Who's Got Bars

The Emcees of “Vice City”: Who’s Got Bars?

The video for Vice City, which is the eighth track on Jay Rock’s eleven song sophomore album, the September 11th of 2015 released 90059, is undeniably bad. Visible lip-synching abounds as each artist laughably mimics the motions of far too many musical spectacles of the sort from the past. It is shot in black and white in an attempt at artistry which provokes more of the sense of an upturned eyebrow and unexpected laughs. As a gathering of women slowly hover around Lamar in the opening moments to the beat we think more of a shot that might’ve landed on the cutting room floor of the brilliant cinematic maestro, David Lynch, than anything of his genuinely singular ilk.

Still, it represents a single track collaborative effort between four Rap giants who come together under the moniker of Black Hippy. Featuring a hook by Kendrick Lamar (and a verse where much the same criticism applies), which sadly is an assortment of materialistic clichés, the tune is somewhat saved by the conversational rhythm all emcees carry throughout their verbal turns.

The head-nodding and uncomplicated bass-driven production from Cardo and Vex is perfect for a lyrical brawl such as this could’ve been. Regardless, “Vice City” is further deflated with a garden variety sixteen bars from Jay Rock himself in the second verse.

Luckily, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy- Q pick up the slack and, in turn, make the single a build-up track of sorts as they inject imagery in their verses with a constant narrative of experience.

Kendrick has the first stab at the mic. His rhyme is as follows:

“Big money, big booty b*tches
Tell the truth, ****a I’m lost without it
7 figures for a headline
You want some stage time we can talk about it
****a actin’ like they be rappin’
Like nice on the mic, truly doubt it
Go against the king, y’all don’t wanna live
That decision is hella childish
Rose gold for my old h*es
They ain’t satisfied then I sit ’em down
10th grade, I gave her all shade
But now she got some *ss, I wanna hit it now
I don’t lease, I just all out feast
I put a blue Caprice on Gary Coleman
Bomb head and some cheese eggs
That’s a new raise, and a signing bonus”

This bit is greatly beneath Lamar’s talent. The first line alone is one of the most overused ideas in Hip Hop’s history. Statements like, “Nice on the mic/ I truly doubt it” and “Go against the king/ Ya’ll don’t want to live” are redundant and could’ve come out of any artist’s mouth. The three lines after “Rose gold for my old h*es” seem to be harping into just a figment of the experience Ab-Soul and Schoolboy-Q demonstrate. I understand this is meant to be simply a fun rhyme fest and not an exhibition of depth, as was Lamar’s second solo LP from March of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly, but the last four lines attempts cleverness through a food analogy that comes off as simply juvenile. None of the bits Lamar presents are the bars necessary for this competition (which is by definition metaphor, imagery and wordplay) can be viewed here
Because of this Lamar is thrown out of the race.

Next up is Jay-Rock’s verse. This goes as follows:

“Fall in this b*tch
Like some good p*ssy, can’t stand myself
So good, she so hood
She a cheesehead, patty melt
GED with some EBTs, and some EBD’s
That sh*t was happening
She reel me in with some chicken wings
And some collard greens, that shit was brackin’
Just cracked me a new b*tch
Bust a new nut on her ****as jersey
My b*tch get off at 9 o’clock
So I had to shake her ’round 7:30
105, I’m stomping fast
With these big guns, I’m hella dirty
Get caught with this sh*t
I ain’t comin’ home ’til like 2030.”

Jay Rock himself falls victim to many of the same criticisms cast upon Lamar. He attempts another yawn-inducing reference to consumable goods with, “She a cheesehead/ Patty melt” which is just as insipid and childish as we witnessed in the prior verse. Also, what is comparable is that Rock and Lamar are going through the familiar motions of a Rap song throughout content-wise. Rock plays fairly with letters when he states, “GED with some EBT’s and some EBD’s”, but, again, there is nothing that falls into the definition of “bars” here. In so doing, Rock himself is also hurled out of the competition (and on his own joint nonetheless).

Ab-Soul’s verse is next. It goes as follows:

“Mental window blurry as a b*tch
Still lookin’ out it
So much money off the fuckin’ books
Could write a book about it
Took a minute, no, wait a minute…
Let me think about it
‘Bout 10 years, Crips, Bloods
Sweat and tears and we still counting
Had a real thick b*tch named Brooklyn
She f*cked the whole squad
Now every time I land in Brooklyn
They f*ck with the whole squad
I’m more spiritual than lyrical
I’m similar to Eli
Cause I’m wearin’ black shades
And I’m headed west with the word of God
I think I’m finally ready to talk about it
These n****s just talk about it
Homie you don’t play me for no fool
Poppin’ bottles like in amigos, los dios mio, I’m so cold
Get so deep in that water, water
They should call my johnson a harpoon”.

Finally, when Ab-Soul steps in the song gradually picks up to the arena of “bars”. This can be seen in the imagery seen in his first statement, “Mental window blurry as a b*tch”, alone. The stanza sinks as he goes into familiar territory for the two lines afterwards but, this is picked up with the intriguing, “I’m more spiritual than lyrical/ I’m similar to Eli/ Why? Cause I’m wearin’ black shades/ And I’m headed west with the word of God.”

The way Ab-Soul utilizes his comparative symbols through references to the 2010 Denzel Washington film, The Book of Eli, through nearly half of the verse is impressive. Because of this it instantly pushes him to the head of this lyrical combat.

Though the next four segments of his composition go back to standard Rap formula it is easy to assess that the last bar is an amusing, guffaw sparking piece. This serves as a nice punctuation mark and adds some much needed personality to his lyrical turn.

With the fourth, and final verse, we have Schoolboy- Q.

His sixteen is as follows:

“Damn near 30 still set trippin’ cuz
Where you’re from, I’mma see about it
Last year I made 10 million
That’s where I’ve been yeah, a private island
Smoking something, on autopilot
Got too many cars, I might crash a whip
New ‘Rari pedal barely tapping
****a, vroom-vroom, yeah I’m rich b*tch
Got two Rollies but one missing
Think my daughter flossing, she in Kindergarten
Got one crib worth two cribs
And my front lawn, yeah that’s water fountain
You be talking boss, saying big words
Like philosophies, man you weird homie
What it sounds to me that you broke as f*ck
And your b*tch gon’ leave and that’s real homie
A Dashiki on, with a fedora on
And my round glasses, trying to fool the cops
I’m with you dot, on that sneak dissing
When you penny bitchin’ ****a, shoot the fade
Ugly ****a, but I’m fine as wine
Did you check your time, I get good with age
Shoot the nine like, fourth grade
Black Hippy droppin’, eyebrows raised”.

Schoolboy- Q offers much more of an autobiographical education on what his life has given him in the previous three sections. It is a welcome maneuver from the sexism and materialism present throughout so much of this song but, it doesn’t technically go under the meaning of “bars”.

The closest we come to this is when he closes with, “I’m fine as wine/ Did you check your time?/ I get good with age/ Shoot the nine like…fourth grade/ Black Hippy droppin’/ Eyebrows raised.”

With Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar already out of the competition I have to say that the quality of Schoolboy- Q and Abu-Soul’s lyrical demonstrations are about neck and neck. Schoolboy Q speaks from a more sentimental place, with a few nice quips, but Ab-Soul wins this episode, and because of this is awarded the golden microphone, of “Who got Bars?” with the extended Book of Eli reference alone and the comedic closer.

Return for our next upcoming edition to see who will placed in the lyrical arena and who will be crowned the victor.

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