Dropping Acid and Saving Money: Chicago’s Musical Collective

Standard

The midwest never gets that much love in Hip Hop.  The genre for the largest part has been bi-coastal with the South fighting for respect for a decade before finally getting the respect it deserves.  The midwest, while never being disrespected, has never been seen as a musical hub for the genre.  But as the internet continues to destroy regional sounds by creating a global culture (for better or worse), the Windy City is home to one the most important local music scenes of the last decade.  Chicago’s Drill scene took Hip Hop by storm over the last two years, inspiring countless mimics and generating even more think pieces.  Drill’s reinvention of Atlanta Trap music created the perfect canvas to express Chicago’s turbulent gang violence situation.  It’s swirling menace rather than plodding anger, smoldering resentment over righteous fury.  Early stars like Chief Keef and Lil Durk rode drill’s hypnotic mumblings to the radio and scared the country with their dead eyed apathy.  Yet as impressive and important Drill music is, another Chicago group has latched on to the newfound focus on their city and risen to prominence.  Channeling the city’s musical past over its violent present, Save Money has been the breakthrough rap group of the year.

The first star of the group is Chance The Rapper, who’s Acid Rap tape is still in the running for the best album of the year.  Acid Rap is about as Chi Town as it gets.  It is stuffed to the brim with Chicago slang and highlighted with gospel and soul flourishes as Chance openly guns for Kanye West’s spot as the Windy City’s favorite son.  Now Chance is making moves, collaborating with James Blake and Lil Wayne, and opening for superstars like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar.  But while Chance is getting the most attention, Save Money is far from a one man show.  Acid Rap is certainly a tour de force for the young rapper, but it’s also a showcase for the crew’s sound.  Nate Fox and Peter Cottontale, the crews producers, do an outstanding job of mixing in live instrumentation with traditional Hip Hop beats.  The beats bounce all over the place to match Chance’s spastic flow, and the horn stabs mimic his own yelps.  It’s not genre bending so much as it’s genre expanding.  Chance and Save Money are operating in a post-Kendrick world, pushing the musical structures of how a Hip Hop song is made.  Save Money has a plethora of talented musicians revamping old genres for the new generation.

The project that probably best sums up Save Money’s ethos is jazz/rock/rap fusion band Kids These Days.  Their solitary album Traphouse Rock came out last year to little acclaim.  It’s an interesting, fun album, one that aims for exploration rather than greatness.  The girth of sounds, the abrupt tonal changes, all sound like a bunch of kids experimenting out of the box.  Now broken up, traces of the band’s trailblazing attitude are sprinkled throughout the group, either through former members or their inspiration.  The trumpet player from the group, Nico Segal, turned into a solo artist named Donnie Trumpet and his Donnie Trumpet EP is as good a piece of jazz rap you can find in the 21st century.  The production focuses just as much on his trumpet as it does on guest rappers and vocalists.  Sometimes the crew doesn’t even dabble in rap.  Soul singer Lili K, who can be heard cavorting around on Acid Rap, recently released an EP of old jazz standards.  This is the strength of Save Money.  Where other crews talk about how progressive or different they are, this one actually is established in other genres.

Next up for Save Money is Vic Mensa, the hyper lyrical Kids These Days rapper/singer who had a blistering verse on Chance’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”  His debut mixtape Innanetape dropped last month.  Point out the obvious early, he’s not Chance The Rapper.  He doesn’t have the effortless charm, the funny voice, or the jaw dropping bars.  In fact, the best part of the tape might be when Chance shows up on “Tweakin” with a white owl wrapped as tight as an egg roll.  But Innanetape doesn’t try to sound like Acid Rap.  Handled by the same team of producers, Innanetape eschews the buoyancy that powered Chance for a more rhythmic urgency.  Drums slap hard here, which makes sense considering that Vic drums himself.  It’s a statement that Vic is his own persona and isn’t content to stand in Chance’s shadow.  Vic’s a talented rapper but often gets caught up in his own lyricism, jamming his lines with so many syllables that it feels disjointed and crammed.  But when the mood gets a bit somber, like on “Time Is Money” or “Holy Holy,” Vic tightens his elastic flow until it cracks like a whip and leads to some great work.  Elsewhere, he runs wild and turns rap songs into alt-rock songs a la Kids These Days.  This tape is restless, with Vic never settling into a groove.  Moments are fleeting, good and bad, and capture a certain type of youthful essence just like Chance did with Acid Rap.  And when Vic hits something right, it’s downright brilliant.  “Hollywood LA,” an ode to fame and the city where the streets are paved with gold, is the best song on the tape and has the greatest rapper aspiration I’ve heard yet:  “I was 16 with a mixtape, now I’m 19 with a mixtape trying to be 21 with a million dollars.”  Innanetape maybe be uneven, but it is a profoundly interesting record.  It establishes both Vic and the rest of the Save Money crew as rising stars.  Vic may be the Klay Thompson to Chance’s Steph Curry, but the combination should take them straight to the finals.  Save moolah baby.

