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.

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).

I’m the Flip in the Flop

Gunplay – Tell ‘Em Daddy (2015)

One of the things I most pride myself on having achieved as a writer is giving Gunplay’s ”Bogota Rich: The Prequel” its most hyperbolic review, it’s most wide-eyed and drooly-mouthed tribute. Excuse me while I quote myself:

“So much I wanna say, only got one pair of lungs”, Gunplay raps at one point on Bogota Rich. Well, whatever you make of what he says, you’ve really got to hand it to his lungs. Another line that perhaps comes closer to the essence of Gunplay’s Tyson-esque talent: “I beat up the beat, never let it breathe!”. There are plenty of rappers who are nicer people than Gunplay, more edifying and politically conscious, more verbally dexterous – but us Gunplay fans all know who’s wearing the black shorts. Ear lobe in mouth, tattoo on face, opponents being given mouth-to-mouth in the opposite corner: love him or loathe him, the champ is here.”

FACT Magazine review of ‘Bogota Rich: The Prequel”

Since then I’ve sort of lost interest in Gunplay, but this new song, the first single off his debut album ”Living Legend”, which apparently drops in May, has rekindled my platonic love for the Swastika rocking maniac. You’d be hard pressed to find a rapper alive with a more authoritative delivery than Don Logan, and his lyrics are clever without being clever-bollocks. The beat also goes hard like Alan Partridge’s bag of cement.

Slave To The Wave

French Montana – Playing In The Wind (2014)

Say what you like about French Montana (and I have): he’s not lyrical, he’s not French, his head is a glorified towel-stand, etcetera, but he’s currently acting as a bridging point between dusty old New York rap and the auto-tune blues-hop produced by Atlanta artists in recent years; or should that be a life-line? Auto-tune can make a rapper sound like a melancholy robot (C3POhdear/Robo-sob/Suicyborg) and it can make them sound like a robot with learning difficulties, and French Montana (and his mate/duplicate Chinx Drugz) definitely falls into the latter category. But that seems to be part of his whole steez – the loveable mook, obviously not as stupid as he makes out to be and thoroughly enjoying pretending to be a complete Wall-y.

Fabolous feat. French Montana – Ball Drop (2015)

Vado feat. Chinx Drugz – Told Ya (2015)

French likes being ridiculous and larger than life, which is exactly what New York rappers have been failing to do for a hot minute (post Dipset?). Witness the video for ‘Ball Drop’, which isn’t about when Hitler’s voice first broke, in which French parades around jocularly in an oversized mink coat, while Fabolous tries to approach Montana’s swag-levels by occasionally borrowing the coat and otherwise wearing a New Era cap with a stupid pointless bobble on top. This sort of reminds me of when you see a politician pretending to enjoy a performance by N-Dubz at the Royal Galas in order to look less cold and reptilian. When young (now banged up) New Yorker Bobby Schmurda embraced southern/midwest styles last year, it felt less contrived, less awkward, less dusty. (Actually, ‘Wipe The Case Away’ was more Max-B/French Montana-ish than anything like Future or Rich Homie Quan.)

Bobby Schmurda – Wipe The Case Away (2014)

Re: Montana x Autotune, here’s Johnny Cinco sounding not unlike Montana when rapping on a weiiiiiird auto-goon-tune which I’m not even sure is good or not but is certainly haunting.

Johnny Cinco – Crew X 2 (2015)

Mustard-Watch 2015 Pt. 1

In the year in which we will, like a severely ill man sat sweating on a toilet, ceaselessly ask ourselves “When is this Mustard run going to end?” (rather than worrying about climate change), there will be many more Mustard bangers doing damage to dancefloors regardless. LET’S BEAT THIS DEAD HORSE TIL IT STARTS SMELLING!

Don’t get it twisted, though. According to the Chinese last year was the year of the Horse. It wasn’t: it was the year of the Mustard. “2 On”“I Don’t Fuck With You”, “Or Nah”, “Who Do You Love?”, “Touchin’, Lovin’“, “Body Language”… Madness, and that’s not even getting into the Mustard-rip-off tracks like “Loyal”, “Fancy” and “2AM”. So here’s a few Mustard jawns that have caught my ear so far this year. (I think “Post To Be” came out last year but the video is a few weeks old.)

Iamsu! – Nothin’ Less

Omarion feat. Chris Brown & Jhene Aiko – Post To Be

Kid Ink feat. Trey Songz – About Mine

First Quarter Rap Up Pt. 1


Here’s a short list of rap songs I’ve enjoyed so far this year.

