A review of Dr. Dre’s Coachella set in the form of a graph of charisma levels on stage.

1. It’s Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and they’re opening with The Next Episode.
2. Inevitable realisation that Dr. Dre is old and massive and not that cool, coinciding with ‘new material’.
3. Back to G-funk classics.
4. Nate Dogg slideshow disappears, revealing Kurupt alongside Snoop. Warren G appears wearing a ‘warren g .com’ tshirt.
5. An attempt is made to excite the crowd for the arrival of Wiz Khalifa, continuing a run of songs that Dr. Dre wasn’t ever involved with.
6. Snoop Dogg leaves the stage entirely, leaving Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar alone together in front of many thousands of people. The song’s great, yeah, but that’s a charisma chasm.
7. 50 Cent appears with Tony Yayo, who actually does nothing but hype for 50 Cent. Snoop also reappears, apparently about half a minute late, which is great.
8. A hologram of Tupac Shakur performs two songs, including a song with Snoop, who raps at the hologram as if it’s real.
9. Eminem makes a joke about having to leave because he has a cab waiting for him.
10. Show closes with Dre and Snoop disappearing into the stage after Still D.R.E.


Ghost-wop is now officially a thing.

It’s a time of celebration here in Those Geese dungeons. Finally, 2.5 years after it was initially mooted, ghost-wop is officially a real thing, with Patrick Kelleher set to release his tape of classic doo-wop covers for this Saturday’s Record Store Day.

It will be released on Long Lost Records, who have also got a tape by (We Are Loser/ex-Super Extra Bonus Party member) Adultrock and an album by Retreat From Moscow, all of which you can get in Elastic Witch at Twisted Pepper on Saturday. You can hear both of those things online and order all three straight from Long Lost, but if you do that you’ll miss free live shows by Girls Names and Simon Bird, both of whom feature in the Top Ten Irish Acts Right Now list I never have the balls to actually post.

TD Rap Mix #1

Made a mix thing for Totally Dublin a while ago. No longer pseudonymous, also. It’s a celebration.

1. Curren$y & Styles P – Jekyll & Hyde (The 1st 28)
2. Lil B – I Own Swag (God’s Father)
3. Tyga feat. Nicki Minaj – Muthafucka Up (Careless World)
4. Gunplay – Jump Out (Bogota Rich)
5. Lakutis feat. Das Racist – Wifey (I’m In The Forest)
6. English Frank – F64 (Listen To Frank)
7. E-40 feat. YG, IAMSU & Problem – Function (Block Brochure)
8. Roach Gigz – Wasabi (Bugged Out)
9. Death Grips – Blackjack (The Money Store)

The Year. Wrap Up.

We finally made it, internets. Here is the full list for your perusal.

1. Danny Brown – XXX
2. E-40 – Revenue Retrievin’: Graveyard Shift/Overtime Shift
3. Cults – Cults
4. Roach Gigz – Bitch I’m A Player
5. Half Man Half Biscuit – 90 Bisodol (Crimond)
6. Squarehead – Yeah Nothing
7. Das Racist – Relax
8. Hunx and His Punx – Too Young To Be In Love
9. Milk Maid – Yucca
10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
11. Tune-Yards – Whokill
12. Rustie – Glass Swords
13. Vivian Girls – Share The Joy
14. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
15. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
16. Young L – Domo Kun/As I Float: The Great John Nash/Praktica
17. Cousin Fik – Hacksaw Been Thuggin’
18. The Babies – The Babies
19. Gucci Mane – Writings On The Wall 2
21. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
22. Male Bonding – Endless Now
23. Z-Ro – Meth
24. Fair Ohs – Everything Is Dancing
25. Panda Bear – Tomboy

Irish: 4% (2010: 12%, 2009: 12%, 2008: 12%)
By bands I was already into before 2010: 28% (2010: 44%, 2009: 36%, 2008:40%)
Saw live: 12% (2010: 40%, 2009: 64%, 2008: 48%)
Reviewed for print: 44%, (2010: 48%, 2009: 52%, 2008: 32%)
Interviewed for print: 16% (2010: 24%, 2009: 20%. 2008:12%)

Free to download: 20%
Rap: 32%
By a band currently or traditionally considered lo-fi (by me): 44%
Top 3 things people guessed would be number one but turned out not to feature at all: Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne, Tyler, the Creator – Goblin, The Weeknd – House of Balloons.

