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Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.
All the president’s rappers
For years, instead of building any sort of real connection with young Black voters, I’ve felt like politicians have desperately turned to any rapper who will pick up the phone to do the work for them. It seems as if they’re essentially saying, “Here’s that rapper you like, and they like me, so now you like me too, right?” It treats us like a dumb monolith, as if any link to rap culture will earn our vote.
We can say this began in the buildup to the 2008 election, when rappers were rallying around the idea of having a shot at Obama being the first Black president (he was name-dropped by both Common and Talib Kweli in 2007). Obama took it in stride during his first presidential campaign, playing rap songs at his events, recruiting the help of JAY-Z and Diddy, and even doing the “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” move during a speech that one time. Though I’ve always found Obama’s relationship with rappers to be complicated, he tried to find a way to embrace hip-hop in an inoffensive way. (And it was always unclear which rappers were attaching themselves to him for self-motivated reasons—Jeezy went from supporting John McCain to eventually making a song called “My President” about Obama.) It’s hard to know how much of a role, if any, Obama’s relationship with rap played in his increased turnout of young, Black voters, but hip-hop has become part of the strategy for Democratic nominees anyway.
During Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, she went on The Ellen Show and did a whip, nae nae, and learned how to dab. It was uncomfortable, and doubled as some of the most shameless begging in American history—up there with that time Martin tried to get Gina to stay and that entire album Robin Thicke made to try to win his wife back. That half-assed strategy didn’t work out for her so well, but still it continues to be employed in different forms.
This year, Joe Biden recruited Ludacris, Monica, Jermaine Dupri, and Jeezy to star in “Get Out the Vote” ads, in what appears to be a way to attract potential Black voters in their 40s. Of the last three Democratic nominees, Biden’s use of rappers has been the least flagrant, but once again the targeted Black demo is offered little aside from the honor of Ludacris telling them they have to vote because it’s very important. (Also, what year is Biden in? Is he going to walk out to the “Lean Back” instrumental next?) Biden does have a “Plan for Black America,” but the language is wishy-washy. “Strengthen America’s commitment to justice,” reads one bullet point, which apparently means more money for the police.
Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris is one of the few politicians whose relationship with hip-hop has never felt pandering (even if Tupac might be the only rapper she’s ever liked), but it won’t help her overcome her track record of siding with the police in order to better her chances up the political food chain. The Biden-Harris campaign just wants to appeal to everyone (in the middle, at least), though many Black neighborhoods are being ignored. And a PSA from the third most popular rapper of 2002 isn’t going to fix that.
Things that matter more than another Travis Scott hit
Travis Scott’s new single is his third in less than a year to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100. It doesn’t matter what the song is. At this point, he could list the ingredients of a Big Mac on a song, and it would top the charts (this might actually happen). Here are a couple of things that deserve your attention more.
This Fivio Foreign quote
This bad, but charming, snippet of Uzi’s “Coochie Land” remix, where he sits with YN Jay in a car with a planetarium roof and calls himself a “coochie maniac.”
Tony Shhnow: “Rush Hour Pt 3”
The “Rush Hour Pt 3” beat is so quiet it’s almost as if you’re hearing it through a wall. But it’s intentional, and Atlanta rapper Tony Shhnow matches the lethargy of the production. He starts out rapping at the kind of pace you might use to give a stranger directions. The closest comparison for Tony’s flow is Gucci Mane at his most relaxed, and the best moments here come when he raps a line and follows it up with seconds of silence. During those pauses, the sporadic drums and ambient melody become hypnotic—until Tony returns, in no rush.
D.C. rapper Wifigawd makes some of his best work when he steps into a world shaped by the mind of a single producer. The Dretti Franks-produced Stuck in 95 mixtape, and the Tony Seltzer-produced Heat Check series are career highlights so far, and now Hot as Hell, made with Virginia beatmaker GAWD, joins their ranks. GAWD’s beats blend whimsical melodies with hard-hitting drums that sound as distorted as an old radio with the volume turned all the way up. On “Outside,” the producer’s thudding instrumental sets the tone, and the designer-obsessed Wifi drifts over the beat with ease: “Rockin’ them Off-White Timbs/So much drip I’m swimmin’,” he raps, effortlessly catchy. Wifi has found another perfect match.
