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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

ScHoolboy Q, Anderson .Paak, Zacari Drop New Music

ScHoolboy Q – Numb Numb Juice

The last time we got new ScHoolboy Q music, Desiigner was the next big name in rap and Obama was still the president. For most rappers, a stretch of time this long without new content would have fans speculating that the artist had died, or changed their name and joined Tupac in Cuba. Q, however, is consistent and talented enough to keep an audience waiting patiently — a truly rare trait for a fanbase in the streaming era.

At a brief 1:55, “Numb Numb Juice” gets straight to the point before the beat even drops. Q is hollering rhymes acapella as soon as you press the play button. Fear not, though; an aggressive, banging beat soon explodes behind him, and the song’s energy never drops from there.

With clever bars and punchy wordplay continuing throughout, Q proves that the terribly long wait for his new music is worth it. Lines like “Poppin out like Jack-in-a-box,” and the double entendre of “Got my coins up, my bars up, soon we find ’em,” highlight his lyrical flair for entertainment and zaniness — as well as a nuanced thought process behind the writing.

And the music video is chock-full of scenes to analyze- we’ll leave that job to Genius, but some highlights include a Joe Rogan impersonation, hella white people getting their shit knocked, and a Tyler, the Creator cameo. Do yourself a favor and go peep.

All in all, let’s just say that this new ScHoolboy is shaping up to knock our socks off. Apparently, it’s been almost ready to go for months now, and I’m sure the wait will have been worth it.

Anderson .Paak – King James

We had to wait three years between the remarkable Malibu and its star-studded follow-up, Oxnard. Not that the wait wasn’t worth it, but that’s too damn long to wait for new .Paak music, and he knows it too.

Now, the singular, supremely funky rapper/drummer/walking toothpaste advertisement has dropped by a month before the release of his upcoming album, Ventura, to tantalize us further with its lead single, “King James.”

Much of Oxnard was a slight departure from the prominent live instrumentation elements of Malibu and Venice, featuring more electronic-rooted sounds and modernized production. “King James” is driven by a bouncy funk bass synth, but the horns, drums and background vocals all sound like they’re really played on the other end of the recording. The song remains centered on its tangibility and performability.

The supporting cast hails almost entirely from previous generations, focusing on R&B/soul legends of the mid-to-late 1900’s. Smokey Robinson, a legend of 60’s Chicago soul and songwriter of countless songs your parents probably loved, represents the oldest of genres represented on the album. Also featured are stars of late-90’s to mid-00’s R&B such as Jazmine Sullivan of timeless banger “Bust Your Windows,” and Brandy, one of two artists on “The Boy Is Mine,” the best-selling female duet of all time and one of the longest-running No. 1 singles ever.

Unanimously appreciated old-school hip-hop is represented by Nate Dogg and Andre 3000, both pioneers in their respective styles with an influence that’s impossible to understate. The Nate Dogg feature is particularly interesting, as Anderson .Paak pulls an Aubrey-Graham-feat-Michael-Jackson of sorts: Nate Dogg died in 2011. Spooky.

This time, however, the feature seems less like a financial flex than a sincere nod to the legends of past music. Between all these names, it’s clear that Ventura is just as star-studded as its predecessor, but Oxnard’s roster focused on present-day stars whereas Ventura’s features reach back in time to bolster .Paak’s old-school musical roots.

Lyrically, “King James” is brief but efficient. On Oxnard, .Paak danced with social commentary but mostly undercut his message by spending more time being misogynistic than he spent earnestly addressing complex issues. With “King James,” he dives straight in, addressing Trump’s state of emergency, the hypothetical border wall, Colin Kaepernick, and more — in a total of eight verses!

The rest of the song is dedicated to chorus sections, which don’t drop the ball, groove, or insightful tone. He mentions love, labor, roots and community before each time refraining with “Coming with me!” It’s the call of a leader, and you can practically see .Paak leading a parade down the street, holding a sign reading the post-chorus line: “Until we get what we need.”

If “King James” is reflective of the rest of Ventura, the album will represent an embrace of the role .Paak has long-teased yet never fully assumed — that of an incisive, bold voice for social justice. Oxnard was a fun, spirited album, and I loved it, don’t get me wrong. But it seemed like .Paak was too busy having fun with it to turn the project into anything much more substantial than a really good time. Based on this single, Ventura is shaping up to be a whole lot more than that.

Zacari – Run Wild Run Free

In his debut EP, Run Wild Run Free, Zacari proves his ability to create atmospheric, enveloping hip-hop, a personal brand that he started on “LOVE.” with Kendrick Lamar. He’s the producer and background vocalist to that song — in our opinion one of the best hip-hop love songs of all time.

But if Run Wild Run Free is anything to go by, Zacari’s best moments may come from a shared spotlight. On this EP, with only one feature in seven songs, Zacari struggles to fill the enormous space cleared by his own production.

It’s not that anything’s bad. It’s just that little catches on. His production and melody is just so atmospheric and will-o-wisp-like that it’s unclear what sits at center-stage. This early into the project, it’s tough to tell what’s consistent style and what’s repetition. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: “LOVE.” showed no dearth of talent behind the producing boards, but the inclusion of an awful Lil Yachty feature doesn’t do any favors.

Run Wild Run Free is really nice to listen to. It sounds great. Whether there’s more to grab hold of here besides that is still up in the air, as it’s too early to be definitive about that. LOVE. is stunning and captivating for the give-and-take between Kenny and Zacari and the way they share and fill up the space. In Run Wild Run Free, Zacari struggles to fill space and flesh out songs all by himself. At times, it seems he out-produces himself, dwarfing his vocal presence on the song with his own dominating basslines and stadium-sized snare blasts.

The best parts of Zacari’s debut EP may lie in his production and mood-setting skills — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Run Wild Run Free makes a convincing case for Zacari’s merits as a producer of evocative, swirling beats, assuming that’s the role he sees himself occupying. If he intends to further explore solo work, his vocals and presence will need further development to compete with the monster gravity of his production.

-Michael Gorman & Jonah Bird

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