Welcome to the South Easy
I’ve been keeping one eye on J Cole despite his underwhelming mainstream debut Sideline Story cos the free EPs he’s released this year have been pleasant enough. Still, I had to laugh when he pulled the release of sequel Born Sinner up a week, from June 25 to June 18, just a few days after Kanye West announced his new album was coming out on June 18. My first thought? Ahhh… Cole isn’t too confident about that album, he’s moved the release to bury it. No-one will notice a J Cole album coming out in that week. Seems like I was only half right. A few days later he told HHDX he actually pulled up the release to compete with Kanye. Really? I had to pause for a second after I heard that to let it sink in. Either he’s totally delusional or I’ve massively underestimated his appeal.
Or… The third option didn’t occur to me when I first read the news, but after Cole leaked a new track the other day. One with the utterly generic title Niggaz Know. Y’know there’s an outside chance this guy might not be deluded. He might actually be sitting on a great album. Cos this is undeniable. For all the boasting this sounds like the work of a man who’s arse has had a thorough kicking. Yeah, he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s made a million from music, but he knows that’s not so much to boast about now. Definitely not enough to retire off these days. Even if you don’t throw the cash around like Young Buck (and J Cole seems like a thoroughly sensible chappy at heart), once you’ve bought your mum a house and paid for dental insurance you’re not going to have a whole heap of change from a million. Not enough to retire on, and Sideline Story wasn’t great enough to establish a long term career.
And this? Well, best not get too carried away. It’s only one single, but this has got everything. I’d definitely take this over anything from the last couple of Kanye’s solo albums. It’s proof that sometimes, despite a system seemingly designed to churn out drivel, sometimes the commercial formulae can work despite themselves. A nagging hook so familiar I’m certain it’s interpolated but can’t figure out what he’s quoting. An old school breakbeat to please the purists with more swing than the Neptunes in the club-pleasing peak of their glory years. And words…loads of them, packed in so dense sad little nerds like me can sit here rewinding to catch the references. Yeah, there’s loads of Biggie, there’s Dru Hill. Tupac? Chief Keef? Who cares if he’s not saying anything substantial? Sometimes that’s a bloody relief. Except he does make one massively important point, one worth repeating next time some bore tries to tell you the only good rap music is confessional or educational or any other such worthy nonsense. ‘Hate to brag’, he apologises with a distinct lack of sincerity, ‘…but backpacker that’s hip-hop’.
Yeah, it’s a good single. And if it’s representative of the album there’s a fighting chance he might not embarrass himself so bad on June 18th after all.
• As far as I can tell Action Bronson is an asshole. This isn’t something I have a massive problem with. I’ve been known to behave like an asshole myself. Sometimes. It’s not something I try and make a habit of. Bronson on the other hand seems to be someone who revels in his assholic behaviour. Witness the cover to his new EP-slash-mixtape thing in collaboration with Harry Fraud (available for free at some point in the next week or two, kids), Saaab Stories. Seven tracks including the intriguingly titled 72 Virgins, wrapped up in a cover I can only describe as… haunting. Some poor woman on her knees in lacy underwear, her head just over a toilet bowl but turned to one side facing the camera with a look I’d interpret as total resignation and despair. She’s centre-frame, Bronson is behind her to the right, stood up looking down on her ass. How does he look? Aroused? Nahhh, I don’t think so. There’s a certain resignation with him also, like ‘ahhh well…time to show her who’s boss’. It’s cold. So cold that If I got the chance to interview Bronson I’d have to ask him if he’s a feminist.
• You know that thing where you’re sort of half listening to a track, or even fully listening to it but can’t quite follow the flow cos the emcee has an accent you’re not used to, and suddenly a line jumps out and knocks you sideways? It just happened to me with the new Doppelgangaz single. Nice beat and all, but the moment that caught me was just over a minute in when one guy says ‘I chilled inside a store for hours watching women pee then I woke up in a holding cell to niggas drilling me’.
• Masta Ace‘s I Did It feels something like a victory lap, but then he’s been talking about retirement for at least a decade now. I wouldn’t blame him, at this point, figuring he’s never going to get the level of appreciation he deserves and jacking it all in, but clearly he’s having trouble walking away, something keeps calling him back. People consider emcees like Ace as old, but realistically the oldest of the old school emcees are middle aged right now. Masta Ace is forty-six. For all the brilliance of Unkut’s No Country For Old (Rap) Men column we haven’t really seen old man rap yet. And, for sure, when it arrives, some of it will be ugly. But my guess is Masta Ace is the kind of rapper who could pull off a creative renaissance in his late 70s. Fingers crossed.
• I was thoroughly prepared to hate Hodgy Beats Years, cos Odd Future seem to disappoint me more often than impress. I love the attitude, their brand of hyper-earnest obnoxiousness is exactly the type of thing which appeals to me normally, but musically nothing much has grabbed me yet – and I’ve tried. Not just watching singles, listening to whole mixtapes repeatedly hoping they click, liking only the odd track (if that). Worse, Years is one of their downtempo cloud rap efforts, which never entices as much as the mental neck-snapping stuff anyway. To make the prospect even more repulsive, the concept (as expressed in hook form) ‘where do you see yourself in a couple of years?’ isn’t one I like to contemplate much these days. Despite everything though, it’s a wonderfully buoyant, uplifting song. Part of that’s down to a beat with a thrust more akin to Static Major than Main Attrakionz, but mostly it’s Hodgy’s performance. His voice isn’t as strong as, say, Frank Ocean, but that’s a bonus with me, I’m a sucker for old school bad rap singing and whilst Hodgy is no Biz Markie, there’s a nice vulnerability to his voice that I like. After a few lines about drug abuse and health problems the words spiral off into a whole bunch of different threads, then on to the trappings of his continued stardom before threatening, briefly to get just a smidgeon too sentimental before being saved by a joyous chant, ‘I’m at the beach! I’m coolin”. Maybe five years ago I might’ve sneered, but in such dark times it’s an appealing prospect for sure. Even if I’m pretty sure I’m picturing a different beach from Hodgy, one with a fair few more pebbles and a higher likelihood of a sore arse if you try and lie on it for longer than five minutes.
• Another about-face for me this week on El-P, though this one’s more expected seeing how I’ve always liked his beats. I’ve struggled to appreciate his emo tendencies as an emcee, but recently I’ve found them a lot easier to digest when combined with the levity of his new best buddy Killer Mike. I’ve never listened to a Company Flow record and thought, ‘it might be fun to let these guys buy me a beer’. That thought did pop into my head (briefly) listening to their new freebie download single Banana Clipper, a trailer for the forthcoming freebie download album under the group name Run The Jewels. Consider that the highest compliment possible.