Is P-Valley’s Lil Murda a good rapper?
On episode six of P-Valley, the scripted Starz series about life at a Mississippi strip club, a struggling rapper named Lil Murda learns that his song has gone viral on WorldStarHipHop. There’s only one problem: He can’t take advantage of the situation because he barely has a social media presence. It’s one of the funniest scenes in the show’s first season because the same thing has happened in real life so many times before.
Even though Lil Murda’s storyline is a B-plot, P-Valley, created by Katori Hall, has handled the idea of a rising rapper with the kind of care that can only be matched by Atlanta. It’s been fascinating to watch a show depict the importance of strip clubs in breaking records, though, listening back to Murda’s two essential singles so far, I found myself stumped on whether he is actually good or not.
His breakout song “Fallin’” is definitely not the hit they made it out to be. Over a watered-down Atlanta club beat, Murda sounds like his biggest inspiration is Terrence Howard in Hustle & Flow. The only redeemable part is the hook. Of course it’s basic, but it’s at least delivered in a Auto-Tune croon that I could imagine being sung by Moneybagg Yo.
I was ready to write Murda off as a bad rapper until his performance of the second single, “Mississippi Pride,” in the season finale. It’s a traditional Memphis rap song. He chants like a lost member of Three 6 Mafia, and the instrumental copies that crew harder than the $uicideboys. But it works out—it might even be a Key Glock feature away from being something I would play around the house. As far as fake TV rappers go, I’ve sat through Coop on All American, Lil Dicky on Dave, and Hakeem on Empire, to name a few. In comparison, Lil Murda is actually kind of decent.
Larry June: “Orange Juice in Vancouver” [ft. Jay Worthy]
The best Larry June songs sound like he’s trying to have a conversation over a classic R&B radio station that’s playing too loud in the background. It’s relaxing lifestyle music, and though it’s taken me some time to get completely on board with the style, the Harry Fraud-produced Keep Going has some of my favorite Larry June records to date. Not much happens on “Orange Juice in Vancouver”; it’s like you’re joining the San Francisco rapper on the most mundane vacation ever. He loses his wallet. He checks into a hotel. He parks his car at the side of the road to clear his thoughts. It’s refreshingly normal, yet—because of a Harry Fraud beat that could soundtrack an early ’90s made-for-TV movie—it still feels lavish.
The most questionable beat of the week
Polo Perks: “Toe to Toe”
Surf Gang is a New York-based crew of rappers and producers, and one of their most prolific members is Polo Perks. The Lower East Side rapper has flooded SoundCloud with day-in-the-life raps over versatile production—sometimes bright, sometimes gloomy, sometimes a mix of both—from the group’s roster of beatmakers, including Evilgiane, Harrison, and Tommytohotty. On “Toe to Toe,” a cut off of his new record, Polo’s heavy voice shines over an Evilgiane beat that sounds like it could induce a trance. He slides into the production, completely in sync, and it gives all of his words an ominous edge. It’s this type of rapper/producer chemistry that has helped Surf Gang emerge from the city’s underground.
A hip-hop mystery is solved (maybe)
The neverending Lil Wayne and Pusha-T beef began over whether or not Wayne jacked BAPE from Clipse and Pharrell in the mid 2000s. Pusha subtly alluded to the Cash Money star stealing their style on “Mr. Me Too,” and Wayne responded by claiming he made it hot. But according to Curren$y’s Twitter, it turns out that he was actually the one who put Wayne onto BAPE. Again, it’s rap, so we take these stories with a grain of salt, but maybe this will close the chapter on this storied beef. Now these fashion icons of the past can finally collaborate on a line and ruin their reputations together.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork