The Quarter Pole: Maypril 2009 Friday, May 8, 2009Posted by Andy Hutchins in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Rockabye.
Tags: 3Oh!3, Alienated, Asher Roth, B.o.B., Black Eyed Peas, Boom Boom Pow, Crooked I, Day N Nite, DJ Khalil, Don't Trust Me, Drake, Eminem, Generation Lost, I Love College, I'm The Shit, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Kanye West, Kelly Clarkson, Keri Hilson, KiD CuDi, Kinda Like a Big Deal, Knock You Down, Lil Wayne, Lloyd Banks, Maybach Music 2, My Life Would Suck Without You, Ne-Yo, Rotate, Royce da 5'9", Slaughterhouse, Swizz Beatz, We Made You
We’re about a quarter some stretch of the way through 2009. And because I am a blogger and enjoy both creating arbitrary segments of time for my own writing purposes and the compilation of shamelessly subjective lists, I have (yet another) one of the latter for one of the former.
Check the Quarter Pole archives for past editions, and click the jump to read this one.
I’m burying the lede this time: My favorite songs are at the bottom of the page.
Video of the Quarter
KiD CuDi, “Day N Nite”
Kudos to Cudders and Co. for allowing the embed of this gem. The handclaps and bloop-bloop of the beat keep this stoner’s soliloquy rambling on, and the cool that oozes out of the unconventional delivery make this a glide of a song, and the semi-cartoonish video fits it perfectly. As visually involving as the source material is sonically different, this video burnishes CuDi’s cred as your favorite blogger’s favorite Kanye affiliate. (By your favorite blogger, I don’t mean me.
Vocal Performance of the Quarter, Rap
5. Drake and Lil Wayne, “Ignorant Shit”
I’ve been all over this beat since it was on American Gangster, but the Martian and Toronto’s finest youngster requisition and receive part of the title deed to the beat on this nearly five-minute clinic. Drake claims to be “still spittin’ that shit that they shot ‘Pac over/The shit my mama looked shocked over,” boasts that he’s “the one twice over/I’m the new eleven,” and makes “One touch, I can make the drapes and the sheers change/And show me the city that I without fear claim” sound as epic as T.S. Eliot. But the best lines are his girl-baiting barbs: “My song is your girlfriend’s waking-up ringer/Or alarm or whatever/She be here six in the morn if I let her” and a crudely creative use of beaver and dam. Weezy, of course, proceeds to float off into the ether, croaking “I’m a cheesehead,” rhyming “retarded” with “recording” with “C4ing” with “currency foreign” with “league they aren’t,” and generally tapping the genius of his headiest mixtape days with rejoinders like “So fly I’ma take off when I leap/Bye/And you can suck my wings/Stand on my money/Headbutt Yao Ming” on a sprawling verse that manages to name-check Siegfried and Roy, Tila Tequila, Roy Jones Jr. and Vince Lombardi. It’s every bit what its title suggests, a turn from the Jay-Z version, but it’s every bit as lyrically impressive.
4. Crooked I, “I’m Still An MC”
The West Coast’s newest last hope rides a maelstrom of synths, constructs a Jesus-God-Jah-godfather lineage in his first verse, dumps “Seventeen shots/I call the bullets flying guillotines” in the middle of the second, and raps, “Crooked’s a classic like every song Biggie made/Somethin’ like Jigga when him and Eminem was renegades.” He almost makes you believe it, too, finally putting a defiant hook on a song that celebrates his cerebral verses and the creativity it takes to pull off things like that Karrine Steffans line.
3. Royce da 5’9″, “Slaughter”
Though Nickel is all over the place here, he commands this barebones beat and throws a quotable (or seven) in every eight-bar chunk of genius. The “fear year,” Asher Roth, and Ashton Kutcher lines are all corundum-hard, and this should serve notice that Royce’s third entry in the Bar Exam mixtape series will be one of the year’s best albums.
2. Lloyd Banks, “Officer Down”
If Rick Ross is a correctional officer, as was the main thrust of the 50 Cent crew in the dying Ross/Curtis beef, Banks became a cop-killer when he disembodied Ross on this beat. His breathy growl rumbles above the beat’s wobbling and around its bells (humorously, one Nah Right commenter mentioned that Banks would be wise to stop rapping over the Fable 2 soundtrack), systematically savaging his opponent with multisyllablic rhymes and brutal punchlines, stuttering for effect and occasionally slowing to drop a killer quotable like “30 cities, 30 shooters/We’re like the NBA.” “I’m on another planet,” Banks explains, adding “50 bodied you/I just laid the chalk down” to the funeral pyre. This beat was, in my mind, never really a competition (both 50 and Ross have albums out soon), but, should an actual battle have transpired, Banks could have spit this and dropped the mic, setting the stage ablaze and incinerating the bystanders frozen with mouths agape. It’s that powerful a package of lyrical dynamite.
