Confounding. That’s how I describe Vince Staples after hearing his Microphone Check interview, reading a piece on him from Spin, and listening to his début double-album, Summertime ’06. The young Long Beach, California rapper succeeds at defying my expectations so often that I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around him and his music, even after trying for weeks.
In a world where fewer and fewer musicians, rappers especially, are selling big quantities of albums, I love seeing that cats like Curren$y are continuing to find independent success in hip-hop. And I love that Troy Ave and Joey Bada$$ were even motivated enough to argue over who was the #1 indie artist, and that hip-hop media picked it up as news. The mainstream continues to disappoint, while the underground continues to thrive. Free from corporate expectations and meddling, these artists can make music that their fans want, almost assured of success.
That’s what Curren$y has done since Pilot Talk, my introduction to his smooth, heavily sedated style of hip-hop. He knows what he does well and he does exactly that. At one point he described his sound as what a Crown Royal bag looks like, which I take to mean easy-going, elegant, and funky. That perfectly describes the best of Pilot Talk III, his latest collection of tunes suited for leisurely driving or relaxing. It’s so smooth, so chill but never drowsy, that I can’t help but enjoy it, even if it sounds monotonous at times. Songs like Get Down, Long as the Lord Say,and Lemonade Mimosas show that he can still craft fantastic chill-out anthems.
Let’s get to this quick, skipping the intro that I’ve tried and failed to write three times so far. Ludacris makes shallow music. But it’s fun, because he picks good beats, he’s funny at times, and his rhymes are usually ok. But, besides his humor, there isn’t anything distinctive about his persona. So I can’t put my finger on what he does so well, what thing about him justifies his 17-year music career.
14 years after The Cold Vein, expectations are high for Cannibal Ox’s second album, Blade of the Ronin. That’s probably both an under and over statement, because, while that debut was stellar, fans spent the many years afterwards hoping for a follow-up but only receiving decent-ish solo albums from the group’s members, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega. Honestly, I gave up on these guys a long ago. Even though those solo albums often had a song featuring the other duo member, I still couldn’t foresee them rejoining to release something worthy of The Cold Vein. So when a friend showed me a single from Blade of the Ronin a few months back (sorry, I can’t remember which song it was), I played it hoping for that greatness but realistically expecting much less. And it squarely met those tempered expectations. How about the rest of the album?
Over a drumless and mellow instrumental, Jerry Seinfeld assures Wale that people talking nonsense about him is not only to be tolerated but expected, and should not be taken personally. As Seinfeld ends his mini-rant, the beat transitions into a hip-hop feeling with the same mellow sounds sped up and a simple kick-snare loop that thumps so hard. Wale begins his verse immediately, explaining that he shuns the spotlight and all the scrutiny and rumors that come with it. Nothing special is happening in terms of lyricism but I’m digging the sentiment, because I pretty much hate attention too. Even the hook is pretty good. This is turning out to be a great song! Then Wale sings
“Fuck you, leave me aloooooooooone”