Category: Music

The Old Man and The Scene

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2 Chainz and Juicy J recently released two great solo projects a week apart from each other. Both albums are chock full of well-crafted, attention-grabbing songs with lyrics that are equal parts ridiculous and entertaining and beats that are best played at ear shattering levels while you mean mug any pedestrian who happens to cross your path. The combined age of both Juicy and the artist formerly known as Tity Boi is 73, making each of them only slightly younger than the genre of rap itself (Juicy is 38, 2 Chainz is 35, Rap is 40). But these Two Ratcheteers aren’t the only aging entertainers who have found success with hip-hop in 2013. Killer Mike and El-P put out the vividly dystopian Run The Jewels earlier this year; Rick Ross hasn’t stopped rapping and releasing mixtapes since the Bush Era; Kanye and Jay-Z both put out tepid albums/pieces-of-art-you-probably-didn’t-”get”; and Eminem is banking on bringing back his vintage self on his upcoming MMLP2. For a young man’s game, rap seems to be visibly graying at the temples and embracing it wholeheartedly and old rappers have found success in this decade the same way that Boomer Rock took hold in the late ’70s.

This embrace has to do with rap fan’s constant pursuit of “the other”, constantly seeking out whatever falls in line with the counter culture. And since rap has always been a way for the often-ignored youth to rebel and make their voices heard, perhaps we’re simply tired of hearing from the youth. If so, it would stand to reason that the only “counter” lies within our rap elders, who are therefore embraced accordingly. 2 Chainz’s style of rap flies in the face of what purists typically respect (tight-knit and dense rhyme patterns, substance over style, technical skill) but when juxtaposed with someone like Chief Keef, he becomes the lesser of two evils. This may seem like a plausible excuse until you realize that old rappers and young rappers are still rapping about the same things, and have been doing so since forever. I mean, it’s not as if El-P and Killer Mike are crafting songs about waiting to get his household items until Thursday morning in order to take advantage of their senior’s discount. At the same time, young upstarts like Chance the Rapper act as a stronger foil to the unhinged antics of a Chief Keef, in spite of the fact that he’s only a year older.

Hip-hop’s aging fan-base plays a huge role as well. Back when hip-hop still relied on DJ’s that still relied on skill, what you said mattered more than who said it. But ever since artists have been attempting to position themselves as “a brand”, it would make sense that consumers are showing some brand loyalty by sticking with names that they can trust. Putting yourself through the hassle of going out and finding new music isn’t necessary when the same Jay Z that released albums on tape ten years ago is still making music—albeit in partnership with the world’s largest phone manufacturer. College Dropout came out in 2004. If it acted as the soundtrack to someone literally dropping out of a learning institution at the time, that person would comfortably turn to Kanye’s Yeezus to deal with a rapidly approaching thirtieth birthday and the associated thoughts of potential parenthood and mortality that come with that. The best thing a brand can be is sticky, and after being in the game for as long as they have, these older artists have finally found and exploited their target market. But some rap fans are still silly and care more about credibility than brand-ability, so an older rapper fulfills their needs in that regard as well.

An older artists authenticity is proven and traceable. With a seasoned veteran, you’re able to track their rise to fame through all of their struggles and disputes, enlarging that artist’s mythos and endearing them to a rap world that’s obsessed with seeing icons rise and fall before and rising again against all odds. It’s why we respect Ross for grinding with Slip N Slide before settling on his current persona. It’s why we’re endeared by 2 Chainz’s fall out from DTP or by Juicy J’s resurgence after Hollywood made him into a Tiesto-produced shell of himself. It’s why we root for the underdog and the sole reason there are five fucking Rocky movies. Cheering for someone who isn’t supposed to be here is as big a rap trope as having a Jewish lawyer, but having a great back-story doesn’t make your music sound any better.

Maybe rap fans don’t care about a rapper’s age as long as they rap convincingly. The age of a rapper you were just introduced to only act as a supplement; causing you to think, “Wow, he raps very well for someone so young/old”. Rap fans, and music fans in general, are more engrossed with an artist’s potential than anything else. It’s refreshing for them to see an artist who is currently living out his apex, age be damned. Listening to someone approaching 40 is an event, since it’s potentially the last time that person will be able to still have some semblance of cool. I mean, it’s not as if someone could be rapping after they turn 40 or 50, right?


