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2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is Pt. IV

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-What Rappers Talk About When They Talk About Getting That PaperTwo of the more invigorating songs of the year were Rich Boy’s ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ and Born Wit It’s ‘Stack Paper Up’ (which Tom Breihan has been rightfully praising for like, 5 months now). Both songs made very clear something I’ve been trying to explain to “real” rap fans and the average dumbass who complains “rap’s just all about making money, it’s stupid” for years. Namely, when rappers talk about getting money or stacking their paper up or whatever, they are talking about escape and freedom and well, transcendence (really!). If you’re the kind of dope that’s going to bemoan this reality still as some kind of horrible byproduct of a capitalist society or some shit, then you’re hopeless, but if not, bear with me.

Now, I don’t know if you guys knew this, but rappers are sort of really into looking cool and not embarrassing themselves and you know, because their form of expression is words, they like to be sort of clever or complicated with what their saying (even Soulja Boy was apparently talking about busting on a girl’s back or something…). When Jay-Z and Nas squashed their beef, they didn’t drop a speech like, “we’ve grown to accept and respect one another”, they told the crowd something to the effect of “Stop all this beef, let’s make money.” Of course, making money was a part of it, but undoubtedly, it was deeper than that. I’ve said all this before, but basically…rappers don’t want to sound like hippie-dippie idiots, so instead of being like “I’ve matured” or “We’ve come to accept our differences”, they say “Let’s get this money!.”

In ‘Let’s Get This Paper’s scary, stuttering synths and like near-’The Thin Red Line’ choir noises, sort of captures the mix of defiant anger and desperation found in the quest to get the fuck out of your stupid surroundings and to some extent, the shitty world in general; that’s why Rich Boy’s anger goes towards the complacency of his friends and community, white supremacy, government corruption, and all other forms of bullshit and hypocrisy. You get money and then you’re out. You don’t have to deal with it anymore. ‘Stack Paper Up’ meanwhile, is about the potential for escape from the same everyday bullshit but extends it to a concern for those around you in hopes that your money or success can help others as well; even if it takes you down, maybe you’ll help somebody else.

Putting this genuinely triumphant message atop the mournful strings from ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is pretty much genius- even if it a little goofy- because Born Wit It are acknowledging and trying to get beyond the same world-weariness of the Verve’s forever-quoted-in-high-school-year-books message and also, its defiant because due to sample-clearance issues, the song will just never get a true release and so, it’s sort of like this sincere Public Service Announcement rap song (Non-Profit rapping or something).

-Wow, Jay-Z Really Is the Ultimate Hustler
What It Was: Jay-Z, having backed himself into a corner by making a “mature” rather than mature “comeback” album, realizes he can’t just go back to talking about murking people and drug-dealing without sounding like he’s full of shit, so he claims inspiration from a pretty-stupid Hollywood gangster movie and calls its a “concept album” even though the first single is on some like, early RUN DMC shit and apes Rakim’s flow which has nothing to do with the 70s-setting of ‘American Gangster’. Then, this big single is relegated to a bonus track- probably because Jay realized it didn’t really fit the ‘American Gangster’ concept- and we get a bunch of lame 70s soul-beat approximations…Fuck Jay-Z.

What It Is: People who don’t really listen to rap put it on their year-end lists but pretty much everybody else got sick of it pretty quickly, which is a good thing. The video and even just the concept of ‘Roc Boys’ is so disgusting I still get angry about it. Okay, so the dude who made it his persona to be a ruthless piece of shit businessman, turns himself into the piece of shit businessman with a heart because this ‘American Gangster’ pseudo-concept demands it. How do the real-life “Roc Boys” from Dame to State Property and beyond, feel about this? Lines like “Thanks to all the hustlers, and most importantly you, the customer” are more amoral and obscene than anything Jeezy’s ever said. Fuck Jay-Z.

(‘Blue Magic’ flavored Vitamin Water made by Jesse Reese. Thanks.)

-Little Brother’s ‘Getback’ and Median’s ‘Median’s Relief’
What It Was: Two of the most consistent rap albums of the year came out of the Hall of Justus crew. ‘Median’s Relief’ was a thoroughly entertaining and smart group of songs that follows the “underground” blueprint well enough without seeming like it was by-the-numbers underground rap. Even the super-embarrassing lyrical games like ‘Personified’ get by with hot beats and Median’s sincerity. There are few total classics on here as well…‘How Big Is Your World’ and ‘Right Or Wrong?’ which I’ve talked about already (see the links) and a very effective kinda-sequel to ‘Pac’s ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ called ‘Brenda’s Baby’.

