Our favorite boundary-bashing rapper Le1f is hitting the big time. Next Tuesday, March 11th, he drops his first EP for Terrible Records, the Brooklyn-based label co-founded by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, with distribution through XL Recordings, the high prestige U.K. label that helped launched the careers of M.I.A., Peaches and the xx among others. Every hipster from Williamsburg to Silver Lake will own a copy!
The five-track EP, called simply Hey, features some old stuff like “Wut” (the track that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis may or may not have ripped off for “Thrift Shop”), plus fresher cuts like “Hey” and “Buzz,” the latter of which is almost definitely the first rap track of 2014 to name-check Pat Sajak. The whole thing is streaming now over on Pitchfork, so fire it up.
Yeah, you read that headline right. We’re calling this one early. No one for the rest of 2014 will release a hip-hop track more fearless than “Hip-Hop Was to Blame After All,” the first video from chap-hop superstar Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer‘s latest wax cylinder, Can’t Stop, Shan’t Stop. You may not entirely agree with Mr. B’s irony-drenched but still scathing indictment of mainstream hip-hop—especially coming as it does from a white, banjolele-playing Englishman—but you gotta at least admit he’s right about one thing: it’s pretty whack that DJ Kool Herc almost went broke paying his medical bills. (And yes, I just used “whack” in a sentence. Stick around and I might also describe Mr. B’s music as “stupid fresh.”)
- Professor Elemental vs. Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer
- Bless us, one and all! Miss Von Trapp has a visit from Professor Elemental.
- Renowned hip-hop magazine GQ calls Insane Clown Posse the worst rappers of all time. All time!
- Someone answered our prayers and added English subtitles to Donatan’s “Nie lubimy robić”
Just because Macklemore sang “Same Love” at the Grammys (more on him in a minute), don’t think that hip-hop in 2014 isn’t still rife with homophobia. But a handful of ballsy performers are starting to change that—none ballsier, or weirder, than Mr. Khalif Diouf, better known as Le1f.
Le1f (pronounced “Leaf”) first made his name as a producer, making beats for fellow oddball New York rap duo Das Racist. You know that annoying/awesome song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell“? That’s a Le1f joint. Even then, Le1f was already subverting hip-hop culture; he borrowed the track’s start-stop rhythm from “The Ha Dance,” a gay house anthem from the early ’90s, when the “vogue” scene made famous by Madonna was in full swing. “I was tricking them into rapping over a vogue beat,” Le1f gleefully bragged to Spin.
But punking his straight friends was the least of Le1f’s tricks. In April of 2012, he released his debut mixtape, a 21-track head trip of a record called Dark York. What immediately jumped out at most fans and critics—maybe because Le1f prefers to keep his vocals tantalizingly buried in the mix—was not the rapper’s out-and-proud lyrics, but his polyamorous relationship with genres. Dark York knocks boots with everything from dark electro and experimental beat music to the menacing, trunk-rattling sounds of the Dirty South—all of it tied together by Le1f’s syrupy flow and a vaguely stoned, psychedelic quality, as if all the music is coming at you through a bong-smoke haze. Or maybe it’s bathhouse steam?
Then came the videos. Starting with “Wut,” Le1f has created a visual style all his own, patched together from gay club culture, avant-garde modern dance (he has a degree in dance from Wesleyan University—my alma mater! holla!), neon-colored hipster fashion, and a dash of Pokemon. It’s playful, eye-popping and will probably make the most hetero among you extremely uncomfortable.
Side note about “Wut” and the aforementioned Mr. Macklemore: When Macklemore won at the MTV Video Music Awards last year for his pro-gay marriage anthem “Same Love,” Le1f launched into a tirade on Twitter, accusing the straight white rapper of cynically co-opting gay pride and style-biting the horn-driven hook on “Wut” for his other big hit, “Thrift Shop.” “[T]hat time that straight white dude ripped off my song then made a video about gay interracial love and made a million dollars,” one of the tweets read. “Wut” is hardly the first time anyone built a rap beat around a saxophone loop, but the timing is more than a little suspicious; “Thrift Shop” came out a little over a month after the video for “Wut” showed up on YouTube, and the similarities are hard to miss. But that’s way more space than Macklemore deserves in any post on this blog, so let’s move on.
Since the release of Dark York, Le1f has been on a tear, churning out EPs and mixtapes that seem to get better (and weirder) every time. He’s also created a live persona that’s a mesmerizing combination of hip-hop aggression and ball culture camp. And he has fantastic hair. (Watch until about the 5:30 mark; that’s when he really starts putting Willow Smith to shame.)
