May 25, 2017

Wait, Max Finally Posted Something New, And It's Another Article Following XXL's 2012 Freshmen Class?



(So here's the thing: my hiatus is still a thing that is happening. Sorry, but it is what it is. However, the past year-and-a-half have seen some false starts, such as this article I started last fall that I never bothered to finish. I've chosen to clean and press it in an effort to actually get some page views, maybe?, but when you view the song selections, keep in mind that this is something out of my nonexistent vault, and that I obviously realize that, say, Future has dropped eighteen more albums' worth of material since the time I originally took pen to paper. And so.)

This year (again, remember, I wrote this in 2016), XXL's annual Freshman Class list contains no less than two artists I have honestly never even heard of (even as I write this annotation), one that I have but don't give much of a shit about, one comedian-turned-rapper, and several rappers who all sound the same to me, and yet are each probably going to have their superstar moments, because life is unfair and hip hop is terrible. It actually made me miss the relative simplicity of the class of 2012, whom I've been following each year of their careers since making the cover of a magazine that nobody gives a fuck about anymore: at least some of those guys (and the lone token woman) rap

And with that, let's look at where the 2012 class is now, five years removed from their first taste of fame. Have any of them exploded? Imploded? Sure, whatever, who cares; this is just an excuse for me to make fun of artists that I hate while promoting the one that I actually like on here. As usual, insert the standard disclaimer about how I don't know if the series will proceed beyond this year here.

MACHINE GUN KELLY (formerly MGK, formerly MACHINE GUN KELLY, formerly MGK, formerly MACHINE GUN KELLY)

What I wrote before: “... [MGK]'s performance on here stays on the verge of "alright"; certainly not something I would ever want to throw a record contract at.  But maybe if I had Puffy's millions, I'd use less discretion, I don't know...”

Song I listened to this time around: "Bad Things" (featuring Camila Cabello)



Machine Gun Kelly may be making moves in the film production side of things (he also appeared in Nerve, that Emma Roberts/Dave Franco thriller that nobody watched, and yet still pulled in almost ninety million dollars at the box office), but I assume that his label boss Sean "Puffy" Combs is a hardass, as MGK still releases new music on a frequent basis. And like the once and forever Puff Daddy, MGK isn't stupid: he knows that playing to a pop audience is the key to career longevity, if not critical acclaim. And so we have "Bad Things", a duet with singer Camila Cabello (formerly of Fifth Harmony) that somehow manages to interpolate both "Pachelbel's Canon" and Fastball's "Out Of My Mind" over the same instrumental from The Futuristics. "Bad Things" is your typical bullshit rap love song, which means it has a ton of fans, most of whom I'd be willing to bet money are females who wouldn't listen to hip hop otherwise, and even if Kelly were being sincere, it wouldn't matter, as the generic beat renders him a passive player on what is ostensibly his song. Rappers are allowed to have many layers, and indeed, there are a ton of songs where rappers have convincingly professed their love for (women, family, money, guns, drugs, giraffes), but this is paint-by-numbers territory, right down to having a conventionally-attractive female pop singer coo about wanting to do "Bad Things" to you. Maybe Machine Gun Kelly is just a passive player in his own rap career? I hope those royalty checks for Beyond The Lights and Nerve can feed your kids, dude.


DANNY BROWN

What I wrote before: “...I've always gotten the feeling that hip hop bores the shit out of Danny Brown...

Song I listened to this time around: "Really Doe" (featuring Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt)

Late September saw the release of Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition, his fourth studio album, albeit his first with a title inspired by both J.B. Ballard and Joy Division, which, as anyone who has paid any attention to the bullshit I share on here knows, I view only as a plus. Although the majority of Atrocity Exhibition is produced by Paul White (who also handled the masterful "Side A (Old)" from Old, which I wrote about two years ago and still haven't managed to move past in order to listen to the rest of that particular album), the modern-yet-throwback-y "Really Doe", which harkens back to the awesome posse cuts of the 1990s and early 2000s, was crafted by Brown's Black and Brown! partner (and fellow Detroit resident) Black Milk, taking a detour from his journeys beyond what hip hop believes it has to sound like in order to provide a fucking banger. Apparently the song was the brainchild of Kendrick Lamar, which is probably why he performs solo on the unnecessary chorus (it still sounds good, but we could have survived without it). Danny kicks things off with his high-pitched wordplay which, sure, spends an inordinate amount of time talking about blowjobs, but this isn't the Fresh Off The Boat theme song, so he gets a pass. Lamar performs third, after a rare Ab-Soul performance that I actually like (the "half the shit on my rider I don't even want" line made me laugh, at least), and, frankly, is the weakest link, but that's okay when Earl Sweatshirt (I'm confused: is he still a part of Odd Future or not? And is Odd Future still a thing? I'm thinking no) closes things out with some forceful, sarcastic boasts ("I'm at your house like, 'Why you got your couch on my Chucks?'"), and then everything just stops without warning. Yeah, Danny Brown definitely has the best song on this list, and as of this writing I haven't even listened to the rest of the artists yet. And I may not have to.


