There’s Something Sinister To It: Earl Sweatshirt Grows Up

Standard

The first time he was on record, he made an immediate impression.  On “AssMilk,” Earl Sweatshirt showed off his otherworldly internal rhyme prowess, shared a chemistry with Tyler, The Creator that went beyond music, and claimed to be the reincarnation of ’98 era Eminem.  His eponymous debut Earl released the next year quickly became the most critically acclaimed project that Odd Future has put out before or since and established the 16 year old as a genuine child prodigy.  His talent legitimized Odd Future.  The crew reached beyond shock and awe.  And then suddenly he was gone, right as OF began their dizzying climb to the top of the food chain.  His disappearances added to the groups growing mystique.  Rumor had it that his mom heard his work and promptly grounded him.  Or maybe he had been kidnapped by Steve Harvey.  It turned out Earl was in boarding school in Samoa so when he got back all eyes were on him.  The prodigal son had returned.

But Earl’s major label debut Doris is defined by the dissonance from his earlier work.  Before the album dropped Earl tweeted that he was going to lose fans by getting rid of the rape schlock and gay bashing that Odd Future became famous for.  Unfortunately for Earl, this seems to have hampered the response to Doris.  Not in the sense that critics love “lol fag” jokes (they don’t) but in the sense that the punk feel, that vital energy that made Odd Future so refreshing seems to be missing.  It’s easier to recreate that energy with shock tactics.  There’s a lot of apologizing going on about the record, like “it’s not bad it’s just not what we expected,” due to the absolutely enormous hype that went into the album.  But for me, Earl lived up to all the expectations and then some.  For all the emphasis on lyricism that has arisen post Control-gate, you simply won’t find better rapping on an album this year. Earl’s knotty lines have grown into dense forests that trap you.  “His sins feeling as hard as Vince Carters knee cartilage is” or “spitter of the Little Nick, nimble, rickrolling, bitch niggas pick litter, piff blower plus I pillage shit” OR “snap chatting panty clad baddies, I’m a bachelor, I’m high and polite cause po-lice is in back of us.”  I could go on and on.  You could honestly pick any line and use it as an example.  But it sounds better when he raps them because his heavy lidded flow plays all types of tricks with the assonance and allows him to keep twisting words to fit his insanely large rhyme schemes.

The production has evolved appropriately as well, boosting the sound quality while still keeping the grit of the original OF works.  Earl handles most of the production himself and creates a dark carvenous world he inhabits perfectly.  His voice has been focused into a monotone bass, a step up from his comeback verses on Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” and Domo Genesis’ “Elimination Chamber” where he hadn’t figured out his adult voice.  Some have claimed that the monotone makes the album boring but I think it enhances the mood and lets his rhymes stick out, much like Roc Marciano and MF Doom’s low-key deliveries.  And all the production collaborators pinpoint the album’s mood and create it perfectly, even when they shine a little light on the subject like The Neptune’s “Burgandy” or RZA’s “Molasses.”  Jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD even transforms the general feeling of the album into a breathing live song on “Hoarse” and Earl sounds right at home.  It’s thrilling.  The main critique of the album is the lack of ambition Earl has and the fact that he takes backseat in a lot of songs.  It’s true.  Vince Staples overshadows Earl in a career making verse on “Hive” and Frank Ocean proves he’s just as good at rapping as he is at singing and writing cryptic notes on “Sunday.”  There are two Domo verses (two too many) and the album’s first verse belongs to an absolute nobody who isn’t very good.  But would the album be that much better if those three verses were replaced by Earl?  And the rest of the guests are good!  Tyler, The Creator keeps his energy building with every bar on “Sasquatch” and Mac Miller pitches down his vocals to decrease his “Cheesy Mac” personality and sludges along with the beat on “Guild” (“This a hit of liquid heroooooinnnnnn”).  Earl shares the spotlight a lot but it doesn’t change the consistency or cohesion of the album in any way.

