This week was marked by the passing of one of pop music’s greatest singers, Whitney Houston. In addition to that tragic loss, though, it marked the return to the rap game of some major talents. Kanye West helped his cousin out, Killer Mike took us back to the days of T La Rock and “I Need A Beat,” Cam’ron wasted time on his iPhone, Brother Ali showed us the busted soul underneath a womanizer’s exterior, and phenom Kendrick Lamar continued his recent stellar run with a look back at his childhood, for both good and ill.
5. “Like Def Jam circa ‘83, you get rushed/If you rolling with some winners, then you rolling with us” – Killer Mike, “Big Beast”
Atlanta’s Killer Mike dropped the first single from his upcoming album this week. What made rap fans’ mouth water was that the song, and reportedly the whole album, was produced by underground rap hero Jamie “El-P” Moline. This single, featuring T.I. and Bun B dropping killer (no pun intended) verses, reaches its apex with Mike going all the way back to the founding days of Def Jam Records — whose first releases were in ‘84, not ‘83, but who’s counting? — and shouting out label co-founder Russell Simmons, who in those days of yore went by his nickname, Rush.
4. “That’s where game was served, let me explain my words/You like a app in my iPhone, a angry bird” – Cam’ron, “So Bad”
Cam’ron is in some ways the lodestar of Rap Genius. The site was founded in an attempt to explain a particularly knotty Cam line, and his particular mix of smarts, humor, and attitude has colored the entirety of our outlook. This new song continues in his grand tradition, and also happens to contain rap’s best “Angry Birds” joke, punning on the dual meaning of “birds” as both the flocking kind and as slang for women.
3. “He’s talking ‘bout, ‘All these bitches in the party wanna fuck me’/He treats them the way he feels, which is ugly” – Brother Ali, “Electric Energy” lyrics
Ali has long been known for his powerful political songs like “Uncle Sam Goddamn” and for his introspective autobiographical tunes. On his recent EP The Bite Marked Heart, he takes a different tack and turns to stories about love won and lost. In this couplet, he gives an added dimension to hip-hop’s usual womanizing, revealing the personal inadequacies and insecurities that so often drive a playa’s behavior.
2. “Ni**as so fake, I’m off it/And every time they flake like frosted/I just make my profit/And get a girl who barely bra fit” – Kanye West, “Another You”
Yeezy, straight from being jilted at the Grammys, returns with two guest verses on his cousin Tony Williams’ song “Another You.” The verses mark a return to his early-career style in both content and form, sounding more playful than his recent material. These lines are typical, mixing I-get-money swagger with an unexpected and lighthearted nod to the ladies.
1. “Things we will never learn soon/In the era where we wanna earn soon/That’s an error; you can smell it in the air and everybody doomed” – Kendrick Lamar, “Cartoons and Cereal”
This epic song from Lamar created so much hype that it actually briefly crashed his label’s website. Truth be told, it more than lives up to expectation. Similar to DangerDOOM’s “Old School” in its evocation of an innocent bygone era of early-morning cartoon watching, this tune has an extra air of menace, as it ties in the sad, omnipresent, and inescapable violence of Lamar’s childhood.
Bonus Whitney Tribute: “And though she blessed the earth and it’s time to let heaven prosper/I wish somebody was there to protect her (Who?) Kevin Costner/(Who?) Clive Davis (Who?) Bobby Brown/Her mama and her daughter, Whitney is where God be now” – Twista, “Whitney Houston Tribute”
Chicago’s speed-rap king, Twista, released his touching tribute to Whitney Houston very soon after her passing. The rapper was 12 at the time of Whitney’s first album, and he perfectly captures the emotions felt by so many 70s and 80s babies, including this one, at the passing of their childhood icon. These lines gain extra poignancy in their conflation of real-life relations and friends with Whitney’s cinematic bodyguard, and in Twista’s simple but tragic hope that someone, somewhere, could have helped the singer avoid her tragic fate.