Phil Ade - "The Letter" x "Going Off"

Some emcees seem effortless. Whether it's merely a facet of their voice and flow or a product of years of freestyling that produces a comfort with spoken word, some rappers can string together complex syllables without them seeming forced or self-aware. It's the opposite of the one-word punchline rhymes that saturated the rap game a few years back, and still appear in some places today. Phil Ade is one such rapper with an effortless flow, belying his youth.

Phil Ade hails from DC, and you can hear his city's influence on his tracks. He raps over go-go beats and his DMV accent draws quick comparisons to Wale. His style is quite distinct from Wale's, though. It's a bit more understandable, which is nice because sometimes I have no idea what Wale is saying through his DMV vocal flourishes.

The first track featured here, "Unusual," is also the first track on his second mixtape The Letterman. It absolutely oozes old school hip hop, conveying Joey Bada$$ levels of rhyming with a style that is (IMO), much more distinct. He pays homage to the old school, but doesn't let it define him. Nowhere is his effortless flow more apparent than when he strings together such complex rhyme schemes as "How you down to earth, but claim you astronomical? / in news periodical articles with artists headed to the mainstream, you don't seem very nautical".

"Going Off" is from Phil Ade's first mixtape, Starting on JV. The beat is raw, straight DC go-go. True to the title, he goes off on the uptempo beat, never losing steam in the entire song. The song itself clocks in at 3:39s, and there is not chorus to be spoken of. Tracks like this are the perfect way to get introduced to rapper, stripped-down, with as few distractions from their lyrical prowess as possible.

To top it off, Phil Ade seems to have his artistic intent in the right place*. He let's us know in that same effortless flow that he has on so many songs at the end of "The Letter," spitting:

"but when I'm in a Porsche and Range / 
and I have a portion of fame /
dear lord, let my course be the same"

"The Letter"

"Going Off"
*Granted, this can change at a moments notice. Who could have possibly imagined Yeezus after College Dropout came out?

Mac Miller - "Best Day Ever" x "Nikes On My Feet"

Mac Miller is a polarizing rapper. It's easy to write him off out of hand because he's a white kid from the 'burbs who managed to blow up in a traditionally black genre. His debut record Blue Slide Park was the first independent hip hop record to debut at #1 on the Billboard charts since Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food. No small feat, but Mac Miller is apparently not one to rest on his laurels. He's been prolific, releasing multiple mixtapes since Blue Slide Park, including an interesting foray into Jazz music under the pseudonym Larry Lovestein. Now, he's releasing the follow up to his debut record on June 18th, the same day J. Cole is dropping Born Sinner and Kanye West is unleashing Yeezus.

Much of the hate that Mac Miller receives is because he is so damn popular. The subtext is because suburban white kids love his music, and they control most of the buying power for media. But on June 18th, Mac Miller is suddenly the dark horse. Yeezus is an eclipse of a record, gathering almost Daft Punk levels of hype, and Born Sinner is no slouch either in terms of buzz. Each record looks to be very distinct, and one look at each of the album covers confirms this*. Yeezus is all high art and ego. Born Sinner plays directly to J. Cole's dark/light aesthetic. Watching Movies With the Sound Off? Let's just say it's a bit irreverent, poking fun at the seriousness of Kanye's more recent releases.

That's why I enjoy Mac Miller, he's not overly serious. He has fun. In today's era of irony, people are too easily written off as naive. Isn't there something glorious about being young and stupid? Rapping about Hennessy, sneakers, and skipping class might not be high art, but it's fun as fuck to listen to. These songs are from two of Mac Miller's earlier mixtapes, and they embody why everyone should have their weekly dose of Mac Miller. The simplicity helps cleanse us of the intensity of everyday life.

"Best Day Ever" is an intro, but it's also a fantastic song in its own right. It's message is simple, and it's delivered in the best possible way. I used to play this song in the morning when I woke up, and every once in a while I still do. It's one of those life-affirming things that, once we stop caring about what's trite and what's hip, is something everyone can relate to.

