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West Coast rap rises again: YG, Sage the Gemini, Schoolboy Q, and more

Twenty years ago this spring, Warren G released Regulate…G Funk Era, a triple-platinum album that helped enshrine the louche, laid-back sound of West Coast  hip-hop—“funked out with a gangsta twist,” as his homey Nate Dogg put it. But that era soon fizzled, and after Tupac was killed in ’96, the California scene met with a different funk: years-long commercial doldrums. Only the Game, a  Dr. Dre protégé whose three No. 1 albums are thick with early-to-mid-’90s nostalgia, broke through in the meantime. But the gin-and-juice hangover finally seems to be lifting, as gritty California rappers sidestep or reinvent G-funk and barge back into the mainstream.

Earlier this month, South Central L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q went to No. 1 with his shadowy, ferocious third album, Oxymoron. As the resident gangsta in the Black Hippy collective led by Kendrick Lamar—last year’s most obsessed-over rapper—Q brings a sharp new ambivalence to Tupac’s idea of the thug life. He raps not only about dealing Oxycontin  but also about becoming addicted to Xanax, Percocet, and Valium. On the harrowing “Prescription/Oxymoron,” he even splices in a recording of his young daughter trying to wake him from a drug stupor.

If the dazzling shape-shifter Kendrick is on L.A.’s frontier, the gruff, brutally honest Schoolboy Q represents the West Coast’s uncompromising core. “Real Crippy since I hopped off the swing” is how he sums up his early gang links on “The Purge,” which deliberately teams him with ’90s California notable Kurupt and Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator (whose crew remains more underground, breakout R&B star Frank Ocean aside). Still, Q doesn’t take himself too seriously: On “Studio,” Oxymoron’s wry love song, he skips the sex “metaphors” and explicitly mimics what else he can do with his tongue.

When YG (pictured)—a Compton upstart with a rugged major-label debut, My Krazy Life, and a long simmering top 20 single, “My Hitta”—reveals his romantic side, he’s no less blunt or amusing. “Do It to Ya” borrows its pillow talk from the playground, and its convivial groove from “Let’s Play House” by Tha Dogg Pound. YG’s less evolved than Schoolboy Q, who guests on Krazy along with Kendrick and big names including Drake and Jeezy, his mentor. But he’s a vivid, unflappable MC, bolstered by key L.A. producer DJ Mustard, the buoyant minimalist who also worked up Tyga’s 2011 smash “Rack City.” If there’s a Compton sound right now, this is it.

The Bay Area’s just as crucial to West Coast hip-hop, of course. 100s, a permed pimp-rap revivalist from Berkeley, pays tribute to Too $hort on the silky, slightly ridiculous mixtape Ivry. But the region’s latest star is the 21-year-old rapper-producer Sage the Gemini. Remember Me, his club-tailored major-label bow, shores up his two radio smashes, the stripped-down twerk anthems “Red Nose” and “Gas Pedal,” with a stream of pulsing beats and drowsy vocals. “I’m trying to keep this here alive,” he raps, calling himself “the Bay’s respirator” on the (actually pretty great) Justin Bieber remix of “Gas Pedal.” But  this isn’t thug life support. The California rap contingent has birthed a whole new era.

Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q plant their flags at iTunes Festival at SXSW

It’s a testament to Kendrick Lamar’s industry power right now that Apple essentially gave him and his crew an entire evening to themselves on the second night of the inaugural iTunes Festival at SXSW.

Lamar’s crew/label conglomerate Top Dawg Entertainment filled ever nook of the evening’s festivities, from the three booked acts to the guest stars. Though not necessarily on the same scale, it conjured up memories of Kurt Cobain curating an entire main stage day at the 1992 Reading Festival—a huge cultural entity acknowledging the overwhelming impact of a single star.

Of course, Lamar wouldn’t have arrived at this point if he wasn’t a stellar live performer, and he brought the same kind of energy and execution in Austin that he brought during his run as one of the top festival stars of last summer. He did most of those shows with a band, but on Wednesday night he was backed only by a DJ, and the narrowing of the sound made his material feel more claustrophobic in some ways. He benefits from that kind of intensity though: READ FULL STORY

Ten indie albums to get excited for in early 2014

Early winter’s still a notoriously slow time for new music, even in this era of the thoroughly disrupted record industry. But now that we’ve absorbed all the year-end best-of lists—and, of course, Beyoncé—we can look ahead to the quieter enjoyment of a more modest slate of albums in January and February.

Which isn’t to say we won’t be talking about some of these — a few of which I’ve heard in full, and others in bits in pieces — come December. (We’ll also have a 2014 Forecast issue on stands Jan. 10, which will cover major album releases and tours, as well as upcoming movies, TV shows, and more.)

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags
Matador
Jan. 14
If you’ve heard one lazy, lovely, wordy Jicks jam you’ve heard them all—and yet, six albums in, the band’s still a gust of fresh and fragrant air in an indie scene as alienated as ever from sensual guitar soloing. Bonus: for “Lariat,” they made the most subtly sexy lyric video ever: READ FULL STORY

Macklemore dresses up as 'Mackle Jackson' for new 'White Walls' video: Watch it here

Go West — er, South — young duo!

The Seattle indie-rap twosome Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have trade in their Pacific Northwest home for the Wild West in their new video for “White Walls,” the Cadillac-loving Heist track featuring ScHoolboy Q and Hollis.

The (mostly) desert-set clip features not only the likes of A$AP Rocky, Trinidad James, Wiz Khalifa, Big Boi, DJ Drama, and fellow Seattleite Sir Mix-a-Lot, but also a matador-costumed Macklemore going under the handle ‘Mackle Jackson.’ Hint hint.

Take a look at the busy, Caddy-filled video below:

READ FULL STORY

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