We’ll leave you with what is probably Le1f’s weirdest and/or sexiest (depending on what you’re into) video to date: “Soda,” from a 2012 collaborative EP with producer Boody called Liquid. Oh, and an important disclaimer: We are not making Le1f our Weird
Band Rapper of the Week because he’s gay. Thankfully, being a gay rapper is not as weird as it used to be, and there are plenty of examples of other hip-hop artists, from Big Freedia to Mykki Blanco* to Brooke Candy, making music that probably seems—to straight audiences, anyway—just as weird as Le1f’s. But he gets our vote because ultimately, even if you took Le1f’s sexual orientation out of the picture entirely, his music would still be weird. And we mean that, as we always do, in the best possible way.
*OK, yeah, Mykki Blanco deserves a spot on the Weird List, too. She’ll show up here eventually. Promise.
Remember how last week we went apeshit over Polish hip-hop producer Donatan and his Równonoc project? You know, the one in which Polish rappers bust rhymes over traditional Slavic folk music? Well, that was before we knew the lyrics to any of the songs. Now a helpful gentleman by the name Słowiańskie Korzenie has added English subtitles to the craziest of the Równonoc videos, “Nie lubimy robić” (“We Don’t Like to Do Anything”) and we love Donatan and his cohorts even more. Check it out.
Obviously the granny asking Donatan if he gassed up the Ferrari is an instant classic of a line on par with Betty White declaring that her muffin hasn’t had a cherry on in since 1939. But I still think my favorite bit has to be where Borixon aka BRX raps, “Getting smashed is the shit. No work? Excellent!” No wait, it’s when he goes, “Here’s Donatan and the guys, lackadaisically scratching their heads.” Oh hell, I don’t know…it’s all brilliant. Drink it in, people!
We hardly ever do this, but help out our new Polish pal Słowiańskie and click this link to watch the subtitled video on YouTube, just to make sure your viewing pleasure gets counted as a hit. Let’s make sure Donatan knows he’s got fans in the English-speaking world. Also, let’s make sure that everyone starts calling this shit “Slavschool rap” because then TWBITW would finally get credit for coining a new genre name. Spazztronic never took off for some reason, but I have a good feeling about this one.
From the We Couldn’t Make This Shit Up If We Tried Dept.: Remember how, way back in 2012, we told you that Insane Clown Posse were thinking about suing the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department over classifying the rap duo’s fans, the Juggalos, as a criminal street gang? Well, it took ‘em awhile, but damn if Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope ain’t gone ahead and done it. Federal government, you’re about to get sprayed in the face with the sweet, sweet Faygo of justice, bitch!
All kidding aside, this is actually a pretty serious case. Whatever you may think of ICP and their ridiculous clown makeup and ultra-violent lyrics, trying to characterize their entire fan base as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” sets a dangerous precedent for fans of any kind of underground or extreme music. Can you imagine if clubs started enforcing a “no horns” policy at metal shows, because throwing horns was classified as a gang sign? Or if you got fired from your job because you came in sporting one of those gang-affiliated DEVO tattoos?
Those hypotheticals, according to the lawsuit, are already becoming reality for some Juggalos. One of the plaintiffs in the case says he wasn’t allowed to enlist in the Army because of his Juggalo tattoos; another is already serving in the military and says he is “in imminent danger of suffering discipline or an involuntary discharge” because of his tatts. Others claim they’ve been stopped and harrassed by police for having ICP bumper stickers or clothing. Violent J and Shaggy themselves claim that the gang label has cut their merch sales in half and made it harder for them to book shows.
Have Juggalos committed violent crimes? Sure. Did they commit them because of their Juggalo affiliation or ICP’s music? Maybe in some cases, but the feds have yet to prove anything of the sort. In 2012, ICP filed a complaint in response to the FBI’s gang classification, seeking more information on how Juggalos got labeled a gang. In response, the feds basically just sent them a stack of newspaper articles documenting ICP fans getting arrested for various offenses. Based on that kind of rock-solid police work, you could classify all dudes with mustaches as criminals. Or all hoodie wearers. Or all black people. Come to think of it, those last two examples are kind of true already.
You might think a couple of horrorcore rappers in clown paint have zero chance against Uncle Sam, but odds are this case will get a full hearing. ICP have enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to file the suit on their behalf. “It is a quintessential civil liberties case challenging government abuse,” the legal director of ACLU Michigan told the Associated Press. Two whoops for civil liberties!
More on this story as it develops.