Earl doesn’t want the attention anyway.  He pokes fun at the listeners expectations (“we heard you back, we need them raps nigga!)  But the personal tales on “Burgandy” and “Chum” are just as great as the linguistic adventures of “Hive” and “Woah.”  And he displays way more empathy and resonance than I would have ever given him credit for on “Sunday.”  It’s just a relationship song, with Earl and Frank Ocean candidly talking to their significant others.  Earl sets it off with some realer-than-real love talk that’s just as bare and plaintive as anything Drake or Kendrick could muster.  “I know it don’t seem difficult to hit you up, but you’re not passionate about half the shit you into…and I don’t know why it’s difficult to admit that I miss you…I’m fuckin famous if you forgot, I’m faithful despite what’s all in my face or my pocket.”  And this is all before Frankie delivers maybe the verse of the year!  You don’t need to be famous to understand those feelings and Earl doesn’t need to have hit rock bottom in order for them to be worth exploring.  It’s honest.  When he says on the chorus that his dreams got dimmer when he stopped smoking pot and his nightmares got more vivid when he stopped smoking pot, it makes sense that the whole album is filtered through a dead-eyed THC haze.

Everyone should try to abandon hype when listening to an album so it could be judged fairly, but I still think it lives up to expectations.  The 16 year old prodigy grew into an introspective artist.  Say goodbye to the Ritalin regiment. There’s something sinister to it.

The Space Migration Tour

Standard

We left off last time with Mac Miller’s surprisingly good sophomore album Watching Movies With The Sound Off.  For those who didn’t read it, Mac moved to L.A., did drugs, made talented friends, and got way better.  The transformation is astonishing.  It’s as if Kreayshawn followed up her Gucci Gucci fame by talking about race relations with Lauryn Hill.  Now he’s on The Space Migration tour, with some talented friends opening up for him.  Now one of the main conceits of his album is about to be put to the test; will his audience accept his new persona?  As his performance proved, Mac Miller is a much more complex artist than any of his new or old fans would expect.

Looking out at the audience, I was figuring I had made a huge mistake.  Regardless of Mac’s new work, only had his old fans were there and I wasn’t ready for an outtake of a bad American Pie ripoff.  Luckily for me, the openers were more than enough balance.  The best of the lot was Action Bronson.  Bronsolino has been one of the hottest rappers for a minute, harkening back to old school New York sensibilities while injecting enough of his own personality to avoid being a complete parody.  His new project Saaab Stories is exactly what Bam Bam needed to rejuvenate his appeal.  After his critical breakthrough with last years Blue Chips, his shtick started to grow old.  Every verse seemed to rehash the same topics; high cuisine and 80’s sports references.  What was worse was his misogynist routine was becoming grating and outdated.  But Saaab Stories provided a change of tone, allowing for more introspection and stories while keeping the best parts of his old act.  The song all translated well in a live setting as well, surprising given the tinny laptop vibe Harry Fraud’s beats give off.  Action handled the frat crowd like a pro.  He rapped crisp and clear, letting the beat drop for his punchlines, and brought out pro wrestler Big Body Bes to talk some shit.  It was a reminder why he is one of the hottest rappers in the game.

      

The big draw on the ticket however, was Chance The Rapper.  A 20 year old from Chicago, Chance is almost too good to be true.  His album Acid Rap, released for free is indisputably the best album of the year so far.  It captures the heart of Chicago.  It mixes gospel and soul, brings together Twista and R. Kelly, and Chance goes right at Kanye’s legacy.  Acid Rap is the rap game Calvin & Hobbes, satirizing entrenched establishments, bringing childlike wonder to familiar tropes, and bleeding honesty and passion like he hasn’t been hardened by the world yet.   Hearing about his sold out shows in Chicago and given the anthemic nature of his material, my expectations were sky high.  I could not have been more disappointed.  Chance’s show was a classic “young rapper performance.”  His hype man shouted over every lyric.  He performed only snippets of his songs and had to break to engage the audience in a “DO YOU GUYS LIKE MY MUSIC,” shouting match.  By the end of the show it was as if he was just another normal teenager, begging the audience to turn up, bringing out Mac Miller just to dance, and ending the set by playing Drake!  Have some self respect damnit!  There were flashes of brilliance and I can’t wait to see him again on his own tour, but it was so sad watching his strengths on the album vanish.  His voice, one of the most distinctive in the game, was completely engulfed by the generic hypeman.  The length of the set made him cut some of the most concert worthy lines of his album (Lean all on the square….THAT’S A FUCKING RHOMBUS!!!!).  And while he danced great, and displayed an impressive singing voice, his emotional prayers and softer moments fell on deaf ears.

