Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.
The new White Men Can’t Jump is an abomination
If you want to hear Drake songs that feature relationship dynamics with exes that are fairly healthy and repairable, go fire up Jack Harlow’s Come Home the Kids Miss You. And if you ever wanted Eminem to sound like he’s found a decent therapist then you’ll love Harlow’s “Gang Gang Gang,” from his recent #realhiphop album, Jackman. Over the last three years, rap’s latest great white hope has become inescapable by inoffensively repackaging music that already exists. So it makes sense that Hollywood is foaming at the mouth to get him in a movie—they can secure those hip-hop dollars while mostly avoiding anything thorny about the genre. It’s why 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump has been dusted off and turned into a much nicer and goofier—but way less funny and thoughtful—star vehicle for Harlow to showcase his bland affability.
As usual, it will probably work out for him. To Harlow’s credit, he is the only tolerable part of this dumbed-down rehash of yet another movie that didn’t need one. It’s not like he has much competition for that title. The movie is a bore, and that starts with a script co-written by black-ish creator Kenya Barris. (If Donald Glover were really real he would have shot darts at Barris instead of Tyler Perry in Atlanta’s final season.) Barris does what he always does: toothless Black vs. white clashes that don’t have any insight or nerve. The original, written and directed by Ron Shelton, stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson at their charismatic apexes as Sidney and Billy, pocket-starved pickup basketball hustlers who balance a rivalry and alliance that is full of betrayal, racial disputes, and shit talking that’s intensely mean and specific. All that is stripped away here. It’s like showing up to a UFC fight to watch two guys thumb wrestle.
Harlow is the Birkenstock-wearing Jeremy, a former college hooper with bad knees who is now a posi-vibes health nut (vegan, on a 30-day detox) who still dreams of making the NBA’s G League. He teams up with Kamal (human drywall Sinqua Walls), a former top high school basketball recruit whose life crumbled after his dad was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago. They try to make money in an L.A.-area basketball tournament and recapture past glory or whatever, you get it. Their relationship on and off the court is what the movie is supposed to be about, but that would require actual acting from the leads, so instead the emotional beats come from Kamal’s dying dad and Jeremy becoming a bitter drunk for a scene or two after a losing basketball game.
For the most part, Jeremy is gutless to the point that he could have been dreamed up by Harlow’s publicity team. The character is so progressive that he backs off from or awkwardly rambles his way out of almost every racially charged argument, and when he does reveal harbored stereotypes, they’re presented in an aww shucks way. Harlow does fine with the miserable material, capturing a sarcastic tone that makes his dialogue sound sincere and like complete bullshit at the same time.
All the blame shouldn’t go to Barris, though, because Calmatic is the director. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt because he comes from the world of rap music videos, and those directors don’t get the shots to break into film like they did in the MTV era. But mere months after his House Party remake, he is now 0-for-2 when it comes to modernizing early ’90s classics.
In the original White Men Can’t Jump, Sidney and Billy were held up by complete characters: Sidney’s wife Rhonda (Tyra Ferrell) and Billy’s girlfriend Gloria (Rosie Perez in her bag) were the rational thinkers who begrudgingly stitched the duo’s relationship back together at a low point. Now the girlfriends—played by Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier—are props, there to stand, smile, and pout. Back then, Sidney dug at Billy’s insecurity that his Puerto Rican girlfriend would be seduced by a Black man; this version doesn’t have the courage to use Jeremy dating a Black woman for more than a wisecrack.
Instead of biting commentary we get gags. Jeremy shows up to a Black party with a bottle of Hennessy. Hilarious! There’s a squabble about Jeremy telling Kamal he speaks like Obama. Timely! Scenes inspired by the past film are transformed into cartoonish nonsense. Whereas a sore loser on the basketball court once whipped out a pocket knife, he’s now brandishing a flamethrower. What was Billy defending his love of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” to Sidney in a scene where they had to rethink their stereotypes about each other is now Kamal and Jeremy bonding over their appreciation for Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” The joke: A hypermasculine Black man likes a sensitive pop song. That hasn’t been funny since Terry Crews in White Chicks nearly 20 years ago.
Conspiracy time: This film has to be the work of the Jack Harlow industrial complex! You see, they surrounded him with a movie so unimaginative that the only possible takeaway is that he’s kind of decent in it. Even what should be gimmies—basketball scenes, a soundtrack with a solid amount of West Coast rap, a good-sized role for Vince Staples—are some bullshit, offering further proof that my conspiracy has some legs. As a rapper, Harlow’s greatest gift is that his whole schtick is so low-stakes, you can’t get that mad at it. And now you can say the same thing for him as an actor, too.
Lil Mabu marks another dark turn for New York drill
Sorry to make this the white rapper edition of the column, but this is where we’re at. Lil Mabu is a fame-thirsty, Upper East Side-bred rapper who has been floating around the New York drill scene and TikTok for a while now. Recently he’s gone ultra-viral with the songs “Trip to the Hood” (in the video, he portrays himself as a sweater vest-wearing rich kid who masquerades as a drill rapper when he leaves home), and “Mathematical Disrespect,” in which he alternates between voices while ironically (?) wearing an “I <3 NYPD” T-shirt. The thing is, it’s not really a schtick. According to the New York Post, he’s a senior at a $60,000-a-year private high school in Manhattan, lives in an Upper East Side mansion, and summers in the Hamptons with his father, the CEO of a funeral home service. All while his music is profiting off and, to an extent, parodying the violence and poor conditions that have contributed to the emergence of New York’s drill scene.
