"We Ready," Archie Eversole feat. Bubba Sparxxx (prod. by Break Bread Productions?) (Ride Wit Me Dirty South Style, MCA, 2002)
It’s the best pregame song of all time, maybe because it was made in 2002 by an 18-year-old who would wear a Michael Vick jersey and dance terribly in a junkyard for a video. It’s from a guy who basically doesn’t have an Internet profile, even though he does have a verified Twitter account. It features pre-fame Bubba Sparxxx making Eversole’s awkward dancing look like a Gregory Hines routine. It is aural adrenaline.
"#SELFIE," The Chainsmokers (prod. by The Chainsmokers) (Dim Mak, 2014)
So I think this is going to be the first Hot 100 No. 1 in history to begin with a hashtag.
As music goes, it’s the sort of perfectly forgettable, semi-catchy EDM track that blends in with everything else in this particular stratum of radio-ready stuff (that serrated synth/horn is the standout component), but the music is about as far from the point here as it is with BuzzFeed pop like “We Can’t Stop” and "Feelin’ Myself" and … well, that was just going to be a series of Miley songs/features, as we both know, Reader.
This exists to capitalize on the trend it is named after and satirize it (GO FUCK YOUR #SELFIE shirts all over the video; the duckiest of faces on the lead in the thumbnail), for the benefit of those who will “sing” it — Did I mention the vocal is spoken word? It is, because of course it is, and it’s in a Kardashianesque inflection — with sincerity, and for those who will see this as LCD Soundsystem but, um, younger. The former cohort says lol fake models are soooo ratchet and the latter says Look! Someone has made fun of white girls calling people “ratchet” and The Chainsmokers — a “New York City based disc jockey producer duo” that is signed to 4 AM, not just Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak, has a Wikipedia page that reads like they wrote it, and has a name that sounds a lot like fellow DJ/producer duo Jump Smokers — get spins either way.
I have heard this twice on the radio in the last three days, and am sorry to report that it kind of goes in a car, so it will assuredly go in a club; it is under one million YouTube views right now, and relatively undercovered (this is about it for major write-ups when you Google “#SELFIE song,” thank goodness), but that won’t last. It’s got a video that you will send to someone and your local high schools’ students will send to their group texts, and that video has a brilliant "Didn’t see your #SELFIE? Click here to replay!" prompt that instantly restarts the video and reinforces the idea that this conversation with one’s self(ie) is a nightly thing. A video-as-conversation piece is probably the most important part of a song pitched as a hit from an unknown group in 2014, with streams tallied as spins and Mashable posts as marketing: This is one, surely.
"#SELFIE" is smart, so smart that it will be mistaken for dumb. While I respect that, I don’t have to like it.
"Timber," Pitbull feat. Ke$ha (prod. by Dr. Luke, Cirkut, Sermstyle) (Global Warming: Meltdown and Meltdown, Mr. 305/Polo Grounds/RCA, 2013)
Man, that single art is terrible.
I don’t know how it took this long for Pit to get a) a Dr. Luke beat or b) a Ke$ha hook, given that they’re both RCA artists (think of Eminem being dragooned for B.o.B and T.I., or Rihanna for Eminem, none of whom share labels), but I’m glad it happened.
The harmonica melody is great and distinctive from the rest of the EDM clusterfuck, and it’s a very good choice to have the hook match it. Kesha Rose Sebert is doing some of what she does best as a singer here, going up and down and supplying the necessary vocal fry-ish stuff. And “It’s goin’ down / I’m yellin’ timberrrrrr” is a great lyric, full stop.
About the only problems I have with this are with how short it is (3:26 for two short verses and three hook? Why not 3:45 with a bridge? 4:00 with a Ke$ha verse?), and that brevity serves it well on the radio, where only “Royals” (3:21) and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” are well under the four-minute mark among top-five Hot 100 songs. (“Roar” and “Wake Me Up” are a little over four minutes long, “Wrecking Ball” is a little under it, and feels much longer, as it’s a ballad. ”Hold On” checks in at 3:32 but feels much longer, as does the slower-tempo “Royals,” but anything would feel fast compared to the ponderously plodding No. 6, “Holy Grail,” which goes about five minutes even if DJs cut it off early or talk over the intro.)