The crowd tolerated these two acts.  They did what they were told, but clearly they didn’t belong.  When they waved their hands in the air, it was as if they were petting a large dog.  But Mac Miller had a few tricks up his sleeve too.  His intro music was a NASA speech, with synths whirling while smoke filled the stage.  I suppose this was a wake up call for a lot of Easy Mac fans; Mr. Miller had gotten weird.  My neighbor in the Steelers jersey was not amused.  The first half of the concert was pretty de rigueur.  Loud music, turning up, call and response choruses, what I would expect his older stuff was.  But around the halfway mark, things got interesting.  He brought out a band to play some of his new material and at points played the guitar himself and got his Eddie Vedder on.  Psychedelic beats were turned into throwback jam sessions and Mac actually tore it up, riffing all the way and soloing BEHIND HIS HEAD.  At one point in a new song (I swear I couldn’t even make this up), he actually ventured off into an instrumental cover of Radiohead’s “Reckoner.”  I could feel the confusion emanating from the crowd.  During the encore, he proceeded to indulge his musical impulses, playing piano and singing “Youforia,” jumping on the drum set for a Keith Moon impersonation, and then cartwheeling all over the stage.  By the time he ended his show by transforming “Watching Movies” into a grunge look-a-like, the statement was made.  Mac Miller was growing up and even his fans are aware of that now.

Easy Mac With The Cheesy Raps

Standard

Oh no.  What had I gotten myself into?  The air was filled with the smell of Axe and cheap Vodka.  A sea of white faces blinded my vision.  Girls barely past their 16th birthday were falling out of their clothes and stumbling out of the men’s room laughing.  Outside, a couple of teenagers were talking about how awful the police are.  Next to me a frat boy was rocking a Troy Polamalu jersey and pumping his fist in the air in anticipation, while a girl on my right was so worried about lighting up inside,  she decided to crouch below her chair so security wouldn’t see her.  I took a deep breath and sunk deeper in my seat.  I was at a Mac Miller concert.

If you had told me a year ago that I would be going to a Mac Miller show, I would have thrown my Wu-Tang CD’s at you.  I hated Mac Miller. He was a pedestrian white kid from Pittsburgh, with rhymes you’d find in Youtube comments or a Reddit thread, riding on his snow white fan base to massive success by reappropriating golden age Rap tunes with a splattering of white-out.  He was an artist selling out the genre to soundtrack beer pong tournaments for people whose previous favorite rap song  was “I Love College.”

If only we could keep it that way

I wasn’t the only person who was annoyed by his great leap to success.  After a string of crazy successful mixtapes, his debut album Blue Slide Park became the first independent rap album to hit #1 on the charts.  But that seemed to be his only victory.  Perhaps sensing an easy target, critics and would-be critics piled on the disdain.  The album was universally panned by the music community, famously getting a 1 out of 10 at Pitchfork.  Lord Finesse, the golden age producer who’s “Hip 2 Da Game” beat was taken by Mac for his first big hit “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza,” sued Mac for millions of dollars in a landmark sampling lawsuit that could prove to end the renaissance of production that the internet has opened up.  That was followed by threats by Donald Trump, who also was not seeing any money from another Mac Miller hit “Donald Trump” (Trump really needs to sue 20 year olds to keep his fortune?).  So Mac Miller did what any famous artist does when he encounters turmoil: he moved to L.A. and developed a drug problem.

His new album Watching Moves With The Sound Off represents this new mindset.  Mac has engulfed himself in the LA scene, collaborating with Black Hippy and Odd Future members extensively and letting their energy and skills rub off on him.  The album eschews any mainstream radio grabs.  Instead it’s a murderer’s row of great collaborators.  Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator, and JAY FREAKIN ELECTRONICA all show up, and the beats are provided by Flying Lotus, Clams Casino, Chuck Inglish, Pharrell, Alchemist, Tyler, and Diplo.  That list alone makes Watching Movies worth a listen.

