Diamonds & Wood: Part I, L.A’s Next Great Rapper, Looper, Gunplay, The Enjoyable Tomfoolery Of The Bruiser Brigade And More

"Diamonds & Wood" is an ongoing series in which music critic Shea Serrano breaks down the 5 hip-hop tracks you need to hear this week.

Part I

In college I pledged a fraternity. I don't think it's important to identify which one it was because (fundamentally, at least) they are all the same. (The one discerning characteristic is the size/color of the girls that attend the parties.) The entire process took approximately twelve weeks. Despite a few minor irritations (which all centered around having to remember very specific things in a very specific order, lest you be addressed in a less than charitable manner), it was an enjoyable, entertaining process.

Even eight years out, I don't imagine I'm supposed to talk about all of the secret secrecies that went on (it seems like I remember someone saying almost that exact sentence very early on during pledging), but there is one night that I don’t mind discussing because it was very painful and very funny and very ridiculous and I, along with the other guys that were there and suffered through it, earned the right to do so. But first, a bit of background information as context.

Some of the important people involved:

There was C., my “line brother” (person that I pledged with) and a guy I’d anticipated early on that I would hate, but eventually became one of my most trusted crime partners. We spent the entirety of our days making fun of each other, which is how every advanced male expresses admiration and/or hatred. He is one of the few guys that I have bothered to maintain a relationship with. I remember one time after we had become members we were picking on some of the new pledges at someone’s house and one of them started smiling about something he said. C. flew over there, shouted, “Oh, we’re smiling?! So it’s a party?! I guess I’ll just take my pants off then?!” and then yanked down his pants and underwear. Why C.’s initial response to learning there’s a party is to remove his pants is beyond me, I only know that you can’t unsee a large black flaccid penis once you’ve seen it in person.

There was R., another of my line brothers. He was a muscled, bi-racial ex-Marine sniper that had apparently participated in some missions that required him to see people die. (He was a nontraditional student, which is just a different way to say he was old. I think he might’ve been 30 at the time, or maybe 50. I don’t know. He kept his hair really short so it was hard to tell.) R. was a goddamn insane man. During Hell Week, wherein all of the pledges (there were 15 or 16 at the time, a number that dwindled down quickly) were required to stay in a one bedroom apartment all day every day, he was the only one that remained unaffected. (Sleeping on a carpet floor was preferable to sleeping on a jungle floor, I suppose.) He was also the only that didn’t get fucked with. I touched his makeshift bed once and he attempted to remove my head from my shoulders. Being around him was like being around an about-to-attack lion. It was interesting and terrifying. I think he maybe thought I was funny or my bone structure was pathetic so that’s why he didn’t murder me. Either way. Oh, also, he ate a lot of gummy bears and liked to play the keyboard alone. The things you know.

There was M., easily the fraternity’s most likeable, most immediately recognizable figure. Nearly every ridiculous story I have from that time period involves M. in some capacity. There was one instance where he commissioned me and another guy to create a gigantic dong out of Christmas lights and hang it on the side of his house. He requested that we use blinking white lights to represent the ejaculate. All of the guys thought it was brilliant and all of the guys’ girlfriends thought it was deplorable. He was a visionary, really.

And there was J., the guy that was in charge of making sure our particular pledge class was put through an appropriate amount of strife. He organized all of that semester’s shenanigans. He had big teeth and a tribal tattoo and drove a Ford Mustang. Mexicans think Ford Mustangs are the greatest cars on the planet.

There were other guys there, and they’ll be mentioned in passing certainly, but those four are the main ones.

Now, the night.

Part II will be up next Friday. Thank you.

1. Kendrick Lamar, "Compton," featuring Dr. Dre

I like Kendrick Lamar. You should too. Because he's goddamn good. I mean, this song isn't even all that great, but it's still better than 90 percent of the other stuff on Nah Right right nah. (Did that work? I was trying to make that "nah" sound like "now." I even said it as I typed it. You probably didn't see that though, that's why I'm explaining it. Or, …fuck. Never mind. Moving on.)

p.s. The song is really tough in its last quarter, particularly Lamar's ending spat, and double particularly when the production starts to noodle around itself. Don't turn it off before then.

2. Wale, "Arrival"

Wale recorded this song thirty years from now, but the mafia got a hold of it and sent it back in time so I could post it here. I'm a blogger looper. So now you know.

(You should definitely go see that movie. It does a really good job of sidestepping any serious consideration of the plot pitfalls that always accompany time travel movies.)

3. Gunplay, "I Got That Sack"

We're all supposed to be saying how enjoyable this guy's Yay Ignorance!!! bluster is. I just didn't want you to not know what was going on when people start trying to argue his relevance, is all.

4. Danny Brown and Bruiser Brigade on Pitchfork's Selector

Skip to the 3:23. SO MUCH FUN. (Except for the last guy. He must just be real fun to hang out with, I guess. Because whoops.)

5. Nardwuar vs. Riff Raff

Riff Raff is a gorgeous speaker. He is basically White Barack Obama.

Note: For those that emailed/tweeted again, thank you. Function Undertaking lost their game this Wednesday 18-0. We played Ke., a team of hyperathletic football titans. Our players weren’t outfought, only outmatched. (My favorite analysis: When one of our linemen remarked “23 es mas rapido” while watching them warm-up. It’s not unlike a pregame analysis one of our players made a few years ago before a basketball game: “Coach, are they a black school? …They are? Okay, we’re gonna lose.”) I’d anticipated Ke. would be angry (we’ve been zoned against each other for the past five years; they won three championships in a row, we won the last two), which they were, but they weren’t bitter, which I appreciated. After the game, the coaching staffs met at midfield and the first thing their head coach said was, “You know you guys took our trophies these last two years, right?” I liked him immediately.

Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in the Houston Press, LA Weekly, Village Voice, XXL, The Source, Grantland and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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