If this also presages Ke$ha getting a Pitbull feature in return, I’m even more happy it exists.
25 Reasons why “Right By My Side” is one of the best, most underrated Nicki Minaj songs:
- She provides the rap interlude to her own song. For lady artists, that’s normally a role reserved for a dude but she does it herself.
- And better than any dude would have done if we’re being honest.
- It’s not even like her singing vocal is bad either. In fact, it’s really good! Nicki can do it all, I swear.
- The intro beat is subtlely comprised of a vocal.
- "You own my heart; he’s just renting" is the type of love that spans decades, y’all.
- The woah oh ohhhh ohs in the chorus.
- Chris Brown is not the worst here.
- Honestly though, he’s so replaceable. The part he sings could be Ne-yo or Usher. It’s such a nice flip on the gender problem where there are often nameless or replaceable girls singing female bits.
- He adds some nice male vocals, but the chorus (the first time around before he comes in with his verse) doesn’t suffer without his harmonies.
- And indeed, Chris Brown is replaced in the music video by Nas. He’s not even allowed to be the love interest!
- I wonder if this is because Nicki respects Rihanna, and that makes me happy that those two have a weird friendship? Mutual respect?
- Speaking of, Nas as love interest
- Can you imagine how that pitch meeting went? “Hey Nas, we need you to play the love interest in a Nicki Minaj video where Chris Brown is on it but we don’t want Chris Brown as the love interest.” “Uhhhh, okay?”
- The main beat is comprised of a raindrop pop that can be found on “Beez in the Trap”. Continuity
- And that raindrop pop comes to the forefront during part two of the rap interlude!
- "It’s not your spit game; it’s your dick game" — can always trust Nicki to be totally honest here
- The parallel structure of the line “I be tripping, I be flipping, I be so belligerent”.
- The fact that the line ends with “belligerent” is such a pleasant curveball.
- Fighting only when the Lakers on sounds pretty great. Arguing about basketball sounds great.
- Plus the fact that they fight means that he’s not being a condescending jag about he fact that she’s a lady who loves basketball.
- I hope that Nicki never backs down from the stutter effect at the beginning of lines found here in “w-w-w-wait, damn there I go again”.
- The fact that Nicki is still doing rap hands even while singing because Nicki Minaj is a rapper, duh.
- The woah oh ohhhh ohs in the outro.
- The placement of this song on Roman Reloaded is between “the rap songs” and “the pop songs”, and I can’t think of any better way to think of it as bridging that divide between the two sides of Nicki.
- If “Super Bass” is the perfect uptempo song that navigates the space between the masculine and feminine that Nicki loves to play with, this is the downtempo one that is always overlooked.
One of the reasons I believe deeply in socialism is that it would obviate the need for mothers to call their children and worry about them not having jobs.
"I Luv This Shit," August Alsina feat. Trinidad Jame$ (prod. by Knucklehead) (The Product 2, Def Jam, 2013)
I’ve only heard this twice, both times in radio mixes, but hot damn is it arresting: Alsina’s vocals recall a Trey Songz worried about losing it all (or, as a friend says, “like The-Dream sipped a lot of fucking syrup”) and Mr. Jame$ raps effectively, but the Knucklehead beat is phenomenal, with synths whirling around in the back and the horns (well, “horns”) sounding like triumph and a comedown at the same time. Soft-loud-soft is and will forever be the most satisfying pattern for radio singles, and this follows that formula and zags against R&B that has been significantly brighter and lighter than this all year.
"I Luv This Shit" dropped in January and its video in February, but this was clearly a little too autumnal to impact in the summer as Def Jam might have wanted. Still, it’s good enough to have a second life: It’s No. 8 on R&B Songs and No. 66 on the Hot 100 this week, both peaks.
"Hell & Back," Kid Ink (prod. by Ned Cameron) (Up & Away, The Alumni Music Group, 2012)
I like a Kid Ink song (well, I like the production, and most of the lyric on the hook, even if the delivery here is so casual that it reads as bored), and it is mostly Tavon Austin’s fault. The squished, faraway synths and the patience of everything in the production are nice. Ned Cameron is the most boring rap producer name in a minute.