It turns out that Mac Miller goes way beyond his features.  It turns out that being best friends with Schoolboy Q goes a long way in helping you learn how to rap.  Watching Movies is a very strong, front to back listen.  The album is much more of a college soundtrack than his previous frat rap; it’s the sound of toweling up a dorm room door to burn down some doobies, the wide eyed stare of seeing sorority girls tan on the quad for the first time, the exhaustion and exhilaration of pulling an all-nighter working on a paper with friends.  The beats gurgle on the edge of consciousness, glowing with every stoned epiphany and sinking with dead eyed wordplay.  There’s a lot of pseudo-depth by Mac Miller here, following his artistic visions, facing an identity crisis etc etc…but it’s all made palatable by a knowing sense of humor he has about himself.  The album is following in the footsteps of his peers.  He’s not as good as his guests, but he’s good enough to not be completely outshined on the tracks.  He tries to rap like his buddy Earl Sweatshirt, stacking internal rhymes together.  He plays around with effects and flows to make him sound…less lame.  But the real success is in his production.  Under the moniker Larry Fisherman, Mac has been producing for a lot of different rappers and he handles about half of the album.  He’s still channeling his influences, there’s the ethereal vocal samples of Clams Casino and the hollow Cool Kids knock of Chuck Inglish, but he’s doing great imitations and they bring the best out of himself and his guests.  Released the same day as J. Cole and Kanye’s releases, Mac Miller turns out to be the dark horse leading the pack.

Do Dope, Fuck Hope, Run Jewels

Standard

I’m not going to say that rap has entered another golden age because that would be short-sighted, but the era of the internet looks as if it has finally reached up to its potential.  New talented artists crawl out of the blogs every week, barriers dividing regions have crumbled, and artistic and creative energies are flowing everywhere.  This can have negative effects.  Local rap scenes are dying out to national trends, and the ease with which verses can be spent has led to diluted songs and shallow partnerships.  But Run The Jewels, the duo of Killer Mike and El-P, shows how great this post-modern era of hip hop can be.  Two veterans from two very different rap traditions thriving off of a symbiotic relationship that simply would not exist just five years ago.  Killer Mike is an heir to the Dungeon Family, debuting on Outkast’s Stankonia and blazing through a unique career that has blended trap rap with political fury, drug dealing with gospel.  El-P might as well be from another planet, being a member of legendary underground New York label Rawkus Records and then founding Def Jux.  As a producer, he captured post 9/11 New York better than any musician on the planet.  It’s dense and apocalyptic, seething with paranoia, dread, and pain.  Both artists are anti-heroes in their own regions, throwing middle fingers up at anything and anyone.  And now they’ve teamed up to steal all your jewelry.

This collaboration is a couple years deep now.  El-P produced Killer Mike’s magnum opus R.A.P. Music from last year and the two have rapped together on that album’s “Butane (Champion’s Anthem)” and El-P’s “Tougher Colder Killer” from his very good album from last year Cancer 4 Cure.  With Run The Jewels, the eponymous (FREE!!!) album from the duo, the MC connection is furthered.  Run The Jewels is a great record in a way that’s markedly different from their previous offerings; it’s laid back and fun.  Stripped of the heavy political content of their solo works, the only theme driving this album is old school sensibilities.  The beats are more bare (but no less hard hitting) than El-P’s normal work and the rapping is all shit-talk. finding success in how these two rappers play off and one up the other.  When Jay-Z and Kanye teamed up for Watch The Throne, one of the highlights of the album was how they actually sounded like a duo and made the tape cohesive, and that was a partnership that was decades in the making!  El-P and Killer Mike have been working together for maybe a little under two years and they’ve found a chemistry that takes a lifetime to master.  They trade off short verses, know when to let the other take the reins, finish each others sentences, and simply love working together .  Their respect for each other is palpable throughout the record.  On “Banana Clipper,” Mike states “producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year.  I said El-P didn’t do it so get the fuck outta here!”  And El-P in numerous interviews and tweets has said that he considers Killer Mike to be the greatest rapper alive.  Now that’s a bit overboard but Mike goes it a little more credence on this record because he just goes OFF.  He’s always been a great rapper, but let loose on just old school subjects like braggadocio and shit-talk, it’s incredible to see him work.  “I feel my sanity slippin and I think I like the freedom, cannibal, animal, rappers I eat em! Even in Dubai I smoke like it’s legal, bitch so exotic she rode on a zebra”.  The same goes for El-P, who isn’t as impressive as Killer Mike but still does a great job, focusing his off kilter, sky-is-coming-down speed raps into hard hitting threats.  Run The Jewels is a brief thrill ride at just over a half hour, and leaves you wanting to put it on again as soon as it stops.

