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HOW BIG IS YOUR WORLD?: Good Rap You Maybe Missed In 2008, Pt. 1

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-Jay Electronica “Extra Extra”

The elegant click-clack swooping strings beat rides out for awhile before Jay comes in and when he does, it’s a jagged mix of brag talk, references to Hollywood space trash like K-Pax and the Star Wars prequels, Christian end-of-days terror-preaching and genuine Elijah Muhammad mathematics.

For cynics or business-minded rap fans (of which there are too many), this mix of so-called “high” and so-called “low” is Jay’s gimmick, his hook–just as Charles Hamilton’s got Sonic the Hedgehog or something—but tracks like “Extra Extra” aren’t hyping a mixtape or his album or anything, they’re additional flashes of brilliance from the only rapper whose lack of a physical album doesn’t make his hype absurd.

-Pete Rock featuring the Lords of the Underground “Best Kept Secret”

Old-ass rappers not sounding too bitter or trying to sound as they did in 1993, just having fun and not giving a fuck-which you know, is sort of exactly what they did in 1993. There’s obviously something inexplicably lasting about 90s New York boom-bap and it’s why something like Il Al Skratch’s Creep Wit Me while less objectively good than Mobb Deep’s The Infamous is still a kinda sorta classic. Boom bap is a hip-hop fan of a certain age’s comfort food, and it’s why guys almost twenty years in the game can still make really good songs like this one.

Scratched snippets of Lords records in their hey-day, the light piano and sci-fi vibes rolling around in the background, the from a flood-damaged record outro, and the “shh…the secret!” hook that’s as raw and catchy as any classic Lords joints, are the smaller moments that keep “Best Kept Secret” on your iPod long after most of Pete’s NY’s Finest got deleted.

-Pastor Troy “My Box Chevy”

Stupidly literal but like so many other car songs, also some weird metaphor for youth and longing and stuff, Pastor Troy’s “My Box Chevy” is really the only halfway happy song on Attitude Adjuster and it’s less happiness, than a memory with some fondness attached to it. The sense of genuine youthful waiting as he delays getting the best rims and wheels out of car nerd indecision and the economic reality of making his car nice, one piece at a time. By the third verse, the car’s complete, the reward, the envy of everyone around him, for better and worse: “…Told them boys/Don’t fuck with me…”.

The close to wailing guitars, Pastor’s chant of “my box Chevy” over and over and over on the chorus, and an eye for touching detail–“bought my Caprice from an old white couple”—though, turn it into one of the more personal and affecting songs of this past year. A perfect example of what can be done inside of genre and convention.

-Three Six Mafia featuring Pimp C and Project Pat “I Got”

This is probably the last year where they’ll be a big, stupid Southern rap party song with Pimp C wheezing on the hook and that’s pretty fucking sad. Sampling “Zombie Nation” or “Kernkraft 400”—I still don’t know which is the band and which is the song title—is a stroke of goofball genius that should’ve gotten someone’s interest.

When “hipster rappers” do junk like this it’s clever or ironic or whatever, when Three Six do it, it’s still considered ignorance? Juicy J and Paul could’ve just made a big stupid club rap song out of a big stupid club song, but they swipe the melody and the feeling of the song and still wrap their skittering drums and synths around it the same way they’d do a Willie Hutch sample. Halfway through, the beat slows down and morphs into some almost classic Three Six John Carpenter shit and it’s pretty incredible. Pimp’s chant goes from soccer hooligan triumphant to angry point out the obvious.

-Nappy Roots “Beads & Braids”

If Nappy Roots had kept up their early 2000s success, they probably wouldn’t be singing a touching, hard-ass exclamation of their friendship and loyalty to one another, but maybe that’s exactly why they aren’t as big as they once were- who knows. Between this song–competitor for rap song of the year–and their palpably uplifting single that didn’t get airplay “Good Day”, Nappy Roots did a cool thing of making reactionary hip-hop that wasn’t obnoxious or knowing at all. They could’ve easily turned their Ellisonian use of black Southern imagery into something goofball once the South got really popular and pretty stupid, but they didn’t, and they don’t even remind you of it, or rather, they remind you by doing instead of saying.

There’s still plenty of self-mythologizing here but a lightly knocking, piano-driven beat and straight, smart but fun rapping that’s ultimately about friends and looking out for one another is really affecting. Especially because the song’s not triumphant but matter of fact with a tinge of sadness, especially that fumbling, super-clean acoustic guitar on the outro.

Written by Brandon

December 25th, 2008 at 4:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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