"Love More," Chris Brown feat. Nicki Minaj (prod. by Freshm3n III) (X, Jive/Zomba/RCA, 2013)
- This should be called “Some More” or “Som’ Mo’” or “Love Some More” or “‘Til We Get It Right,” not “Love More,” because that is a terrible title for a song.
- I have given up on Chris Brown ever becoming someone I can consider respectable, but he consistently makes music I find compelling over beats I love, something I cannot say for many other active pop musicians. (Other people in this category include his compatriot here, Carly Rae Jepsen, and … well.) “Beautiful People” was a fantastic pop song and should have been a much bigger hit; “Don’t Wake Me Up” was a very good song with an average hook; “Fine China” has an incredibly satisfying bass line and a very good melody, and is probably the closest Brown will ever come to making a great Michael Jackson song; “Beat It,” despite having the worst possible title for a song Chris Brown is on to the mind of anyone but the A&R who thought “THIS WILL MAKE THEM MAD,” has about six different wonderful production elements. As long as he stays near mid-tempo and away from turgid and/or self-righteous stuff like “Don’t Judge Me,” which fits both bills Brown’s music is usually something I really enjoy.
- Giving up on Chris Brown ever becoming someone I could find respectable that leaves me in the uncomfortable position of very much liking music made by one of the more radioactive figures among people who critically engage with music. Brown is certainly not unique, as artists whose art’s value or quality trumps their personal appeal, but he seems to me to be one of the first to have this much cultural significance and this much well-founded reason for enmity. The ranks of those who loathe Chris Brown are deep enough for a cottage industry devoted to lambasting him to spring up and the people who are in his corner are so numerous and so easily dismissed as deluded that trolling them is considered by many a legitimate pursuit.
- How, then, do we reconcile many more respected people continuing to work with Chris Brown, rather than push to ostracize him from the industry? (Wikipedia gives him 27 credits as a featured artist on singles since 2010, and lists a couple dozen more features on non-singles; his guilty plea in the case of Rihanna’s domestic abuse came in June 2009.) Pitbull, who can pick virtually anyone to be his hook provider, gave him “International Love”; Nicki has put him on her album, and now she’ll be on his; Kendrick Lamar will also be on this album. Rihanna, rightfully seen by many as one of the more empowered and inspiring women in the public eye, reconciled with him both personally and professionally (Brown and Rihanna have been on two songs together since he brutalized her, neither particularly good, one intentionally trolly), to the chagrin of many who had hoped (and still hope) she would deal with the highest-profile domestic abuse case in many, many years in a fashion more … palatable to the high priestesses of American feminism? We can obviously still choose not to forgive Brown, but we do so at a remove, and more and more of the people who actually know him and can choose to collaborate or associate with him are doing that. The four artists mentioned above all seem like people who have agency that would allow them to make other choices, too, so the implicit choice made is support of Brown’s career, even if it does not necessarily translate as unconditional support of Brown.
- Brown’s long seemed to be wearing an ill-fitting cloak of fame and shame, but his frustration with fame and the public enmity for him has poisoned the well for those tasked with caring about him to the degree that tweets about quitting music get written up with acidic asides. (I like that “the music industry” has “faced near constant criticism” because it “promoted and booked Brown” in the wake of his arrest in that last piece; which parts of the music industry do you really mean, sir?) Another unique facet of Brown’s life is that virtually every other successful artist who has done something akin to what Brown has done has seen that mistake absolved or mitigated over time; Brown, through some fault of his own, has had it magnified. I see no circumstance that would lead to America forgiving Chris Brown, or forgetting what he did. Many other mistakes, some far graver, have long been forgotten. There are perils of this interconnected, supersaturated age for those who make grave mistakes.
- While I can’t really blame those who choose to remember Brown’s misdeeds, remembering them at the expense of ever paying attention to his product strikes me as a bit of a shame. I’d like to talk about the artistic merits of a song that reheats the leftover blips of “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever,” some of them now overcaffeinated, and marries them to a skittering drumbeat, and features Brown’s ability to deftly switch from verse to hook in half a breath and another marvelous verse from Nicki, who broadsides John Salley’s irrelevance in a hashtag bar, rhymes “W” and “smother you,” and claims to be Django.
- But I just wrote many more words about Brown, who I do not like, than his music, which I do. So I understand the problem here.
