Singles Club: E-40 is still the best rapper on the planet, Jacques Greene brings that chipmunk soul

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

This week, Montreal producer Jacques Greene and Bristol’s Hyetal both return with their first new tracks in yonks, while relative old-timers Juicy J and E-40 recruit some young faces with varying degrees of success.

And making their play from underground to big league, Warp signee Gaika makes music for Terminators to wine their waists to, while Tri Angle newcomer Katie Gately steals the show with her spooky pop songcraft.

Jacques Greene – ‘You Can’t Deny’

Chris Kelly: We often ask artists to walk a nearly impossible tightrope: evolve and grow, continue to excite us, but don’t lose what first made you special. Greene has done exactly that on ‘You Can’t Deny’, his most immediate track in some time. Of course there’s a sped up R&B sample (is that you, Faith Evans?) but he makes an old trick sound new again with a (garage-free) club beat and that speeding-down-the-highway synth work. Undeniable. (7)

Tom Fenwick: This is music to spin around in waltzers to while burly men shout “Scream if you wanna go faster!” The pitched-up vocals are a bit chipmunk, but they’re overcome by beats that ripple with sunshine. (6)

Son Raw: Jacques Greene’s best material injects house music with a much-needed dose of R&B soulfulness, but despite the chipmunk soul, this doesn’t sound a whole lot different than most of the detritus littering the Beatport charts. Sure, the mainstream swagger-jacked the underground, but if a musical idea is so amenable to soulless functionalism, is it really that good? Still, I’d dance to this over the oppressiveness of Romanian minimal [Stop this trend – Techno Ed.]. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: An effective, lightly knocking dose of chipmunk-soul futurism. As cute as it is a show of technical control, too – a couple of listens reveal that there are more elements bashing together than it seems, without ever getting in the way. (7)

Tayyab Amin: This sounds like Greene was really feeling himself on the drums, got carried away and took it to the kitchen and the chemistry lab for the second half percussion. Have I just decided in my head that the vocal sample is Brandy? Does our future lie in 2011? I’m remembering how blithely, charmingly euphoric these tunes seemed at the time so I’m totally down to feel that again. (7)


Katie Gately – ‘Tuck’

Zoe Camp: Katie Gately’s got a superpower: the ability to manipulate time as if it was just another loop setting on a keyboard. Perhaps this skill is a consequence of her work as a Hollywood sound designer, or maybe it’s a by-product of her elongated, cumulative approach to pop songcraft; either way, ‘Tuck’ is yet another example of the musician’s temporal talents, and her most intriguing work since 2014’s 14-minute marvel, ‘Pivot’. It’s less a song than a drifting panorama of some Kate Bush-themed funhouse. (6)

Tom Fenwick: Serpentine beats, diaphanous vocals and, err …industrial mariachi? A bit like being a Holly Herndon gig while Tune-Yards soundchecks in the background, this is a great piece of spooky, off-kilter pop. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: For an artist who came from Hollywood and a film background, this feels positively cinematic: an overwhelming widescreen vision, showing multiple parts of an imagined city crunching and grinding away while the calm sky looks on. And all the best epics have a tinge of romance, shown here by Gately’s calm coos seducing you into believing this is what all pop should sound like, and retrofitting your brain to understand it as such. (8)

Chris Kelly: I absolutely love Gately’s “forty-nine percent obnoxious and fifty-one percent fun” approach to her music, which is in full effect on ‘Tuck’: there’s a charming pop melody amid this maximalist orchestra of found sound, like she decided to throw a concert in the middle of a factory floor. I can only imagine what will reveal itself on repeat listenings. (8)

Son Raw: Shame witch house is already a genre tag because that describes this vaguely supernatural, kinda spooky dance pop perfectly. I absolutely love the balance between the production’s sensory overload and the vocal’s sweetness, plus it sounds like she had a blast making it and that enthusiasm is contagious. Remember alt-R&B aspirants: you’re allowed to have fun! (8)


Juicy J – ‘No English’ feat. Travis $cott

Chris Kelly: I was ready for the worst here. Juicy J has been coasting since ‘Bandz’, and I’ve made my opinion on Young La Fraud clear. But Juicy sounds reinvigorated on this raunchfest, Travis nails the hook and Lex Luger (with assists from TM88 and Spinz) gets back into the Rubba Band Business. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Full disclosure: Travis $cott’s voice sets my teeth on edge, so this was always going to be a hard pill to swallow. It’s nice to hear Juicy engage himself slightly more than usual at the start of the second verse, twisting his flow around the beat so fast you’d think it was Three 6ix days all over again. (5)

Tom Fenwick: That Lex Luger production is raging and Juicy J is on top form, but it’s brought down to earth by Travis $cott, who sounds bored as hell on the hook, spinning his wheels instead of releasing a new album. (5)

Zoe Camp: For a song about globe-trotting debauchery, ‘No English’ seems like it never left the booths of some nondescript strip club right off I-9. At least Jason Derulo had the wherewithal to build his similarly internationally-minded ‘Talk Dirty’ around a Balkan Beat Box sample. Between the pedestrian, bass-deficient trap beat, the empty braggadocio and Travis $cott’s formulaic hook, Juicy J manages to make getting high with a harem of supermodels sound about as interesting as hitting up the Hustler on a Monday night. (3)

Tayyab Amin: If you gaze long into an abyss, Travi$ Scott yells ad libs back at you from way down at the very bottom [LOL – Philosophy Ed]. I swear there are just countless tunes haunted by the ghost of Travi$ past – half the hooks he bellows out feel like glorified ad libs. I can’t act like it doesn’t work though. Juicy J keeps the flows fresh and this has enough in the tank to bang. (6)

