G-Eazy - "Calm Down"

Few artists today embody the cheap emotional high of big-money arena rap like G-Eazy. That's because few artists today are as cynical or meticulous Gerald Earl has been. "I made it here dolo, nobody to help me." That's an obvious lie, but who cares? It feels good to say it. It articulates what all Americans want to believe; the magic of self-affirmation.

Opening salvo:
I been sitting on the charts like a beach chair
my last album spent fifty-two weeks there
almost finished with the second, you should be scared
storms coming, you should go inside and pre-pare

That kind of lazy first draft rap is all you're ever going to get from G-Eazy. His cocky demeanor stopped being a pose years ago - the kid keeps winning and he's never had to really try. A lot of folks attribute that to white supremacy, or how attractive his whole twink/submissive look is to gay men and straight women.

I don't think either interpretation is really fair.

G-Eazy's real talent lies somewhere between his voracious appetite for attention and his calm capacity for outright artistic theft. He was destined to be famous, and like all such specimens, he is charming & insufferable. His face visibly loves the camera more than the camera loves him, but his art direction is pure Knowles/Carter: his plagiarism is both brazen and exceptionally well-done.

Gerald Earl has always had an ear for good product. People know what they like because people like what they know - that's why he simply hired the team behind Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" to make him the same beat. G-Eazy is a talented producer in his own right, but behind the scenes work barely interests him. He outsources most of his own albums because he's a smart capitalist.

The G-Eazy we see before us today has been sponging up inspiration on cross-country tours for years now - the Aubrey Graham of the continental United States. He is the product everyone wants to be, because he himself is the calculated synthesis of all the other popular products.

And, you know, fuck it, right on. It's not like he's out here killing people or making indie rock. It is like he's out here setting the white race back a full fifty years, but Eminem shares the blame and besides, white people aren't even real.

Ticket sales definitely are, though. G-Eazy understands that The Roots were too lyrical. He knows that few college age Americans are buying tickets to be amazed, or even impressed: they want to be validated. That means every bar of every song has to be understood by every single seat in the house. He's not making music for "the culture" - he's making music for the gym. The culture is just another tool to get him more famous than he was the year before.

It will work, though. It always does. Because we're fucking stupid, and because we deserve hollow sociopaths like G-Eazy. Long may he reign.


Talib Kweli & Styles P. - "Nine Point Five"

First of all, it's awesome to see five minute singles with wall-to-wall rap. The fact Talib Kweli is centrally involved is just an unfortunate accident. The aesthetic here is necessary as fuck.

Talib Kweli is an awkward smart kid from the nicest part of Brooklyn who somehow never got comfortable being Talib Kweli. From Native Tongues weed carrier to revolutionary Afro-centric to lyrical hip-hop's last, dumb hope to Sad Old Man On Twitter: it's never been fun to watch.

It's also been hard to listen to. Talib's comfort zone is a mix of being insufferably righteous and quoting aphorisms nobody can sue him for. Just listen to the Wikiquote massacre of his opening verse: "an eye for an eye/ that's the best way to keep everybody blind/" - "faith is only evidence of things unseen" - "justice is what love looks like in public" - and he's generous enough to end with "I ain't just writing for it, I'm out here fightin' for it."

No lie! The man has called at least five rappers I know "White Supremacists" in the past year, and not one of those motherfuckers are even white. Kweli fights in the same sense that rich people suffer - entirely by talking about it.

In related news, his hairy hypeman is from Brazil and Sheek Louch hasn't lost a beat. Jadakiss is still writing movies in sixteen bar format. Alternating road footage and green room footage always works.

...and Styles P? Well, the most boring Lox member definitely belongs on tour with Talib Kweli while Sheek and Kiss get that feature money. Word to Cornel West, that is justice, right there. Speaking of strong endings, check this immortal poetry out:

we some real motherfuckers, don't you know that?
lyrically, you gone get this picture like a Kodak

Overall, Talib & Styles should go on tour with Joe Budden and Lord Jamar until 2019. As for Sheek Louch and this Jadakiss character: they've got some natural chemistry. They should do some albums together or something.

Snow Tha Product - "Problems"

"Can Women Rap?" is clickbait horseshit for halfwits; a foregone conclusion for anyone else. The answer is Hell Yeah, traditionally served with a chaser of Dumb Question.