"PMBB," Ice Burgandy feat. Sean Mack (prod. by Purps) (Progress Involves Risk Unfortunately, Trap-a-Holics/Brick Squad Monopoly, 2012)
I’ve posted this before, but without comment, and yet it popped into my head last night because Sean Mack’s “You will get beat, you will get stabbed, and like that race, you will get dragged” popped into my head; that’s the sort of perfectly-rapped bar that Burgandy and Mack each lattice together (the following four bars rhyme “ridin’ in yo’ path,” “slidin’ in yo’ grass,” “find yo’ ass then tag” and “chance I get I brag”; they are not nearly the best bars on the song) into three excellent verses rapped over Purps’ flimsy, eerie synth-and-drum concoction. I Googled that bar, as I sometimes do when I can’t quite place what a line in my head is from, and found nothing even remotely related to the song, which is odd: David Drake wrote it up on FADER's site and again on Complex as part of a list (obvs) of underappreciated 2012 songs, and mentioned the “On my Harley higher than Chris Farley and my nigga Marley” bit that comes from the first verse and the strongest quatrain of the song in the second one, but no one appears to have gone to the trouble of transcribing the lyrics, probably because David Drake, A$AP Yams, and I are three of a few hundred humans who would possibly have cared about them.
I use odd because lyrics have become so integral to the experience of the music-buying public that virtually any pop song from a major label debuts officially on YouTube with a “lyric video” that is intended to both give the lyrics out to people who would like to sing along to the song and tweet out choice lines and sop up the traffic from the many, many people who search for “(song title) lyrics” and "(song title) video" ("official" also helps) on Google and the many people who search the former on YouTube — which is, I suspect, where the plurality and/or majority of American teenagers’ music discovery happens, and has happened, for years. Lyric videos, as a rule, are rarely actually worth watching (one of the only ones I’ve ever liked was for Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You”; it was also one of the first lyric videos I can remember), and are generally only slightly more glossy than the lyrics-on-black-screen videos from fans (here’s one for Eminem’s “Beautiful” with nearly seven million views) that have existed on YouTube for many years; I have imagined and the poor interns/graphic design grunts who get assigned to make them as pitiable figures like Darren, the “kid from Milwaukee” in Devin Friedman’s 2011 profile of Rick Ross who is tasked with making Maybach Music’s videos and who Friedman surmises “keeps the hours of an ER doctor.” The primary difference between the labels’ official videos and the fan-made ones is that labels and artists get paid off theirs, and you can usually expect inaccuracies in both.
The difference between lyrics transcribed by people who did it mostly for fun and for the purpose of providing accurate lyrics, like me, or like the Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive crew, and lyrics provided by Rap Genius and/or the many lyrics sites that existed before Rap Genius is similar, though it’s my understanding that no one’s done nearly as well for themselves by dominating lyrics searches as the Rap Genius crew. And their model is, in fairness, genius: Not only do you top the charts for, say, drake-hold-on-were-going-home-lyrics, you get long strings for every line in the song.
But the problem with turning over transcription of songs to the unwashed masses who want to do it for
free RapIQ and don’t take any pride in their work is that the Rap Genius lyrics for the biggest Drake song in the world at the moment (“Hold On, We’re Going Home” is No. 8 on the Hot 100) is that the “I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly” line that is probably the most memorable one in the entire song outside the hook is rendered as "I want your high love and emotion, endlessly" on the second mention. I’m willing to grant that that’s probably an oversight instead of an intentional attempt to soak up traffic for “I want your high love and emotion, endlessly” searches, because I don’t think Rap Genius editors actually do anything but brainstorm the dumbest possible tweets to send, but, either way: It obviously runs contrary to the idea that the ___ Genius franchise, once so nobly devoted to explaning rap to white people that it was called Rap Exegesis and was one of Ezra Koenig’s favorite websites (because some dude in a band who knew the site’s Yale-educated cofounders told him about it, apparently), has any genius whatsoever beyond doing white-hat and black-hat SEO better than any major site I know.