1. Slaughterhouse, “Move On (Remix)”
By adding high-concept to their usually phenomenal lyricism, the Vonnegut Minus One crew came up with a piece of hip-hop that both soars linguistically and affects emotionally. Royce recants his squashed beef with Eminem; Joe Budden talks about his struggles to come up with a career after “Pump It Up”; Crooked laments the state of the West Coast; Joell Ortiz affirms his authenticity and slaps at invasive media. It’s more than the lyrical show played straight that these four can churn out; this song is a story with four parts, and one of the better ones of 2009.
Beat of the Year
3. Swizz Beatz, “Rotate”
Sometimes, there’s really not much to a dope beat. The Middle Eastern guitar and disgustingly simple drum loop here, accented with a climbing drum pad in the middle of verses, takeoff sound effects, and occasional drum-free bars, make this a spitter’s dream.
Proof of Dismantling: Cory Gunz demonstrates how to make those dreams realities, rapping at his usual high-octane pace and stitching together lines full of squeaky-voweled punchlines.
2. DJ Khalil, “Kinda Like a Big Deal”
Slashing guitar, a couple of Kanye-influenced drum loops, a wailing vocal sample, assorted momentary whirs, and a nice keyboard breakdown at the beginning of the hook, and it’s the sort of high-priced trunk-rattler Kanye and the Brothers Thornton deserve.
Proof of Dismantling: Kanye’s verse. He bombs this beat.
1. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, “Maybach Music 2 (Instrumental)”
It’s one hell of a beat. Synths, strings, and horns swirl in from somewhere celestial, build slowly, and crest with the triumphant brass in the hook and the regal drum loop. It settles and swoons in the verses, and allows the various voices to soar over it; it’s more sonic landscape, fit for soundtracking The Godfather or something of that nature, background for the rappers and fanfare for the virtually perfect T-Pain hook.
Proof of Dismantling: Chamillionaire’s take, which includes one of my favorite lines of the year: “If you don’t slow it down, your history ’bout to be/Strategic without the S, the second T and the E.”
Mini One on One: White Rappers’ Pop Potential
In this corner, we have Eminem, whose “We Made You” is as popular on YouTube as it is embed-proof. (Here’s a direct link.) Basically, it’s warmed-over Em spitting sideways (there’s an odd voice effect he also used on the far superior “I’m Having a Relapse”) and taking potshots at pop culture. Kim Kardashian, Tony Romo, and John Mayer all take their lumps, but this is Em working at MySpace speed in a Twitter culture. (It’s telling that he’s referring to a Jennifer Aniston/Mayer relationship that was done before this song even dropped.) When Marshall brags about his album, “Never has there been such finesse and nostalgia,” it’s less an announcement of renewed purpose a harbinger of a project mining the same old, same old.
Meanwhile, Asher Paul Roth, who is to Eminem as Pennyslvanian suburbia is to the poor regions of Detroit, has earned his ubiquitous hit with description of his ethos and atmosphere. “I Love College” is as milquetoast as it gets when college and pop culture collide, a woozy, boozy toast to the frat-boy lifestyle, with a Miller Lite shout-out here and a “Keg stand! Keg stand!” chant there. He’s doing absolutely nothing worthwhile from a technical standpoint, but it’s the appeal of the partier’s idyll that carries this, as well as the revamped lick from “Say It Ain’t So.” I’ve heard this played, and not ironically, more than once. I shudder to think that Roth, in this, his most thoughtless form, would be the middle-class poet in this class of rappers.
On relatability, I’ve give Asher the edge: Em’s beef with celebrity is tired, rehashed as it is. On skill, Em wins a round, for a tricky delivery that belies the relative laziness of the subject matter. But in the deciding category of catchiness, Roth rules: The indulgent ignorance and general meandering of this track appeal to a certain group of people who happen to frequent house parties, and it’s going to drift out of stereos until freshman arrive in the fall. So Asher topples Eminem here.
