Loosies: Off to the Races b/w Murda Something

August 30th, 2013 by |

I like Lana Del Rey in part because there’s something about her lyrics and performance that makes me want to ask questions. Fabolous and blur are pretty self-evident to me. I don’t listen to “No Distance Left to Run” or The Soul Tape II and have to untangle what they’re talking about. I still have to untangle how they’re saying it, yeah, but the subject matter I get pretty much instantly. But something about Del Rey makes me listen real closely to her music. I’m sharp enough to know there’s something there, but not sharp enough to catch it.

“Off to the Races” is one of those songs that made me sit up and take notice. The song blends Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita with a bit of Bonnie & Clyde. But there’s a performative aspect to it, something in her voice and delivery that makes it feel like a role or pose, one that goes beyond the implied roles in every other song. She’s portraying something or someone, building a world and telling a story, that I want to know more about. There’s a performance there.

None of this would matter if she didn’t sound good, obviously. Liz Barker at Strawberry Fields Whatever described her style as being “sexy music that feels like being asleep,” and I like that. The music feels very relaxed, something to sit around with friends and vibe to, but the tension comes from how the play against the music, like a smiling face saying “I’m going to kill you.” The juxtaposition clicks.

A lot of the songs on Born To Die feel like they’re about relationships, rather than love. There’s not a lot that feels like the usual I Love Him, He Loves Me, or He Did Me Wrong. It’s more about the structures we build and the ways power works in male/female relationships, who has control and when or how. In “Off to the Races,” Del Rey sings about a lover who spends a decent amount of the song watching her, whether she’s swimming or getting dressed, as opposed to doing things or being loving. There’s a voyeuristic aspect that feels significant. “National Anthem,” on the other hand, sounds like obsession to me.

The video for “National Anthem,” like a lot of Del Rey’s work and videos, feels like coded language. It features Del Rey as Jackie Kennedy and A$AP Rocky as John F Kennedy. It’s a simple thing and they don’t do much that’s transgressive or surprising with the idea, but that makes it even more interesting to me. It’s pretty much just a 1:1 swap, with allowances made for our idea of fun—Rocky playing dice, Del Rey dropping low, that kind of thing.

But by and large, the video portrays the First Family having fun and living life before Rocky gets shot. It’s touching and loving. There’s a weird tension here, too. The idea of a black husband and white wife, their cute children, their friends, their parties, all of these things are normal to me. But push it back to the ’60s, and slip it into the fantasy of Camelot, and it makes me feel uneasy. It feels a little unreal, a little like a dream where you know things are about to go hideously wrong, but still compelling.

I’m really interested in Del Rey and Rocky’s hands in this video, how he touches Del Rey and how she touches him back. His hand on her thigh before dying, their closeness on the beach, the butt grab when they’re dancing, her playing with his braids… “sexy music that feels like being asleep.”

I like Lana Del Rey because she makes me want to have conversations about her music. There is something there that I want to know.

I hated on A$AP Rocky for a long time because he tended to rap like the dudes who influenced him and that bothered me. But at the same time, I’d praise his features, like somehow all of the features I liked were exceptions to the rule that Rocky sucked. But I was wrong, obviously, because that’s silly. “I don’t like dude, except for all these songs where I like dude, but really, son is wack.”

The first feature where I sat up like “Wow, this guy is getting it in” was probably Rocky’s turn on Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel,” from Habits & Contradictions. The song has a great sample. The woman singing “hands on the wheel” on the chorus is an artist named Lissie. She covered Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”, a song I like quite a bit. I like the different feeling songs have when women sing songs originally sung by men or vice versa. Otis Redding’s “Respect” is a different animal than Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” both for the mechanical differences between the songs and the way both singers apply their own style to that blueprint.

It’s not the same situation, but you should probably listen to Notorious BIG’s reference track for “Queen Bitch” and then Lil Kim’s version, too. Just having a different voice in there changes the game.

Q rides the beat real well in this song, as usual, but Rocky kinda outshines him. His flow is super swaggery, with colorful punchlines and a killer interpolation of the chorus. It’s not particularly deep or technically proficient in the spherical lyrical miracle sense, but it’s good. It’s rapping. Saying something mundane in a tight way is equal to saying something tight to me, and Rocky does it real well.

I especially like his feature on A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba.” The song is raunchy, but supremely catchy thanks to a great gimmick. The music video, though…

I like this new trend of rap videos being conceived as weird, stressed-out, feverish nightmares, and this is definitely a solid example. It’s just off, from the Shabba Ranks impersonator to the cameos to the last supper scene to the 4th wall suddenly shattering about three minutes in…and that’s all before Shabba Ranks himself shows up. This song is real hype, but the video is just uncomfortable enough to be super tight. It’s a party video, no different than “I Get Around,” but slanted.

Rocky’s on the remix to A$AP Ferg’s “Work,” along with Trinidad Jame$, Schoolboy Q, and French Montana. Rocky comes correct, Trinidad Jame$ too, but man. French Montana? Dude is wack, but “When they mask up, comin’ for your ice/When they barefaced, they comin for your life” is pretty tight. But even then, he can’t compete with Schoolboy Q’s “Yeah, put in work, spray his ass in front the church/ Deacon said I did my shit, the pastor said, ‘That nigga turnt!'” It puts me in mind of Ghostface’s “Wu Banga 101,” where he kicked a whole verse about a crooked church.