That said, you know...so what?

Only a bigot would think women can't be every bit as talented, technically accomplished, formulaic and boring as male rappers. Snow Tha Product is proof of that much. For years now, she's had the ol' Mathers trick down of making the cadence flow better than the actual rhymes. Once you listen closely, it's just a bunch of 16th-note chopping covering single-syllable raps, with some multi flurries at the end of every verse for show. But the whole point of a music video is preventing that kind of linear analysis.

Whether you're performing in front of a camera, in a wrestling ring, or on some shitty club stage: you gotta hit your cues. Snow Tha Product is impeccably professional. But past skills - and the hunger to be recognized for those skills - there's not a lot there aside from Tha Product.

Not to say that shit is her fault. "Authenticity" is just a mashup of music video poses and wherever you grew up, right? This rap game makes Lifestyle Brands of us all. The video works, the charisma is there, the fanbase will keep growing until she starts talking shit about Jews running the music industry in mid-2018.

Whenever this particular emcee starts doing mushrooms and stops giving a fuck about the culture, things will get very interesting, indeed. Until then, all product tastes the same.


DISPATCHES: Kendrick Lamar is Not That Good

I can’t review a video. I think on them too much and some unidentifiable source of guilt forces me to underscore the apologies I make with more detailed justification. That’s what happened here. I set out to review Kendrick’s “Humble” video but what you read below is what I feel I had to write.

Liking Kendrick Lamar has been fashionable since he rose to fame. Thinking otherwise is treasonous even in the hinterlands of rap country. Disagreeing with the statement that he is excellent at what he does would probably make you an asshole, at minimum, in the eyes of everyone who listens to rap. Objectively he's a megastar in terms of financial success, listenership and, shit, even critical approval. Merely mention hip hop and his name follows soon thereafter. But we at RYR don't play the same game you all do; and I'd sooner kick myself in the nuts than not give my honest opinion. Here, I’d like to note that I do not own contradictory views of things for the sake of attention or to be a contrarian; having thought about this for many months, years even, I feel that it maybe time to reconcile my discordant opinion. K-Dot needs my stamp of approval a googolplex less than he needs garageband bedroom producers emailing him beats; so out of respect for the democratically elected rap president, I will not offer fealty as if I were a subject, but my opinion as if I be a citizen, though it may displease the majority of you reading this at this very moment.

With each new release, I keep giving Kendrick Lamar an honest listen, reading along with his lyrics and waiting for that fire to be lit in me. I see the younger generation of kids watch his videos on the bus on their phones and smile ear-to-ear, nodding along gleefully, having found their salvation or, at the very least, solace. New video, new reviews, more praise and further edification of him as an institution in hip hop make me feel as out of the crowd as ever, as perhaps I ought to feel, when it comes to understanding and appreciating him. I’m beginning to think I’m incapable of getting “it”. How much data will I have to gather before I admit that I cannot feel what he has to offer? His passion, stage performance and, from what I can gather, mission all resonant with me on a political level, for anyone resisting the imposition of the State is kindred, but the structure, the style, the tone and the overall aesthetic of this video and what he does as an artist wholly, fail to appeal to me.

When I saddle into a Kendrick Lamar song, what I hear is often off-beat stream-of-consciousness lyricism, inverted word order, a style reminiscent of spoken word. It sounds to me like old school freestyle level writing with awkward sentence structure and unclear meaning; that critics like Anthony Fantano and your buddies from high school on Facebook and Twitter pass off as deep and profound. Perhaps it may very well be. Their justifications for their conclusions are not entirely unsubstantiated. His wording, his voice, his draw don’t appeal to me the way they seem to appeal to swaths of Kendrick heads. I’ve heard it called poetry. Poetry is the mirrored apex of math and science to the human potential for abstraction. No one understands all of it and few understand any of it. I am certainly no exception. I respectfully submit, having incurred his discography and everything he has had to offer to date, that I do not believe Kendrick Lamar to be as good as “they” say he is. There are at least 44 other rappers out there that deserve his spot more. But then again, that’s just like my opinion, man; and I’m just an angry man in an attic.


Joey Bada$$ - “Victory”

When someone said we absolutely had to check out the latest music video from NYC true-school savior Joey Bada$$, I didn't realize they were fucking with us. Probably should have seen that coming.