Positive feedback from the maker of the best album of the year:

Not reviewed by Pitchfork: 24% (2010: 24%)
Average Pitchfork rating of top 5*: 8.33 (2010: 8.75, 2009: 8.38)
Average Pitchfork rating of top 25**: 7.74 (2010: 8.33, 2009: 8.03)
Average Metacritic score of top 5***: 7.9 (2010: 8.03, 2009: 8.08)
Overlap with top 25 of NME’s 50 Best Albums: 4% (2010: 28%, 2009: 36%)
Overlap with top 25 of Pitchfork’s 50 Best Albums: 8% (2010: 24%, 2009: 28%)
Overlap with top 25 of State’s 50 Best Albums: 12% (2010: 32%, 2009: 28%)

* Pitchfork did not review Roach Gigz or Half Man Half Biscuit so this is the average of the top 3.
** Pitchfork did not review Roach Gigz, Half Man Half Biscuit, Squarehead, Cousin Fik, Z-Ro and Fair Ohs.
*** Metacritic only aggregated reviews for Cults and Danny Brown so this is kinda meaningless.

Here’s my favourite song right now.

The Year. 1. If this shit don’t work, I failed at life.

1. Danny Brown – XXX [US]

Danny Brown is the best rapper out. They put him on the XXL Freshmen of the Year list for 2012 and he ended up making the whole exercise look as stupid as it is in about fifty ways, from the fact that he is a thirty-one year old man with two excellent albums already behind him to the bare evidence of how badly he showed up everyone else involved simply by being a confident, complete, ingenious rapper on the beat they provided and every other beat he’s been on. They could have put him on a notional XXL Rappers In General 2012 and he would have had a decent chance of doing the same. He put out the best album of 2012, rap or otherwise, and it’s time, in late March, to finally get around to talking about it. There’s a lot to talk about, so get your glasses.

A sage commenter on 2DopeBoyz said he was “on that goof troop hip hop” which is actually an interesting angle to take, because while it’s obvious that he can rap about anything over anything, he does litter his raps with ridiculous pop culture punchlines, even on the serious tracks. XXX itself, the first track on the album, opens with real gravity and a beat that sounds more modern but also more serious than his previous music, the kind of thing you open a ‘classic album’ with. The first line is “colder than them grits they fed slaves”. The fourth line is “sorta like Squidward and his clarinet”. That’s goof troop hip hop. It’s not even one of the many songs in the early-to-middle part of the record where it’s just a string of absurd punchlines about his dick. And it doesn’t even ruin the mood. This is one of the several weird things about Danny Brown.

By the time XXX came out he was already the dude with whose hair is “the most unfortunate decision for an up-and-coming rapper since Wale decided to work with Lady Gaga for his first single.” It seems at times like a legitimate effort to troll those who are into ‘real hip hop’, but ultimately, despite those noted influences in UK grime and post-punk, the dude is probably the best, most versatile, most charismatic rapper-qua-rapper out at the moment. So you can’t let the hair matter. And you can’t let the Squidward line matter. You have to take it for what it is, as you should on a ‘classic album’.

There is a spectrum of styles across the 19 songs (with no skits), as you might expect, but it’s coherent. If you thought a record label debut would result in a couple of radio singles or ones-for-the-ladies, never mind actually having to pay for the music, you would have been mistaken. Pitchfork called it “grubby production, laced with trashy electro” but they can obviously get fucked. Unpolished-sounding samples do mesh with synthesised sounds, but it’s an aesthetic decision, adding a looseness to the clinical squelches and drum machine hits. The looseness fits his style. The weirder the beat, the better he gets. Monopoly, which is the closest thing to actual grubbiness, leads to a tour de force rap when it kicks in, and Outer Space, with a tentative snare and some alien-sounding non-Pythagorean shit going on as a melody, causes a blackout featuring a Vagina Monologues punchline that he doesn’t even bother to properly rhyme.

