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How Big Is Your World? New Good Rap.


-Little Brother ft. Truck North & Median “Revenge”

Like most of Leftback, “Revenge” doesn’t mess around. The moment the beat drops, Truck North delivers hood-apocalypse imagery, next Pooh is all smiley anger, and Median and Phonte round out the throwback posse cut with a “by any means”-themed back and forth. Punctuated by that perfect 90s style rap hook—meaning, no singing, just a catchy bunch of bars repeated angrily—and some James Brown “Payback” yelps, every piece of “Revenge” fits together. But there’s a wandering, determined intensity to the performance too, like the whole song could fall apart at any moment or lose its place–and that’s thrilling. Here’s a group of rappers excited by the beat Khrysis handed them and doing their best, maybe even trying too hard, to give it justice and one-up each other’s rhymes. As a result, they capture some of the energy of the room—or more likely, rooms—where it was recorded.

-Young Jeezy “Stop Playin’ Wit’ Me”

Jeezy’s spoken word, kinda rapping got old two albums ago, and my patience for “bangers” dwindles, but Trap or Die 2 nevertheless destroys because he’s adventurous with beat selection and that’s totally isn’t necessary for a big star like him. Let’s just list the disparate sounds on “Stop Playin’ Wit Me”: A fractured synth, some booming keys straight off a Dark Tranquility record, a too-fast chipmunk vocal, some very natural-sounding hand-claps, maybe an e-mail alert sound, and of course, stuttering 808s. What the hell is this beat? This is what the A.D.D dance trash of Diplo and company should sound like. Perhaps, if Wesley P. stopped chasing web memes he could make a monster like this. Jeezy’s casual style helps his slow-groan raps work here, but he isn’t intimidated by the beat either, realizing i’s still just a loop–a particularly murky, weird, all over the place loop, but a loop nonetheless.

-ST 2 Lettaz “It’s Ova” (Drake Freestyle)

While Drake tip-toes around Boi1da’s instrumental, never upsetting the song’s clear pop potential, G-Side’s ST 2 Lettaz wraps his words around every change-up in this baroque-for-the-radio beat. More than a regional rapper hopping on a hot song, this tossed-off “freestyle” is a manifesto–a point-by-point presentation breaking down how these Huntsville guys do what they do: “This shit is a mission/To put niggas in a position/Where they can make livings/Without riskin’ goin’ to prison.” Rap as the ultimate hustle articulated in grand, utopian terms. Even ST’s spoken outro, a dedication to DeAndre, a dead friend, is all metered-out and junk. It’s also incredibly moving. G-Side are pretty regular dudes and knowing them as their fame’s grown, they’re just really appreciative of every accolade sent their way. It isn’t hard to out-rap Drake, but to out-confidence the guy, and turn his increasingly loathsome, “aw shucks I’m famous now” routine into an actual rumination on bloggy quasi-fame is like, beautiful.

-G-Side ft. Geographer and Jhi Ali “Impossible”

G-Side basically “experiment,” but they never lose themselves in the joy of having their ears and eyes opened to new things. Indeed, the group’s musical narrative comes from the active broadening of musical and geographical boundaries, but they’re skeptical too. They approach collaborations a bit side-eyed, so it always results in a Slow Motion Soundz product good and proper. Here, Jhi Ali—who has the best squeak in rap since Lil Boosie—sings a trip-hop-like hook over top a beat from G-Side’s in-house producers The Block Beataz that’s aided by the acid-tinged electronic sounds of Geographer.It’s unclear where the Block Beataz sound ends and Geographer’s contributions begin but that’s a good thing. Rap-wise, Clova’s expanding into a fascinating, chilled-out, expressive rapper, fucking around with phrasing (“close enough to see the pores of success”) and ST is a knowledge-dropper now, just trying to rap the world into a better place.