As of this writing, “Mathematical Disrespect” has cracked the Billboard Hot 100. And his track “Throw,” with 16-year-old DD Osama, the most popular NY drill rapper of the moment, is at 18 million YouTube views and counting. We can no longer wave this off as a TikTok flash.
The way Lil Mabu engages with drill through the voyeuristic lens of a YouTube beef page makes me squeamish. It’s supposed to be jokey, though I’m not sure what’s so funny about it. This issue goes beyond Lil Mabu—the way commenters and fans prey on the cruelty of the drill scene has long been part of what makes it so complicated. Now one of those fans has parlayed his Gossip Girl money and high follower count into becoming one of the New York drill’s most visible rappers. We know how this goes. He’s going to get famous enough that he can rebrand unscathed, while the negative impact trickles down to the actual drill artists. In a week that hasn’t been free from bleak news in the drill world, this is yet another dark turn.
TisaKorean turns back the clock live in New York
Last night in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, dougies were hit, stanky leggs were revived, and people were both leaning and rocking with it like it was 2006. That is because TisaKorean’s Silly Tour hit town, putting the Bowery Ballroom crowd in a mood not seen since Soulja Boy dominated Myspace.
The Houston dance-rap flagbearer is a true showman. With a headband wrapped around his straight backs like he was Hot Sauce on the And1 tour, Tisa and his hypeman Mighty Bay came with nonstop energy and props: He passed out Solo cups to the crowd for “Foolie Dee,” where the hook goes, “Watch me do my dance with my cup in my hand,” and distributed shirts for everyone to wave in the air for “HeLiCoPtEr sWaG.Mp3.” There was also a fake out where it seemed like the show might end early—but it was only an excuse for Tisa and Mighty Bay to change into giant hot dog and taco costumes. On the music tip, as he speedily ran through his catalog, it offered a reminder of just how many good songs he has amassed in the last five years or so. As I looked around at the crowd, including one girl dressed like 2009 JWoww who was doing DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out” dance, the feeling of nostalgia was as specific as it was sweet.
2Humpy: “2Humpy Cypher”
In 2Humpy’s On the Radar freestyle cypher, the five-member Philly crew go in for more than 10 minutes of chaotic choreography and supercharged raps over a string of racing DJ Crazy instrumentals that will make you whip out a sweat rag. 2Rare operates like the frontman, starting with a flow that interpolates Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two”—a move that would be played-out if the energy wasn’t so contagious. Usually the most memorable moments come when all five (2Rare, Bril, Raudy, Brock, and JMoney) rap and harmonize simultaneously, like if Boyz II Men decided they wanted to be 2 Live Crew. At the 3:07 mark, they bust out the Dillon Brooks shoulder swaying dance while firing off over a throbbing version of Three 6 Mafia’s “Who Run It”; at 4:30, literally everything, down to the train sound effects and Ric Flair woos, are in sync. We might be looking at club rap’s first boy band.
Mello Buckzz: “Pretty Opp”
Chicago’s best drill has a spark and attention to detail that other scenes can’t match, even if those other scenes are more popular at the moment. Mello Buckzz is currently ripping apart any beat that comes her way. On “Pretty Opp,” she is able to raise hell without resorting to the Bane-like vocal style adored in New York, and showcases knack for nailing bars that you want to rap along to despite their violent imagery: “Come try to take my pipe off me, bet his ass gon’ diddy bop,” she chirps. Mello’s rapping is so energetic yet controlled, which is what foundational drill stars like Herb and Bibby had going for them too. Chicago’s still got it.
More than a decade in, Wiki is just flooding the web with a prolific run of verses and tapes for no real reason other than a love of the game. A joint album with Navy Blue? Sure. 2000s East Coast revivalism raps with Subjxct 5 behind the boards? Bet. Rapping with Jersey’s Papo, the UK’s Jadasea, and VA’s ANKHLEJOHN? Of course. Now he’s tossing out a six-track tape called Papiseed Street Vol. 1. The early standout is “Out My Mind” with Florida’s Niontay, where Wiki restrains his usual loudmouth antics for a monotone verse to match Niontay’s faded, stuck-in-his-head raps. Together, they sound so baked into Laron and Luca Beats’ booming instrumental that it’s like overhearing a conversation on the subway platform while the express train zooms by. Onto the next.
Saiming: “Traffic (sm stravagant man)”
The latest song from smooth-talking London rapper Saiming is ripped from a live performance on DJ Y3KMish’s online radio show. As Y3K fires up “Traffic” by the UK garage artist IZCO—who co-produced Pinkpantheress’ “Passion”—Saiming glides over the mellow groove. The ditty is laid down so effortlessly that it feels as though he wasn’t expecting anyone but his friends in the room to hear it. There are bars interrupted by light laughs, and by the end Saiming stretches out the low-stakes hook in a way that makes it clear he’s fooling around. Hip-hop was partially built on friends hanging out and turning each other up with a few bars in between, so it’s refreshing to still catch those kinds of moments.