The overall sonic coherence is especially impressive because there two distinct Danny Browns on XXX. One of them will bust a nut upon a bitch chest, so to speak, and he dominates the first section of the album, especially from Bruiser Brigade at track 7 to Adderall Admiral at track 12. The other one, conversely, is righteous, and he reappears on DNA, having partly introduced himself on the opening track, to rap about selling scrap metal with junkie relatives and vacant lots in Detroit. It could be incongruous but, without labouring the point, Danny Brown is a very good rapper, and it feels more like being invited with him through different aspects of his life than any attempt to shoehorn conscious raps onto a party rap record out of obligation or, worse, shoehorn party raps onto a conscious rap record to make it palatable.

That’s just not what’s happening. It’s just that what could be a brag on one beat is an admission of fault on another, in an artful way. Compare Die Like A Rockstar, a pretty ignorant track about being fucked up like various different dead celebrities, with DNA, about family history with addiction. From the former: “manuscript sick shit, prescription addiction/sniffin’ Adderall off the counter in my kitchen/experiment so much it’s a miracle I’m living”. The latter also has verses full of party brags (“Every night like a bachelor party in Sin City, bitches sniffing coke of each other titties with rolled 50s”) but the hook (“It’s in my DNA, cos my moms liked to get fucked up the same way”) and the beat (low-key with a clarinet) makes the whole thing seem less like bravado and more like description.

There’s a real gravity to some of those later songs. Fields (“and where I live, it was house-field-field, field-field-house, abandoned house-field-field”) is vivid and erudite about Detroit without being trite. Scrap or Die, which I’m going to have to quote more from, is a clever flip of Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die that manages to illuminate the other side of the drug dealer dynamic in rap without seeming preachy. Here’s a bit that’s probably too big to digest in text but fuck it:

We been looking at the house for about a whole month
A family live there, got put out last month
My uncle sniffing blow while I’m rolling up a blunt
His homey in the basement smoking crack with my aunt
And tonight’s that night we about to get right
Piled up in a van with a couple flashlights
Metal crowbars gonna get us through the door
Take everything, fuck the landlord.
So now we at the place, skullys on bareface
Bout to leave this bitch bare, strip the whole damn place
My unc outside, he ripping down the gutters
So we inside tearing up this motherfucker
Bust open the walls just to get the wiring
Took the hot water tank and the left over appliances
Aluminum siding and had to come back
Cause the furnace so big it wouldn’t fit in the back

And it’s copper by the pound
Wire by the inch
Got a cheque on the 1st and it’s gone by the 5th
Scrap or die.

I talked about this with E-40 and it applies to things like novels as well, not that I’m recommending that you should read novels or anything, but this kind of thing, unassuming exposition with a point that’s shown rather than stated, is what makes creates real meaning and profundity. The idea might be so common in society and culture in general that it’s filtered out amongst the white noise, but being able to tell the story is important and, as is obvious on this track above most, choosing the right story to tell can be incredibly effective.

Of course, I’m privileging the conscious stuff again here. There are upwards of ten songs on XXX that don’t purport to give you a point to chew on at all, and they’re just as good. Bruiser Brigade is pretty much just an ode to drinking over a grime-influenced beat, but it’s blood-boiling and it features the ad lib of the year, an E-40-esque faux naïve “Heineken?” in response to Brown’s claim that he is “about that drink of Heineken”. Pac Blood, which is non-ignorant in the sense that Elzhi would probably have bought the beat if Brown didn’t, boasts the following hook:

Tears to Mona Lisa, Medusa to liquid
Make Gandhi grab the burner while they shoot shit
Rhymes that make the Pope wanna get his dick sucked
Had Virgin Mary doing lines in the pickup
Make Sarah Palin deep-throat till she hiccup
Had T.D. Jakes round this bitch doing stick-ups

…before spitting, with remarkable venom, that these are:

Rhymes so real, thought I wrote it in Pac blood
Told me in my dreams that these n- is not thugs.