The Gucci Mane Tale

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Say what you will about Gucci Mane’s technical prowess on the mic, but he’s truly a master of self promotion and his work ethic is exemplary. Just this year, he’s put out ten (TEN!) mixtapes, working at a level normally reserved for 2011 Lil B or Lil Wayne in his mixtape era. Somewhere along the way, Gucci discovered that discrediting his peers on Twitter was both an effective way to garner promotion, and a task that could be conveniently completed from the comfort of the polar bear-themed throne that his taxidermist recently dropped off (probably.) Gucci has never been one to shy away from acts of aggression, but up until this year these acts were mainly contained to rap verses and real life altercations. You know, the way a rapper should beef. It started off innocuously enough, with Mr. LaFlare expanding his list of targets beyond Young Jeezy when he came at A$AP Ferg for coining himself the “Trap Lord”, since there can obviously only be one ruler of a system as meritocratic as the trap. A few months later, he insinuated that his label-mate Waka Flocka was up for sale to the highest bidder, forcing the media to take notice of Gucci’s antics and causing frat-bros everywhere to explore exactly what IndieGoGo can and can’t be used to fund. Most recently, in an effort to promote his (probably last) album on Atlantic Records, Diary of a Trap God, Gucci went full no-regard by putting everyone he has ever had contact with on blast for various reasons. Most of which had to do with them being pussy; or for the finer sex, for being in their pussy. Those tweets were conveniently swept under the carpet-over-the-loose-floorboards when Radric announced that he had been hacked. Fortunately, not even 48 hours later, Gucci Mane managed to un-hack his device and find his way back to the land of 140 characters. And thus begins the story of the six minutes where Gucci Mane and I became best friends after he offered me 10 million dollars to write his autobiography.

At roughly 10 AM on Wednesday morning, Gucci Mane was on full Twitter-mode in an attempt to convince his two million followers to download his commercial album, which he had leaked a few short hours ago, a move that would seem bizarre if literally anyone else had tried it. During another round of Gucci asking the public whether he should or should not sell Waka Flocka, I interrupted Gucci to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. I would accept $100,000 in order to both run his Twitter and begin collaborating on his autobiography. What was meant as a tongue-in-cheek joke was returned with a solemn response from Mr. Mane. A simple tweet that read “10m”. Now, while this was probably a case of mistaken comprehension on his part where he imagined that I would pay HIM the money in order to control his Twitter, I decided to run with the joke like I was Usain fucking Bolt.

I immediately got to work brainstorming potential titles for our new book, finally settling on Grew Up a Guwop: The Gucci Mane Story. I started planning out the structure of our future best-seller, searching down potential publishers and trying to secure an author recommendation from Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. I sent the rough outline to my new friend and collaborator, who was currently in the middle of a tweet war with himself. Getting his attention wasn’t easy, but I was able to do it through a show of dedication when I presented him him with alternative ideas for his book title based of his most recent tweets, most of which turned out to be the song titles on his album (didn’t listen). The exception of course being “eggbeater my botanist” which would be a comedic non sequitur had anyone else tweeted it, but becomes a terrifying threat when it’s coming from Gucci Mane and caused a series of questions to spark in my mind. Is he bragging about the fact that his botanist is also great at making omelettes? Does he use an eggbeater to trim his garden? Is an eggbeater what Gucci calls a tank top when he slips onto his physique to go out and trim his lawn?

Even after our steady tweet exchange, Gucci Mane had still not followed me back. This caused me great stress, as I obviously didn’t want to reveal all of my intellectual property publicly. I just felt as if my idea would be safer if it was in the stable and steady hands of Gucci Mane. Some minds are a steel trap, others are a maze. Radric’s is a lightning-struck waffle cone, which is obviously very secure since it combines a devastating force of nature with a lightning bolt. Since my steady stream of tweets didn’t seem to inspire The Main Mane to follow me back, I debated whether or not he had become bored with our fledgling business partnership. What if Gucci would soon try to sell my ten million dollar contract off to the highest bidder, or say something illicit about having relations with me in a cheap motel? I couldn’t take that risk, so I decided to go for plan b: offer to collaborate on a coloring book. Since they’re less exhaustive to create and are currently experiencing a renaissance thanks to Bun B and Shea Serrano, I believed that I had finally found the key to making Gucci Mane a happy partner. I proposed that the title of our coloring book be named after Radric’s two favorite things: Guns + Sluts.

By keeping a narrow scope on the content, we not only gave ourselves the creative license to tell Gucci’s story through his own eyes, but also opened up the theme of “living outside the lines” for exploration. I sent over a rough sketch of the cover and waited with anticipation.

