Please Jam: Where Are The Hip-Hop Zimmerman-Protest Songs?

Tech N9ne – “Fraglie” ft Kendrick Lamar, Kendall Gordon and Mayday

JAMES: A Tech N9ne song comes with a certain connotation in my mind. Starting off with a minimalist beat and some soft, slow lyrics is in direct contrast to what I expect. Plus, the hook comes before Tech N9ne’s first appearance which has already sold you on the song’s quality. By the time Tech starts doing his thing, you’re well in the groove.

It’s the perfect appetizer to an incredible Kendrick verse. He’s not one to disappoint much, but every now and then Kendrick drops something that draws an almost concerned look based on how damn hard he’s going. This is one of the finest guest verses of his young career. For once, I would be very surprised if you did not agree.

VINCE: I’m a fan of this joint.

Kendrick’s verse was cool. I hear him too much these days, though. He needs to pull it back. I know that’s asking too much given today’s musical consumption habits, but Kendrick is so talented that I feel like he could write the guest bars here in his sleep. That’s not saying that his verse had no merit, just that I didn’t think it was special.

For Tech N9ne to be in his 40s and for his first album to have dropped in the ‘90s, I’m pretty unfamiliar with him. What’s of special note on this song is that it seems that Tech might have had a big influence on Kendrick. I say “might” because I don’t know how much the young emcee listened to the old head — the influence could have been indirect or separated by a few degrees. Section.80 Kendrick is a lot less aggressive than current Kendrick and current Kendrick employs the semi-auto flow a lot. That’s obviously Tech N9ne’s province (I dig that aside from the obvious TEC-9 reference, his name is also supposed to represent his adherence to tech-nique, with the numeral 9 symbolizing completion). So, this track was enlightening in that respect.

I don’t know who Kendall Gordon or Mayday (the other credited features on this song) are and a quick Google search offers nothing definitive. I can say, however, that my favorite parts of this joint are the track (who produced this?), the hook (Gordon?) and the understated, emotive first verse (Mayday?).

Pharoahe Monch – “Stand Your Ground”

JAMES: There were several Trayvon Martin tribute/George Zimmerman protest songs that came out in wake of the not guilty verdict, but as you might expect, friend of TSL Pharoahe Monch delivered the best one.

This song really gives the anger felt by those who see Martin’s killer walking free as a tragic sign of the continued systematic racial injustices a universal feeling. Monch hits so many nails on the head with the fast-paced drums while driving in what Stand Your Ground represents to our society now. It is a crazy concept to think about, and this is a crazy song to listen to while thinking about it.

[James Note: Young Jeezy – It’s A Cold World”

Wyclef Jean – If You’re 17”

Stalley – “Raise Your Weapons”

Raheem DeVaughn x Styles P – “Trigga Man”

Lil’ Scrappy – “Trayvon Martin”

Questlove’s Facebook post, however, is the real gem.]

VINCE: There were several Trayvon-tribute/Zimmerman-protest songs? Those flew under the radar I guess. It’s actually disappointing that hip-hop hasn’t produced more significant material in response to the injustice. We need a Self Destruction”-type effort. But hip-hop doesn’t really do protest songs, anymore. These young heads don’t really seem to do socially conscious hop, outside of a very select few.

This Pharoahe joint is sufficiently inspired, though. (Aside: his flow here is very reminiscent to his Elvis-like “Body Baby” off of Desire.) It’s been 22 years (!!!!) since Pharoahe debuted with Organized Konfusion. That he is still capable of this type of vital, contemporary music is stunning.

For what it’s worth, if the Martin family had to commission a song from one rapper as response to the Zimmerman verdict, I can only think of three men up to that challenge — Pharoahe, Nas and Mos Def. I’d like to say Chuck D, KRS-One and Common, as well, but I don’t know if they’ve still “got it.” Pharoahe did justice to an injustice here.

Killer Mike & El-P – “‘36’” Chain”

JAMES: This is my first exposure to El-P the rapper, though I’ve been aware of his work since he produced Killer Mike’s last album R.A.P. Music, which featured production that matched the intensity of the lyrical content (Reagan,” I’m looking at you). The chemistry these two have is fantastic. Killer Mike is constantly pushing the limit with his lyrics, while El-P’s production style borders on alternative. The blend is excellent.

And El-P can rap, too. His punchier style works well on the production in “36” Chain” and it really makes Killer Mike’s smooth delivery stand out.

Plus, I always enjoy songs that stand out despite lacking a catchy hook or chorus. This one doesn’t need it. It’s like a calmer Yeezus production with harder lyrics. I’m very down.

