Sunday, June 19, 2016

Kamaiyah - A Good Night In The Ghetto Review

A Good Night In The Ghetto is a big "fuck you" to the "sex sells" cliches of female rappers since Lil Kim, while at the same time, is an embracing of West Coast rap cliches since Tupac. Bay area up-and-comer Kamaiyah cares little for political posturing, and would much rather make her own versions of "Get Around" ("Niggas") and "Mo Money Mo Problems" than a "Blacker the Berry" or "A Bird in the Hand." Kamaiyah's subject matter is not broad reaching; she mostly enjoys rapping about getting fucked up, the come-up into riches, and playing "Toot It and Boot It" with men. Some would see this as a criticism, I see it as a welcome return to care-free 90s West Coast rap.

A Good Night In the Ghetto is a nostalgic album in its sound, as it relies heavily on old school West Coast production and 80s synth pop/funk instrumentals. In the music video to "Out the Bottle," Kamaiyah totes a late 80s mobster mobile phone, and on interludes throughout the album she speaks on the phone over a landline, not an iPhone. A subtle touch, but effective. But as an MC, Kamaiyah is concerned only with living life in the present. She raps about, "drinking it out the bottle," and getting "drunk as fuck," with no shame about it. The tracks in which she is at her most openly hedonistic, such as "Fuck It Up," are where she really shines. She's a female counterpart to YG; he features on this track, and she features on "Why You Always Hatin?" off Still Brazy.

On "One More Chance" off of Ready to Die, Biggie responds to a litany of voicemails left by hood rats he hit and quit. On "Niggas," Kamaiyah reverses this formula; she treats the men in her life as disposable. A nigga she's got, "gives me head 'til I'm red, then I ride him to sleep." Elsewhere on the album, she, "has a nigga goin' down like I paid him for it." The idea that Kamaiyah wants you to understand is that she's no different from the boys, both in life and especially in the rap game. As a rapper, Kamaiyah wants the same respect and popularity of West Coast rappers like YG and The Game, without having to pimp herself to the mainstream like a Nicki Minaj or an Iggy Azaelia.

Midway through this record, the sound takes a dramatic U-turn. She trades in West Coast g-funk for Southern-inspired basslines, and R&B/funk synths. In a couple tracks such as "Ain't Going Home Tonight" and "Swing My Way," she barely even raps; she sings in an oddly pleasing grainy voice that I can only describe as a combo of Lil Boosie and Remy Ma. The album smoothly transforms from a West Coast rap album into synth funk, without upsetting the flow and care-free feel of the free album.

Kamaiyah switches back and forth from West Coast party rap to smooth R&B, but the intended message and tone never changes. Kamaiyah has no time for sentimentality, conscious rap, or even telling tales about hard times in the ghetto. The title she chose is A Good Night In The Ghetto; the intended theme is optimism and having fun no matter the environment. The optimism matches Chance the Rapper on Coloring Book, but with less God and more summer anthems. A Good Night In The Ghetto was released in March of this year, but the free album is a great soundtrack to summer nights anywhere.

Download it

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Life of a Copycat

What makes a copycat in the world of music? In hip-hop, most of us think of a copycat as a swagger-jacker who steals another artist's style, changing little but the name they go by. The latest copycat in hip-hop we've seen is Desiigner, a new rapper from Brooklyn, New York.

Desiigner first made waves for his inclusion on the song “Pt. 2” on Kanye West's 2016 album, The Life of Pablo. It is still not definitively known if his part on the song was sampled or just re-recorded for the album, but that's another discussion for another blog post. Nevertheless, “Pt. 2” led to discovery by the masses of Desiigner's debut single, “Panda”, which was first released about two months prior to Kanye's album. The song got re-released, blew up as a result of being on Pablo, and the rest is history. The song went #1 for two weeks and is still in the top 5 as I write this. 

Desiigner’s similarities to Future, a rapper from Atlanta, Georgia, can't be denied. Even if you don't hear it in “Panda”, there's a pretty good chance you'll hear the similarities in “Pluto”, Desiigner's follow-up song. The main thing most people will notice is the cadence. Apparent in “Panda” as well as his other songs, it sounds like Desiigner’s from...Atlanta. Coincidence? Probably not.

This is honestly a difficult problem to address, as no-one seems able to stop copycat syndrome from occurring in hip-hop. It does say something interesting when the copycat does better than the original. Like a lot better. Now, Future does have a top 40 hit right now with the song “Low Life”; however, the cause for the song's success can mostly be attributed to the inclusion of The Weeknd and not the lead artist himself. All of that aside, Future still doesn't have a top 10 hit, and he's been popular in the mainstream since 2012. Desiigner got a #1 hit in just a few months.

Personally, I believe the copying is somewhat intentional. Rappers have their own influences just like artists in rock or pop. But copycats give a bad look to the game. The originals work hard to get to where they're at. When the copycat does better than the original, that’s when this becomes a real issue.

That's what makes this story a story in the first place. Desiigner is huge. He’s living the life most teenage rappers would only dream of. Got signed to one of the hottest rap labels (G.O.O.D. Music) out right now. Has a debut single go #1 (for two weeks), and it inches closer to platinum status with every passing week. Has that same single break streaming records left and right. All before he turns 20. The only problem is, he didn’t come up with that style on his own.

Authenticity and rap music is a difficult relationship. Did Jay-Z really sell drugs in '88? How can Rick Ross rap about slinging white when he was a correctional officer? Kanye West doesn't write all of his music and he should be slain for it, according to some fans and critics. If the music isn’t really yours, the rap community doesn’t accept it. At least that's how it works in the game.

And yes it’s true; this is a different issue entirely because Kanye, Ross, or Jay don't really try to sound like their counterparts. But the point still stands that the music has to be yours, and yours only. Your own ideas, your own creations, your own thoughts. While it may sometimes be justifiable, no-one wants a genre full of copycats or liars.

The next question is what should Desiigner do next? He's dangerously on the path toward becoming another one hit wonder. His other songs, “Pluto” and “Zombie Walk” are hardly known outside of people who frequent hip-hop blogs and forums. The best thing for him to do would be to release his album (currently titled, The Life of Desiigner), hope that it goes #1, and do a disappearing act from rap music. He can't stand on his own, and the Kanye cosign is honestly just pure luck. 

All of this comes from a guy who plays “Panda” regularly and actually enjoys what Desiigner is doing, even if it's not exactly morally acceptable by some people's standards. But a good song doesn't make intellectual theft justifiable; even I know that. I'm surprised there hasn’t been more of a response from Future about this situation in the past couple of months. But maybe he thinks the same way myself and the rest of us probably all do. Desiigner won't be around for long. Give him as little attention as possible, and let nature take its course. We'll be jamming out to something entirely different this time next year. I'm sure of it.

Desiigner - Panda

Future - F*ck Up Some Commas