This all brings me to Drake because 1) everything does and 2) because Katherine calling Drake “perhaps the ideal RapGenius artist” struck me as a right conclusion reached for the wrong reasons: I think Katherine’s point is that Drake fans want facile explanations of his James Taylor-y lyrics, which Rap Genius is obviously equipped to provide, but I think one of Drake’s talents as an artist is providing stacks of eminently memorable and repeatable phrases to a generation that thirsts for them as content for their own lives. It’s not just Drake’s considerable skills as a writer that allow him to make phrases rarely heard into daily words; he’s an uncommonly clear-voiced rapper who never really lost the accentless delivery of a child actor, that clarity of voice so integral to how he raps that when he deviates from that delivery, as on the Chief Keef-ish “Worst Behaviour,” or the maddeningly familiar “blessed now” of “Too Much,” he sounds like a mimic rather than a rapper extending his range. For the same reason, Drake also benefits more than most from borrowing flows, as he clearly did from Migos on both his verse to their “Versace” and his own “The Language”; as long as he can make the flow work, he can use his standard delivery to make the bars memorable. I had listened to “Versace (Remix)” 25 times before tonight, according to Windows Media Player, and the only bar from any Migos member I remembered before playing it for a 26th time is “Versace, Versace, Medusa head on me like I’m ‘luminati” — the same bar Drake uses to open his verse, which I have memorized.
It’s not hard to transcribe Drake songs correctly, even if the flows speed up (that Migos flow finds Drake packing 18 syllables into the first bar of “The Language”; he crammed 292 words into 24 bars on his “Versace” verse), though, obviously, Rap Genius found a way (or a reason) to do it. More importantly, it is always easy to pick out a Drake bar to tweet or post to Tumblr or use as an Instagram caption. Finding sayings to repurpose as descriptions of one’s own life is, of course, seemingly half of why anyone under 25 who has not yet been paid to write about music even bothers to listen to music anymore, and though Drake has gotten defter at leaning into his once-stiff punchlines and writing punchier ones, he’s been feeding millennials those phrases for years now and reshaping millennial speech in his image, so much so that a critic can see the things he says as "the lingua franca of a generation" because they are so like the things written on Instagram, not because they are designed to be used in that way. Drake makes sing-along music (“you should print the lyrics out and have a fuckin’ read-along”), and has a generation more than happy to sing along to it.
Drake’s greatest natural advantage is that he barely has to try to be resonant or relatable: He, at 26, has lived through many things that his audience has or would like to live through, and understands what that audience needs to use as anthems (“Started From the Bottom,” regardless of whether you judge it to be true to Drake’s lived experience, is certainly true to the hero’s journey a generation that thinks of Drake as one of the leading voices of their generation delusionally believes it is on) or as chicken soup for the soul (“Hold On, We’re Going Home”), or as spiteful (“Worst Behaviour”) or plaintive (“Too Much”) reaction to vagaries of life. Drake’s an asshole in a lot of ways, sure, yet it’s also true that more folks go broke by underestimating the number of assholes in this world than pandering to them.
My worry is that there will be more and lesser Drakes in rap and in music and in life, artists who combine Drake’s emotional openness with less interesting production, or the “OVO sound” that he and Noah “40” Shebib have with duller exposition, or people who say less or less meaningful things than Drake does just as clearly as Drake can. “Every song sound like Drake featuring Drake” was a boast and an observation of a dystopic present every bit as much as “we gon’ be all right if we put Drake on every hook” was augury; both have more than a ring of truth to them.
The problem with having more of Drake or more Drake-like work is chiefly that everything else gets overshadowed by it, and as Drake’s output has gotten better and more interesting, it’s felt more and more likely that he really will be the only towering figure of this generation of rappers. Of his peers, only Kendrick Lamar approaches his popularity, and Kendrick’s boundless creativity and talent suggest to me that he’ll probably have a career spent making music slightly out of step with his generation. The first Kendrick song to really get traction beyond the blog-rap cloud was “A.D.H.D.,” popular at concerts for its “Fuck thaaat!” refrain that is much easier to grasp than a hook about rejecting drug hazes, and his most popular song, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” similarly subverts the text of its catchy chorus with a message that runs counter to it (and the album version of the song has a bracing third verse that leads into a song about his own “fascination with death”!), so I’m comfortable predicting that Kendrick will never quite be in lockstep with the zeitgeist.
