The summer and fall of 2001 were tremendously exciting times to be a young rap nerd. Jay-Z and Nas were throwing lyrical haymakers at each other, scrambling for the upper hand, using every possible weapon at their disposal to wreck each other. Rap had had plenty of storied rivalries, of course, but we’d never heard two commercial, artistic titans going for blood like that, getting unrelentingly personal with every line. Nas talked about Jay’s “dick sucking lips” and “whiskers like a rat.” Jay made explicit reference to fucking Nas’s ex in Nas’s car. Only one thing was off-limits, and that one thing was Illmatic. That’s the one hot album in Jay’s “one hot album every ten year average” line from “The Takeover,” and you can even hear a bit of awe creep into his voice when he pronounces the album’s title. Talking about the Nas sample on his own “Dead Presidents,” Jay famously says, “You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song,” but at least he acknowledges that it was a hot line, you know? In fact, Illmatic sits there underneath everything Jay says on “The Takeover.” He couldn’t just say you’re garbage. He had to say look at all this enormous power and potential you had when you started; isn’t it too bad that you’re garbage now? Because what could Jay possibly say about Illmatic? It was, and is, untouchable — as perfect a piece of deep-in-its-own-head New York rap as we’re ever likely to hear. Some perspective here: Illmatic was only seven years old when Jay and Nas were having their back-and-forth. Seven years is nothing. Can you imagine someone coming at Kanye West’s head now but acknowledging, along the way, that at least Graduation was amazing? It would never happen. But Illmatic was canonized, justly, basically the instant it arrived. It’s an albatross for Nas, and for rap, and for everyone who likes thinking about rap. Because if an album like that was once possible, why can’t anyone make it now?
Broken Bells are in California and between Coachella weekends, and amazingly enough, Danger Mouse is not using the moment to produce another kinda-flat album for another arena-rock band. Instead, he and James Mercer appeared on last night’s episode of Conan, performing “Control,” an icy early-’80s-style rocker from their new album After The Disco. Their stage setup, with all those circular platforms, is a pretty cool piece of design, though I’m not sure it makes up for the glaring lack of stage presence. Check out the performance below.
The celebratory and sentimental Future/Kanye collab “I Won” now has a video to go along with it. The video’s a subdued, mostly black-and-white affair featuring some of the sexiest dancing on a beach since Beyoncé danced on a beach for her “Drunk In Love” video. In case you missed it, Future also shared his André 3000 collab earlier today and you can stream most of Honest right now. Watch the Hype Williams-directed video below.
FKA Twigs played a packed show at Glasslands in Brooklyn last night and debuted new music. A recording of a new one seemingly titled “Give Up” is now available and shows that Twigs sounds just as otherworldly live as she does in the studio. Check out the bewitching new song below.
“She looks so perfect standing there/ In my American Apparel underwear” is the new “I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.” Fifteen years ago, at the height of boy-band mania, America was bombarded by LFO’s “Summer Girls,” in which bros with magnificently sculpted haircuts and bodacious bods sing-rapped clumsy couplets between harmonious refrains about the reigning prep attire of the day. These days it’s marvelously coifed Aussie mall punks 5 Seconds Of Summer serving up choruses about lovely ladies wearing name-brand garments — or, in the case of breakthrough single “She Looks So Perfect,” undergarments. 5 Seconds Of Summer presents as a rock band, but they register as a boy band. They are teen idols no different from the NKOTBs and 98 Degrees of yesteryear but for a Stratocaster in hand and their logo emblazoned on a kick drum.
To celebrate the kickoff of their tour together the Hold Steady and Deer Tick have covered each other’s music. The Hold Steady took on “Easy” the lead song off their tour-mates’ album Born On Flag Day while Deer Tick covered “Constructive Summer,” the first song on Stay Positive. Listen to both below.
You might expect Belle & Sebastian to cover the Kinks or Nick Drake or 10cc. You might not expect them to cover the most-covered Journey song ever. But it’s impossible to say no to sick kids, and during a recent visit to Children’s Healthcare Of Atlanta for the Songs For Kids Foundation nonprofit, the Scottish indie-pop long-timers tried out a sloppy cover of the song that ended The Sopranos. Watch a short video of it below.
Before she joined Dirty Projectors during the days of Swing Lo Magellan, Olga Bell was a Band To Watch. Now she’s taken some time to work on solo material again. Her upcoming album, Krai, is sung entirely in Russian and judging from the new single “Stavropol Krai” her intricate vocal-centered performances are as strong as ever and backed by even fuller arrangements. Listen below.