Little Brother’s ‘Getback’ was the kind of thing that never happens when a band changes or suffers label drama: they actually learn from their mistakes! The humor and personality is put to the forefront without sacrificing a certain degree of didacticism that seems important to Phonte and Pooh. The only song that really annoys me message-wise is ‘Breakin’ My Heart’ because it’s pretty much total bullshit for a group of rappers that demand people take responsibility for their shit to write a song that justifies cheating: “A woman’s life is love/A man’s love is life”. I think the most rewarding way to listen to ‘Getback’ is to see it as a kind of corrective to all the moronic rap on the radio but instead of smugly shitting on it as they did on ‘The Minstrel Show’, they wisely steal from this or that rap trend, spruce it up, and make it smarter. The beats are still Little Brother, but they have a focused R & B element to them and some of them genuinely bang in like a mainstream radio way. This is the album these guys should’ve made when they had major label support.

What It Is: Can someone explain how people praised Lupe Fiasco’s album but barely cared about either of these? How is basically ripping off Kanye West’s album and being even more of a twat than Kanye end up with you being celebrated as a great “real” rapper?

-Wow, Radiohead Really Are the Ultimate HustlersWhat It Was: I know this isn’t rap but I didn’t get a chance to bitch about this when it came out and it’s been bugging me ever since, so bare with me…Praising Radiohead for their “revolutionary” distribution of ‘In Rainbows’ is the same as praising Al Gore for being super eco-friendly (if he even was super eco-friendly): When you’re fucking loaded, it’s easy to go out on a limb and do something like this.

Radiohead haven’t released a real album since ‘Kid A’. They quickly followed-up the kinda polarizing ‘Kid A’ with ‘Amnesiac’, which was rock-ish enough to get some of those ‘OK Computer’ fans back, but still “weird” enough to seem cool and of course, it had that built-in cover-our-asses excuse of it being a collection of outtakes. ‘Hail to the Thief’ was also more a collection of song than an album but Radiohead made it a big deal by typing cryptic announcements in all-lowercase and waiting too many years for what was basically a “meh” set of songs. So then, “out of nowhere” comes ‘In Rainbows’ but it’s not really out-of-nowhere because Radiohead have a sick internet fanbase that discusses and analyzes every new song they perform live, so before it even came out, the group knew what their fans thought of certain songs, making ‘In Rainbows’ in its own way, as market-tested as ‘High School: The Musical’ and with this whole “download for any price” gimmick to boot!

What It Is: Who even cares. I’m sorry guys, this year-end recap thing was supposed to be a quick thing because there wasn’t a lot going on in rap right now, but it’s really getting out of control. “What It Is?”, well it’s a Radiohead album that everyone creamed over even though its not that good or interesting and hardly cohesive as an album. Look for my next post to be a non-2007 rap recap.

-The Return of Andre 3000!
What It Was: Throughout the second half of 2007, Andre 3000 started creeping up on remixes and guest verses and dropping really sincere and creative verses that you know, are not as great as some of his past work (but what is?) but will more than do…I was reminded of that line on ‘Champion’ by Kanye where he pretty much calls Lauryn Hill out for no longer rhyming and suggests that it’s not only a disappointment to her many fans, but like, an ethical issue. Andre’s always been the voice of reason in rap; an ethical but never “knowing” reactionary. Let’s look at those verses…

-‘What a Job’: Andre is one of the biggest influences on the current incarnation of Lil Wayne and Wayne’s taken Andre’s sincerity, willful weirdness, over-enunciation, purposeful mispronunciation, emotionality, bad similes, and everything else, and as is often the case with the smarter veterans of any genre, Andre’s maybe bit the biter and took some of his influence back from Wayne, most evidently in his near-robot flow on a lot of these 2007 verses, especially ‘What A Job’.

Andre’s bitching about file-sharing never feels too annoying because the song is about rapping as a job without ever being a song that bitches about being a rapper and also because Andre’s always had this very moral, instructive side to his rhymes; it makes sense that file-sharing bothers him. I love how he sings the middle of this verse almost like, tempting us or teasing us with returns to ‘The Love Below’…The other side of Andre’s persona is the side that is incredibly empathetic- notice how often he’s talking about what someone “is going through” or being in somebody else’s shoes and other well-worn but wise cliches of sympathy and empathy. The portrait of the couple that encounters him and their romantic history presented through the Outkast discography is like a smart version of bragging: Not how many albums he’s sold but how much they mean to those that purchased them.

