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How Big Is Your World? New Rap, you know the deal…*

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*Can’t find mp3s for two of these, so you just get some Youtubez links…

-Slum Village “Actin Normal”

Just from this song, it’s clear the return of Baatin was what Slum Village needed–then he died on us. Album to album, but really anything after Fan-tas-tic Vol. 1, SV got notably less loose. The exit of Dilla, and the embrace of Elzhi, an awesome but highly-technical rapper (in a sense, the anti-Baatin) didn’t help this much either. Though they probably needed something like success and conventionally-structured music in order to finally shift back into a blissed-out, hook-less, off-the-cuff sing-rap like “Actin’ Normal”. Even down to the grabbed-from-a-random-line title, this feels like “Pregnant” or something.

Nonsense love rap, lyrically obsessed with cartoon characters of the late 70s/early 80s, Baatin’s digressive from the first line rhymes run perfectly alongside Karriem Riggins’ mobius strip beat of soul horns and harp flutters (or something). Has some of the woozy victory of Kanye’s “We Major” or those times when boom-bap beatmakers dig-in and pull out a trippy, druggy loop of something or other instead of a finely-chopped, headphone-perfect banger. RIP Baatin.

-Cam’ron ft. Vado “Ric Flair”

DJ Drama and the “Gangsta Grillz” series are a shell of their former selves. For those that are into the obvious (Drama is annoying) or flat-out miss the point (mixtapes with sound effects aren’t easy to listen to), this probably doesn’t matter, but when a track like this begins with shouts and then fucking Vado gets a rewind on his first-line, we’ve entered a kind of perfunctory, going-through-the-motions mixing. But the song is called “Ric Flair”, has a mealy-mouthed awesomely complicated hook invoking the Nature Boy, has Cam’ron on it, and the beat’s a low-end ominous twinkle and that’s more than enough.

It’s time to accept Cam’ron’s just kinda over making regal bangers—it’s clearly a conscious choice. Dude’s always been honest, pathetically straight-forward–here’s a guy who touted his 2008 return by wandering around seemingly lost in dollar store army fatigues, gets clowned in his movie/ego-stroke by his lawyer, and gets out-argued by his girl in that one skit on Purple Haze–and so, he probably couldn’t keep dropping rule-the-world rap fantasies because he don’t feel that way anymore. Instead, you get these low-to-the-block sad-ish raps about nothing in particular but mainly how he still rules (enough) and nothing and nobody else (really) matters all that much.

-Robert Glasper ft. Bilal “All Matter”

Pianist Robert Glasper’s made his name in jazz by healthily interacting with contemporary hip-hop and R & B. That’s to say, he’s grabbing sonic ideas from the hip-hop here and there, but there’s no synthetic beats or wack MCs interrupting his wisely conservative approach to modern jazz. That may change with his new album, Double-Booked which is apparently split between a typical jazz side and a hip-hop influenced side (Mos Def is featured), but then again, the conceit behind 2007’s In My Element was its embrace of “hip-hop” and it worked just fine. Confusingly, this song, “All Matter” with vocals by Bilal is on the hip-hop side, so who knows.

The most hip-hop thing on “All Matter” is probably the drums, here not provided by drummer Damion Reid–as on In My Element–but Chris Dave. Reid in many ways, was the anchor of Element–as a jazz drummer should be–wandering around with double-time skitters and booming, almost boom-bap percussion. Dave’s lighter and tinnier, but in that sense closer to the electronic-informed drums of so much rap of this decade.

There’s also a lot more open-space here, which also reflects current hip-hop (the album also features some vocoder, it’s clearly talking to 2009) and it’s used expertly. The song slowly wanders between Bilal’s singing and Glasper’s piano-driven jazz wanderings. Try to ignore the usually stellar Bilal on this though. His lyrics, too thought-out, too mannered, are like some Sun Ra science/unity shit minus the grit and grime—a pretentious version of Everybody Poops. At the same time, there’s something deeply moving and sincere about Bilal’s vocals (what he’s saying, not so much) and a few listens in, it makes the song vital. Caught this thanks to Eric Tullis.

-Zomby “One Foot in Ahead of the Other”

There’s not been any discussion of dubstep on this blog, but I’m not sure why, as it’s fascinating, deeply regional, rap-informed music. Not sure how or if people dance to this, but it’s being made by a weird crew of quasi-provincials in parts of England and they seem to seeping-up all the sounds of 90s British “IDM”, the video games they grew-up with, and the auteur/producer weirdness of American R & B of the past five or so years. The shuffling, clack of drums is nearly always the skeleton and so, it reminds me of Club music with the “Think” or “Sing Sing” drums that’s then built upon and deconstructed over and over until it’s something new. That said, there’s something mannered about dubstep–again, are you supposed to dance to this?

Usually though, “mannered” is tossed-around on this blog as a negative descriptor, but it’s almost a delight to find music that’s imminently catchy and fun, but not designed for coke-head dance parties. The best thing Zomby does on this track is layer somewhat joyful blips and bloops around the idyllic shuffling, rainy-day-in-London evoking drum pattern. “One Foot Ahead of the Other” just keeps going, ever-forward but not fervently or aggressively, patiently and reserved–it’s appropriately titled. Imagine this scored to a particularly hazardous level of Adventures of Dizzy. It seems a song about getting through the day, the sucky parts and the kinda good parts too.

Written by Brandon

August 13th, 2009 at 10:14 pm

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