Minutes later, Gucci Mane took notice of my business savy B2C technical knowhow and decided to bless me to be the second person he followed since he unfollowed everyone in an earlier accidental attempt to unfollow Tyga multiple times. I was honored to be recognized, and in spite of the stream of requests that came afterwards consisting of people asking me to DM Gucci with their shitty mixtape, I felt true nirvana for those few fleeting minutes.

But before I could even call my mother to explain to her what a Gucci Mane was and why this was a big deal, my world came crumbling down around me. At first, I thought that Gucci had unfollowed and blocked me, since I wasn’t able to see any of his tweets. But thankfully I came to find out that Gucci had decided to delete his Twitter, which is still offline as this article is posted. I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact that Gucci disappeared off the face of the social network that was embracing him so wholeheartedly, or the fact that he didn’t wish me goodbye before he left. Although I understand where he’s coming from, since saying goodbye to a true friend is never easy. I can only assume that he deleted his account in order to fully absorb my very poignant and funny DM (yes, I managed to send him a DM. No, you cannot read it) and think about our future ventures. So Gucci, if you’re reading this, please contact me through the comment section below so that we can start working on the Guns + Sluts Coloring Book and/or Grew Up a Guwop (eggbeater-my-botanist): The Gucci Mane Story. I will discount your offer of ten million dollars by up to 50% if you contact me today. I accept PayPal, cash and tightly bundled bricks of cocaine. I will also accept the “free scooter” that you keep mentioning.

Natural Born Strangers: The Toronto Rap Album of the Year

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Canadian-bred talent has always suffered from little brother syndrome when it comes to the USA. It’s easy to quantify success when you relate it to existing examples that have been established south of the border, but it’s also lazy. Good music should rest on its own laurels. Yet sometimes it’s an evil that’s necessary to introduce an act to a larger audience. It;s easy to compare Natural Born Stangers, the free mixtape released by Canada’s Rich Kidd, Adam Bomb and Tona. to the laced-up-timbs-and-puffy-coat-street-corner-hustler rap that’s had a mini-renaissance in New York in recent years thanks to guys like Roc Marciano and Ka. But with the Toronto Trio, listeners are privy to the same level of substance that comes from the gritty storytelling without sacrificing any style points along the way.
Natural Born Strangers was released in consortium with Toronto street-wear brand, The Legends League, and was produced entirely by Rich Kidd. Rich Kidd’s lyrical abilities have always been top tier, but throughout this project he shows off his growth as a producer, stitching together samples and working across genres to weave beats that can act as standalone accomplishments. Previous to this album, Rich Kidd’s “In My Opinion” held the title of Toronto tape of the year, but the elevated songwriting in Naturally Born Strangers, as well as the anabolic-injection of lyricism from Adam Bomb and Tona, may slide Rich Kidd’s solo album into the #2 slot.
The on-mic time is split perfectly, but Adam Bomb and Tona rap with enough hunger and ferocity to cause you to play their part back numerous times. The pair of local hardened veterans rap about the struggle of being a not-young rapper who hasn’t achieved nearly enough on his bucket list, while equipping themselves with punchlines that do just enough to be funny without trespassing into the groan-worthy domain (a space which I’ve affably named “The Slaughterhouse”).

In a word, this album is serious. The topics are grown, the themes are mature, and the only bottles being popped are the ones that are immediately followed by the nasty after-effects. It’s charged with the sort of cynicism that comes with living in Toronto’s rougher areas and seeing the way that police deal with the youth of color. For the first time in history, Toronto is being put into the world spotlight for it’s local politics. Yes, our mayor smoked crack, but he also left a trail of dead black young men in his path ever since Gawker published their piece. Perhaps this embarrassing ordeal will breed interest into investigating what it took for things to even get this bad to begin with. The best place to start may be asking Rich Kidd, Tona and Adam Bomb what it took to make Naturally Born Strangers.

Bringing It Back With Troy Ave

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Troy Ave is from New York. Even if he never mentioned this in any of his songs – which he does, often – you would be able to tell by dissecting the way he raps and identifying the individual components of his musical formula. His flow is akin to a Styles P impersonator, complete with descriptive street tales shaky punchlines. Troy Ave’s voice sounds like someone trying to rap in the same register that Jadakiss reserves for his laughing ad-lib, and his indulgence in melodies is reminiscent of 50 Cent. Troy has mentioned that he wants to become the Young Jeezy of New York, but more than anything he just wants to have enough clout to throw it around as he pleases at whoever he wants.