VINCE: El-P’s production style doesn’t “border” on alternative, it is alternative. He is one of hip-hop’s most unique production voices of all-time. I suggest you familiarize yourself with I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead post-haste. It might have been the best album — of any genre — of 2007. Last year’s Cancer 4 Cure had it’s astounding moments, as well.

I agree with the love for this El-P/Killer Mike creative partnership. It’s come out of nowhere, but makes sense. At their best, both artists are capable of some of the most bellicose music.

The debate is this one: Better album — Run The Jewels or Prodigy and The Alchemist’s Albert Einstein?

Wale – “Sunshine”

JAMES: About once a month, you pull rank and call for an entry in Please Jam. (Vince note: Sometimes it’s for a favorite artist. But, sadly, it’s usually to hate on someone.) For reasons you are about to list, you don’t like Wale or hold this album in very high esteem.

I don’t really understand why. I think it’s an excellent summer album top to bottom. But, if I may, let me take a guess that your hip-hop purist sensibilities don’t have room for this one. It’s a light album, if you will. I blend it with some of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories on playlists. You mentioned “ear tickling” about Jay-Z’s MCHG…this tickles my ears. Plus, I enjoy his wit and lyrical plays on words, even if he might overdo it sometimes.

This song probably exemplifies your distaste for this album, and I’m interested to hear what you think about Wale calling this track the “new Black soul.”

VINCE: Based the few times I’ve interviewed Wale, he seems like a likeable enough guy. He does possess a good amount of wit, the way smart people usually do. He knows how to rhyme — no French Montana. He has an ear for good sounding music (my favorite Wale remains his sonic ode to his home region DMV, “Pretty Girls”). But something about The Gifted seems insincere (the album title and content are incongruous, but I’ll digress). I get the feeling Wale thinks he’s expanding and bending rap or black music on some unprecedented level and, really, he broke no new ground here. Kanye ran circles around The Gifted’s approach with Late Registration back in 2006 and then was onto the next one.

“Sunshine” is likable enough. If it drops at a BBQ this summer I will not be mad. But all of Wale’s “it’s so soulful at moment, right?” and “i f you ain’t bouncing or two-steppin’ somethin’s wrong with you” seems like he’s trying to convince us of something he’s not sure we’re all on board with. At best it’s self-congratulatory, which, if I’m being fair, is above the law in terms of hip-hop offenses.

Whatever, though.

Wale’s spoken word song-intros make my skin crawl, btw…

Mayer Hawthorne – “Allie Jones”

JAMES : I hadn’t heard of Mayer Hawthorne before you wrote Listen UP! Where Does This Door Go , which I am reading now for the first time. I thought you might like “Her Favorite Song” because of that cold bassline and a mix of funk, so I went with “Alice Jones” to mix it up. Lo and behold you dropped that song in there. Though there wasn’t really much choice.

“Allie Jones” has the beauty of allowing you to move quickly or slowly and i really dig it. He’s got a great voice and sounds like he’s absolutely belting out some of those high notes. A quick google search trying to find meaning behind “Allie Jones” has led me to the discovery of a Rap Genius offshoot, Rock Genius, though it is in desperate need of some help. This is the start of another beautiful thing.

Bottom line: I have to see this song live. (Please be at the Tabernacle…) Chastain Park! That’ll work. Please Jam.

VINCE: Dope song and I’d say there are, at least, five better joints on the album. Here’s what I wrote about the album for Listen UP!:

A few weeks ago, my homeboy Travis hipped me to Hawthorne’s new LP, Where Does This Door Go. His alert came with the prodding footnote that Pharrell Williams was heavily involved. Implied translation: “Don’t ignore this. It’s not some more Motown-rehashing.

He wasn’t lying. There are some straight-up BBQ-ready jams right out of the cooler on this album. Pharrell’s funky pits are all over the place – not just with the grooves (“Wine Glass Woman,” “Corsican Rose”), but the melodies and vocal arrangements, too. Maybe the melodies and vocal arrangements especially. It sounds like Pharrell is providing a second vocal tracks on ¾ of the album, too. Pharrell is only credited on four songs, but I refuse to take that seriously. If Pharrell did not directly write and oversee the production and recording of “Allie Jones,” then Hawthorne at least played the joint for Pharrell and asked, “Is it cool if I ape you this much and not credit you in the liners?”

Hawthorne clearly had/has Pharrell’s blessings throughout. Who knows, maybe he couldn’t afford – legally – to credit Pharrell for all the tracks, so Pharrell did him a few solids. I mean, this album could really be “Where Does This Door Go from Mayer Hawthorne (under the direction of and inspired by) Pharrell Williams.”

Well played, Hawthorne.

Now, please jam…

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