 

While Run The Jewels was a laid back exercise for the two veterans, there was nothing relaxed about their live shows.  For two sold out back to back shows at San Francisco, Killer Mike and El-P transformed a packed house into church.  The set went like this: Kool A.D. (1/2 of Das Racist) opened, and then Despot, El-P’s little sidekick friend, went next (and did a great job!  Apparently he has an album coming out all produced by Ratatat and it sounded great.  On my hannukah wish list).  Then Killer Mike and El-P each did a solo set before performing together.  They both know how to put on a show and the solo sets served to highlight their differences.  Killer Mike is a huge dude, and watching him hulk and huff through his catalog was astonishing.  He barks like an unhinged dog, seizing the moments when the beat drops to capture the entire crowd by himself.  I could have watched the whole show acapella.  In fact, he performed “Reagan” acapalla, rapping slow with the audience repeating his line.  It was the greatest history class I’ve ever been a part of him and it was hard not to get chills when he had the whole audience foaming at the mouth, screaming “FUCK RONALD REAGAN.”  Mike doesn’t shy away from these tricky areas.  He reminded everyone about Oscar Grant, a sensitive issue only about a week after the George Zimmerman verdict, before launching into “Burn.”  Mike has that ability to remind everyone of the cathartic power that rap specifically has.  When he sat down and preached in the form of “God In The Building,” it was soul-baring.  I don’t know of many rappers or artists who can do that.

El-P looks a little goofy compared to Mike. but still put on a great show.  His backing band, a keyboardist and a guitarist, transformed his swirling dystopian soundscapes into rock anthems and I swore a mosh pit was going to break out.  As cerebral as underground rap can feel, there’s a real size to El-P’s music, capable of handling synth noodlings and guitar solos.  After his set was finished and he came back with Killer Mike, wearing large gold chains, I was amazed at how they were both still standing, dancing to the beat, high-fiving on cue, and giving it their all.   But like Mike said, “I was thinking about taking it easy tonight, because the show last night went really late and I’m tired.  And then my grandma’s voice popped in my head and said….Boy are you crazy!?!?”  If only every performer had Killer Mike’s grandma.

Top Dawg In Heat: The Rising Star Of Kendrick Lamar

Standard

Being the best rapper alive has more to do than just technical ability.  As Jay-Z so memorably put it, “If skills sold, truth be told, lyrically I’d be more Talib Kweli.”  It’s more than just sheer rapping; sometimes the best rappers don’t know how to put together a song, how to choose the right beat, how to construct a hook, or how to market themselves.  Kendrick Lamar was anointed the best rapper alive last year with the release of Good Kid, m.A.A.d City.  MTV named him the hottest rapper in the game.  So since his album, Kendrick has seemed to be everywhere, with major label success offering more exposure than he has ever experienced.  Has this led to…dare I say it…an oversaturation of Kendrick? Is there a thing as too much Kendrick?? No, of course not, but this year has produced the most unmemorable appearances of his career.  He has had to balance being a pop star with being a rap star, and that tension has put him on awkward ground.  For each time he has used his new found fame to his advantage…

Look out! It’s a trap!

…he has also completely fumbled some big looks and revealed himself to be the awkward nerd that he probably is deep down.

Yeah, wearing an outfit that looks like it was stripped off of Elvis’ bedroom is definitely the way to go here.

But throughout it all, he’s still Kendrick, and when he wants to be is the greatest rapper alive.  So here are his Top Ten appearances since GKMC.  They’re a lot different than the type of features he was doing before pop success.  He has had to do more R&B Remixes, hop on tracks with other hot rappers, and all the while keep his core fanbase happy.  In some ways, it’s way harder than just rapping his ass off every time.  And there has still been enough good to make up for the not as good.  Lucky for you, I’m here to help you find it.