It’s not quite smoking his ashes, but if there’s a more weighty way to claim realness than actually writing your lyrics in the blood of Tupac, I haven’t heard it. And stray punchlines are everywhere. “You softer than Flanders’ son” is silly but it’s kind of withering because it’s so unexpected. “Rest in peace wack n-s with oversized clothes/Complain about me cos I’m taking all they hos” is pretty much the direct opposite of Z-Ro’s shit-talking about skinny jean rappers, but this is goof troop hip hop, so that’s fine. “I got them Penis Poems for your Vagina Monologues/Love a feminist bitch – ooh, that get my dick hard” is, as mentioned earlier, especially funny because it barely rhymes, and “I got hos in expensive high heels/Your hos toes is fucked/Beauty Supply sandals” is certainly one way to explain your superiority. It is also especially funny because it does not rhyme.

So there’s function and there’s fashion. The sheer consistency of the nineteen tracks would be enough to make it my favourite rap album of the year, but I’ve been dropping ‘classic album’ hints around the place, so let’s address that a little more. The thing flows, and it’s got scope and variety, as I’ve been talking about. What jumps it from being a good album to a great album, and I’m talking about the old ivory tower conception of ‘the album’ here, is the bookending. It opens with XXX and closes with 30, and they do the work of turning it from a collection of songs into what ultimately feels something like a concept album about the life and experiences of a Detroit rapper for whom things are finally happening. On the opener, he’s “getting old, time’s running out/repeating instrumentals, trying to figure patterns out” – because what rapper makes it at 30? He’s “weaving kicks and snares, trying to dodge these hooks/keeping it original, something that’s overlooked.” It’s a first person account of the dude as he comes across on The Hybrid, here and elsewhere, a rapper who’s just trying to make original rap music, who’s too old for the major label radio play dreams but still passionate enough to want to do it anyway. On 30, we meet that dude again, with all the context of the rest of the record behind us.

Step inside a mind that revolves around the rhyme
And every time he close his eyes he sees visions of white lines
Dying in the arms of a blonde blue-eyed twenty-something
Don’t know her name, but the paramedics, chest-pumping
Thirty-something black male OD’d off of pills
That he wasn’t prescribed, but they took his life
Left behind a daughter that doesn’t really even know him
Cause her momma thought he wouldn’t make a living off them poems

But it was a long journey on a rocky road
Had a hoodie on and a jacket in the snow
Walking in the cold on the way to the studio
N- that was just a couple of years ago
Dropped a couple free mixtapes on the net
And n-s tryna front like it wasn’t all that
But guess what bitch, I’m coming back
Guess what bitch, I’m coming back

NFL analysts talk positively about players who have a “chip on their shoulder”, as if personal vendettas against specific teams, players or the media would supercharge them and make them more effective. I guess that’s what’s happening here. Danny Brown’s 30 years old (or he was when he made the record) and that’s a long time to be a rapper that hasn’t made it.

Never learned to rap, always knew how
Ever since a n- 8, I knew what I would do now
When I turned 28, they like ‘what you gonna do now?’
And now a n- 30 – so I don’t think you heard me
The last ten years I been so fucking stressed
Tears in my eyes, let me get this off my chest
The thoughts of no success
It got me chasing death
Doing all these drugs, thoughts of OD’ing next

And that’s how it ends, one final explanation that, above and beyond all the other shit, being a rapper is what Danny Brown does. A lot of rappers call themselves the greatest ever and it’s ridiculous to believe any of them, but there’s something special about Danny Brown. He is, as he says, “a smart n- who do dumb shit” and that makes him more entertaining than just about every rapper that isn’t making dance songs about specific celebrities they’ll never meet, but the consistency, originality and occasional patent genius of his music is down to more than just charisma and clever metaphors and punchlines. XXX proves that he is the complete package and if he never sells more or he overdoses in the arms of a blonde twenty-something, he will have left a mark on culture as an almost never-was who persevered, stepped up when it mattered and delivered something great.

Danny Brown – Outer Space
Danny Brown – Scrap or Die
Danny Brown – 30

The Year. 2. If it wasn’t for the water, the rap game would be dry.

