Singles Club: Won’t someone make Eminem great again?

Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

In our sights this week: Lady Gaga’s cowboy hat adventures, Eminem’s continuing quest to get through every page in the rhyming dictionary, and an EP standout from Warp’s latest signing Gaika.

Elsewhere, East London hip-hop hopeful Jay Prince brings Chance’s gospel rap to mind and Australian club oddball Lil Jabba charms with his creepy club mutations.


Lady Gaga – ‘A-Yo’

April Clare Welsh: I was all ready to rejoin Gaga’s camp after the rush-of-blood-to-the-head that was ‘Perfect Illusion’, but then ‘Million Reasons’ came along and killed my enthusiasm. With ‘A-Yo’ I get that she’s circling outside her comfort zone and trying on stadium-sized guitar ‘rock’ for size, but if the cowboy hat doesn’t fit, leave it in the ring and sidestep back to the dancefloor. (4)

Zoe Camp: This basically sounds like Gaga’s ‘Yoü & I’ after one too many whiskey sours and a trip to the Cracker Barrel, and the ‘Marlboro’ motif is eye-rolling to say the least. Still, songwriter Hillary Lindsey deserves a round of applause for taking GaGa’s sound to the backroads while keeping the flair of her theatre-kid belter days intact. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Cigarettes, motorcycles, mirrors on the ceilings of trashy Vegas hotels, Ry Cooder licks, throaty power-ballad pipes, EDM touches: the all-consuming Americana concept chokes the air out of what is otherwise a strong Gaga outing. (5)

Haley Potiker: Joanne is being discussed mostly as a genre experiment, but more than anything it’s Lady Gaga doubling down on her vocal chops. ‘A-Yo’ sounds stripped down and glossed up, but its power comes entirely from the voice (particularly arresting at the two-and-a-half-minute mark). It’s too late for this to be a song of the summer, but it’s going to be a spot of brightness all through the winter months. (8)

Chris Kelly: For all her Madonna homages, Lady Gaga has finally learned the Queen of Pop’s key lesson: reinvent, or die. After trying to wring one too many albums out of gay-icon dance-pop, Gaga hit the reset button with Cheek to Cheek and has returned to the pop world as a rock goddess – Stevie Nicks for the new millennium. I don’t like this as much as ‘Perfect Illusion’, because despite the Josh Homme licks and Marlboro smoke, the Ronson gloss is overpowering. Reinvention is one thing; retro-rock built for syncs is another. (4)

5.2


Eminem – ‘Campaign Speech’

Zoe Camp: I believe it was JFK who said: “And so, my fellow knees-weak, arms-are-heavy Americans: ask not what Mom’s Spaghetti can do for you — ask what you can do for Mom’s Spaghetti. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what Mom’s Spaghetti will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of vomit on his sweater already, Mom’s Spaghetti.” (1)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: I was genuinely trying to avoid this song all week, because at this point in my life, as a 29-year-old with interests beyond South Park and first-person shooters, I have no interest in listening to Eminem eschew co-signing Skylar Grey to continue turning into a syllable contraption. Yet the man I used to consider one of the best hip-hop artists alive is an immersive syllable contraption, weaving in and out of his own diction over seven minutes of drumless drones and plinking ironic ivory notes. There’s some smart, some bad, and a lot that’s over-served word salad, but with the lack of drums and the syncopation of this extremely gifted boyman, it feels more hypnotising than it really deserves. And poor Molly Qerim, yeesh. (5)

Son Raw: If you think his rapping here is better than say, Young Thug’s last throwaway, you probably also think masturbatory speed metal solos are the height of musicality and almost certainly enjoy Mountain Dew. (2)

Haley Potiker: This is so unbearable, so tedious, so insanely stupid. Those early radio freestyles (and stretches of The Slim Shady LP) were fun because Eminem was rendering these vivid, cartoonish images and because he sounded so effortless doing it. The selling point was never, “here, these things rhyme, do with that what you will.” With The Marshall Mathers LP 2, he folded his corniness into a deep-in-the-weeds technical tightrope. The result was wooden and largely unlistenable, and ‘Campaign Speech’ is even further down that rabbit hole. It’s eight minutes long. It makes ‘Rap God’ look like ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’. It’s supposed to be An Event, the announcement of A Great Rapper making An Important Album, but in reality it could have been written by any eighth grader with a rhyming dictionary. Except the eighth grader would probably have cut the Chuck Norris lines. (0)

Chris Kelly: Man, Aesop Rock has gotten really misogynistic! But seriously folks, Eminem’s shtick stopped being fun sometime between 9/11 and the Iraq War, and this hookless, joyless self-indulgence (I’d say “masturbatory,” but that’s a compliment as far as Marshall is concerned) is as loathsome as the former and as misguided as the latter. (1)

1.8


Jay Prince – ‘Father Father’