We’re returning this week to Poland, land of Łąki Łan and Dick4Dick, to introduce you to a hip-hop producer called Donatan, who just might be the Polish answer to Die Antwoord. And yes, Die Antwoord means “The Answer” in Afrikaans, so I just made a Afrikaans pun in my opening sentence. Fatty boom boom, bitches! If I didn’t have to stick around to tell you how frickin’ great Donatan is, I’d drop the mic right now.
Polish hip-hop actually has a rich and varied history (I know because Wikipedia tells me so)—but it has never, to the best of my knowledge, seen anyone quite like Donatan (which means “Donate” in Polish—his real name is Witold Czamara). In 2012, he released his debut album, Równonoc: Słowiańska dusza, which apparently translates to Equinox: Slavic Soul. On it, he enlisted a bunch of Polish folk musicians and singers, led by a pagan/medieval band called Percival, to record semi-traditional Slavic music over his beats. Then he brought in a who’s who of Polish rappers to drop rhymes on whatever the hell we’re supposed to call this stuff: Viking rap? Pagan folk-hop? Krakow trap? Slavschool? Whatever it is, it’s full of accordions and awesomeness.
Even crazier than the music on Równonoc are the videos, which mix the standard bitches-and-bling tropes of rap videos with pastoral scenes of Polish folk life and the witchy visuals of pagan metal. Instead of poppin’ bottles, these video vixens churn butter (at least I think that’s what they’re doing—I’m a blogger, not a farmer) and wander through the woods in druid’s robes.
Oh and by the way? This video, ”Nie lubimy robić” (“We Don’t Like to Do Anything”), has gotten over 22 million views. The video for Donatan’s most successful track, a non-Równonoc cut called “My Słowianie” (“Us Slavs”), has been viewed 32 million times. To put that in perspective, Poland only has 38 million residents. His Polish-proud hip-hop/folk fusions are popular at home on a level that’s hard for us jaded American pop music consumers to grasp. It’s like if, at the height of the O Brother Where Art Thou? craze, T Bone Burnett and Alison Krauss had done an album with Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Eminem rapping over “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Dueling Banjos”—and everyone, including your parents, had gone apeshit over it.
None of Donatan’s other clips achieve the same level of crazy as “Nie lubimy robić,” although “My Słowianie” comes close—thanks in part to the trying-too-hard-to-be-sexy presence of a singer called Cleo who is apparently Poland’s answer to Fergie. But they’re pretty much all worth watching. This one, for example, features fire-spinners, a wolf, a dude who apparently rolls up to the Renaissance Faire in a fucking Escalade, and the blue-eyed, butter-churning goddess of “Nie lubimy robić” (who, by the way, is a model named Luxuria Astaroth), this time wearing a blonde wig and blowing a huntsman’s horn in the most pornographic manner possible. Oh, and it also features maybe the best rapper on any Równonoc track, a skinny, bespectacled cat named Pezet, who has a mere 864,000 Facebook fans. Yeah, Polish hip-hop is for real.
And then there’s “Słowiańska krew,” in which Donatan and his homies knock back some grog while their fellow pagan villagers beat back a horde of chainmailed Christian invaders. At least I think that’s what’s going on. Or maybe it’s just all about how swords are cool.
I’m sorry, did I say none of Donatan’s other clips are as crazy as “Nie lubimy robić”? Let me correct myself. This one features two bald dudes rapping in full Braveheart drag. Talk about getting medieval on your ass.
P.S. Thanks must go again to our star Polish reader Paweł Serewko, who helped turn us on to enough weird Polish music to keep this blog going through most of 2014. Even though he says he’s not really a Donatan fan. He’s more into Krvavy.
I haven’t had the pleasure of attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but my wife’s been and she tells me it’s a hoot. Where else can you see experimental underground theatre, stand-up comedy, chap-hop and drunk Scottish people puking in alleyways, all in the same day? Nowhere else, my friend. The EFF has got that shit on lock. Especially the drunk Scottish people part.
About that chap-hop bit: Apparently our tied-for-first-place-on-our-list-of-chap-hop-icons friend Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer is something of a regular at the Fringe, and he’s returning this year to play 12 nights at the Voodoo Rooms, Aug. 13-25. (He’s taking the Monday off halfway through, no doubt to get his moustache trimmed and waistcoat freshly pressed.) If you’re lucky enough to be hitting the Fringe this year, we highly recommend you go see him. You can score tickets here.