"Victory," you see, is an advertisement for both Mountain Dew and the National Basketball Association. This is One Of Those Things that rapping-ass rappers have to do; your boy Chance funded two years of his life doing this for the turtleneck fascists at Apple, Rakim had to pay respects to the hip hop legend that is Sprite, and Common buys rare Dilla beats thanks to brands like Lincoln and Microsoft. It's not like anyone is out here paying them for rap music, so they had to diversify. These things happen.

The beat is cleverly composed and the hook is overcooked as fuck. Curtis Jackson could probably sue if he got bored. The video looks like an advertisement for fatally caffeinated diabetes juice should: colorful, sharp, and gently seizure-inducing. It looks very much like they saved big money by shooting this at an EDM festival before the gates opened that day. Do The Dew, right?

The verses are at least clever, for whatever clever is worth. I know it takes GZA time to write a song like "Labels" or "Fame," but I also know those songs are corny as fuck. Joey weaves a bunch of team & player names into some raps. It's mostly paint-by-numbers with flashes of dope (like "every day another triple double entendre" - this is Joey, after all).

So: how do we rate this? Such quandaries would be agonizing if I wasn't getting drunk. The fact of the matter is, nothing could ever redeem product placement trash like this. Nothing against Joey Bada$$, but someone has to have some motherfucking standards around here.


REKS - "Impression, Sunrise"

Monet doesn't get a lot of props. At least, not as far as rap music goes: I'm assuming Claude still has a fanbase, somewhere. Impressionism might be an artform as dead as lobotomies, but at least Americans have vaguely heard of it. Few rappers alive today are that lucky.

REKS is a beast from Boston who exemplifies the This Rap Shit Ain't A Talent Show ethos. He's released nine albums now, toured the world, worked with every Great Producer that matters...Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme has paid some dues. That currency is worth less every year, though.

"Fame" doesn't happen much these days without involving TV show & movie appearances. "Success" is much more attainable, and much weirder, too. REKS shot this video while he was touring Europe, and there are thousands of hip hop heads in Boston who don't even know who REKS is. That's ultimately because talent is no substitute for money.

Being hungry, being driven, being prolific - that's about getting work done, not about getting seen & heard. His latest project was a double album: that shit is two hours long. He's stuck in the same cycle of diminishing returns that currently defines Canibus, who is probably working on a ten thousand bar song right now.

REKS is still very much the same rapper he was when Along Came the Chosen dropped in 2001. Staccato spitfire, lots of internal rhymes, and way more comfortable rapping about rapping than actually speaking on something. Much like Chicago emcee Vakill, he's all intensity and no charisma, all skills and no fun. Seldom do you see a human being behind the Impeccable Realness.

"Impression, Sunshine" is a good example: witness how his dense rabbit-warren rhyme schemes just disappear once it's time to address Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. All of a sudden, dude is just kinda talking. And once politics is out of the way, eight bars later, it's right back to business as usual.

That said, business as usual is a pleasure to listen to. REKS does densely layered rapping about rapping as well as anyone, alive or dead. REKS will abide. REKS will continue to tour Europe, make long-ass albums, and do guest features that destroy motherfuckers on their own damn tracks.

This right here, though? Meh. Beat was the best part.



I RESPECT THE CAPS-LOCK HUSTLE. It's a good aesthetic in a high-noise environment, like, say, our entire seizure of a culture.

That extends to making rap videos look like early Rob Zombie shorts. Guns and drugs are trivial, rote, mandatory at this point. Throw some dead animals up there, fuck it. The goth chicks are a ham-fisted touch but for the most part this works. Dude is at least as committed to this act at Trent Reznor was. He also raps his ass off.

A couple years back I saw someone toss out "threat-rap" in a thinkpiece that was almost definitely about Chief Keef. It seemed so superfluous at the time, like "drum-beats" or "complaint-blues" -- but when it comes to CONWAY THE MACHINE, well, shit. He's one of the finest purveyors of threat-rap around.

This latest joint is just another brick in the wall, in that sense. Another banger off the conveyor belt. As a sign of things to come, though? This is pretty fucking interesting.

The Interscope Machine has made some Questionable Decisions in recent years -- consider talented nothingburger Logic, who is currently extolling the benefits of seeing a therapist. That's red meat for the blue state crowd, but it doesn't have shit to do with rap music.