Zoe Camp: Between the choral beat and the devil-may-not-care lyrics (“Lucifer will not save you / Lose yourself and be a slave to the game”), Prince knocks it out of the park. Its cynicism and weariness brings ‘Jesus Walks’ to mind – but as an echo rather than a rehash. Judging from this, Smile Good should be damn good. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Hymnal beats, chopped up and delivered by the most milquetoast of preachers. (5)

Son Raw: Gospel rap: a plague upon our eardrums. Pablo worked because Kanye actually thinks he is God and he peppers his pieties with outrageous delusions, but ever since Chance 3 we’ve been subjected to these earnest, churchy platitudes that substitute innovation for smugness and have me reminiscing fondly about Odd Future’s Satanism. Also: good luck in Houston with that name, homie. (3)

Haley Potiker: Jay Prince’s new mixtape posits him as a confessional artist who’s been through the wringer and lived to tell the tale. And while the London native is a capable writer, the most interesting thing on the eight-song set is his own production on ‘Father, Father’. He merges sampled turn-of-the-century soul and gospel vocals with decidedly modern percussion; the vocals rush like water into the beat’s negative space. It’s a masterclass in mood — inspired and inspiring, but a little bit paranoid. (8)

Chris Kelly: Kanye and Chance cast long shadows, apparently, but despite the chopped-up samples and gospel flavor, this one is lacking the ecstatic joy of ‘Ultralight Beam’, ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1’ or any of Coloring Book. Perhaps he’ll learn a thing or two opening for Chance. (5)

5.8


Lil Jabba – ‘iNDuSTrY.’

Zoe Camp: Talk about a kinetic piece of work. Despite the title, Lil Jabba builds “iNDuSTrY.” as a winding, nightmarish labyrinth that unfolds, clatters, and recedes cyclically, as if respiring: a living torture chamber. It’s amorphous, and yet rigid–a playful paradox that gets more fascinating with each listen. One extra point for timely spookiness. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: This requires a lot of multi-tasking, switching gears every 30 seconds then folding little grooves into the shards to help you along. It’s a mess. It’s well made. I’m confused. (7)

Son Raw: First I was all like, “another track made out of processed field sounds and 909 hats?” But this goes places: weird and wonderful places full of alien tones and tribal rhythms. One of them ones worth taking the journey with. (8)

Haley Potiker:‘iNDuSTrY’ is furious and frenzied, an everything-at-the-wall experiment that reveals its conceit slowly. It’s footwork soaked in digital over-stimulation and it plays like found poetry that you actually want to consume. It’s a cacophony, but one in which the discrete parts can be isolated and deeply felt. If ‘iNDuSTrY’ is any indication, Jabba’s new record, Grotto, will be a confounding listen, and an irresistible one at that. (8)

Chris Kelly: Lil Jabba fires up the club music assembly line, obliterating the lines between your precious genres and subgenres with maniacal glee. Manaages to be mechanical, pneumatic and, well, industrial – but not without soul, humor and a groove or two. Bonus point for his AOL-ish capitalization scheme. (8)

7.6


Gaika – ‘The Deal’

April Clare Welsh: When I was nine I walked into a seesaw. I was stuffing an ice cream cone into my face and didn’t notice my friends rocking back and forth in front of me. The wooden plank came crashing down on my tongue, slicing it in half and leaving a right bloody mess behind. For me, ‘The Deal’ recreates that incident: Gaika’s heaviness thwacking into Ayusha’s soft and silky soul 2 soul-esque reggae on a song about self-preservation. So if he is setting up shop for the rest of the EP, I’ll definitely swing by. And yes, I have a really cool scar. (8)

Zoe Camp: What happens when you throw Boyz II Men, Prince, Tricky, and the Shenmue soundtrack down a well? You get this song, and probably a lawsuit. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The last time we covered Gaika he was responsible for a hollowed-out concrete jungle jam, the type of song that sounds like whatever everyone is breathing in on the streets of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles. The aesthetic remains, with the doom-laden talk of corrosion and blood, but guest vocalist Alyusha’s honeyed tones and a koto-esque trill help ‘The Deal’s many jags turn gentle. (8)

Son Raw: I’m feeling the female vocals on this way more than Gaika’s, but overall my disinterest in the fusion of smarty-arty electronica and overly polite R&B continues unabated. (4)

Haley Potiker:Though Gaika earns plenty of attention for blurring genre lines, the most fascinating part of his work is how vocals are occasionally instrumental, a piece of the latticework, then snap immediately to the foreground. ‘The Deal’ is the crowning piece of his engrossing new EP, Spaghetto; it feels like settling into a scalding tub of water bit by bit until the temperature feels… normal. (9)

7

Final scores:

Lil Jabba – ‘Industry’ (7.6)
Gaika – ‘The Deal’ (7)
Jay Prince – ‘Father Father’ (5.8)
Lady Gaga – ‘A Yo’ (5.2)
Eminem – ‘Campaign Speech’ (1.8)