Gates rapping (it’s a matter of taste, really, since he’s certainly got more to say than the average rapper), and in the current melody-friendly street rap climate, Gates is uniquely well equipped to drop the sort of drug-dealing and murder anthems that all the family can sing along to.

Lil Herb – XXL (2015)

Lil Bibby – You Ain’t Poppin’ (Remix) (2015)

“XXL” is a freestyle from one of those generically named Chi town rappers about not getting on the XXL Freshman list, which is apparently quite an important list to get on, presumably from the perspective of online news coverage, since nobody is buying magazines in 2015 other than 102 year old motherfuckers who’ve got to pick up that Angler’s Time every first Thursday of the month cos their alzheimers precludes them from remembering a Kindle account password. No longer do rappers “load magazines like Chantelle Fiddy”; instead they just ignore magazines like action-movie shootout conventions.

Usually, that would be a crude segue-way into talking about Chi town rappers, cos they usually talk about guns a lot, but this tune actually sounds more like a Tree than King Louie, with it’s chopped up soul sample and gravelly voiced rapping courtesy of Herbo. “All this time I grew up lookin at the gangsta rappers, ain’t met a gangsta rapper yet since I became a rapper”. Lil Bibby’s ”You Ain’t Poppin RMX” is closer to the generic drill sound but is a perfectly worthy example of that form.

King Louie – Where I Come From (2015)

There are a number of perfectly worthy examples of the drill form on Louie’s Drilluminati 3 mixtape and then there’s the customary 5 star classic example of the form in “Where I Come From” which is, predictably enough, produced by C-Sick, who really should be the Zaytoven to Louie’s Gucci. Louie is pretty experimental as drill rappers go (although maybe that’s not that big a deal, considering stuff like Chicago’s Bop scene and Chief Keef’s avant-garde post ”Finally Rich” material), and on D3 he screeches, sings and slurs his way through the Dresden-bombing soundscapes, rolling out the full panoply of vocal tricks that a street rapper practically needs nowadays in order not to sound like they’re trying to emulate the Cold Crush Brothers.

This is all well and good, and produces some bizarre bangers, but perhaps this tendency to take liberties helps explain why most of Louie’s mixtapes are about 90% disposable, and 10% ESSENTIAL. When he gets down to brass tacks, as on this track, there’s nobody quite as skilful, or quite as scary. This has the haunted, and haunting, quality of a mid 90’s Mobb Deep track, only now the ghost in the machine is really in a machine, coursing through the dehumanised synthetic apparatus of midwest trap production.

Waka Flocka Flame & Future – Get High With Me (2015)

This track opens with renowned fan-crippling EDM goon and dance music culture-rapist Steve Aoki doing a sort of radio jingle, but fast forward that and you’re treated to some top-class auto-tuned mumbling from Future Hendrix and some furious double-time hammers from Waka over a minimalist, dancehall-style riddim from 808 Mafia. It’s not THAT great, but it’s a lot better than the dubstep/trance track I was dreading. A lot of people don’t like Waka’s new rappity-rap direction, seeing it as a sort of betrayal of the admirably technique-snubbing rapping of Flockaveli, but I actually think it works as a good foil for Future’s studiously inarticulate stye, and I wouldn’t mind an entire mixtape from these two (/three if you’re counting 808 Mafia, as you should).

Loosies As A Goose #1

The Lox – Fuck You (2000)

“whoever feel sad at the funeral – fuck them too!”

This is exhibit A in my ”Swizz Beats is a GAWD” presentation. I used to hate Swizz as part of my ”DJ Premier is a GAWD” attitude. But sometimes you don’t want richly-textured samples and boom-bap beats; you want casio keyboard horns and beats as brutal and lumpen as Jadakiss’s ice-grille. I would love there to be a Young Buck x Swizz Beats collaboration called ”Buck Swizz”, with a video in which a Cheryl Baker lookalike whips off her skirt to reveal 50 Cent’s cheeky smirking face. BUT THERE ISN’T.