-8Ball & MJG “Billy (Truth Be Told)”

On “Billy (Truth Be Told)”, Eightball & MJG, two of the most grizzled, weary rappers around sympathetically capture the hard-headed confidence of youth and irresponsibility. Empathetic lines like “My baby needs pampers, the light bill’s due/I need to pay it now, but I seen these shoes” from Eightball counteract that hopeless hook, while MJG sketches out a conflicted mythology of “Billy” (the like, street-thug everyman) but still tosses in sad-as-shit details like “Billy dropped out of school at eleven years old.” They’re half-celebrating, half-criticizing “the life,” picking apart the image of the hustler as an above-it-all transgressive, exposing the reality that ignorance and denial are just as important to “the game” as an attitude and a strap. But always letting the wounded confusion of work-a-day crime seep through too. Notice how by the end of the hook, Billy’s accidentally let it slip that he’s lost: “Ain’t gonna stop cause I don’t know how.”

-Drake “Find Your Love”

Kanye West’s beat is like John Carpenter in a jam session with Fripp and Eno: The dumbest, simplest rhythms overtop gorgeous, complex, electronic whines. Drake’s hook totally locks-in on those amorphous synth flutters and it’s the first time a sentiment’s come from the rapper/singer’s mouth and it’s felt at all sincere. He even drops the obnoxious bleating people mishear as swagger and replaces it with a guy-with-an-alright-voice croon. The former child actor’s taking all the cues from Kanye’s beat, emoting along with the it, so it ends up genuinely moving and painfully, naively sincere: “I bet if i give all my lovin’, nothing’s gonna tear us apart”. That said, the song is still incomplete, which is perfectly acceptable to most ears because sophisticated pop and R & B is in its Hair Metal phrase right now, where all that matters is the big, killer hook (I blame Lady Gaga), but imagine a rapper cramming some touching, relationship raps between Drake’s chorus! Then you’d have a song.

-Cody ChesnuTT “Come Back Like Spring”

Cody ChesnuTT takes a rootsy, “that pleasure, that pain” approach to the seasons changing, and finds a weird balance between honest, third-rate nature imagery and whimsical, funny reminders of why Spring kinda blows: Bugs bite you, lawnmowers are annoying, allergies suck. It’s like that scene in Tess of the d’Urbervilles where Tess watches Angel play the harp in a garden and it’s all idyllic until Thomas Hardy reveals the garden to be all overgrown and teeming with bugs and decay? Or like the beginning of Blue Velvet but less knowing. An ant bites the eccentric singer-songwriter and interrupts his rhyme scheme. A few moments later, jarring smack of a mosquito pops-up out of the spare arrangement. ChesnuTT is a sort of suburban soulster, placing all of Marvin or Curtis’ humane, experienced sentiments in a decidedly more middle American realm. Think, the heady, existentially titled “Somebody’s Parent” from his er, masterpiece The Headphone Masterpiece for a precedent to “Come Back Like Spring.”

-Future Islands “Long Flight”

This is a song about a guy’s girlfriend cheating on him, but it isn’t a sad-sack lament or an angry “fuck you” song, it’s much smarter and in a way, kinder than that. All the conflicted emotions funnel back into the narrator’s aside that the cheating girlfriend “just needed a hand”, which both criticizes the indiscretion as low-stakes and stupid but also suggests an understanding of where the desire to cheat stems from—loneliness, a need to connect, etc.. There’s also a bit of passive-aggressiveness running through the lyrics, particularly the line “found you at home that was our home” and the way he follows it up with a kinda hilarious “Oh man,” and it’s just odd, but probably a more genuine reaction to betrayal than straight-up anger or sadness. Most of “Long Flight” is a slow chug that casually builds to Herring repeating the stuff about “need[ing] a hand” a bunch of times, but towards the end, he grits his teeth and grunts a “you hurt me so bad, because you needed a hand” once more, and the band explodes and Herring unleashes his weird, goblin wail and it all opens-up for a moment before fizzling out, unresolved. Damn.

further reading/viewing:
-Review of Leftback by 1000TimesYes
-Dark Tranquility “Monochromatic Stains”
-Geographer on MySpace
-Fripp & Eno “Evensong”
-”Somebody’s Parent” by Cody ChesnuTT
-Excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s Tess Of The d’Urbervilles
-Opening of Blue Velvet
-Future Islands In Evening Air by Grayson Currin for Independent Weekly
-Dash Shaw

Written by Brandon

May 7th, 2010 at 6:03 pm

22 Responses to 'How Big Is Your World? New Good Rap.'

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  1. The first half of TOD2 kills, but his jazz/soul experimentation doesn’t work. After Takeover it gets real hit and miss.