"Nikes on My Feet" was the first song I listened to by Mac Miller. I was immediately hooked, and not just because I related to Miller's obsession with a certain Swoosh symbol. The beat is simple boom bap with a sublimely fuzzy keyboard melody tying everything together, creating a perfect crossover sound that gives just enough of a nod to the old school sound that helped inspire the track.

Since these two songs, Mac Miller has experimented with many different styles. He's continuing to grow, which is what makes him so exciting. June 18th will be a great day for music, and a lesson in the longevity of a hip hop artist. Kanye has continued to grow throughout his career, but J. Cole's debut record was underwhelming at best, because it was more of a step back than a step forward. It remains to be seen where Mac Miller lands on this spectrum. Judging by his album cover, I don't think he much cares, and that's why I'll be listening to Watching Movies With the Sound Off on June 18th.

"Best Day Ever"

"Nikes on My Feet"

*Yep, I'm judging a book by its cover. Who said looks aren't everything?

J. Cole - "Crooked Smile" (feat. TLC)

When I say that J. Cole the singer ruins J. Cole the rapper's songs, it's tracks like the J. Cole/Elite-produced "Crooked Smile" that go a lot further in proving that than "Power Trip." Unlike the latter, J. Cole the singer is no where in sight on "Crooked Smile." Cole is a replacement level singer at best, someone that doesn't cost himself any more money to feature as a guest appearance and could fill in for another singer, but he isn't the singer that you want carrying a song.

With the wealth of singing talent in the music industry these days and how much money that major labels spend refining albums, you would think that Roc Nation would spring for a Miguel, Cody Chesnutt, or even a Fences guest appearance instead of having Cole sing on his own songs. It's the difference between a single being catchy like "Crooked Smile" or forgettable like "Power Trip." Jay-Z and Kanye both understand their own limitations and you won't see them singing on their own songs (we won't speak about 808s & Heartbreaks in these parts).

In fact, if I heard either singing on "Can't Knock The Hustle" or "All Falls Down," it would ruin both classic songs for me. At least Cole isn't below replacement level (see Nas, who almost single-handedly ruins It Was Written on "Street Dreams"), but his singing keeps many of his songs from reaching that next level and he thankfully leaves the singing to TLC on this catchy tune about dealing with his own flaws. Born Sinner drops on June 18th.

Previous: J. Cole - "N***az Know"

De La Soul - "Get Away" (feat. The Spirit of Wu Tang) [Music Video]

De La Soul is the rap equivalent of Alec Baldwin, an act that was very successful in the nineties and probably the most popular of their fellow Native Tongues brothers (it is admittedly a matter of choice between De La and Tribe, but for the sake of the analogy, I'll give the nod to De La), but when the new millennium rolled around they seemed washed up.

But like Baldwin on 30 Rock, De La has reinvented themselves over the course of the past decade. Just when fans were about to dismiss them as De La Were, Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo dropped their critically acclaimed album, The Grind Date in 2004. While not the most commercially successful (see 30 Rock's reviews vs. actual ratings) the album was sonically distinct from anything the group had put out before and I still hold it to be the most underrated album of the 2000's.

Scarface - "No Tears"

The Geto Boys deserve at least 50% of the credit for Office Space (3% of the credit goes to my esteemed colleague, Carver Low's uncle, who plays the Jump-To-Conclusions guy). The film contains three of the best uses of rap songs in movie history (the above clip, "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster," and "Still") and they completely shift the entire the film.

Outside of musicals, I can't think of another film where the music set the tone better than Office Space. The H-Town hip hop perfectly introduced us to these characters, who, despite their meaningless white collar jobs, their assclown Michael Bolton names (Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.), and unnecessary TPS reports, absolutely connect with and love this music.

Since I was four when he dropped The Diary and have little memory of that time other than watching Power Rangers and my dad picking me up from pre-school for Mariner's games, this is the film that actually introduced me to Scarface and the Geto Boys.