The Prescription Pad: TDE Meets R&B
by Dan Rys
As a form of introduction: my name is Dan Rys, better known as the good Dr. Funkendan, a nickname bestowed upon me during my stint DJ’ing the Bumptastic Brothers of Funk Radio Show on Boston’s WTBU. This column — Dr. Funkendan’s Prescription Pad — will be about all things funk, hip-hop, soul, blues, R&B, or anything else that happens to crop up throughout the course of the year. Let’s keep it groovy, y’all.
This website chose Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city as its joint-top albums of 2012 — an argument I happen to agree with, if only for the vanity capitalizations both artists demanded (though we’re gonna have to have a talk about putting Nas at No. 35). But I don’t want to rehash the same discussion over which should be number one any more than Stone did in compiling his year-end list. To boil things down to a few simple, general facts, TDE and Black Hippy had the most to say in hip-hop over the past twelve months (shouts to the ubiquitous Kendrick, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock) while R&B broke out with a series of high-quality albums that dominated both the charts and critics’ notebooks (shouts to Frank, Miguel, R. Kelly and Solange, among others).
Yet while the TDE/R&B takeover cemented itself at the top of most people’s year-end lists, one thing I found odd was that GKMC — TDE’s first official release since signing on with Interscope/Aftermath in March — contained only traces of R&B elements, keeping its guest spots to a restricted, hip-hop-centric Drake, Jay Rock and MC Eiht (with a cameo on the otherwise-throwaway track “Real” by Anna Wise the only thing that could really be considered close). While there could be a myriad of reasons for Kendrick largely leaving out that element — the fact that it didn’t fit his “concept album” idea, for one — it’s worth taking a look at some of TDE’s frequent R&B collaborators who could be poised for huge breakouts and even more high-profile guest spots on the next string of Black Hippy hits.
In retrospect, BJ the Chicago Kid’s exclusion from GKMC is the most strange; not only has he appeared on every Kendrick project since 2009’s Kendrick Lamar EP, but BJ’s February release Pineapple Now-Laters (largely — but not totally — overlooked) contains arguably Kendrick’s best track of 2012, “His Pain II.”
It’s one of those songs that showcases exactly what it is about Kendrick that sets him apart from everyone else in his generation — the fact that he has no qualms about utterly and completely breaking down on a track in front of the world. His voice devolves as the song’s plaintive piano and tumbling stand up bass lines gently push him forward towards a final realization, at which point BJ takes over and gently handles the transition toward the drumbeat which drops soon after. It’s one of the most personal, heart-wrenching tracks in Kendrick’s oeuvre, and it’s not the only time that BJ brings that side of him to the forefront. In fact, Kendrick often uses BJ as his foil in his most personal bars, like Section.80‘s “Kush and Corinthians” (a similarly earnest track), Overly Dedicated‘s “R.O.T.C.” (“Sometimes I wanna say fuck rapping, I need money now / Like should I start trapping? If what I write down / Don’t collect this very moment then I’m on it, no question”) or The Kendrick Lamar EP‘s “Faith,” another plea for guidance in the same vein as “His Pain II.”
But BJ doesn’t just show up all over Kendrick’s material — he sang alongside Rick Ross on Jay Rock’s “Finest Hour” off his 2011 album Follow Me Home, made an appearance on Schoolboy Q’s 2011 tape Setbacks and Ab-Soul’s Longterm Mentality the same year, and most recently graced “Lust Demons” with Jay Rock on Ab-Soul’s Control System in 2012. So why no major label love from Kendrick? Hopefully it doesn’t hinder a mainstream breakout for BJ, especially in the run-up to his own major label debut on Motown slated for early this year.
(In the meantime, definitely check out Pineapple Now-Laters; it’s one of the best and boldest R&B albums of the year, from the a capella phrasing in “East Side High,” to the thesis statement of “Sex X Money X Sneakers,” to the Marvin Gaye throwback of single “Good Luv’n,” to the seductive overture of “Sex Is The Best Breakfast,” it’s almost a murderer’s row of diverse R&B cushioned by BJ’s varied vocal attack. You won’t regret it.)
But BJ isn’t the only super-talented soul impresario who pops up all over TDE’s repertoire — singer Jhené Aiko was all over Control System (“Soulo Ho3,” “Terrorist Threats” with Danny Brown), Q’s Habits and Contradictions (“Sex Drive”), Longterm Mentality (“Nothing New”), and Setbacks“Fantasy”), and wrote with Kendrick on Overly Dedicated, which produced the song “Growing Apart,” a slowed-down sequel to which (“Growing Apart Too,” featuring Kendrick and H.O.P.E.) appeared on her own 2011 mixtape Sailing Soul(s). With a past history that includes early-to-mid-2000s guest spots with B2K and a recent tour opening for Nas’ Life Is Good tour, Aiko is poised to break out just like BJ, with a Def Jam debut Souled Outrumored to be on tap for March.
She crops up most often on Ab-Soul material, her vocals layered over Soulo’s hooks and bridges, and is, tellingly, both the first vocal heard on Control System and the angelic voice gracing the intro and hook of first single “Terrorist Threats.” She wrote every track but one on Sailing Soul(s), and if you listen to the tape it bodes really well for a debut album which would almost definitely see at least half of Black Hippy filling the guest slots (check out “Hoe” featuring Miguel and Gucci Mane and “Do Better Blues” featuring H.O.P.E. to get a taste, or just download the whole damn thing cause it’s free and cause you want it, because I promise you do). Her first single off the project, “3:16 a.m.,” is a good introduction to what could be expected.
It’s not that the Black Hippy members need BJ or Jhené in order to succeed, but more that the two singers bring out aspects of each rapper that seemingly don’t crop up as vividly as other collaborations do. Yet with both set to drop albums soon, and a new Schoolboy Q’s project on the way as well a number of others (not to mention Kendrick cropping up on features left and right), the first few months of 2013 are shaping up to be pretty stacked.