Nicki Minaj, just about as creative and talented as Kendrick, is probably going to be glass ceilinging out of becoming the voice of this generation despite being the most entertaining rapper breathing — and, additionally, is 30, just like Lil Wayne, putting her life experiences just beyond most millennials’ imagined relatability. Nicki has also seemed bound and determined to make albums mostly comprised of banger after banger instead of the Cohesive Artistic Statements that Drake and Kendrick have produced, which is certainly fine by me, but that radio-friendly approach has compounded the disadvantages of her age and gender when it comes to being taken seriously enough by mid-20s dudes to pluck her lyrics for tweets. (Better that fate than Wayne’s, though: He’s a shadow of his formerly great self as a rapper, and has essentially narrowed his subject matter to sex and skating. He’ll still sell out tours, but he’s stoking embers, not keeping a fire burning.)
J. Cole plays a serviceable underdog to Drake’s varsity jacket-wearing leading man, but cannot get out of his career’s way, and seems to have little resonance at radio beyond the rap/R&B ghetto; Big Sean’s in the same underdog role, and is more like the class clown; Macklemore is actually 30, and is Macklemore. Unless Waka drops another project as good as Flockaveli,Wale breaks his crippling addictions to shitty spoken word and FirstTake,or Wiz stops being Wiz for like three months, we’re likely to be in the Drake Era of rap for quite some time, while the promising wave of rappers a grade or three below him grows into national figures (the Chicago, DC, Atlanta, L.A., and Bay Area scenes all have a few potential stars) and matures beyond just being able to say interesting things (Odd Future) and the old guard (Kanye, Jay, T.I., etc.) walks or gets hooked off the stage.
We’ll survive it, just as we survived decades of white dudes with guitars simultaneously being assholes and voices of generations, and there will probably be more and better critical pushback against the most obnoxious bits of privileged dude hegemony, given the explosion of popular critique, though I worry that willful and/or deeply flawed misreadings like the ones that have suggested “Blurred Lines” is about date rape or that Taylor Swift’s output required someone to correct her words into “feminist” thought indicate that we’re probably going to have just as much misunderstanding and critical failure as ever.
I’ll keep thinking that Drake is the voice of my generation, and appreciating his ability to create good music, even as I worry about taking his words to heart. But I’ll definitely also keep listening to and praising rap for the things that initially drew me to it, like the lyrical dexterity that makes “PMBB” a great backing track for a flawless five minutes of play on a Call of Duty map that I know I was good at, but cannot remember the name of for the life of me.
Another thing I like is a well-placed reference. Today, Ken Norton, whose 1973 defeat of Muhammad Ali featured Norton breaking the then-world champ’s jaw, died (that fight made the headline of his New York Times obit) — and, via my brain recalling that Sean Mack line, more memorable to me for how it’s said than pretty much any Drake line for any reason, I listened to his verse, which ends with “Two .23s like a pair of Mike Jordans / Run around, knock ‘em down like a rappin’ Kenny Norton,” and smiled at how a guy whose fame came long before rap lives on through it.
There’s good stuff beyond the shadows cast by Drake and others; you just need to get lucky enough to find it, and be smart enough to hold it dear.
Ken Jennings, in his weekly Tuesday Trivia email:
People keep asking me about the little kid ruled incorrect on Jeopardy! last week because he spelled “Emancipation Proclamation” with an extra letter ‘t’. Everyone is up in arms about this because the kid was just thirteen (and evidently heartbroken). But Final Jeopardy! rulings like this have been the same since the beginning of time: if your answer isn’t a plausible phonetic spelling of the cocrrect answer, it’s no good. In this case “Emanciptation” would be pronounced differently than “Emancipation,” end of story.
It also didn’t affect the outcome of the game. Geez, man up, people. Would you be happier if Trebek was like, “Aw, this kid is so cute. We’ll take his wrong answer. He probably knew it deep down and just forgot.”?
While he’s totally right that Final Jeopardy! has always been ruled like that, as far as I know (most contestants ask about this, and I’m 100% sure I knew that at the time I was on), “Geez, man up, people” is a reminder that one of the more famous triviots in the world (135K Twitter followers, many years after the fact!) is still wedded to dumb patriarchal ideas.
Jonah Hill doing sort of a modified Balmer accent here is the best. Also, there are a lot of really good actors in 21 Jump Street.
If I only appreciated art from people I was in perfect political agreement with, I would appreciate zero art ever.