KID INK

What I wrote before: “...I feel comfortable in knowing that I just dodged a goddamn bullet.  Fuck this guy...

Song I listened to this time around:"Die In It"

The unemployable-by-choice Chris Brown clone Kid Ink has apparently been in this here game for so long that, earlier this year, he yearned to recreate the sound of his earlier mixtapes. It's not that weird to feel nostalgic about your past, but your recent past? Anyway, I don't give a shit about Kid Ink, so I chose today's song, "Die In It" off of his RSS2 mixtape merely because it was the shortest track on there, and once that hook kicked in where he boasts about "pussy so good I would die in it", I realized just how huge of a mistake I had made. The Murda Beatz instrumental isn't terrible, but Ink's flow isn't just nonchalant, it's apathetic, and none of his bars sound convincing in the least. For a guy only making music in order to finance his tattoo addiction, this sure does sound boring


FUTURE

What I wrote before: “...Not bad for a dude whose gimmick is thisclose to implosion...”

Song I listened to this time around: "Used To This" (featuring Drake)
(If I were doing this today, yes, I probably would have gone with "Mask Off". *shrug*)

Navaydius Wilburn, an artist whose profile has blown up significantly in the past few years (he's probably the most successful member of the 2012 Freshman Class, even though Macklemore has the Grammys), is pretty decent at coming up with a catchy hook, thanks to his never-ending use of Auto-Tune. The problem I have with him is that every single performance of his sounds like the chorus to a song, one that never ends, at least until the background music changes slightly. That was my issue with "Used To This", a Zaytoven concoction that goes absolutely nowhere, Future and guest star Drake spinning in circles with distorted vocals and the same braggadocio that they most likely recycled from their joint album-slash-mixtape What A Time To Be Alive (which I still haven't listened to all the way through - what, I've been busy). Future's been around long enough that he now has biters of his own style, which I suppose is flattering for him, but it makes me feel completely out of touch with hip hop, mostly because I don't like listening to awful shit. This did nothing for me.




ROSCOE DASH

What I wrote before: “...I'm sure the lure of a steady paycheck will have him running back to the Hardee's from which he came before winter ends...

Song I listened to this time around: "Flexxxin"

Did you know that Roscoe Dash had a hand in at least the writing of Kanye West, Teyana Taylor, and R. Kelly's "To The World", from G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer compilation? If not, you're not the only one: this was apparently a point of contention back when that particular album was first released, and as far as I know, it still hasn't been resolved (in Dash's favor, at least). Not that "To The World" is a hill worth dying on; I seem to remember that song sounding terrible. But it is probably leagues better than "Flexxxin", which sees Roscoe staying in his well-traveled lane, spitting gibberish lyrics intended to get this party lit but which serve only as a minor distraction before I force myself into my annual Hopsin listen. "Flexxxin" is the first track on Dash's mixtape Glitch, so it may just be an intro, at which point my next gripe won't make any sense, but it has a fucking chorus so I'm pushing through: this is barely even a song.  It lasts for what seems like one verse, as he abandons the concept entirely during the second. I kind of wish he would abandon hip hop: there's plenty of also-rans who would kill for the space he's currently taking up on Soundcloud. So anyway, this was meh.


HOPSIN

What I wrote before: “...simultaneously decent and shitty...

Song I listened to this time around: "False Advertisement"

Hopsin comes across as a man without a country, unsure of his place within hip hop, not because he refuses to be pigeonholed, but because he insists that one should check off all of the boxes. Hence, "False Advertisement", an indictment of the fake that mimics the styles of Drake, Tech N9ne, and Big Sean, among others; ironically, this makes Hopsin himself sound less than authentic. Make no mistake: I've never been a fan of the guy.  But what I try (and occasionally fail) to do with these articles is go into each track with an open mind: all it takes is one song to change one's mind, right? But when one's entire career is built on the idea of being "real", there's a lot of pressure to perform, and Hopsin tends to falter under the weight. Aside from his jokey "No Words" from last year, Hopsin has yet to release something that helps him stand out from the crowded hip hop field.


MACKLEMORE

What I wrote before: “...[the single "Downtown" is] presented as a serious attempt to snag some of the older heads that read this blog, and honestly, we all see right through that shit...

