The past week has seen two highly bloggable rap collabs come to light: Pusha T and Tyler, the Creators' "Trouble on My Mind" and Jay-Z>"/>
The past week has seen two highly bloggable rap collabs come to light: Pusha T and Tyler, the Creators' "Trouble on My Mind" and Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Otis." The former comes from Pusha's forthcoming solo debut Fear of God Part 2: Let Us Pray (yeesh), the latter from Jay and 'Ye's forthcoming full-length Watch the Throne. And the two tracks couldn't be more different.
"Otis" is two big-name veterans going Duckie over the kind of sample flip that only they could really afford these days, a soul/R&B classic so hard-wired into the American DNA that they could just do dueling farts over it and people would line up to tweet about it. In fact, the sample turns out to be so ingrained that it's almost impossible for even these two top-billing MCs to get out from under it . . .
So they go HAM as possible, breathlessly double-timing, running headlong into the track's squealing halt, but all without ever making more of an impact than that beat does. And about the beat: it's a pretty clumsy flip, the verses all chopped grunting, the "choruses" just that cascading "hold her/squeeze her/never leave her" from Otis' original, forcing you to process or choose between two layers of vocals at once, with Redding winning by default. And so, Redding's provides a hook, but Kanye and Jay never match him with one of their own, and this song could desperately use one--as it is, it lands more like a mixtape-level verse trading exercise than a fully formed song. Maybe that will change by the time Watch the Throne comes out (after all, there's already been three versions of the album recorded thus far).
"Trouble on My Mind," on the other hand, documents the meeting of two relative upstarts. Sure, Pusha T has been through the rap ringer before, but the past year has marked his effective debut as a solo artist post-Clipse; Tyler, of course, is coming off a year of unimaginable hype with Odd Future. Which is not to say these guys don't have the backing to secure a sample of their own, in this case James Brown's inimitable grunt. But Brown is deployed here as punctuation rather than bedrock, amid creeping synth strings, snare stutters, and sinister brass. That it sounds both like Tyler's in-house production style for OF and classic Clipse minimalism is no accident: it's a Neptunes beat, and Tyler has made no secret of lovingly emulating that duo's style.
So, it's pretty much the ideal scenario for everyone involved, and both Pusha and Tyler make the most of it. Pusha leads into the song with a verse as snarling as anything he's done in years; Tyler comes in seemingly lackadaisical but full of, uh, personality, and as ever his raps have a lot going both in terms of internal rhymes and references (call-backs to "Yonkers being the most obvious) as well as his toying with cadence, timing, and tone. Then there's the hook: an actual hook! And a pretty damn blazing one at that. If "Otis" had anything like that it might be the better of these two tracks.
As it is, "Trouble on My Mind" is the winner here--easily.