In 2017, though, Iovine tentacle Shady Records started pushing the Buffalo brothers, Westside Gunn and Conway. Both of them combine the best aspects of Ghostface and Big L, which is a pretty outstanding recipe. There probably won't be any collaborations with Dido or Skylar Grey in the near future. This is good.

I've talked to a couple rap heads who can't get past the screwface delivery. I can't tell if that's an affectation, a stroke, or a knife wound: I also don't care. It doesn't bother me, especially since my primary communion with rap music is via headphones. Fuck what you look like. Can you spit?

The Buffalo brothers, man, WHOOOOOOOOOO. They can fucking spit. I'm a fan.


THE INBOXXX: "Ain't Shit Funny" - Avenue

Humpasaur "Hump" Jones: It's 2017, and we're bringing back everything, even THE INBOXXX. I used the power of emotional blackmail to get my former rap manager and DJ to join me one more time. Hopefully a lot more times.

DJ Multiple Sex Partners: I couldn't decide if I was humoring you or enabling you, so, yeah. I figured, let's do it.

HJ: Beautiful. Tonight we've got a video from Avenue, who I have never heard of. Whom?

DJ MSP: So not the Avenue who shot himself, right? His brother? Cousin?

HJ: No relation to Troy, according to my sources, bud. He's from Boston and he's done a track with Royce.

DJ MSP: Pretty strange video so far. You don't see people use drugs on camera like this very often.

HJ: Dude can rap, tho. Flow is impeccable. Big L cover band, for sure, but that's not a bad thing. He's a hell of a lot more interesting than Termanology, at least. This beat is tasty as all fuck.

DJ MSP: Yeah, I might actually play this again. We're totally fucking this up. Where is the hate? It says the beat is by someone named Cooking To Kill. That's dope.

HJ: It really seems like I should have fucking heard about this Avenue cat by now, given the proximity. The Boston area is some kind of event horizon deal - tons of talent, no promo. I blame Leedz.

DJ MSP: Yeah, that makes sense. Man, you stay trying to fuck your own career up, huh?

HJ: No comment for the haters. A black and white video of rappers rapping will never get old for me, as long as motherfuckers can actually rap. I give this two thumbs up.

DJ MSP: Pretty sure that shit is copyrighted but sure, that's my vote, too. He should talk about doo-doo pistols more, though. That's my core critique.

HJ: Fuck, that's eloquent. Well said, bud. We'll give this four out of five Lil' Dickys. I don't think anyone has trademarked that.


DISPATCHES: Cthu Lou Speaks

Allow me to remove the mask for a second and say this: I talk a lot of shit and none of it matters.

If any of you artists​ that we feature on RYR happen upon one of these articles in which I discuss you negatively​, remember that. These are just my thoughts at a particular place and time; and from a psychological standpoint one might remark that everything one says corresponds to a state of affairs inside their own head; that everything negative I have to say about somebody's art is rooted in my own self-hatred and inner-turmoil.

If you really want to do what you're trying to do, let me be perfectly clear; the articles and dispatches behind this curtain are all sizzling static distractions​ from your path, floating filigree that will be swallowed in the void. Into the trash it all goes, they say. Do take honest advice, yes, but please do not let anything said here maim you. It is my sincere hope that the the ratio remains one hundred to one of those humored and entertained to those hurt and affected. Talking shit​ is what we do and just because we're good at it, doesn't mean that it means anything.

Locksmith - Sanity

Locksmith is a wicked talented motherfucker. This means he's also one of those rappers whose career is living proof This Rap Shit Ain't a Talent Show. This cat did everything possible to blow up and he's stuck on the same awkward plateau as anyone else in 2017, watching the Interscope Machine strip-mine our entire damn generation. A whole lot of talent competing for the same fanbase these days.

"Blowing Up" is perhaps not even an attainable goal at this point. The era of Rap Stars was mostly an artifact of high school kids with lots of disposable income and very little internet access. That shit is gone for good. So Locksmith grinds, banging out the same death march of radio appearances, podcasts, features, and social media nothings. This is his fourth video now off his latest album. Winning the war for attention spans forces you to balance quality control with the sheer quantity the Spectacle demands.

