Listening notes #1: Rap, etc.

Needs a snappier title, I know. Suggestions welcome.


Anderson .Paak

Musically panoramic in the style of Cali’s retro du jour, with melodies up front but hooks off-center — a drum fill, Robert Glasper’s keys, a woman’s blurted “Can you fuck me already?” when the sex patter strays too far into the fantastically metaphorical. But if .Paak’s sound is ambitious (“visionary” is his word), his sing-song rasp is modest, emulating Curtis Mayfield’s soul without claiming his upper register, expressing tenderness toward not just the Korean-American mama who always paid the cable bill on time but the African-American dad who left them for addiction and prison. He’s even too humble to exploit his signifying surname. (No homophone.) Too bad that the old-time surfer bros whose voices surface between the tracks not only bust up the flow but imply that .Paak rides high on waves of sound. He doesn’t. He bobs. He treads. He wades.



Church Clothes 3

At ten tracks, trimmer than 2014’s Anomaly, honing this chart-topping Christian soldier’s righteous exasperation to a terrible, swift sword. There’s never been any awkward youth pastor earnestness to Lecrae’s flow, but now he sounds ready to bust up street fights. Yeah, I wish he didn’t call out Planned Parenthood (in a rhyme targeted at Christian hypocrisy, but still…) and then mention “killing unborn babies” and murderous police in the same breath on the very next track. Shit, I wish lots of rappers didn’t say lots of things — and that secular hip-hop hadn’t ceded the moral high ground to dopes like Lupe and Cole years back.



Lady Leshurr
Queen’s Speech

This bratty bright-toned Brit has been kicking around since 2009, though not much digital evidence persists beyond the memorably mushed consonants of Mona Leshurr (2013) and promising scraps from the 2014 mixtape Lil Bit of Lesh. Last year she spat five identically named rhymes on YouTube, each new “Queen’s Speech” improving on the last. After stomping on some raver’s bare skanky toes on #3, she found her true calling: skewering the questionable hygiene of party girls, from “Change your panties” to “Brush your teeth” (well, “teef”) to “Their lips look like crispy bacon.” All five tracks are collected here. “1 Million Views” is a victory lap.



Young Rich Ni$$a$ 2

Nimble, athletic, virtuosic, and no less energized by their and each other’s skills than at the jump, with Quavo’s verse on “Commando” a stunner (he mispronounces Al-Qaeda to near-rhyme with “Nina,” then corrects himself so he can twist and turn that long “i” sound for another 11 lines) and their concern for renal health a sign of maturity if that’s what you’re after. No unshakable syllable-play like “Versace” or “Hannah Montana” or “Bachelor,” though, which I might forgive if the most memorable line wasn’t “I gave my bitch a Plan B cause she my plan b.” which I couldn’t wrench out of my head the whole time I spent waiting in line at the post office last Saturday. Grrr. They won’t be young forever. They might not even be rich forever. Where does that leave them?



Purple Reign

He bores even deeper into the skittering murk, a fuckably groggy rodent, jaws clamping listeners like stunned prey, the alluring exhaustion of affluence made crawling digital flesh. But if this isn’t the first time he’s pretended that purp, and not the heartbreak it numbs, is the source of his inspiration, it’s the first time I’ve believed him, which says something about how inspired he often doesn’t sound.

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