Song I listened to this time around: "FDT Pt. 2" (YG featuring G-Eazy and Macklemore)

The obvious choice that I probably could have run with is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "White Privilege II", a thinkpiece set to music where Macklemore mansplains white privilege while never letting any rapper of color into the booth to speak for themselves, thereby defining, um, white privilege. But those essays have already been written, whereas what I wanted to do was find a viable excuse to work the phrase "Fuck Donald Trump" into one of these posts, and by gum, I think I've done it. Although his face has only grown more punchable with time, Grammy award-winning artist and thrift shop devotee Macklemore seems to have good intentions, even when his actions (and sometimes his own words) get in the way of the message, but his guest appearance on the sequel to YG and Nipsey Hussle's "FDT" is as straightforward as it gets, with the man even considering peacing out to Canada with his girlfriend should Babyhands McGee be elected to the highest office in the land, before changing his mind and claiming himself to be a patriot. I didn't really pay attention to either YG or G-Eazy on here, because this article isn't about them (and, let's be real, who pays attention to G-Eazy?), but when allowed to roam free, away from his Ryan Lewis production bubble, Macklemore sounds at once lost and a little bit more interesting, as though even he knows that he needs to try harder.  For the most part, he succeeds, but unless you're a Trump fanatic (and if that describes you, then get the fuck away from here, I don't want to know you, and note that I never said "Republican", just "Trump fanatic"), he doesn't have to do all that much to make you appreciate the song, even if you don't care for the songworthy-ness of it all.  He'll never reach the "Thrift Shop" and (groan) "Same Love" heights, but then again, he'll never have to. Macklemore has already won. Doesn't protect him from criticism from this very blog, though.



DON TRIP

What I wrote before: “...manages to string together rhymes decently enough, but hip hop is a crowded field, and it's difficult to stay relevant in this fickle genre when you create music that sounds like the epitome of not giving a shit...”

Song I listened to this time around: "Broken Arrow" (featuring Starlito)

Instead of boring myself to an early death by listening to another Don Trip solo endeavor, I opted for a duet with his frequent rhyme partner Starlito, whose Step Brothers series of mixtapes an albums have garnered them a cult following, if not the wholehearted support of the rap duo Step Brothers (Evidence and The Alchemist). I have no idea who produced "Broken Arrow", as I listened to it on Spotify, but the instrumental sounds like absolutely everything else that plays on rap radio today, right down to that "Ironside" siren sample that is prevalent these days, so it comes down to the lyrics to salvage this shit, and on that note, the bars on here aren't bad, if not all that good. Don Trip abandons the apathy I keep complaining about in order to impress Starlito, who sounds far more invested on here with his goofy boasts and genial threats. This wasn't enough to get me to check out the rest of his catalog, but at least now I can see his right to exist within our chosen genre.  Now make better music and we'll talk.



IGGY AZALEA

What I wrote before: “...it seems as if nobody cares about her anymore.  She had her moment: let's allow her to languish in EDM hell for the rest of time, agreed?

Song I listened to this time around: “Team"

A song espousing the virtues of having one's own back is a great idea, and if said song can double as a feminist anthem, then at least the Interweb will be all over it, right? Not if you're culture vulture Iggy Azalea, who is still chasing the "Fancy" dragon (again, not realizing that the reason "Fancy" hit so big was because of Charli XCX's hook, not because anyone remembers any of her rhymes aside from the first bar). I have to assume that Buzzfeed, Salon, and Jezebel are over Iggy: maybe they are now also appalled at just how much her voice changes whenever she's rapping versus her normal speaking voice (hence the calls of cultural appropriation), or maybe they realized early on that the chorus, featuring the lines, "Baby I got me / Only friend I need / Playing on my team / Is someone like me", doesn't make any. Goddamn. Sense. So she's all she needs, but she's open to having another person on her team, as long as that person is herself? If Iggy Azalea didn't give you a headache before, well, you're welcome. Oh, and the song sucks, too. Which is probably the real reason why it never took off.


FRENCH MONTANA

What I wrote before: “...If [he] surrounds himself with the right players... he might could extend his career by a couple more summers...
(Also, even though I know I wrote it as a joke, it annoys the shit out of me that I have to leave the couplet "might could" in there, since that is a direct quote.)

Song I listened to this time around: "No Shopping" (featuring Drake)

"No Shopping" feels like a cheat for me, since I barely remember any of Frenchy's bars, but Drake's verse has been stuck in my head for a while now. But he's lasted in the game this long because he knows what materials are necessary to put the bookshelf together, with Aubrey being that Allen wrench thing that comes with every piece of IKEA furniture. French Montana is very good at surrounding himself with talented people: he's kind of like one of those supporting actors who never carries a film, but pops up in every third movie you own, a guy who knows when to cede the spotlight and when to run with it. If this were the 1990s, Frenchy would be battling with DMX, Busta Rhymes, and Canibus for the title of Cameo King. Well, maybe not Canibus. I can tell I'm tired because I'm just rambling now, but what I'm trying to say is this: French Montana really doesn't ever need to release another solo album. Dude could like off of guest appearances. I'd prefer it, actually. In short bursts, he's quite entertaining.