Spenzo feat. Bloody Jay – Choppa City

This 808 Mafia beat kicks off almost identically to their “Danny Glover” beat. Although neither beat nor song is on that level (but what is? “Goodnight, Sweet Prince, and may “Danny Glover” sing you to your rest.”), it’s another amazingly visceral production, with a harumphing distorted kick drum stamping on your ear-drums like an enraged elephant’s foot while a panicked Spenzo runs around the plains like a headless chicken screaming ”CHOPPACITY!” again and again and again.

Bankroll Fresh feat. T.I. – Dope Boy Shit (REMIX)

Triumphant “Hail the King!” horn riff as played through a Casio keyboard circa 1995? Perfect fodder for T.“What You Know About That?” I. I like the weird drum pattern on this, and the feeling like its constantly building up to a point of hysteria. Feels like a throwback to late 90s bounce-rap, which isn’t surprising given Bankroll Fresh’s obvious proclivity for N.O.stalgia.

Royce Rizzy feat. Wiz Khalifa, Iamsu! & Cassius Jay – Hoe In You (REMIX)

I dunno if this is superior to the original, which only features Wiz, but I’m inclined to listen to this one cos I don’t really like Wiz that much (prepare for self-contradiction) and therefore there’s proportionally less of him on the remix. It’s like drowning out the disgusting taste of vodka with more Pepsi. This is produced by Zaytoven, and is one of the best AutoGoon anthems I’ve heard in a while. Is this 2014/15’s “The Bitch In You“? It’s better, that’s for sure, so maybe we really do already live in a glorious utopian future. By 2030 all rapping will be sung, by robots. Which will be a relief, I reckon, especially for insecure nerdy white-boys like me, who will build and maintain these robots.

Flatbush ZOMBiES feat. Domo Genesis – Plz Don’t Make Me Do It

Personally I’ve always imagined the Flatbush Zombies to be a Noisey/Fader conspiracy against the authentic hip-hop culture (the same illuminati scheme that replaced the amazing Danny Brown with a shit-haired android that can only screech) but this tune is actually good so shut my mouth and cut off my fingers. I’m a sucker for this type of loop, and despite definite retro leanings this doesn’t feel like a second-rate piece of 90s hip-hop that somebody found in a car-boot sale.

CyHi The Prynce – Master P

I hate CyHi The Prynce’s name, densely humped with typographical land-mines, so I never listened to any of his music before I reviewed his latest mixtape. I liked the mixtape a lot, so again, cut off my fingaz and call me ChRLY if I’m ever to be trusted again. NOTE: “Master P” is by some distance the best song on the whole tape, though. CyHi resembles Ras Kass vocally (despite hailing from G.A.) and in other ways too: the regal name, the flourished vocab, the mixture of street-smarts and book-smarts, the disdain dripping off his voice. He just goes the fuck off on this track. BETTER THAN BIG SEAN. (Does that really need to be capitalised?)

Chief Keef – Himalayas

I’ve just now been rebuked on Dissensus for toeing the old “his beats are good / his raps are shit” hipster line on Keef’s recent music, and I had to take the L cos if you listen closely to him here, e.g., he’s rapping well. In my defence, I think you HAVE TO listen to him closely these days cos his voice is so faint and slurry. Thing is, I previously wrote off my now-hero Gucci Mane for similar reasons, and although I don’t think Keef is on Gucci’s level (esp. not 2007-9 Gucci), he’s certainly better than most of his critics give him credit for. Well, to be obvious as fuck, the beat on this is WEE-ERRD. It’s like a magical land of Oz covered in litter and shell casings.

Addition created intoxicated: Wow I underrated this by not ranting about it a bit. This beat is not ”Oz covered in blah blah”, it’s Zaytoven squeezed into a weirder constriction, the fiddles sounding almost squashed and rubbery (a quality certainly unlocked in auto-tune rap), and Keef is also a bit of a squashed Gucci, the volume and charisma dialled dowwwn, the playfulness with words, the idiosyncratic lines like “I put the D in Deceit”, the hook soooo Gucci-esque. Maybe Keef really IS the heir to Gucci’s throne?

Young Thug – Free Gucci 

Speaking of Big Cat La Flare, here’s another child of Gucci paying oblique tribute to his father (or just tying it in to a song about wearing Gucci). This is Metro Boomin’ x Young Thug (MetroThuggin’ or Young Moomin). Young Thug x London On The Track is represented this year by “I Swear To God”. Also worth checking is “Lil Mama”, slated to be on the – we can only pray to Based God still to be released – part 2 of the Rich Gang Tour mixtape series. I mean, yes, he called Rich Homie Quan “Bitch Homie Quan” but anybody with a friend called Rich knows that this is a temptation not easily to avoided, especially when you’re off your tits on codeine.