    9 May 10 at 5:40 pm

  2. yea, marcus is on to something. the first half of TOD2 is just dense beat after dense beat. and then there’s all this space in the tracks after the song with Cannon, and without any adlibs, the songs fall flat.


    9 May 10 at 11:55 pm

  3. Marcus is definitely on-point there. Though only in the context of Jeezy could those beats be “jazz/soul” though it’s in there. I think it’s also the open space as Bding said. Don Cannon will probably never make something better than “Go Crazy” and that’s because he’s basically looping soul shit in a really basic way. There are 30 producers in every city doing this, right?


    10 May 10 at 12:51 am

  4. In terms of beats, “Circulate” > “Go Crazy”

    I wasn’t feeling “Find Your Love” at first, but it’s a Drake song and once I got to the sixth or seventh spin, I literally couldn’t stop myself from singing “I better find your lovin’ / I better find your heart.” He’s yet to put out a song that I can’t find at least two or three redeeming qualities, just in the purest. more basic sense of “Man, this sounds great.” That doesn’t give him a pass for his lamer tendencies (there are plenty to point out, especially the “normal guy” thing you point out), but I can’t help what sounds good right?

    Final note: Really glad you picked out “Long Flight.” I love the whole album, but I keep coming back to “Long Flight,” probably because of the details and the straight forward dialogue. A really beautiful (if not soul-depleting) song.


    10 May 10 at 5:38 pm

  5. Wes-
    “Circulate” is probably a better beat, but it’s not as good of a song in my opinion. Especially the “Go Crazy” remix, with Fat Joe and Jay-Z, I still hear that song played on the radio and at clubs and shit.

    “When you gonna come around on Drake?”

    I really like this song for whatever reason and it’s the first Drake song that for me, works on a level deeper than “this sounds cool on the radio” or whatever. I think Drake, even on this song I like very much though, as you suggested, can kinda coast and it’s frustrating.

    Total music crit/nerd shit here, but I guess for me, “what sounds good” isn’t enough. I know that’s dopey, but there’s a sense of “good enough” in his work and it bugs me.

    Yes, “Long Flight” is really just too much. Plus, how perverse is it as the second song on the album? Have you gotten the chance to them live? Go to whatever bullshit, D.I.Y place they’re playing in Baltimore when you get the chance.


    10 May 10 at 5:53 pm

  6. I’m one of the few that prefers Mr. 17.5


    10 May 10 at 8:04 pm

  7. “Mr 17.5″ is a classic but kinda adds to your initial point about Jeezy’s soul/funk attempts. Great songs but totally out of place, especially on “The Inspiration”, his most evil, electronic album.


    10 May 10 at 8:17 pm

  8. Well with Mr 17.5 and even Go Crazy and Circulate, you kinda feel like “ok this is the soul song and I can fuck with this.” On TOD2, damn near the whole the 2nd half is kind of souly/jazzy and none of it really works like go crazy or mr 175. I kinda like Time though


    10 May 10 at 10:46 pm

  9. Marcus-
    Well-said. It will sound like I’m calling you out, but it’s funny to me that these are soul/jazzy to your ears because I don’t hear that at all. I do agree they’re boring and total mixtape boner-kills though.

    Also, if you look at just the song titles, you kinda know these songs’ll suck: “Grape”, “Talking”, huh? This was an old joke with my friends back when “Iron Flag” came out…”just look at these stupid song titles, no way this will be good!”


    11 May 10 at 4:51 am

  10. new g-side is maassivveee. that sort of analog-sounding synth that fades in sounds great. singing is a little hyper-autotuned though


    11 May 10 at 9:46 pm

  11. Jhi-Ali does not need autotune at all.

    Also, in speaking about Trap or Die 2, this is the first album/mixtape I have heard by Young Jeezy, so I could be arriving at the party 5 years late, but I really like it. It is too long and starts to drap on, but overall I really enjoy it and love “Bonus Song”/”Trap or Die 2″ with Bun B.