-Max

25 comments:

  1. Danny Brown and Future are the only real ones I care for. Future's two albums released in 2017 are really fucking good despite some mediocre production efforts. He's got really good lines and delivery and manages to play both sides of the coin, making hits and keeping true to himself.

    Danny Brown is by far the most far reaching artist with his shit that doesn't even sound like hip-hop. I may be far reaching with this shit but I've listened to Old and the guy has a good grasp of what the fuck he wants to do. It's amazing really how he pushes the boundries between entertainment and art.

    Still here, always here and will always support you no matter what.
    -Taylor

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  2. Max - good to see you're still (partly) active and hope you're well.

    My exposure to all these artists is severely limited, there's little I find to get excited about in modern day hip-hop, but that's probably a sign of age more than anything. There are some artists I enjoy, though they're few and far between.

    This is probably what it was like for our parents 20 years ago!

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  3. AnonymousMay 27, 2017

    Danny Brown is one of the best and most interesting rappers out there today, Frenchy and Future are alright, and the rest of the class is either irrelevant or awful

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  4. BahadoranMay 29, 2017

    Good to see ya back

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  5. I don't find my dislike for most of these artists a sign of age, at all.

    This is simply down to a lack of skill. Not one song I hear from the current mainstream generation displayed any type of effort whatsoever in the actual music. They're revolutionary promoters of their music, though. Except for the culture vultures, of course, because they promote themselves. Macklemore reminds me of Cappadonna, by the way.

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  6. Awww shit- I randomly check this website for the first time in months and look who's back? Great to see you're still around and look forward to reading whatever you write in the future. Keep up the good work as always!

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  7. AnonymousMay 31, 2017

    Although sad we've not been able to hear Yeezy, Kendrick or even Tribe (even Tribe!) reviews from you Max, the fact you've posted this shows at least you have some health. May you stay well, the back pages of this blog are enough for me to keep going back to for now. But DAMN... yah or nah?

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  8. Jesus Christ this dude is still alive

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  9. AnonymousJune 04, 2017

    Holy shit.

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  10. AnonymousJune 04, 2017

    review death grips like wtf mate

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  11. I'm from Italy and your blog has been a great source of contemporary rappers worth checking out. Since you've gone I've taken the habit to listen to Dj Khaled "I'm the one" feat. Justin Bieber on repeat, actually kinda enjoying it. That is to say: I need you back on the keyboard stat.

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  12. AnonymousJune 14, 2017

    Danny Brown's first verse sounds exactly like Terrence and Phillip from South Park...

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    Replies
    1. Now I can't unhear this. Ugh.

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  13. This is what we get after this long wait?

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    Replies
    1. I feel as though I'd already anticipated this response somehow. Hmm...

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  14. AnonymousJune 16, 2017

    I've loved reading your site since like 7 years ago, so many kickass albums you've introduced me to

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    Replies
    1. That's awesome. Thanks for reading! Much appreciated.

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  15. AnonymousJune 25, 2017

    Max, you put me on to The Infamous. I can't thank you enough. Rest In Peace, HNIC. Keep it thoro

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  16. AnonymousJune 27, 2017

    Max how did you feel when you heard about Prodigy?

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    Replies
    1. As much as I made fun of a lot of his later output, it's still a huge loss for the culture, and he was responsible for a lot of classic material that I still listen to frequently. RIP.

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  17. AnonymousJune 30, 2017

    Trust me Max, we lost a real one - what gets me is that he was actually starting to make decent music again.
    RIP

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  18. AnonymousJune 30, 2017

    Hell On Earth has been on repeat for the last 8 days.

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  19. AnonymousJuly 13, 2017

    I didn't realize the participation in creating music of a certain genre made someone with a certain skin color a culture vulture.

    By that token, shouldn't black people give up using technology or advances in human evolution for fear of becoming "culture vultures"?

    I always knew Max was a snowflake.

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    Replies
    1. Huh, an Iggy Azalea apologist? Now I've seen everything. All I'm saying is that there is a *marked* difference between her speaking voice and her rapping voice, and when she goes out of her way to describe her rapping style as "ignorant", it's difficult to not read "cultural appropriation" into that. And your comment about technology and human evolution is racist as shit.

      Thanks for reading!

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