2. E-40 – Revenue Retrievin’: Graveyard Shift/Revenue Retrievin’: Overtime Shift [US]

The level of lateness we’re working at here means that I’ve had about five months of worrying about how to write about these records. But I can’t really avoid it any longer, so here it is. 2500 words about a dude who’s in his twenty-third year of releasing rap music. He’s worked with both 2Pac and Drake, which says something about how long his name has carried weight. And I just discovered he existed in 2011. It’s possible that I should have started with earlier records, like In A Major Way (1995) which is one of the best rap records of all time, or even My Ghetto Report Card (2006) with all its hyphy era classics. But I didn’t. I started with Revenue Retrievin’: Overtime Shift and Revenue Retrievin’: Graveyard Shift and I spent pretty much the whole year with both on my little 2GB mp3 player because I kept getting mad that I couldn’t listen to them every time I tried dumping them off to make space for Fucked Up or Keak Da Sneak or something.

It might be interesting that I came to E-40 with his most recent records because I literally had no context. I’d probably heard Tell Me When To Go once or twice incidentally, but I had no real idea who E-40 was. You know this already, I presume. I was that kid with the big and expanding collection of indie rock and pre-indie rock canon stuff, with five jazz, afrobeat, techno, funk, blues and hip hop albums just to make sure I was keeping my education broad. I was seriously into hip hop for a little while before I actually got around to E-40, but I guess I have two points here. Firstly, he’s the fucking dude and a huge part of my process of learning to listen to rap music. That sounds academic or something but it’s not. It didn’t happen with premeditation, he just kept saying cool shit and I kept listening. Secondly, I approached these albums without any idea of what E-40 had done before or what he was supposed to sound like. I didn’t become a Revenue Retrievin’ fan because I was an E-40 fan. I became an E-40 fan because I was a Revenue Retrievin’ fan. Which might be rare, I dunno. Anyway, let’s jump in.

On the David Drake episode of the Champale podcast, they talked about how hard it was to explain in writing why certain rappers or rap songs are so good. A lot of why Biggie is the best is because he sounds “fat and pissed off” regardless of what he’s actually rapping about. And sometimes a song is fire just because it’s fire. That sort of thinking is basically the only way to deal with E-40 when he’s fully on. On Serious, featuring an unexpectedly brilliant T-Pain soul hook, he drops three verses, each self-contained, like a three-act play, that manage to tell a real and affecting struggle story without ever seeming like ‘conscious rap’. But to talk about it like that doesn’t do full justice to the song. It might be the highlight of Graveyard Shift and that’s not just because it’s a perfect, watertight rap with a narrative. It’s because of the delivery. Biggie sounds fat and pissed off, certainly, but he also sounds like Biggie, in a way you can’t really word. So does E-40. I’m gonna transcribe my favourite part here, but realistically you’re just going to have to listen to it.

They found weed in my system, I told my girl I was quitting
They sent me back to San Quentin for ninety days, did my time and got out
Now I’m the unemployment line tryna figure shit out
But the penal system got me by the neck, sahab
With my trouble passed, I can’t even get me a job
My partner rap, he got his own record label, they doin’ they thang
If I holla at him, maybe he can shoot me some change

It’s such a vivid picture. Can’t help but think of young Kanye in Fade To Black saying “instead of the Black Album, it’s like the Black Movie n shit.” In the third verse he tells a weird an unexpected story about using his money to book old school r’n’b and soul groups instead of rappers for concerts because of venue insurance, and then explains that he doesn’t want to accept a job at a toll booth because he doesn’t want to work for a white man. Some rappers have an issue with bad exposition when they try to do this sort of thing and just compensate with bare energy, but Serious is a fucking novel, and a good one, and it’s only three and a half minutes long.

My Lil Grimey N-, two tracks later on Graveyard Shift, is the same sort of thing except over a genuinely unsettling beat, except it’s a third-person character sketch sort of thing about a dead-eyed young man “lurking and prowling” and shooting people without any sort of humanity. As I often do, I sent it to my test subject Mos Def fan friend who said it was “too scary for me” which, without being a rap song with gun sounds and a chap shouting about fucking you up, is probably a pretty good endorsement of how good it is.

Concentrating too much on how artful a storyteller E-40 is sells short his ability to just talk shite over an empty beat though. His shit bang. Again, there is no real way to talk about this effectively without just sending you to listen, but I’ll transcribe a bit more. On the topic of a Puerto Rican woman’s ass, from Bad Bitch (on which Stressmatic also delivers the laziest verse in his long history of lazy verses, many of which are dealt with on various episodes of the podcast):

I met this Afro-American mixed with Spanish ho
Puerto Rican chick, love to cook mofungo
Donk so big you could play the bongos
Got a drum-roll booty, thick, juicy and jumbled.