#10: Let Us Move On – Dido 

Coming out late last year, this was the first big WTF moment of Kendrick’s superstar career.  I suppose Dido was trying to chase that rap money she saw when Eminem sampled her.  However contrived it may seem, the collaboration works and Kendrick just kills his verse.  Over a moody beat, Kendrick equates the lost love theme of Dido’s verses into a metaphor for him escaping his old life.  With lines wise beyond his years (I heard emotions burn deep, I heard when you fall out of love the drop is steep), and every syllable in its proper place, this was a good indication of how successful he would be on pop radio.

#9: Memories Back Then – T.I. ft. B.o.B.

T.I. is a good example of a rap star who transitioned into pop radio while keeping his core fans happy.  At least until he went to jail and then went to reality television and lost that talent.  But he’s still in the top 5 rappers I would pick to spit a 16 on a pop song, and he’s still great at it (check out his verse on Blurred Lines).  This song, another one about a former lover, was supposed to go on T.I.’s last album, but didn’t make it in time and is being pushed back onto Grand Hustle’s album.  T.I. tries to get introspective, B.o.B. struggles through some real world situations and Kris Stephens sings an unbelievably saccharine hook, but then Kendrick comes on and just snaps on it.  The verse falls into some uncomfortable misogynistic territory as Kendrick tells the cliched tale of the girl who is only after money.  But it succeeds because of the detail put into the verse and the audible pain Kendrick feels for not being good enough for this girl.  And, after learning she only deals with “rich niggas,” he screams “fuck you and Mitt Romney.”  This is one of the times he does black out on the track, changing his flow every few lines, going rapid fire and playing with effects.  Makes the whole song worth it.

#8: 1 Train – A$AP Rocky ft. Joey Bada$$, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Yelawolf, Big K.R.I.T.

A$AP Rocky’s major label debut was a frustratingly disappointing listen.  For every good idea he had, he drowned it out with a terrible one.  So half of the album was great, and the other half I’ll never listen to again.  Luckily for us, 1 Train was one of the great ideas — grabbing together a collection of the blog generation’s greatest rappers from around the country and having them rap on an old school, no hook, 90’s sounding cypher.  Hit-Boy handled the production, captured the perfect vibe, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them lit it up.  Kendrick doesn’t necessarily have the best verse (that would be Danny Brown), but he goes in with the concept the best.  He carries the same flow from Rocky’s verse into his, makes gun noises and eating noises, and even breaks out his OD era “I’m-gonna-rap-so-hard-it-sounds-like-I’m-out-of-breath” voice and it sounds amazing.  Every crew needs to have a posse cut like this to remind the world that they can still rap.

#7: Next To Me (Remix) – Emile Sande

This is one of the best examples of Kendrick on the pop remix.  Another label-created pairing, Kendrick still does his thing over the rolling piano riff.  Emile sounds like a happy Adele, carrying over the retro 70’s soul pop that took over radio a year ago, and is a great type of song on which to feature Kendrick.  He says some stuff about fame and how it changes people and it’s good and all, but the beauty here is how at home he sounds on the beat.  He gets his voice into a semi-new tone, sounding gruffer and stronger, able to manage the weight of the piano.  This also started a relationship between the two, and you can find Emile on the European remix of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.”  I’d much rather see Kendrick collaborating with these types of singers rather than pop riff raff.

#6: R.I.P. (Remix) – Young Jeezy ft. YG, Chris Brown

There’s only one thing I need to say about this.  Kendrick + DJ Mustard = a hit.  L.A.’s best rapper meets L.A.’s best producer and the results are outstanding.  Try to forget about Chris Brown ending the song and just appreciate the ratchet madness that is this beat.  I’ve already talked a lot about how great DJ Mustard is, but the pairing with Kendrick is a dream, allowing lil’ K.Dot to come out of his shell and flex on lames.  All the negative space in the beat works perfectly with Kendrick’s zany rhythms, letting him go all over the place yet still being perfectly on beat.  Let this happen more!

