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The worst result of 21st-century technological advances, at least from a musical point of view, is the dual proliferation of DIY recording equipment and social media, allowing millions of—notice the quotation marks—”musicians” to flood inboxes, festival backpacks, Facebook timelines and Twitter mentions with “hot” tracks. Rappers could be seen as the worst offenders, since rap songs are the easiest to record, needing only a mic, an instrumental and minimal mastering to work.
As a result, Internet browsers are all being transformed into freelance (and usually unpaid) A&R reps, sifting through hundreds of songs before finding something that’s worth loading into an iPod. The job can be quite overwhelming—but have no fear. Every Wednesday, we’ll bring you the week’s best hip-hop tracks so you can clear your inbox and stop playing the guessing game. Here are the three and a half great songs that popped up this week.
It’s impossible to know what record labels are thinking on a given day, but it’s almost as impossible to find good reasons for Life Is Good‘s bonus tracks not making Nas’s album proper. The four bonus songs could have easily replace the drab middle section, with its three R&B hooks and Swizz Beatz party anthem that just scream “the label made me do it!” The best song to come out of the extras was “Roses,” which turns the Kelis slander up several notches; a vitriolic Nas plays the xylophone on all of the skeletons in his wife’s closet.
Rockwell Knuckles lives in Brooklyn by way of St. Louis, and he exists somewhere in an interstellar dimension where rappers with voices like Nicktoons villains make incredible music. Really, you’ve got to hear this guy’s voice. It’s like Mojo Jojo and Pavarotti made a baby from the future to hop on chaotic instrumentals and wreak havoc. On his latest project, Take Me To Your Leader, he weaves some of the catchiest, most musically inventive hooks in the biz. The song that’ll inevitably dig itself into the brain the quickest has to be “On The Road,” a mostly sung, uptempo tune that pushes the boundaries of what Knuckles has put together previously. The song fades into “Wonderful Face,” a break-up song uttered with enough heart-wrenching emotion to make the listener want to wreak revenge on the 6’4″ light-skinned guy Rocky’s lady cheated on him with.
Domo Genesis Feat. Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples and Action Bronson, “Elimination Chamber” (Produced By The Alchemist)
New York rap traditionalists, get your inhalers; Action Bronson is rapping over an Alchemist beat. Behind the gimmicky “we’re too cool to give a damn” attitude on Odd Future member Domo Genesis‘s collaboration with The Alchemist resides a contingent of MCs that actually have a decent amount of lyrical chops. Domo and Vince Staples hold their own on this track from the forthcoming No Idols, and Earl Sweatshirt’s lazy-but-intricate flow impresses, but this track is all about how damn crispy Action Bronson sounds over Alchemist beats. Action and Al have already completed an album called Rare Chandeliers, set to drop soon, and this teaser only makes the prospect of that album more exciting.
Rick Ross feat. Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, “Three Kings” (produced by Jake One)
“Three Kings” has four components: three rappers and one producer. Only two of those things work. Rick Ross‘s work in the run-up to God Forgives, I Don’t has sounded lackluster and half-cocked, and his verse here is no different. Meanwhile, Dr. Dre is adding absolutely nothing. If rap’s most successful producer isn’t producing the songs he appears on nor is he writing the raps he recites, then what exact skill is involved here?
All of those shortcomings aside, “Three Kings” is a half-success in large part because Jay-Z has managed to turn his daughter into yet another facet of his swag. He raps about how Blue Ivy’s socks are tougher than most rappers and how he uses show money for drapes in a verse that can only be termed “anti-recession rap.” (It might be wise to stay away from sharp objects, cliffs or bathtub-side electronics if you listen to Jigga’s verse before checking your struggling bank account or making a student loan payment.) While Jay-Z saves the song from a rapper standpoint, Jake One’s swarming, sample-heavy production wills the song out of the “underwhelming” category and into “decent,” carrying Ross and Dre on its shoulders until Superman Hov flies in to save the day.