More on the subject of racial preference, from Yankin’:

I don’t know what they’ve been putting in the water nowadays, but white girls got big booties
Ain’t no colour line, I’m colourblind – let me stop lying, mister
We all created equal, but I prefer a sister.
Like little girl right there, she got a big kadonkydonk
She probably work out three times a week and eat what the fuck she want.

As Them’s The Vagaries rapper-slash-exec Seán once pointed out, that is kind of a ridiculous presumption to make about a girl who he is ostensibly just noticing in a club for the first time, who only appears for appears in the song for two lines anyway. Given that E-40 put out two albums in 2010 and then these two in 2011, there are obviously some songs that aren’t on quite the peak level, but there’s always some kind of nugget like that, a weird phrase or just a weird phrasing that takes you out of the song for a moment and makes you think, “what?” Which is in common with a few of the other rappers I’ve come to think of as favourites, like Gucci or Danny Brown or Husalah.

Wait, yeah, E-40 put out two albums in 2011 and we haven’t even got to Overtime Shift yet. I’ll try to keep it relatively brief. It opens with an a capella soul verse sort of thing that then drops into a reimagining of the beat from his 1991 track Mr. Flamboyant, which E-40 explains is “one of them throwback, mobbed out, yola coppin’, truck robbin’, spark some kush, crack a bottle and sip some ‘yac beats, motherfucker”. As if that was an actual type of beat. This is what I mean about the moments that take you out of the song. You could not doze to this if you tried.

I actually started getting into E-40 at all with Overtime Shift, even though it later became clear that it was slightly worse than its more sinister sister, which means that I started with Mr. Flamboyant 2k11, and I still think the way he interacts with the beat is pretty remarkable, the way he twists words around it and shifts intensity (and syllable-per-second count) according to where he is. It’s dynamic as fuck. And when it finishes, the beat to Drugs drops, which opens with the following unassailably excellent bars:

This thing all the way mobbed out
This thing beating the truck loose
I’m on a big ass bottle of Goose and some Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice
And I strongly suggest that you don’t sit on my transportation
Cos the slock is so severe, and the beat’s excruciating
Mayhaps might pop your ear or possibly collapse your lung
(What colour is your exterior?)
The same as Grey Pupon
(What is you a baller?)
Yeah but not LeBron
(What kind of baller are you?)
The kind that sell heroin

Drugs also marks the first appearance of B-Legit, who is both family-orientated and game-related by being E-40’s cousin and shares his age and attendant lack of self-consciousness. He leans into the beat with the same flow for whole verse, but he’s got fat-man-from-Vallejo charisma, and “block move like James Wade and Chris Bosh” is pretty clever. The other B-Legit feature is probably the highlight of the whole two album set, Rear View Mirror. Let me set the scene here.

There is a big synth bassline that mayhaps might pop your ear or possibly collapse your lung, with that 808 cowbell reminding you sonically of what region and vintage of rapper you are about to be dealing with. You snap your neck. Then, in the least explicable move in forty-something Bay Area rap music up until Too $hort made a bizarre video of himself as a mime, Stressmatic appears to provide the hook, in character as Slick Rick. He says the words “my rear view mirror is vibrating” in a cod-English accent. This is all he does on the song. In the video, he actually plays E-40 and B-Legit’s uniformed chauffeur which is a weird power dynamic for Stressmatic to have agreed to, but that’s the video, which is neither here nor there. Still, it’s hard not to on some level imagine the day at the studio when Droop-E played the beat for his father and his first cousin once removed and someone said, “hey, do you know what would be perfect on this? TJ from the Federation doing an impression of Slick Rick.”

After spending what seems like forever in the insoluble labyrinth of the song’s opening segment, E-40 starts. He is incapable of driving effectively because Droop-E’s bassline keeps knocking down his rear view mirror. He then engages in some more absurd statements about a woman. I know I’ve been leaning hard on these throughout the post, but it’s unfathomably great stuff.