#5: U.O.E.N.O. (Black Hippy Remix) – Black Hippy

“U.O.E.N.O.” is a song by Rocko that was transformed into a hit thanks to Future’s hook, Childish Major’s mind absorbing beat, and Rick Ross’ incredibly dumb date rape lyric.  The song became controversial as Ross was targeted for his idiocy, ripped off the song and lost his deal with Reebok.  Despite all that, the song survived and even thrived thanks to that eerie beat, one of the best of the year.  The star studded remix replaced the original Rick Ross version, and every rapper and their mother offered up their own take on the beat.  Black Hippy stole the show, continuing the trend of only rapping on remixes, and affirming my belief that if they just made a mixtape of rapping over established industry hits it would be the best thing in the world.  All four members go in and Jay Rock probably has the best verse, but Kendrick comes in a close second.  I don’t know Kendrick would brag about bribing his way to the top when his whole schtick is how he made it with talent, but if the man wants to stunt, let him stunt!  I mean, he just fucked up the rap game and u.o.e.n.o. it.

#4: Street Dreamin – Bridget Kelly

Now take a trip with the narcoleptic.  This is the type of song that Kendrick should be on.  Old school R&B, a 2pac sampling beat, Kendrick rapping on train tracks while rocking a fitted cap.  And he just goes off, chopping up his rhyme scheme like his words are jenga blocks that he’s stacking up right until Bridget takes it over.  I have no idea why I don’t hear this on the radio every time I get in the car.

#3 – Looks Good With Trouble (Remix) – Solange

Until we get the incredible collaboration between Kendrick and Beyonce, we’ll have to settle for her little sister.  Solange Knowles is an R&B star in her own right, albeit much more quirky than her sister.  She’s the reason that Bey-Z went to see Grizzly Bear at Coachella and responsible for the couple’s growing taste in eclectic music.  And that sensibility works with Kendrick here.  Rather than a surefire Top 40 tune, “Looks Good With Trouble” is slow going, all atmosphere and sensuality.  When the synths drop out and Kendrick appears, it’s one of the most honest verses of his career.  Jam packed with detail, K. Dot tells the story of a time he was in London, wanting to get into something, and trying to call up this girl.  He talks about the bunk beds on his tour bus, how he doesn’t drink but still has a cup, and how he’s having trouble conveying his feelings through a text message.  You can feel the London cold, right before he turns a cute Popeye reference into a heartbreaking closer.  It’s beautiful and a great moment of vulnerability from the rising star.

#2: Collard Greens – Schoolboy Q

Schoolboy Q is the next to blow from TDE and his upcoming album Oxymoron should be what pushes him into Kendrick’s realm.  But for some reason he doesn’t have a release date (seriously what’s up with that?) so K.Dot drops by to assist on his second single.  Usually a Kendrick/Schoolboy collaboration is a momentous event, where Q starts speaking truth and Kendrick is his motivational spirit guide telling him about the power of music.  Here, however, they just turn up and have fun, and it is just as amazing.  Buoyed by THC’s aerobic beat and synth flourishes, the two Black Hippies go nuts on the beat.  Quincy just plays around, captures a mesmerizing hook, shouts “icky icky icky” and brags how no one has robbed him yet and how he smokes with his mom.  You’d think that he’s the best rapper around if Kendrick wasn’t in the middle of the song, pulling out all the stops and murdering the beat.  I don’t even know to begin to describe the destruction that happens here, but he rhymes toupee with touche, goes “DOO DOO DOO DOO,” and blacks out in Spanish.  Bitch that be K.Dot.

#1: Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix) ft. Jay-Z

The single art says it all.  Jay-Z and Kendrick.  Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  The torch passed from one generation to the next.  For Kendrick, it’s a victory lap, a chance to stunt on all his doubters, an homage to the greats that preceded him, and a statement of purpose.  For Jay-Z, it’s a chance to play with the best of them again, to link himself to the current generation, and to remind everyone that he’s the greatest of all time.  I shouldn’t have to tell you that they go off.  Kendrick literally blasts everything and everyone in his path to the top, and Jay-Z talks about how he stands next to Hillary Clinton while he smells like dank.  It’s something special.  In the internet age, everything happens so fast that songs get absorbed and deleted without any thought.  It’s one of the reasons I made this list, to catalog the sheer amount of music that Kendrick was releasing and highlight the best of it.  But this remix was a moment, where the entire rap world was forced to recognize what was happening, whether they liked it or not.  It’s a generational touchstone and above all an incredible song.  Just appreciate the vibe.