    11 May 10 at 10:28 pm

  12. Jhi-Ali just kinda always sounds auto-tuned. It’s really on some weird, trip-hop compression shit, think Esthero or something, hardly auto-tune.


    13 May 10 at 7:04 pm

  13. “Revenge” is easily my favorite song on Leftback. I feel like I should like this album more than I do. There’s alot of good songs and the project reminds me of Getback, which I thought was the best Little Brother album. For some reason I haven’t felt the need to listen to this at all since it came out.


    16 May 10 at 3:03 pm

  14. Gee I don’t know, I thought Mr. 17.5 worked perfectly well in the context of that album, given ‘Dreamin,’ ‘Streets On Lock,’ ‘What You Talkin Bout,’ as well as the title track. The whole second half is a bit more soulful, while evil and electronic probably aptly describes the first half, or at least the first four songs. Then the singles, I Luv It, Go Getta, and 3 A.M. (which wasn’t, bizarrely, actually a single), serve as a sort of bridge from the evil electronic shit to the soulish half. It’s a pretty well-conceived album, the more I think about it, and rather underrated. (As is the mixtape he dropped a couple months prior, I Am The Street Dream.)

    On G-Side, I’ve never gotten them, so much so that I threw Spaceships and Rockets out my car window the other day, but I do agree that Clova is evolving into something more interesting and “chilled-out and expressive,” at least on the basis of this track. The other guy I still find just way too blue-collar, sincere, unassuming, etc.


    17 May 10 at 5:20 am

  15. Inspiration is a really good album. It’d be a perfect album if it ended with “Dreamin”.

    And yeah, I really hate when rappers are sincere, unassuming, and working-class too. ?!


    17 May 10 at 6:43 pm

  16. Drake, but to out-confidence the dude, and to turn his increasingly loathsome, aw shucks I’m famous now routine (he went from a famous TV star to a famous rapper, and pretends he was a regular guy)
    Cmon now, Drake was NEVER a famous TV star…yes he was on a TV show that had/has a good run…but because of all the characters on that show…he was nothing more than that black kid on Degrassi…and then it was that wheelchair kid on Degrassi…Im sure most people didnt realize it was him when So Far Gone dropped until it was pointed out to them on some level…

    and I’ve never heard dude try to pawn him self off as “regular guy who hates the fame”..more like “guy who always wanted the fame..but then got the fame and it wasnt all he thought it would be”….more of a “faked it til I made it, but all that glitters aint gold” type of narrative.

    But you’re not the first blogger I’ve seen casting alot of things onto what persona Drake tries to portray, that arent there..its actually a weird phenomenon.

    Detroit P

    18 May 10 at 4:55 am

  17. Detroit-
    In Canada especially, Drake was quite famous, so whether he was famous here or not, doesn’t matter, because he indeed experienced fame. When did I say he hated fame? You quoted me above dude and I said nothing of the sort…


    18 May 10 at 5:28 am

  18. “aw shucks, I’m famous”….its not exactly hate…but its somewhere in the ballpark…please excuse my hyperbole (or inform me if I’ve just interpreted that completely wrong)…..and are we calling D list celebrities famous now?…if so then cool, I agree with you then.

    Detroit P

    18 May 10 at 10:25 pm

  19. Detroit P-
    This seems like a case of “this is the internet so no one admits when they’re wrong” but “aw shucks I’m famous” isn’t even close to hate so yeah, you’re wrong. What I meant is that Drake’s narrative, which is swiped from Kanye by the way is, “I never anticipated being this famous” or something when indeed, Drake has known fame for a long time.

    One more time–Drake wasn’t a D-List celeb in his own country so he was used to fame. Indeed, making it in America might be bigger and mean more, but he’s dealt with fame, with people knowing who he is before, and so it’s really insincere.


    19 May 10 at 7:35 am

  20. Ok your right…Im wrong.(no sarcasm)

    Detroit P

    20 May 10 at 9:26 pm

  21. I will however, agree with you on the Drake is a superstar because his uncle is Larry Graham misinfo spreading around the internets, if that’s also getting in your crawl.


    23 May 10 at 6:43 pm

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    30 Dec 14 at 5:41 pm

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