See that chick right there? She a little old slut.
She said “E-40’s a FILF – father I’d like to fuck”
Little girl, you way too young for me
What you need to do is go and get your mommy
I heard she got some vicious dome action, gobble game is fire
Suction cup lips, suck the air out of tyres
Hips, butt, tits, bitch, call me sire
And I won’t stop macking till I retire.

This is perhaps the 2011 Revenue Retrievin set’s greatest “wait, what?” moment. Still reeling from Stressmatic’s Slick Rick, E-40 dismisses a young woman who finds him attractive and explains to her exactly why her mother would be a better match for him due to her legendary ability to give head. If you can’t respect that, your whole perspective is wack. B-Legit arrives with a slightly less unusual approach to bragging about fucking women before confusingly instructing us to “honour thy mother, but fuck these bitches.” Is he still talking to the girl who hit on E-40? That would be cockblocking. Presumably he’s talking to men in general. Either way.

Overtime Shift has some other high points as well. Beastin is a sort of hyphy Chad Hugo (Neptunes) beat that works as a great throwaway up-tempo track about partying. Guns is a song about guns with a hook that just consists of the word “guns” eight times and has a second verse that is mostly a list of types of guns. Punkin ‘Em Out involves E-40 explaining the definition of the word “domitore” to someone over the intro (it means helmet) before sounding threatening over a mid-tempo snap.

The track that follows Punkin ‘Em Out is pretty remarkable though. It’s called Born In The Struggle and opens with a Cornel West quote – it’s ‘conscious rap’ in a way that doesn’t make you forget it’s conscious ‘rap’ like Serious manages to. But that’s a good thing; Born In The Struggle is a different beast to Serious. It’s a pretty powerful explication of race relations in America, based on personal experiences, with all the shame and anger that comes with that territory.

I had to handwash my clothes. Didn’t have a washing machine or a dryer.
Momma used to have to hang her period panties out on a clothesline wire.

If that doesn’t hit you in the gut off the bat, there’s something wrong with your empathy function. He talks about “pissy sidewalks, human shit on the ground”, and a general sense of powerlessness in the face of history, flipping between childhood recollection and broader things like slave-trading. It’s kind of remarkable that he can do something like this and bring it off as well as he does on the same record as all the other stuff, but he’s not a normal rapper. He’s not likely to get significantly bigger at this point, obviously, but as he says, “I’m not rapping too fast, you’re listening too slow”. He’s putting out copious amounts of actual, barcoded music. He’s doing it at a point in his career where he (presumably) doesn’t actually have to, which means that he can be confident, say what he wants and work with who he wants, whether that means his son and cousin or Bun B and Devin The Dude or Cousin Fik, Beeda Weeda and J. Stalin.

Rappers at this age are a relatively new phenomenon. There isn’t much of a prototype for the greybeard rapper the way there is for the older rock star. E-40’s not likely to become Rev. Run, even if he’s good at giving excellent advice to young men who keep thinking with their peter. He’s not likely to become Snoop Dogg because he’s not famous enough nationwide/worldwide. He’s not likely to become Ice T, unless they come up with a serial drama where a large black man who mean mugs by default and speaks almost exclusively Bay slang can play a prominent role. He might end up like Heavy D if he doesn’t drop a few pounds but barring that, he’s not likely to disappear either. So he’s got to feel it out as he goes, and he’s doing that by putting out more music than ever. This is, by my count, his third musical peak and, at 43 when he made these two records, he’s still good enough to maintain the title of best rapper alive in my estimation, even if that’s meaningless. Because he sounds fat and pissed off, and his raps are fire.

E-40 feat. T-Pain – Serious (Graveyard Shift)
E-40 – My Lil Grimey Nigga (Graveyard Shift)
E-40 – Mr. Flamboyant 2K11 (Overtime Shift)
E-40 feat. B-Legit and Stressmatic (Overtime Shift)

Notes: Joking about rappers being family-orientated and/or game-related was invented or at least brought to my attention by done, who made the joke, a Sprinkle Me reference, about Cousin Fik. This correction was made out of the goodness of my heart even though he never did his guest post.

The Year. 4. I got hoes tryna fuck me through my publicist.