Mini One on One: Better Sign of the Apocalypse
For the Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” is supposed to be a re-entry into the pop charts. Instead, the only thing meteoric about this futuristic turd is the thud that should echo on impact in the lower ranges of the charts. Fergie chirps, “I’m so three thousand and eight/You so two thousand and late,” Apl.de.ap says “Cybertron,” will.i.am warbles about satellite radios and leprechauns, and a host of Auto-Tune and beat-chopping artifices ornament this utterly hollow song. But, regrettably, it’s catchy nonsense from a period-happy crew.
Denver’s 3Oh!3, on the other hand, have nothing but misogyny and general insensitivity to buoy their pop-rap concoction. (Well, that and a bassy drum line and a tinkle of a synth.) I suppose the “vegetarian” line in “Don’t Trust Me” is clever, but the chorus is as morally bankrupt as any this century has given us, and the Helen Keller bit is as callous as they come. It should be no surprise that Katy Perry is a tourmate of these fellows, or that people go bananas for it live. It is, of course, catchy.
But which serves as better evidence of Western civilization’s decline? On creativity, the Peas fail on all fronts, while the exclamation point-people toss in a few sharp bars. On message, the nonsense of the BEP stands no chance against 3Oh3!’s blatant male chauvinism. And, sadly, on quality, the Denver crew’s “Don’t Trust Me” destroys “Boom Boom Pow,” a minimalist male electro-jam trumping the strident schizophrenia of the BEP production.
Expect both songs to dominate charts and persuade ever more people to purchase iPod car converters this summer.
Songs of the Quarter
(Note: There are two Keri Hilson songs on this list because the album is excellent. Buy it.)
Also, the common theme of this list would seem to be fun.
5. Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You”
Kelly is best when righteously wrong, and this song finds her in that “Since U Been Gone” mood with a sunnier track behind it. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t belabor the point: This song’s really good.
4. Keri Hilson feat. Ne-Yo and Kanye West, “Knock You Down”
You want something positive? How about an ode to love that uses a pounding drum/synth combo, some deep strings, and a few airy effects to send it to the clouds? Not interested yet? Why not put three of the most talented artists in hip-hop/pop music on the track? How about letting Keri purr “Just get back up when it knocks you down,” Ne-Yo call himself “commander-in-chief of my pimp ship,” and Kanye compare himself to Slick Rick? And then we can stretch it to a little more than five minutes and make it danceable?
That would be a great song, wouldn’t it?
I can’t embed the video for it, but you should watch it, if only for Keri’s interpretation of Kanye’s Michael Jackson line.
3. DJ Class feat. Kanye West, “I’m The Shit (Remix)”
How gloriously stupid and braggadociously delicious can one song be? It’s a relentless drum loop, some handclaps, a zipper of synth in the verses and bleeps of it in the chorus, and simple, universal boasting from a Baltimore and rap’s biggest star. It fits Kanye perfectly, sounds anthemic at the same time, and would only just barely not get corpses’ toes tapping. I can’t listen to it without swaying or saying at least half of Kanye’s verse; it’s swine flu-infectious.
2. B.o.B./Bobby Ray, “Generation Lost”
They call this guy the heir to Andre 3000’s “conscious, quirky Atlanta rapper” throne. On this song, he both rejects that in assuming his own mantle and proves a worthy prince, spilling an autobiography of an artist finding his way in a 3K vein. The beat, which sort of floats next to B.o.B.’s flow, is as interesting as the anti-rap stance from a guy who could be the next big thing in Southern rap, but the slightness of the music and the effortlessness of the verse belie the gravity that the kid brings to the mic. This is not a great song, but it is a powerful, personal one, and while Rick Ross, Asher Roth, and Eminem march in their parade of facades, I’ll be listening to a guy who seems to put a little more thought into his music.
1. Keri Hilson, “Alienated”
This is as expansive and sprawling a single-artist pop song as I’ve heard in the last few years, clocking in at 4:34 with a variety of pre-hooks and bridges and production that goes from spacey synths to Danja’s light drum stomping over the course of the song. Hilson, though, is the star: She’s got her coolest coo on, but the burn of a lost lover colors this track, and lines like “You’re the reason I don’t change my number/Want you to know it’s still the same” showcase her grounded, emotive, clever writing by combining one and the other. There’s no way this goes to the top of any charts in this world, as its complexity will torpedo it, but “Alienated” captures wistful in full and is sonically delightful on every listen. For that, it gets this spot.
Also, an announcement: I won’t be in the States again until June, but when I get back, I’m going to try to run 1520 Sedgwick daily and Confection Corner biweekly here at DeadOn.
I’m also, though, going to tend more carefully to my other shingle at The Rockabye Review in the coming weeks and months. I hope you join me over there.
I also hope you join me in the comments.