-‘Walk It Out’ Remix: Andre’s taking a very open-minded and pragmatic approach to his return to rap…jumping-in with all the Southern rappers- good or terrible- that are now so popular in part, because of him and dropping his own observations and criticisms without making it seem too obnoxious or old-man-ish. Even his harshest observations (“your White-T looks to me/More like a night gown…) are clever and ultimately rooted in hope, as he suggests cutting-it “two sizes down” so they can look like “the man that [they] are or could be-”. His critique of the current car obsessions is particularly brilliant in the way it travels into a mini-tangent on the history of mass production and suggests a celebration of hard-work and craft, not image without being on some obnoxious Talib Kweli-like “I’m real” bullshit…

-‘You Remix’: Tom Breihan compared this verse to the cloying cuteness of a Wes Anderson movie and he’s pretty much correct but still, although gimmicky, providing the image of a rapper in ‘Whole Foods’ is refreshing in this very, very, stale rap environment. Andre’s also a master of the in-rap tangent, as he stumbles off-topic for a brief mention of the silliness of the phrase “went down the wrong pipe”. As he said on ‘Aquemini’: “Sorry y’all, I often drift…”. The conversational flow and syrupy sweetness of this verse works because it’s on this romantic R & B song and so, it’s in part, a good example of a rapper matching the song, you know, doing what a rapper’s supposed to do. How many R & B remixes have some absurd rapper spitting hard-ass stuff under this beat made for 16 year-old girls?

-‘Throw Some D’s Remix’: Perhaps Andre’s most affecting verse of the bunch. Rich Boy’s song has a sort of implicit melancholy to it, but Andre brings that to the focus and touches on the danger of hood violence and dope-dealing: “He could die/Any second how much long it gonna take?” The part about the “boys in blue” coming in is particularly masterful in the way that it contrasts the attitude of the cops with those in the house whose door they are kicking in (“but we do care who they shoot/So we do what we must do”) and then, describes a scene that has a sort of dark comedy to it, as we imagine the cops coming in one door and then those running from them, having to change their escape; it has a like Three Stooges quality to it. Andre makes his tangent or “drifting” a part of the plot of his verse: “So we act like we run track, then we run straight to the back/But they comin’ from the back, so we run back to the front…”.

-‘International Players Anthem’: This is perhaps the best use of Andre’s happy-optimistic persona as it is most clearly being used to represent a pre-marriage optimism to be contrasted with the other verses. The verse is genuinely sweet but still pinned to the ground. Don’t forget his line about “wetness all around” which is actually pretty obscene and later in the verse when he adopts the voice of his more cynical friends: “If that bitch do you dirty…”.

His use of the word “bitch” here and in some of these other songs is really interesting. It’s an acknowledgment of the anger and reality of the world, which he temporarily jumps off of for these verses, but it’s always there. I’m reminded of his verse on ‘Mamacita’ about how if “niggas all dogs/What that make broads?” which ends with the even-scarier because it’s coming from the usually respectful, right-minded Andre (voicing a woman, no less), instructions to “Grab her by her neck, throw her on the wall/Say, “Bitch don’t ever disrespect me never not at all”. I’m not advocating abuse (and Andre isn’t either) but he is suggesting a certain degree of respect and confidence and ability to stand-up or fight back.

-‘Da Art of Storytelling Pt. 4′: This verse feels the most like real rapping and still manages to move through a rejection of all the worst rap cliches. He notes how disgusting the recent “make it rain” trend is in light of real poverty, the celebration of violence with the reality of street violence and maybe even a reference to the the Iraq war, and how uncool it is to fuck another dude’s girl: “Call me when ya’ll break up/ I don’t fuck nobody bitch and never on the Jacob.” Even though it’s some self-important rap condescension shit, he’s says it right, so I’m totally on his side when he says “club” in a way that seethes with contempt and his rejection of car odes by refusing to say what he’s driving in- “I’m in my whatever bumpin’ NWA…”- is clever and a subtle way to decry rap materialism.

What It Is: An Andre solo album seems imminent and I’m excited. My biggest fear is that these corrective verses will get annoying when they don’t have such an explicit contrast, but we’ll see. Let’s hope he gets personal as well.

Written by Brandon

January 29th, 2008 at 6:19 am

Posted in 2007, Lists

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