Heems from Das Racist really knows what he is doing. His label, Greedhead, is really fucking killing this year. Off the top of my head, I can count six strong releases (and I know I am missing some, but I am too lazy at this point to look them up) from his label. One of the more exciting mixtapes from the label is Big Baby Gandhi’s NO1 2 LOOK UP 2. The 21-year-old Queens product is another exciting voice in the ever-expanding Greedhead empire. And on the self-produced “Blue Magic,” Gandhi demonstrates his talent.
The song features an insane opening verse from BBG in which he first tells the audience in a soothing voice, “Turn my voice down. No one should hear the words I’m saying. Turn my voice down.” He follows this proclamation with “Terrorist with no turban, lyricist with no sermon.” But instead of the calm opening tone, this is delivered in a nasal yelp. After Gandhi channels his inner Wu-Tang Clan with the following, “Liquid Swords in my veins call me GZA. Digi in the desk drawer, dude, call me RZA,”
Later in the song during the outstanding guest features from Heems and Kool A.D. from Das Racist, we are treated to allusions to everything from Double Dragon, Heart (the wonderful band with ladies), Sarah Palin, the Aztec empire, boxer Zab Judah, Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, and marijuana. It’s a verbal barrage with wonderful pop culture references.
“Minotaur-fugly stepchild” or “I mean, I guess it matters to me, I wish it mattered to you, how a thousand virtues, kick the same bucket like Chinatown turtles” or “Failed all basic training but I spent a couple groundhogs days with a changeling.” Taken out of context (like I just did), this is little more than gibberish from the song, “Zero Dark Thirty”. But in the nimble, able hands of Aesop Rock, these seemingly dissimilar strands are woven into a complex rap tapestry that no one can fuck with. No one can rap as well as Aesop Rock. There are many talented emcees out there, but he is the most technically proficient rapper going today. In an era of disposable lyrics and cheap thrills, Aesop strings together pearls of wisdom that require multiple (and I truly mean multiple) listens to digest and sink in. Often, his work requires years before truly making sense. I have been listening to Labor Days for nearly a decade and I am still discovering new meanings.
“Zero Dark Thirty” was released a few months back in advance of Aesop Rock’s new album, Skelethon. The new album — his first in six years — was released recently and it is truly immaculate. Gone are the beats from Blockhead and El-P. Instead, Aesop Rock ably handles all the production himself, though his production style mirrors that of El-P and Blockhead. You get the science fiction-y flourishes and random samples. The style presents a perfect marriage for his rhyming style.
Skelethon stands as one of the best releases of the year. It is right up there with the new albums from Killer Mike, Oddisee, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and El-P. “Zero Dark Thirty” is one of the standouts, but “Gopher Guts” stands as my favorite song of the release. The beat is impeccably slow-burning and it features Aesop Rock at his rawest and most honest. On the song, he addresses many of the demons that have plagued him. He does so in a uncharacteristically frank manner. It is definitely in the running for my favorite song of the year.
Philadelphia rapper/producer Lushlife delivered one of my favorite mixtapes of 2011. His No More Golden Days tape featured standout tracks such as “Adult Goth,” which featured Das Racist/Greedhead head honcho Heems, and “Motivation,” which borrowed one of the best Clams Casino beats of 2011 (not counting the completely righteous beat from A$AP Rocky’s “Palace,” which still resides in my most played iTunes list this year). The clear standout from the tape, however, was “She’s A Buddhist, I’m A Cubist.” The original is a stellar, old-school cut that features a great guest verse from Memphis rapper Cities Aviv in all his snarky glory. (The mixtape is still available for the price of an email address on his Bandcamp page.)
For the remix treatment, Lushlife enlisted an entire army of collaborators. It seems like he called everyone in his Rolodex (and yes, I imagine a well-known underground rapper ironically employing this relic and not an iPhone). The beat remains outstanding, but the track takes on a whole new, epic life with the cadre of new contributors. Firstly, Dirty Projector’s Angel Deradoorian now sings the chorus. The Cities Aviv guest spot remains the same, but I wish he had provided a new verse, since the original slayed (which remains my one gripe with the track, but you can’t argue with free). Regardless, the new rendition of the track extends over six minutes and now features G-Side (!!!!), current Greedhead poster child Big Baby Gandhi, Deniro Farrar, and KDz Kenny Dennis (aka Seregeti).
The song is available for a free download for the price of a like on Lushlife’s Facebook page or on Soundcloud.
Danny Brown is fucking awesome and radical. I, like most it seems, slept on him for too long. My eyes were finally opened during his stellar 2011 campaign. His album, XXX, was one of the best releases of the year. And Brown stole the show on many of his cameos/features. If you doubt his awesomeness, stop reading this post for a minute and listen to his song “Monopoly.” And if that doesn’t cement his awesomeness in your mind, I don’t know what else to say.
This year has brought more of the same for Brown. While he hasn’t released an album, he has been very busy. With a remix tape with Black Noi$e, and insane features on songs by Ab-Soul and El-P, Brown isn’t relenting. His best work in 2012 might be “Grown Up.” On this Party Supplies-produced song, Brown delivers a coming-of-age tale in a truly goofy, off-center, and brilliant way. (Party Supplies is the same gentleman who produced Action Bronson’s fucking awesome Blue Chips mixtape earlier this year.)
“Grown Up” is short and sweet. In the video, we get the full story about how Brown messed up his teeth. It features a young man portraying the self-described Adderall Admiral. The track, like the video, is great fun. It is surely in contention for the best hip hop song of 2012.
Watch the video below and then go download the song for the price of an email address from the folks at ScionAV.
One of my favorite Twitter memories involves Frank Ocean. (#humblebrag starts now.) The resident Odd Future crooner and I exchanged a few tweets. I could sense that he was a good person (and I know that’s a childish insight, but it is how I felt at the time). Of all the things we could possibly talk/tweet about, we connected over a shared love of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese. (It’s an Oregon delicacy and one of the things I truly miss about living in that part of the country.) Ocean even re-tweeted me at one point. This happened before he truly exploded with his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape release, and way before he was featured on (and, in my opinion, stole) Watch the Throne, the over-the-top hip album from Jay-Z and Kanye West. I felt special.
That exchange aside, I have always felt a deep affinity for Ocean (no pun intended). I even hoped I could tell him how much I appreciate his music in person, but at each of the three Odd Future shows I saw last year (once in New York City and twice in Toronto), he was nowhere to be found. I am remedying that when I see him perform next month headlining in Toronto, and I sincerely hope that Toronto jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD will be his backing band (like they were for his face-meltingly awesome set at Coachella in April).
My excitement for that show continues to rise. And it reached a new level when Ocean posted his new single “Pyramids” on his Tumblr last week (along with new tour dates, news of his new album, Channel Orange, and a teaser clip with the song). Pyramids is a wild, funky, fun, sensuous ten minute jaunt in which we hear about ancient Egypt and modern-day love. (Aside: How many artists could pull off a 10-minute track and not have it be mind-numbingly tedious?) Ocean is a true artist. And he just goes to show that the future remains incredibly odd and radical.