 

Advertisements

Drake vs. Kendrick: Battle Of The Millenials

Standard

Exciting times everyone!  A new generation of rappers have finally grown up and supplanted the old guard as the keepers of the charts.  A new generation of fans have anointed them.  The XXL Freshmen have graduated, acclimated to the pace of the internet era, and can now stand without the cosigns of the elders.  And now we have a war for the new king.  Jay-Z has vacated his throne for his place at the auction, Eminem is too busy trying to fit as many words into a sentence as he can, and Lil Wayne got his talent stolen from the aliens from Space Jam.  Now we have two contenders for the throne, two rappers that represent different styles but are both worthy of the crown.  Kendrick Lamar and Drake are both outsiders to the game and made music that represent their unorthodox outlook.  Both are highly critical of, but still adore, the gangsta violent music they grew up with, just like Rap fans now.  Both have positioned themselves as the voice of a generation.  And now they’re in a pseudo-beef!  This might seem like an easy pick depending on what you feel.  Drake is the commercial juggernaut, Kendrick is the rapper’s rapper.  Drake writes hits, Kendrick writes bars.  The situation is more complicated than that.  Kendrick has been all over the radio lately and the days that people could say Drake can’t rap are long gone. Before we get into the debate, let’s recap how former allies have turned against each other.

A high profile beef like this, where both artists are battling on the highest stage imaginable, was impossible just five months ago.  This summer, Big Sean released the song “Control” that featured Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica.  Kendrick, already in the middle of a career year, went Super Saiyan on the track and claimed himself the reincarnation of 2Pac and the king of New York, said he was in the same conversation as the all time greats, and most importantly called out all his peers, saying “I got love for you all but I’m trying to murder you niggas, trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas.”  And he NAMED NAMES, calling out J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill, Drake, and more.  The internet blew up, rappers took turns trying to defend their honor, and my mom thought that Kendrick was being mean.

The thing is that Kendrick is already above most of the people he mentioned.  He’s more successful commercially and critically.  The only person worth firing shots at is Drake.  And Drake didn’t like this song at all.  He dismissed the track as a gimmick, expressed offense at Kendrick’s attitude and said that he doesn’t intend on working with Kendrick anytime soon.  Plus, there were some subtle shots towards K.Dot in “The Language,” with Drake saying “fuck any nigga that’s talkin that shit just to get a reaction,” mocking Kendrick’s commercial sales and new found fame.

Then Kendrick went for the throat.  At the BET Hip Hop Awards, during the TDE cypher, Kendrick dropped one of the best verses of his career starting with “I hate y’all, I’ll do anything to replace y’all” and rapped “and nothing been the same since they dropped Control and tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes, HA HA Jokes on you, High five, I’m bulletproof.”

The internet exploded again and demanded a Drake response which we are still waiting on.  This is exciting for a number of reasons, but it’s great to see the genre’s biggest stars battle it out in the limelight.  We haven’t seen an actual rap battle between commercially viable rappers since 50 Cent ended Ja Rule’s career.  If Drake is LeBron James then that makes Kendrick Kevin Durant, the extremely gifted athlete who is done being the nice guy and is also after the throne.  Choosing five not so obvious categories, we’ll see who would win in a battle.

EXPERIENCE:

This is a big one because you have to know what you’re getting yourself into when you get into a beef.  Drake is no stranger to people throwing shots at him.  In fact, he’s based his entire career upon being a lightning rod for criticism and mockery and it seems to only make him stronger.  His biggest beef came a couple years ago, when old school rapper/gap model Common threw shots at him on “Sweet” and called him soft.  Drake responded with a verse on Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin,” channeling vintage Jay-Z and proved himself a giant that could brush Common off his shoulder.  He starts off “It bothers me when the broads get to acting like the broads,” flips the script byu calling Common soft because he’s just after the attention, and subtly commented on sleeping with Serena Williams, who Common used to have a thing with.  It was a masterful verse which showed a dormant side of Drake, started off his epic 2012 run, and proved that he could rap with the best of them.  Kendrick hasn’t had that kind of moment simply because no one’s attacked him yet.  I mean, who would be dumb enough to do that.  The only similar beef experience was when ex Bad Boy artist Shyne called Good Kid, M.A.A.d City lousy, so Kendrick laughed it off on his victory lap loosie “The Jig Is Up.”  Drake’s proven himself worthy of handling the majors in a beef, so he gets the point here.

