The Serpico Mixes: The Hip Hop Disc

In a joint collaboration with my weekday roommate and Bronx ally  Skip Serpico, I’ll be discussing a mix CD a week. He makes them, I listen to them and provide my in the moment commentary. You, hopefully, read said commentary and maybe open up your musical horizons. You can come here every week for the Serpico Mixes. And you should also visit Skip’s site,  Fission Spaghetti, for his musings on food and Saturday Night Live (and more!)

Apropos, wouldn't you say?

Apropos, wouldn't you say?

Mix #5

Theme: Hip Hop

This maybe the least hip hop image labeled hip hop, ever. (image from headkockinent,com)

This maybe the least hip hop image labeled hip hop, ever. (image from headkockinent,com)

Do Ya Like St. Ides? By King Tee- Yes, it is pretty much a beer commercial. Yes, it lasts just over a minute. No, I do not count those items against. It is more than enough fun in that minute time to get away with its sins.

White Dress by Kanye West- After the stripped down resplendent anger of the Yeezus and the pure indulgent (in the best way) creativity of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it is a little odd to hear a West track that hearkens back to his earlier albums. But the good kind of odd. It is not going to topple the best tracks from that era, but even in “providing a song for a soundtrack” mode, he cannot help but catch my attention.

Dear Moleskine by Jay Electronica- I like the sample here but I cannot place it for the life of me.

What I’m more interested in, though, is the way the track seems to fade out and end multiple times before returning. I like that, but as a music fan who is often very lyrically based, especially when it comes to hip hop, the absence of Jay on most of the track really left me cold on it.

Take Care by Drake ft. Rihanna- I have a friend who has often said something to the effect of, “I like Rihanna, but really, I’d just prefer Beyonce come back,” the implication being the Rihanna is just B-lite. I think that’s ludicrious and, even if it was not, I am firmly on the Rihanna side of the argument.

I mention this to compliment Drake’s canniness. I am not sure I am fully onboard with him as a rapper, but I cannot deny he is a smart guy.

I am just ok on this track overall, but I love the break around 3:16 involving the looped “ha, ha.” I can easily see it being annoying after a half a dozen listens, perhaps, but for now…I just really, really enjoy that approximately 30 second section.

Long Live A$AP by A$AP Rocky– Weirdly, this puts me in the mindset of a track my friend Nick might put on his Halloween track. Maybe it is the month, maybe there is something sinister about the music of the portion of the track he raps over (as opposed to the portion when he pseudo-sings). I do not know. To be clear, it is not a novelty track and I do not actually believe there is any Halloween track feel intended here. It just has an oddly ominous vibe to it that put me in that mindset.

I also think it is pretty great.

Good kid by Kendrick Lamar– This is not the best track off good kid, m.A.A.d. City, in my opinion, and it is still strong enough to indicate why he can drop a diss track on the industry at large and not get laughed out of the genre.

GHOST! By Kid Cudi- I know that Cudi has something of a reputation of being a bit too…gloomy and killjoy-y or even, perhaps, boring, but I disagree. I can see where the criticism comes from but I think there is enough room in hip hop for a downpitched rapper who is not interested in singles.

My opinion is especially acute when I hear this song, which is probably my favorite off Man on the Moon II. Even with the guest who just casually tosses off his name in the first minute. Cudi has a nice feel for how to say words, which I admit sounds odd. What I mean to say is that I do not necessarily think he is the best writer, but he has a great ability to stress syllables, draw out words, and so on to best present his words.

Bye Baby by Nas- The “hey, yeah I’m getting divorced but at least I had the guts to get married” argument is always an unusual choice and Nas gives it a full throated defense here. I am not buying, but you do not need to agree with the viewpoint to like the song. The way he balances the singing and the rapping is impressive enough that I am willing to judge the track musically and enjoy it, even if I cannot get behind his thesis.

Workinonit by The Roots-You know The Roots are awesome, right? Consider this another exhibit in the case.

No one here is setting rap speed records, but the words are relentless over a propulsive, repetitive track making it feel like a train barreling down the line, under control but with the threat that it all might jump the tracks at any moment.

The Greatest Story Never Told by Saigon- At exactly four minutes, this song feels long which is usually not a good sign. That said, I cannot tell you what, if anything, I don’t like about it. I think the BMF Beautiful sample he uses/repurposes (the structure of it is the same, the instruments and balance on it are not) is excellent. I like it lyrically. I never found it boring. And yet, it still felt just a touch too long.

The Meeting by Wale- Wale is not someone who is on my radar but now I want to hear a lot more from him. The music he uses on this track is so familiar as to convince me that it is not the only hip hop song to employ it. However, I love the concept of the song—a corporate meeting in which Wale argues for himself as a signable artist—and the way he sticks with it and still makes it lyrically interesting impresses. I can overlook the deja vu production pretty easily in this case.

Lp Surprise by Large Professor- Sometimes the braggadocio nature of hip hop is exhilarating, sometimes it is hilarious, and sometimes it is just tiring. This one verged more towards tiring, but it might also be its placement fairly deep in the disc.

On the Vista by Blakcroc- The repetition of “total control” at 2:00ish took me out of the song, but otherwise I really liked it. It’s a shame that moment happened.

Practice by DJ Jazzy Jeff ft. J Live- If you are a rapper thinking of sampling Allen Iverson, do so. You cannot go wrong with “We’re talking about practice.” It is the highlight of the song, for better or worse.

Take Notice by Wu-Block ft. Ghostface Killa- Another Halloween-y sounding track. This time I have a clearer idea why: the music sounds like the theme of HALLOWEEN and the theme of FRIDAY THE 13TH had a baby.

I love the song, which is all about how hard Wu-Block is, begins with requesting tea with ginger and complaining you pulled him away from his bath. It’s ostensibly because he is so tough that he can rap hard even when he is sick, but it is, well, funny.

Go! by Madlib ft. Guilty Simpson- The great thing about hip hop is how pop culture aware and oriented it is. It is also the downside of it. Case in point, the Ashton Kutcher/Punk’d reference that happens in the first 30 seconds of this song.

On the other hand, “your temp’s 98, you’re not that sick” is just a perfect turn of wordplay.

The Fall by Blake Leyh- After earlier citing my problem with hip hop when lyrics are not present or limited, I absolutely loved this wordless track. A great pallet cleanser, perhaps? I will not hazard a guess. I just know I did love it.