His newest tape, New York City is an attempt at claiming the New York throne while throwing haymakers at anyone else who has an eye on it. On “New York City” (the song – naming things is hard) Troy Ave calls Kendrick Lamar a weirdo rapper. A few songs later, Troy mocks artists who are dressing like it’s the 80s. With these two swift moves, Troy has managed to target 90% of mainstream rap artists. The problem now lies with what Troy wants to do now that people see him as a New York’s de facto savior. If he continues to simply go after anyone who says anything negative about his hometown, he risks succumbing to Papoose-syndrome and becoming an unnecessary agitator. Likewise, Troy’s failure to address – either positively or otherwise – current New Yorkers who are making a name for themselves such as Action Bronson and ASAP Ferg & Rocky, might cause him to be a solitary crab in the bucket unable to climb out.

As far as the music on New York City, it’s surprisingly well done. Those who are familiar with Troy’s Harry Powder mixtapes may have feared the insistent singing and eye-rolling punchlines that polluted the series, but the tropes are rarely used on the album. Instead, Troy balances between telling stories of his past and making music for cookouts. His narrative abilities are in full effect on songs like “Mama Tears” and “Regretful”, and while they don’t paint as vibrant of a picture as, say, Meek’s “Tony Story”, they help identify the listener with Troy’s plight.

Troy’s a drug dealer with a good ear for music. There’s no reason that Troy Ave shouldn’t be as famous in 2013 as Fabolous was in 2004. But with the New York rap scene becoming a target for critics who are crowning the South winner in the longstanding feud, it’s worth wondering is Troy is giving us to little, too late.

You Think It’s A-Game

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One of the only things that Torontonians can agree upon is  that A-Game, the local identical twin rappers, had last year’s song of the summer with “Money Made Me Do It.” It was catchy, joyous and illogical (who buys a crib after they’ve already bought a villa?). This helped it dominate the local radio waves and attract the attention of the second most famous Toronto rapper alive – Kardinal Offishal – for a remix guest verse. In spite of the song’s 2012 release, A-Game stretched out the mileage by waiting over a year to release the accompanying video, and using it as a springboard to promote their new mixtape: Boarding Pass.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Since they’re identical twins, there’s absolutely zero distinction to the way they sound in your headphones. They don’t even mention their individual identities when they start a verse a la Migos … or at all. I literally had to search out the fact that their individual monikers are Chase & Nova since it’s never mentioned in the music. This means that unless there’s going to be an accompanying video for each song to help me understand which rapper is rhyming which verse (this still won’t help, since they also sport matching haircuts and tattoos), I’ll be to referring to A-Game in the singular.

HIS mixtape, Boarding Pass, comprises 12 songs that don’t break any new musical ground, but does a lot to reinforce the idea of a signature Toronto sound. What are some of the commonalities in the music coming from Toronto, as illustrated by the music on Boarding Pass? Aquatic beats, punctuated by heavy drums and rapid snares; unbridled worship towards the Houston music scene with an emphasis on slowed-down beats and booming vocals; attempting to sing in spite of an obvious lack of talent in that field; and employing Drake-colloquialisms throughout your project (both the phrase “best I ever had” and “started from the bottom” are mentioned with no wink). Although a lot of these sonic techniques were made famous by The Beige God, A-Game seems to be placing a bet on the fact that success will strike twice if the formula is followed.

There are some memorable cuts on the album, like the chopped-and-screwed “F.O.S” or the infectious “Uh Huh”, proving that A-Game is still capable of creating hit songs like “Money Made Me Do It.” The songs on the project aren’t meant to be overly lyrical, nor are they flash-in-the-pan attempts at creating something for right now. It’s a plateau that’s above average, but it’s still a plateau. The missteps on Boarding Pass come at the tail end of the album, which contains the porn-sampled “Just Like That” and teeters on annoying and Tyga-esque. While on the penultimate track “It’s Nothing,” A-Game makes the mistake of putting Rich Kidd on as the only guest feature – and having his verse eclipse all of the raps you’ve listened to since pressing play.

Nothing on Boarding Pass is new if you’ve been following popular music in the last three years. As far as blatant Toronto paint-by-numbers projects that were released in 2013 go, I enjoyed A-Game’s attempt at a braggadocios So Far Gone more than I enjoyed Torey Lanez trying to make a version of Good Kid Maad City that sounds like an R&B album. It’s not different, but it makes a statement in the way that it’s similar. Drake and 40 have been around long enough to start impacting new artists, so maybe projects like Boarding Pass are the result. For better or worse, this is the Toronto sound.