Drake 1 – Kendrick 0

INFLUENCE:

We can only go so long in this breakdown before pointing out an obvious fact.  Kendrick is the better rapper by a long shot.  There shouldn’t even be a competition between the two.  But this is still a close match because of the fingerprints Drake has left all over the game.  Kendrick’s influential in his own right; GKMC has spurred on other albums to deliver knockout albums and not just hit singles, and he has reignited the torch for lyricism in the genre.  But Kendrick wouldn’t even be in this position if it wasn’t for Drake.  Drizzy gave him the biggest looks of his career by putting him on his Club Paradise tour and then giving him a whole interlude on 2011’s Take Care.  Now his most popular songs have Drake all over them.  “Fuckin’ Problems” and “Poetic Justice” literally have a Drake verse on them, and lead single “Swimming Pools” is produced by T-Minus, who helped build Drake’s sound.  Even a volcanic artist like Kendrick has to fit into the framework that Drake created.

Drake 2 – Kendrick 0

TEAM:

This was a much harder category until the BET Cypher, when Black Hippy and new signee Isaiah Rashad created one of the greatest musical moments of the last 500 years.  Go watch that video again.  Kendrick steals the show but all of them come to play.  They’re hungry.  Black Hippy is the best crew by a mile and right now stand with the greatest hip hop groups of all time in terms of quality and consistency.  But the best part is how they work together and sound like an actual team, rather than just four rappers on the same track.  Drake has two crews to work with, his own OVO and Young Money.  It was a good move for Drake to distance himself from Young Money so he could grow into his own label, but OVO doesn’t have any firepower behind it other than Drake.  Young Money has talent but it’s a commercial maze, filled with successful sub par rappers and a leader who thinks that signing Paris Hilton is more important than putting out a new Mystikal tape.  There is one giant wildcard though.  If Drake decided to get Nicki Minaj, that could be doom for Kendrick.  She’s crazy and can shit on your whole life.  Kendrick isn’t nearly volatile enough to handle Nicki.  Maybe Q could but it would be very close.  Unfortunately, Drake’s not that cool with Nicki anymore as he admitted on his album, so I doubt they’d be able to bring the chemistry that Black Hippy could muster.  But be warned: Nicki Minaj is the X factor and the game changer.

 

Drake 2 – Kendrick 1

LEGACY:

Let’s not be too mean here.  Being the main man of Toronto is kind of cool.  Drake is actually pushing his whole Toronto thing, being proud of his Canadian heritage and actually making Toronto part of the Hip Hop landscape.  He’s not only helping the image but also creating a sound, so in 2013 Toronto Hip Hop is actually a thing.  That’s impressive.  That all might be enough to beat out the average rapper claiming the west coast.  But Kendrick is no average rapper.  He already is the king of LA.  He was anointed in 2011 by Snoop Dogg and The Game, signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label and made him relevant again.  He brought the whole coast back.  Nothing’s topping that unless someone was able to do that with New York (which will never happen, that city is too fractured).  Plus Kendrick is channeling 2Pac, saying that he came to him in a dream which inspired him to make 2011’s Section.80.  And he’s got the bona fides of all the old school rappers saying he’s bringing rap back.  Even if Drake does try to pull some Houston Cash Money connect, that’s not messing with Dr. Dre.

   

Drake 2 – Kendrick 2

JAY-Z FEATURE:

This is probably the most important category.  To become the new king you have to have to grab the old kings crown, either through diplomacy (having it handed to you formally) or mutiny (like when Lil Wayne bodied all of Jay-Z’s beats).  The only problem is that both Kendrick and Drake got Jay-Z “passing the torch” features.  On Kendrick’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix)” Jigga is about as close to vintage form as he’ll ever get, rhyming about how he runs through the White House in a mink coat and sits next to HIllary Clinton smelling like dank.  It’s one last hurrah for the old GOAT before Kendrick goes off and cements his place in history, taunting other rappers who emulate their idols while proving that he deserves to be in the same conversation as them at the same time.  Meanwhile, on Drake’s “Pound Cake” off Nothing Was The Same, Jay-Z says cake 17 times.  If that’s not what you want from Jay-Z right now, then I don’t know what to tell you.  In a way, Drake and Kendrick both got from Jigga what they wanted.  Kendrick got Jay-Z the rapper, and Drake got Jay-Z the icon.  And they both work.  We have to call this a tie.


Drake 3 – Kendrick 3

 And it’s a tie!  Who knows how this beef will play out or if it will even happen as Drake has yet to release a response to K.Dot’s violent comments.  But if it does, we’ll give the battle to Kendrick because he’s a better artist and rapper in every single way.  Either way, both artists are doing great right now.  Drake has started his tour, with Future and Miguel opening for him, and has positioned himself as the biggest rapper this side of Kanye.  Kendrick is actually touring with Kanye and is continuing to have a monster year, demolishing features from drug rap with Pusha T to goofy country songs with Eminem.  He is the best.  Enjoy the following videos and try to see either of them on tour if you can.