Word round the cricket pitch is that Mr. B will be debuting a few new tunes from his forthcoming piece of Victrola fodder, Can’t Stop, Shan’t Stop. According to the Fringe website, he’ll also enlighten his audience on “choosing event-specific footwear,” “ordering the correct size champagne bottle” and “the appropriate time to arrive at an orgy.” Wish he’d dropped that last bit of knowledge on me back in my Burning Man days.
Let’s play this post out with a new track recently posted to Mr. B’s SoundCloud: a chapified cover of “Diamond Lights,” a song that was apparently made popular in 1987 by a pair of English footballers named Glenn & Chris. It’s England’s answer to “The Super Bowl Shuffle”!
Hey, we get it: Insane Clown Posse aren’t for everyone. Even on this blog, where we frequently praise the Faygo-spewing horrorcore duo in a mostly unironic way, we’ve called them out for being misogynistic morons on at least one occasion. But the worst rappers of all time? Please. They aren’t even the worst rappers from Detroit.
Nevertheless, GQ magazine (that great arbiter of all things hip-hop) and writer Rob Tannenbaum (who co-authored an awesome book called I Want My MTV and whose work we normally admire) saw fit to put ICP at the top of their “definitive list” of “The 25 Worst Rappers of All Time.” Now I probably shouldn’t be casting stones here; Jake and I are both struggling music writers and have put our names to various listicles of which we’re not especially proud. That being said, this GQ list is so far beneath the talents of Mr. Tannenbaum that we’re actually a little concerned for his spiritual well-being. Never mind putting ICP at number one; when you have to pad such a list with the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Green and Brian fucking Wilson (?!?!), now you’re just dicking around.
Recording artists are supposed to just laugh off this sort of nonsense—especially routinely hated-on acts like ICP, who are pretty much the Nickelback of hip-hop. But they’re not taking this one lying down. “GQ magazine should stick to what they know,” Violent J recently told TMZ. “Dressing preppy metrosexuals.” Oh, snap! How’s that feel, GQ? You just got made lunchmeat in an ICP/TMZ smackdown sandwich.
Ultimately, this little brouhaha was probably best summed up by a fan on ICP’s Facebook page: “I would be offended as a JuGGaLo, if ICP was ranked anything but worst rap group ever by a preppy dude fashion magazine.” Well said, JuGGaLo. Well said.
In other ICP news: Their new show Insane Clown Posse Theater debuts Wednesday, July 24th on Fuse TV. Hardest-workin’ hip-hop clowns in show biz, people! I’ll make Jake post a review/recap just as soon as I can pry the bong from his Cheeto-stained fingers.
Hey, remember that band of douchebags who shut down an L.A. freeway during rush hour? They just got fined $39,000. Party!
Usually I’m all for trying to Stick It to The Man. But when you stick it to my morning commute, I hope The Man stomps on your neck with his big shiny Man-Boots. So I was delighted to learn this morning that Imperial Stars, the band of d-bag rap-rockers whose only claim to fame is shutting down the 101 freeway here in Los Angeles to perform their single “Traffic Jam 101″ for a bunch of fucked L.A. commuters, just got ordered to pay a $39,000 fine for their little publicity stunt. Thirty-nine grand! That’s a lot of Ed Hardy shirts, huh, guys?
Apparently the Imperial boys also had to plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy and perform 35 days of community service. I didn’t know parking a truck sideways on a freeway counted as a conspiracy, but I guess it does take some planning, especially when you’re a bunch of fucking morons.
I can’t bring myself to embed the video for “Traffic Jam 101,” but if you must, you can watch it here.
We look forward to mocking your “Help Us Pay Our Legal Bills” Kickstarter soon, guys.
America, your long chap-hop drought is finally about to end. Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer will soon grace our savage shores with his refined, banjolele-fueled ditties about big pimpin’ Victorian style. Huzzah!
Sadly, the esteemed Mr. B’s Stateside social calendar currently boasts but two invitations: The CONvergence sci-fi and fantasy convention (whose 2013 theme, fittingly, is “British Invasion”) in Minneapolis on July 4th, and the Antiquarian Music Festival at Steamstock, a steampunk festival in the San Francisco Bay Area, on July 28th. Between those two dates, we can only assume he will be making the arduous trek across our great American wildernesses via horseless carriage, or possibly one of these things. Will he call upon various saloons and public houses along the way and delight them with impromptu chap-hop recitals? The gap-toothed hoi polloi between the Twin Cities and the Golden Gate can but fervently hope.
Mr. B hasn’t released any new tunes of late, so we’ll leave you instead with this adorable Steamstock promotional video, featuring the many highlights and elaborate hats of Steamstock 2012. Please to enjoy.