Euge Ahn, alias Adam Warrock, put me onto A$AP Ferg. I had basically written off the whole A$AP Mob as weed carriers, but Euge’s enthusiasm for Ferg’s Trap Lord record got me to buy it sight unseen… and it was worth it. With the exception of a sex skit, the whole album pretty much goes. Euge said it was something like gangster music made by a space alien, and that’s pretty close to how I feel. There’s a lot of singing, some patois, and a lot of swag rap. There’s a lot of posturing for the sake of other men in there, too, which leads to some truly absurd scenarios, but sure. I listen to rap, I can deal.

It’s tight, though. Ferg knows how to utilize a feature, too. Bone Thugs is on “Lord,” and Krayzie Bone blacks all the way out when he steps up to bat. Ferg brings out B-Real and Onyx on “Fuck Out My Face,” which gives Sticky a chance to say “I’m a CBGB… crazy bald-head grimy bastard!” and make my year.

Ferg’s not really saying anything new, lyrical content-wise, but again, he’s saying it in a dope way, so who cares, really? He reminds me a lot of Young Dro, who I like a lot. They just do what they do and do it well. Reliable dudes who go in on occasion.

The highlight of the album for me is “Murda Something” with Waka Flocka Flame. I know Waka is on record as not wanting to be seen as a lyrical dude for whatever dumb reason, but this type of song is exactly why I like him. It’s fast, almost to the point that he can’t keep up with his own raps, and A$AP Ferg chanting “ain’t afraid to murda something” before he comes in with a verse that’s half the speed of Waka’s is too dope. It’s music to throw bows to, run miles to, lift weights to. It’s motivation music. Black superhero music.

Also Ferg drops this during that song:

Y’all quick for the tweeting, y’all quick to be tumbling
How about a Vine? Two clips to your spine
And Instagram pics of me dumping

First rapper to beef with tumblr? Might be.

I keep talking about Schoolboy Q on this, but he’s been on my mind. He’s got a new album dropping this year, #oxymoron, and he’s been on a tear all year with hot songs and hotter features. This is “Collard Greens,” with Kendrick Lamar:

This is what I like. The beat’s remarkable, Schoolboy Q’s flow is… I called it a eurostep flow on Twitter the other day, because it takes a step in one direction before jetting down another. It’s jerky, but jerky in a way that feels natural, or normal. It’s not like “Dang, son’s way off-beat.” He’s hitting different marks and changing direction, is all.

I like the video, for the most part. It turns out adding a kaleidoscope effect to your average video featuring parties, half-naked girls grinding on dudes, and Macklemore turns something average into something that’s a little interesting. The inset transparent rapping faces aren’t special, neither are the colorful visual effects, but for some reason, that kaleidoscope effect feels perfectly paced for the song. This is another nightmare video, too, and Q kinda dances like Grover at a few different points, thanks to the jittery cut frames.

Kendrick’s got verse two, and he blacks out, as usual. I like the whole TDE crew, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay Rock. It’s dope they have such a range of personas and characters, from Soul’s stoned conspiracy theorist to Q’s groovy gangster. I have half a hunch—I haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet but it feels right—that if Kendrick is the GZA of the group, the most technically proficient and deep, for whatever value of deep you prefer, that makes Q the Method Man. Remember when Meth was the charming one in the Wu-Tang, the fashionable player? That, and their shared smiley face/dark subject styles, makes me think that’s a fair comparison, even if it isn’t 1:1.

Here’s E-40, Danny Brown, and Schoolboy Q, “All My Niggas”:

40 is one of those dudes like Bun B or Scarface who go extra hard when they’re featured on someone else’s song or have hype guest features. 40 can phone in verses better than a lot of dudes, but Danny Brown and Q simultaneously keep up and pay homage to the legend.

I like this old video for “There He Go”:

“Got my daughter swaggin’ like her motherfuckin’ daddy, though!”

Let’s go out on the first A$AP Rocky song I heard and a video I’ve grown to like a lot, “Purple Swag”:

This song has grown on me over the past couple years, and the sample from the Akira soundtrack is hot.

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2 comments to “Loosies: Off to the Races b/w Murda Something”

  1. I haven’t listened to any of these yet(roommate is still asleep), but the bit about Lana Del Ray and the tension between the relaxed mood of the music and the edge of the lyrics reminds me a bit of Jessica Lea Mayfield. Her stuff is more folky/indie type music, but there’s a darkness to the lyrics that bumps up against that in a sort of jarring way that really hits me. “Kiss Me Again”, off “With Blasphemy so Heartfelt” is probably her most well-known song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu9gbEf3aPQ. There’s stuff in there about being in a relationship with someone that has pretty much run its course, but you don’t know how/don’t care enough to end it, and one line in particular that gets me: “cause my life is falling apart/or is it getting better, I don’t know”. It’s good stuff, and the rest of the album is great too(and it’s fairly cheap on Amazon!).

  2. I knew we were somewhere new about three years ago, when T.I. used “Twitpic” as a verb.