4. Roach Gigz – Bitch I’m A Player [US]

“There’s lads in Finglas that sound like this chap.” As part of my ongoing campaign to get the dude who got me into rap in the first place to appreciate that you don’t have to actually call yourself a lyrical prophet to be a good rapper, I sent him a Roach Gigz video. He pretty much responds the same way every time, but there might be something to this for once. Do I like Roach Gigz because he has a dirty moustache and looks like the kind of guy who’d call you a faggot and then laugh and say you’re a sound lad and hug you in such a way that it turned into a headlock outside a chipper at 4am? Because he’s familiar, in other words? Hopefully not. There’s enough reasons to justify fucking with Roach Gigz without having to sit around feeling guilty about race issues afterwards. First off, this is a dude with weird, interesting things to say, or at least a weird, interesting way of saying things.

The opener, Fuck A Chorus, feels like the monumental track, full of drive and purpose even though it’s not exactly about anything. But like those Lil Wayne songs where he sounds full of drive and purpose even though it’s not exactly about anything, it still seems like you get all the important information, like Roach Gigz being from the Bay Area and liking sex, interspersed with batshit punchline statements like “when I get rich, Imma have midget doormen who make me feel important”. He’s having fun, which is clear across the whole tape. It seems like some people thought it was a sub-par version of the type of ADD rap he did on Can I Rap, but to me, this was the big moment on the tape, the one that sounds like a mission statement as well as just a blap.

The beats, exclusively by C-Loz, contribute heavily to the slightly manic atmosphere, especially on songs like Big Fat Beat (which is a big fat beat pegged on a vocal hook consisting of the words “big fat beat” over and over) or Drugs, the most popular Roach Gigz song on Spotify, which is around an old-timey newsreader type voice saying the word “drugs”. The bass is big, the percussion pops, things are shot through with hints of techno and they’re not afraid to cut up Roach’s voice to serve the song. When it’s up-tempo, the dude can shine, scattering punchlines about being crazy, smoking blunts and liking riding. He fits that kind of beat, a party thing where lines catch you here and there and make you laugh or just think, “fuck yeah”.

Just being crazy for the guts of an hour would probably get tiring though, and the thing that makes this feel like a keeper, the kind of tape you call great rather than just fun, is the raps over slower beats, songs like Overdose and Headache. Being able to make these tracks as good as the fast ones is proof of depth of personality, a sign of a rounded rapper rather than a dude’s who just attention-grabbing. It’s tat sort of thing that seems to drive people to start talking about whether or not he’s going to get properly mainstream famous. He’s funny enough and white enough to do it, maybe, but it’s hard to pick ways that Bitch I’m A Player would be or could be better if it was an international sensation or even an A$AP level sensation, so from a fan’s perspective, what’s the fucking difference? Unlike Rocky or Tyler, none of the fun of Roach Gigz has anything to do with that weird fetishisation of the young rapper “learning his craft”, getting new releases and trying to figure out if he’s any better yet. The fun of Roach Gigz is that he’s already great.

It’s also tape full of “moments”, not just a succession of good tracks. Beyond the two central figures (Gigz and C-Loz), there’s an excellent selection of Bay Area rappers than are even more apparently crazy than Roach Gigz. Husalah and Lil B are on the same track, Stupid, which, at a breakneck tempo, is pretty remarkably weird. Gigz pays special tribute to Lil B by biting him thoroughly through his verse while Lil B, not to be outdone, responds to the challenge and the title of the song by delivering one of the dumbest verses in his huge catalogue of dumb verses, pulling off a total of 0.5 rhymes that don’t sound atrocious. When you take Husalah, who has an uncanny ability to sound mental even when he’s not saying particularly mental things, into account, you end up with the type of song that just results in a halo of question marks and an elevated heart rate. They let Lil B go last, obviously, because he’s the nicest.

It’s weird but it’s cool. Or it’s cool because it’s weird. And you definitely wouldn’t get it in Finglas (no shots at Finglas).

Willy Staley interviewed Roach Gigz and so did Noz and so did David Drake, make of that what you will.

Roach Gigz – Fuck A Chorus
Roach Gigz feat. Husalah and Lil B – Stupid Dumb Knock (remix)