Monday, 8 December 2014

Groove Theories: Pizza Boy / No Tip Necessary & Futility


by Sean Morris

“Meet an emo, lo-fi rapper obsessed with porn and food"

was all it took for me to click the Pigeons and Planes link that led to Pizza Boy’s Soundcloud page. The disclaimer that serves as a greeting to No Tip Necessary: “i’ve spent two and a half years dying in a dorm room. this is the result.” The junk food product references in the song titles are red herrings. Pizza Boy is more concerned with introspection than with empty calories.

“Delicious Cookies” opens with a relatable confession: “I should’ve gone to class, I shouldn’t have masturbated.” The glitch-bounce that accompanies the deprecatory rhymes reassures me that the raptronica marriage consummated by Kanye West last year is still going strong. Pizza Boy takes Yeezus’s name in vain on the very next track, just after name-dropping a legend of a different sort: Peter North. Our hero dreams of art rap stardom, but xHamster keeps getting in the way.

“this is not a song
this is every day that begins with confidence
only to end in a pile of common sense
contradiction and me cocking my dick
aww, skeet skeet, goddamned me again”

“Delicious Pizza” revels in cross-references, from jaw-dropping (“heater give ya crew bloodbaths… Obsidian”) to side-splitting (“my girl look Emma Watson, yo’ girl look like Hopsin”). The alt-trap production is a winning complement, and the hook is a genius tribute to/critique of AutoTune: “ohhhh, don’t know what I’m singin’ ‘bout.” The jokey lyrics gradually evolve into despondent wishes like “if I wasn’t living ‘cause of fiction I would make it fact.”

Two tracks later, fear of failure consumes “Delicious Breadsticks.” Lyle Horowitz swirls ominous keyboards and a spectral clap around Pizza Boy’s denunciations. “I will get no listens on my raps but trust Natalie Portman will” succinctly describes the bitterness of MCs who post the fruit of their passions online only to watch the play count not budge. The blogosphere has even given these MCs their own sub-genre: Struggle Rap. PB has a clever rejoinder for that, too: “rap is innately struggle.”

Another tenet of so-called Struggle Rap is a quick turnaround, which is why Pizza Boy uploaded another EP a month later. After completing both college and No Tip Necessary, PB had to move back home. For the ever-shrinking American middle class, one of life’s greatest frustrations is living in the same room as an adult that you did as an adolescent. Futility is a brave ode to downward mobility, regression, and determining self-worth when the outside world declines to do so.

With its insistent synth loop and breathless stream of consciousness rhymes, “Atlas Shrugging” is leaps and bounds ahead of anything on No Tip Necessary, and most hip-hop released this year for that matter. All of a sudden, Pizza Boy knows what he’s singin’ ‘bout:

“this is the Struggleverse
I am the cartographer
I know secret passageways
I don’t know the way outta hurr’”

Coining the term for the matrix of websites teeming with music demos desperate for listeners and attention is a brilliant bit of world-building. Producers in the Struggleverse will demand a skit-length rant if forgotten in the shout outs, as Horowitz does at the end of “Atlas Shrugging.” For MCs in The Struggleverse, sounding hungry is not enough. On Futility, Pizza Boy sounds better than hungry, he sounds urgent.

The six tracks are a sumptuous balance of hip-hop tropes past and present. A 90’s era kick/snare is the backbone of the somber, Sade-sampling “Note to Self,” while “Melt” is a paranoid swarm of supergalactic sound effects. Pizza Boy’s tumblr describes “Death March” as a song “executed from the perspective of something about to be executed… a person, an idea, a dream.” A frenzied flow and another excellent, foreboding beat temper the borderline pretentious concept. PB needs to get these rhymes out now or they will die. Whether or not they will flourish depends on the whims of the Struggleverse. 

Hip-hop historically has little interest in struggle unless it involves crime or squalor. “Keeping it real” remains needlessly tethered to aggression instead of honesty. As KRS-One put it, “reality ain’t always the truth, Rhymes Equal Actual Life In The Youth.” Pizza Boy’s puts his compulsions, aspirations, and worries front and center, remaining genuine throughout. Anyone bemoaning the lack of quality young rappers should be quickly directed this way.

Listen/download Pizza Boy's music on:

Zestyverse's resident Music Geek Sean Morris is an SF Bay Area native with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. He is a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, a former Los Angeles Slam Team member, part of the collective Art 4 A Democratic Society, and a music blogger for The Owl Mag. Find him on TwitterSoundCloud, and YouTube.

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