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So Necessary: Solange, the National, 2 Chainz, and the Week’s Best Moments in Music

Our weekly roundup highlights chipmunk soul, Kenny Beats’s new web series, emo rock, a Playboy Carti cameo, and a rapper to watch from North Carolina

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Because he has nothing better to do with his time, each Friday, Micah Peters riffs on the most awe-inspiring, confounding, addictive, or otherwise hilarious moments from the week in music. This week: 2 Chainz goes crate-digging, JPEGMAFIA commits some light arson, and Solange does it all.

When the Chipmunk Soul Hits on 2 Chainz’s “Threat 2 Society”

2 Chainz has been preoccupied with his legacy for a couple of years now, coinciding with wide, if grudging, recognition of his many, many talents and general steadfastness, being that he hasn’t missed much since 2011’s T.R.U. REALigion. So it’s fitting that LeBron James did A&R on Rap or Go to the League, and not a little funny, in a cosmic way, cast against the stark reality of James’s minutes being curtailed as the Lakers look likely to miss the playoffs. Life is like that.

On the cover of Rap or Go to the League is a milk crate nailed to a telephone pole. The album, when it isn’t catching you flat-footed in transition (“Money in the Way,” “Momma I Hit a Lick”), stirs up the same feelings that a tribute video might. “Threat 2 Society” does a bit of both but more of the latter; it’s a 9th Wonder beat, and it samples the Truthettes’s “So Good to Be Alive.” Over it, 2 Chainz says he sold drugs to his mom, and I’ve been reckoning with that. But I’ve been thinking more about how Teddy Pendergrass’s “Love T.K.O.” (a sad song about tears and bumps and bruises and breakups) and “So Good to Be Alive” (a serene one about thanking God for each new day) both sound perfect over the exact same production.

2 Chainz does too. I particularly enjoyed his being both petty and finishing-school polite in the first verse: “Your alter ego is MALTESE.”

Pick Any Part of the First Episode of Kenny Beats’s The Cave

It’s tough to think about “Puff Daddy”—JPEGMAFIA and Kenny Beats’s late-November collaboration—and not come up with words like “frantic” or “alarming” or “hoardt.” On the first episode of The Cave, Kenny Beats’s new biweekly web show, the two try to re-bottle lightning, and the results are not exactly discouraging. As in: They should definitely explore this chemistry on a full-length project in the very near future. That’d be pretty cool, I think.

For the time being, though, every other week, a different rapper friend will come hang out at Kenny Beats’s studio and make something from scratch. It’s sort of like the very-good Mass Appeal series “Rhythm Roulette,” but feels less romantic about songcraft; The Cave bares its metronome and has full-on screen sharing instead of, like, softly lit shots of Big K.R.I.T.’s pensive face. The process is often chaotic, and The Cave embraces the chaotic energy. JPEGMAFIA allows his Tamagotchi to die at about the 1:20 mark, and later refers to himself as “white trash.”

The National’s “You Had Your Soul With You”

“Hard to Find,” the closing thought on the National’s 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me, is such a bummer. It’s one long sigh, and an expression of longing, of resignation: “I don’t know why we had to lose / The ones who took so little space.” Hope or solace or companionship, these are the things that are hard to find. Even for a band known for making sad, contemplative songs, it’s a sad, contemplative song.

The title of the National’s forthcoming album Easy to Find, out in May, suggests at least a slight change of heart (or mind), and the lead single “You Had Your Soul With You” reflects a kind of fragile optimism. The song is blippy and unsure from the start, but makes itself fully vulnerable about two minutes in, when Matt Berninger’s anxious confessions cede ground to a chord progression that winds dizzyingly upward, and then piano, and then a new voice—session musician and vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey, a longtime collaborator of none other than David Bowie. “I have owed it to my heart, every word I’ve said / You have no idea how hard I died when you left,” she sings. It’s not happy per se, but it feels as though it’s trying to be.

When Playboi Carti Shows Up on Solange’s “Almeda”

Solange’s When I Get Home doesn’t commit to any one facet or mode of the black experience. It’s free recombination—every part is equally valid and important. And sometimes that means that a meditation on the limits and successes of black American economic empowerment goes on top of a high-art version of a Slim K slowdown. On “Almeda,” she lists things that are still black-owned: braids, waves, skin.

And then, out of nowhere, Playboi Carti shows up and, in his infectious and absurd baby voice, meeps and mutters about the size and clarity of his diamonds. His appearance ends in his arrest: “They takin’ me in what I done? (WHAT) / They takin’ me in what I done?”

DaBaby Jumping the Gun on “Taking It Out”

If you were to ask me to explain, in 15 seconds, why you should listen to DaBaby, I would show you this video of a recent club appearance of his. He bounces off the stage and around the dance floor like a battery-powered G.I. Joe, and mid-verse, he knocks out a civilian who wandered in too close. Watching it the first time, I was that weird guy from the wing spot in Atlanta who seemed to prefer rap as bloodsport—IT’S THAT ’90S SHIT, B.

I could also just play you the opener on either of his two projects. On “Next Song,” DaBaby explodes off the line, rapping about getting head and doing the boogie on the cops; in the video, this happens at the same time. On “Taking It Out,” the first song on his debut album proper Baby on Baby, he leaps offside. It’s a single stream of consciousness that begins with the North Carolina rapper worrying about whether or not he can talk his best shit with his grill in, and ends with him deciding it doesn’t matter. “Real nigga,” he claims, “rock star.” We might have to give him both.