Son Raw: God, Travi$ Scott makes everything worse. Juicy J is a national treasure and all and he’s rapping with more enthusiasm than we’ve heard in years but that hook isn’t just sub-Future, it’s sub-Desiigner. Add production that fails to throw a single new idea into the mix and you’ve got a by-the-numbers comeback attempt that fails to justify its own existence. (4)


Gaika – ‘3D’

Chris Kelly: Like on his mixtape SECURITY, ‘3D’ finds Gaika turning the UK rap-grime-Caribbean dance axis into a Möbius strip as he delivers a confrontational call to arms over a slab of mutant dancehall, assaulting listeners with blasts of white noise lest they get too comfortable. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Imagine The Bug’s apocalyptic bashment if it had any sense of rhythm to it, add classic Mobb Deep city-of-hell aesthetics and sprinkle with a deep Brixton-bred authority about being real deep in the concrete, and you have something really fucking good. (8)

Tom Fenwick: Gaika’s doubling down on the menacing swagger of his EP for even more potent, existential dancehall. It’s nothing like you expect and all the better for it. (8)

Zoe Camp: There’s a reason Gaika’s been called electronic music’s answer to Basquiat. Like the artist, the Brixton phenom pushes the boundaries of a popular medium into unsettling territory – especially on ‘3D’. All the sonic components needed for an infectious dance track are there – the playful flow, the angular riddim, the persistent backbeat – but experienced through the artist’s shattered prism, the rhythm’s familiarity crumbles away, leaving nothing but the void. (7)

Son Raw: This satisfyingly gritty track counters commercial dancehall’s current obsession with sugar-rush synths, even if it basically copy-pastes The Bug’s formula wholesale. A bit slight on headphones but a guaranteed call to arms blasted out of a huge system in a sweaty basement at 4AM, so let’s cut the difference. (7)

Tayyab Amin: I know they’ve made signings in recent years that would suggest otherwise but my perception of Warp is still doused in Aphex Twin fanboyism. So the idea of all these fauxgressive white dudes trying to figure out this track is totally amusing to me. I wouldn’t have expected a briefing on the dystopia of the now to be so perfect for Terminators to wine to. (8)


Hyetal – ‘Near Water’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Begins as the type of low-slung unease that would soundtrack a Michael Mann film before shifting to disaffected mumbles and ending up at ‘90s arena dance, making space for a sick krautrock break. Confusing listening – the type of song where the parts convince more than the sum. (5)

Chris Kelly: Finally, someone combines The Flamingos and Bauhaus! Eye-rolling (even if it’s true) press copy aside, this has its moments. Or moment: specifically when the beat reinforces a composition that threatens to float away and take my attention with it. (5)

Son Raw: This would have been tremendously exciting had it dropped in 1988 but my patience for post-punky rhythms and electronics has been worn down to the nub. It executes the formula well but we’re talking about a style that was dangerously close to full period-piece status around the time of Darkstar’s North. (6)

Tayyab Amin: The groove is just wonderful but I can’t help think that this is totally what a parallel universe Pendulum sound like. I suppose it is quite “find yourself, whilst exploring Australia’s beaches” kind of music. (6)


E-40 – ‘Petty’ feat. Kamaiyah

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Earl Stevens, Mr Charlie Hustle himself, is the rare heritage rapper who has not collapsed into self-parody despite his Porky Pig noises and stone-faced ad-libbing. Here we are in 2016, and as evidenced by his first verse on ‘Petty’, he remains one of the best rappers on planet Earth today. His straightest lines hit you in the soul (haters are “upset”, an actual human emotion that makes them pitiable rather than faceless), his pushing of the meter remains daring, his voice’s elasticity never sacrificing his authority. Also, Kamaiyah is on this and is dope, but it’s difficult to praise E-40’s guests too much, especially when they’ll be passing through his latest 72-disc opus. All Hail. (8)

Zoe Camp: The whole passing-of-the-Bay-Area-Rap-torch thing is cool and all, but can we talk about how genius the hook is for a second? Given this track’s bird-flipping sentiments and its simplistic flow, it would have been easier for E-40 to go, “All of these bitches is petty.” Instead, it’s “Most of these bitches is petty” – because like they taught you in that conflict resolution assembly back in grade school, generalizations are bad. The devil is in the details; by making the question ambiguous, E-40 and Kamaiyah leave the hangers-on wondering where they stand. And if you’ve been outed as a hater, watch your back. (6)

Chris Kelly: It’s great to see Kamaiyah collect West Coast co-signs like Pokemon (topical!) but this one is too minimalist for its own good. I know it’s an E-40 song, but I was hoping for Kamaiyah to bring some of the joy-spiked-with-pain of A Good Night In The Ghetto to the party. But if you just need to air out your haters, this should do the trick. (5)

Son Raw: E-40 is ALSO a national rap treasure, and he’s got much better taste in collaborators than Juicy. Kamaiyah doesn’t outshine him (or even try) and I’d have loved to see her steal the show, but she does anchor the song and provide 40 with plenty of space to prove he can out-rap just about anybody, two years shy of 50. Even a rinky-dink beat can’t ruin this. (8)

Tayyab Amin: This lullaby beat is sending me to sleep. The tune would be better without such a weak chorus, but I guess you gotta fight for those Vine loops somehow. Two solid verses here but they’re not helping themselves. (5)


Final scores:

Katie Gately – ‘Tuck’ (7.6)
Gaika – ‘3D’ (7.3)
E-40 – ‘Petty’ feat. Kamaiyah (6.4)
Jacques Greene – ‘You Can’t Deny’ (6.4)
Hyetal – ‘Near Water’ (5.5)
Juicy J – ‘No English’ feat. Travis $cott (5.2)



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