J Million's work as a director is very Content Producer on LinkedIn. This ain't cinema & it doesn't have to be: this is getting shared on Facebook, not aired on MTV. Everything looks good until Mr. Million starts really turning the lights on, then the framing & design gets kinda "Full Sail graduate," you feel me? You do.

But so what? Locksmith is the whole show, all the cuts are just there to keep the iTards engaged enough to watch. The visual language of a hip hop video has improved a lot since the 90's, but they're also more constrained than ever. Somewhere between Gnarls Barkley going global and Future dropping Dirty Sprite 2, ink suspension effects have become as mandatory as slow-motion smoke shots or, you know, women on camera.

Or, you know, hooks. Rappers do hooks because we think we have to. "Sanity" is a perfect example. Thirty seconds of dude chanting "I Got This Feeling" is beautiful cynicism, a stripped-down joke about the state of arena-rap like G-Eazy or Drake. The fact it is absolutely not intended that way only makes it funnier. Hits evoke feelings, usually some consumer striver aspiration-rap, which is cheap, sad horseshit. "Sanity" is something different.

Specifically, it's a mixed-race emcee busting bars about the burden of being half-black, half-Iranian. Not a lot of product placement opportunities here, but then again, Pepsi is getting edgy in 2017 and Social Justice is in. As long as he doesn't go full Lowkey and start making actual diss tracks to Israel, he's got a bright future.

The second verse re-frames the hood jeremiad as a movie about the conflicts of being a black cop and it's classic Locksmith - technically dazzling performance, emotionally charged writing. That whole Grind Time movement set high standards but it also homogenized a semi-international scene. There's always been a huge diversity of styles, but ultimately the audience doesn't change much: a room full of young men who need pop culture references and careful hand gestures to walk them through punchlines & flow patterns. Fuckwits, in other words.

So there's a lot of technically dazzling indie rappers at war for your beautiful eyeballs. Locksmith is unimpeachably real, but that same authenticity limits his horizons. Defending the culture, keeping lyricism alive, honoring your elders: all that shit only sounds good on paper. Hip hop is a death cult with breakdancers. Purists are janitors in a mausoleum.

This video was pretty aight.


Agallah Don Bishop x Duke Westlake ft. Spliff Hemingway & Lil Eto - The Ill Blend

After you abandon a gmail inbox long enough, you feel like an archaeologist. Specifically, an alien archaeologist. How did this ever happen? Who the fuck are these people? It’s not much of an enigma, though: we’re all here to die trying to get famous.

Enter Agallah Don Bishop. He’s big shit. Like most folks who started too soon and wanted too much, he’s changed names a cool dozen times now. His latest incarnation is a lifestyle-branded collaboration with Duke Westlake. Like so many attempts at a second act in American Life, nobody seems to care much.

What a rapping-ass rapping motherfucker does at this point is pretty interesting. You’re stuck down here with the locals acts & has-beens & nobody-faces now, a classic Joseph Campbell Underworld Initiation.

Turns out, Old Boy has lost none of his venom or energy. He comes in chopping right from the jump, but the more you listen, the more you can hear the seams in the stitchwork...there’s just nothing new here. This isn’t a problem, either. 90’s revival aesthetics are hot as balls right now.

The bars keep coming hard and fast and professional, but it’s paint-by-numbers, more remix than resurrection. You could find a couple dozen Agallah verses from the Bush era that sound the same -- and flex the same flow patterns, too. Few of us grow much past 25 years old.

Strangely, there are features.

First up is Spliff Hemingway, who delivers an authentic dose of that East Coast shit. Since kids are pretty simple these days, dude drives the point home by rapping in a damn blizzard. He’s an earnest disciple and a competent student. Hell, a competitive student - at least on this track, he wants it more.

That shit fits nicely, but this Lil Eto shit is fucking weird, period. Sounds like when local autists rush the stage for open mic and make life awkward for everyone. It’s just as much fun to sit through on Youtube. This cat should find some EDM gothcore producers and drop his epic debut LP instead of clogging up perfectly good rap tracks with bullshit like this.

All in all, solid product but I don’t feel fed. “Authenticity” has become an increasingly low standard. At this point, it doesn’t mean a fucking thing. The 90’s sucked. The 90’s deserved to die. Agallah, on the other hand, is probably good for another decade of head-nodding rappity-rap like this.