16. “Hive”- Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, & Casey Veggies

As a musician, Earl Sweatshirt, at only 19 years old, is most definitely worth the overbearing attention people give him. His self-titled debut mixtape displayed a sardonic mind that was easily overshadowed by the young man’s rapping ability: certainly prodigious, maybe the best right now, perhaps, in a few years, the greatest of all time? That seems a bit wishful now; Doris highlights Earl’s excellent flow and writing abilities, but regarding presence, subject matter, and most importantly, hooks, the Angelino has a lot to learn. One should never overlook the hook; it’s the most important part of the song, and “Hive” doesn’t have an original Earl-written hook that will stay in my mind on repeat as I drive down Fairfax. The genius is recognizable, but it’s pretty difficult to memorize “Brutus in that booth, double scoop, hock vomit up/sub rocking, thud knocking n—– teeth loose” without a few visits to RapGenius. What “Hive” lacks in a hook it makes up for in everything else: a ghoulish beat with the most frightening high-hat hit ever, verses that merit repeat analyses (and a refresher to high school concepts like assonance and metonymy), and a glorious introduction to Vince Staples, a Long Beach product who holds his own against someone who could arguably be considered the greatest lyricist of all time. After all, he promises Gil-Scot Heron “to put my fist up, after I get my dick sucked,” because he understands his potential and how his talents can influence social progress, but he’s also 19 years old. Let’s give it a few years before we make some final judgments, cool?

15. “Shake Weight”- Captain Murphy & TNGHT

Only by the end do we find out that “Shake Weight’s” title is actually a not-so-clever metaphor for handjobs, but by then Captain Murphy has so captivated that it doesn’t matter how trite a comparison mutual masturbation is to a passing infomercial fad. “Shake Weight” bumps with such confidence that we have to remind ourselves that Captain Murphy is not a rookie rapper, but Flying Lotus in disguise (for the uninformed). It shouldn’t surprise us that Flying Lotus acts as one of the many producers with rap alter egos and vice versa, but saying that Captain Murphy is Flying Lotus still blows our brains out of the water because rap alter egos never sound this good. Granted, Captain Murphy is only a mediocre rapper (with one fantastic line: “I got the night poppin’ off/I don’t rock no mics/I only Rachmoninavs), but backed by all the electric glory that is the Flying Lotus stamp, Cap Murph’s first album Duality stands as one of the most exciting rap debuts in a while. Behind “Shake Weight” isn’t FlyLo, however, but a vicious TNGHT sample from the Halloween soundtrack, and Murphy attacks the beat like rap’s Jason Vorhees, sounding positively terrifying while telling us of a visceral sexual conquest (“spent her night contemplating life within a nut hair”). “Shake Weight” destroys any notion that rap can’t demolish, and it makes a rapper out of one of music’s best producers.

14. “Track ID Anyone?”- DJ Koze & Caribou

Let’s pretend as if we’re recording a song in the pre-synthesizer era, and we thought that we would like a marimba to be in the track. First, we’d have to find a marimba. Then, we would have to find someone who knows how to play that marimba, and then pay him/her to do so. Then we’d have to bring him/her and his/her marimba into the studio and record, giving the marimba equal access and value to the studio space as the drums, guitar, chimes, and whatever else we decided to use. And what if, after all that effort, we decided that we don’t want marimba in the song? It’s a bunch of wasted effort; heck, we might as well put it in anyway.

But that’s the beauty of the synthesizer: it expedites what should be a merit-based process. Germany’s DJ Koze decided that marimba would sound nice in his song “Track ID Anyone?” and being a talented producer, he was right. But what if he didn’t like it? With a few clicks, the sound would be off to the Recycle Bin, making room for a new, more deserving sound. Despite what many (old and naïve) sources may tell you, synthesized sounds don’t water down the creation process any less than computer animation does to hand-drawn cartoons. If anything, it gives artists a greater breadth of sources and challenges them to find the sounds that will pair as well as an acoustic guitar and double-bass. And sometimes, you’ll get a song like “Track ID Anyone?” which doesn’t waste a second of your time, creating an atmosphere as worth exploring as any analog creation.

13. “Chocolate”- The 1975

Replace every iteration of the word “chocolate” with “weed,” and everything falls into place. The song all of a sudden makes a lot more sense, but any revelation towards its actual meaning doesn’t take away any of its innocent sweetness. The 1975 are comprised of four Manchester alums who have been slugging it out without recognition for the last decade, and their breakthrough single sounds a lot like Manchester’s most famous band without sounding too much like hero worship. Lead singer Matthew Healy still gets his charm through his incredibly nasally vocals, showing Brits you don’t need choreographed routines and impossibly shiny hair to get the pre-teen girls in a tizzy (did the British just beat us at bubblegum pop, our bread and butter?). All you need is a simple groove and a hook…about being worried about getting caught smoking pot in your car…a wonderful lesson for the little girls to learn.

12. “The King”- Tree

Chuck D’s most famous line in Public Enemy’s most famous song takes a shot at the King of Rock ‘n Roll: “Elvis was a hero to most/but he never meant shit to me, you see/straight up racist that sucker was.” He’s since renounced those comments; Elvis played black music because all the white musicians were stealing black music, but more importantly he felt that black music should be heard by the public, and that his voice and hips were the most effective way to do it. It’s only fitting that Tree pays homage to the King, and arguably the best thing ever to happen to the proliferation of black music, by sampling “Can’t Help Falling In Love” as the foundation for his “soul trap,” another form of black music that deserves proliferation. Tree’s an old soul, or maybe just old, with admirable family values: “I’m a better poppa than my poppa cause/tell Mason I love him and he say it too/cause I do everything I say I do.” Your requisite bitches and weed references pop up sporadically, but he saves his biggest wish for “The King’s” raspy hook: “Ain’t nobody fucking with me on my momma’s grave/She’s still alive, I wanna see my momma’s age.” In and age where rap’s decadence is reaching cartoonish levels, listening to Tree’s domestic wishes is a rather sweet respite from a lifestyle nobody can possibly achieve.


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