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It’s All In the Details: Comments on Specific Parts of Rap Hits


One of the byproducts of radio’s refusal to play more than say, the same eight songs all day, every day, is that you get to really think about and focus on those few they do play a whole bunch of times. It makes the bad ones suddenly interesting and the already good ones really interesting.

-The bassline of “Lemonade”
Gucci Mane, produced by Bangladesh
Like a lot of his Southern synth-rap producer peers, Bangladesh loves some bass, but until “Lemonade”, it was used more as an aggressor, a big booming thing in the background, than a sorta lovely, musical detail. “Lemonade” has got the best bassline in a rap song since the one that tears through the middle of Kanye’s “The Glory” a few years back. Is this sampled from somewhere? Is this a session dude? Was this created on a keyboard or MPC or something? Who knows. Listen to the way it wriggles all around the rest of the beat and Gucci’s flow, a series of patient, pulsing plucks at the start of the song and getting more focused and squirmy as it goes on, kinda chasing the little kid chorus, and then just doing this like focused, Peter Hook rock-out thing and then, back to patient plucking. Note: the bass is the last sound you hear as “Lemonade” ends.

-The way “Say Something” could be looped forever
Timbaland ft. Drake, produced by Timbaland
Yeah yeah yeah, Timbaland’s mostly coasting these days–though he’s improved as rapper, sorta channelling Bun B, late Bun B at least, on his verse here–but there’s a cool, like, chintzy glory to recent Timbo. He isn’t filling his beats with tempo change-ups and batshit production tweaks anymore, he’s dropping an Atari melody, one or two flanger-ed out guitars, making it passably dancey, and that’s a wrap. The byproduct of this relative half-assness though, is that the beats feel like they’re going on forever, like it’s this eternal loop of synths and computer squawks that’s been looping for hours or maybe just a few minutes. This was true of “Venus vs. Mars” on Blueprint 3 as well. This fucks with your circadian rhythms!

-The weird, flat, Go-Go drums on “Exhibit C”
Jay Electronica, produced by Just Blaze
When Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” dropped–was that the last single to show up on the radio and mean something?–there was a Vegas sound to it that just didn’t make a lot of sense for something produced by Just Blaze. The live or live-sounding drums, almost on some Go-Go, bucket-drumming shit, just didn’t you know, knock. Weird how the same type of drums show up on “Exhibit C” and it’s one of the best things about the song. This is some of Jay Electronica’s best and most traditionalist rapping and along with the soul sample, the whole thing would be kinda “backpacker” if it weren’t for the drums. They make it way more interesting and I think it’s part of why the song’s made its way onto regular radio. It rings real for the old heads but it doesn’t thump or plod along to youngsters’ ears.

-The open space on “O Let’s Do It”
Waka Flocka Flame, produced by L-Don Beatz
A producer’s got confidence when he doesn’t fill each and every second of a beat with some kind of sound or sample or something. Plenty of beats drop-out for a moment or two, but “O Let’s Do It” starts and stops, starts and stops…it gives rappers an infinite number of places to hang their cadences. This is why someone like Wacka Flocka Flame made it a hit (his confessional asides, like “Ever since they killed my nigga Trav, start poppin pills and actin crazy” help too) and why every remix of it sounds awesome. As “dumb” as this beat probably sounds to a lot of people, it’s pretty traditionalist, Marley Marl minus the samples. If you listen close, there’s even this weird, almost simple record scratching sound that wobbles under the whole thing.

further reading/viewing:
-”Producer Series Mix #1: Shondrae “Bangladesh” Crawford” by Al Shipley
-”Dilla Donuts Month: “Time: Donut of the Heart” by Me & Thaddeus Clark
-Rare Essence “Hey Young World” 8/12/89

Written by Brandon

February 25th, 2010 at 4:48 am

It’s All In the Details: Comments on Specific Parts of Some Rap Songs

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Man, it’s 2009 and between months and months of hype and then the imminent album leak, nothing’s interesting and it’s all boring before the first album cut even finishes. Who has time for entire songs? And who has time for entire songs reviews? Here’s reviews of parts of songs, mostly good parts. Maybe a recurring feature here, we’ll see…

-RZA’s “We soldiers…” coda on “Black Mozart”
off Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

RZA’s high-pitched but gutteral wail of a chant that ends “Black Mozart” brings a flood of palpable pain into the song and the album, something it kinda lacks overall. It’s like RZA found an old blunt of ODB’s behind a monitor or something, smoked it, and the saliva ghost of ‘Dirty–his exuberance, his pain and confusion, his deep pontificating on the er, “struggle”–possessed RZA and he ran into the booth and cried this out. Because rap’s so sissified now (and it just is, sorry, it is) it’s easy to repaint all those St. Ideas and Timbs, gritty-beat makers as ineffable hard-asses but in all that music is obviously a lot of pain, and sometimes they even let it seap into the music explicitly; RZA bring some of that back on “Black Mozart”.

-Beanie Sigel’s biblical syntax on “Run to the Roc”
off The Broad Street Bully

Beans adopting a sort of absurd but strangely affecting mess of Biblical talk (lots of “thy” and words like “wrath”) shows you how seriously Jay Z’s dropping of “The Roc” is for those involved. “Street code” is doctrine for better and worse, and when you violate that, it’s over for you. But it also hurts because there’s more at-stake than just a bunch of feelings (and now empty wallets) but like an entire belief system. For Beans and company, the dismissal is tragic and mythic and all that, an ultimate violation and sign of disrespect. Biblical. Shakespearan. All that smart-person stuff applied to things to legitimize them. Notice how this is still threat-rap and tough-talk, he doesn’t explain why because he doesn’t have to explain it. It just is. The shit’s doctrine.

-Jay-Z’s revelation that his teacher was a dick on “So Ambitious”
off Blueprint 3

“I felt so inspired by what my teacher said/Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer-head/Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids/’specially when all I did was speak in class…”. If there’s an actual theme or like, thesis to BP3, it’s Jay Z actually feeling grown-up, no longer chasing respectability or plain old comfort, just being a fully-functional adult with a wife and responsibilities and shit. With this comes, it seems a deeper realization of his environment, one he once took for granted, also bubbles to the surface. And so, Jay’s really thinking about how having some jerk-off teacher tell you that you’re doomed isn’t normal or really acceptable. Obvious to a lot of us, but maybe not so if it’s how every fucking idealist-turned-nihilist “educator” treated you your whole fucking school career. The line clearly stung, he’s rapping about it years later, only now he’s sort of got it–rap as psychoanalysis.

-The title of Robert Glasper’s “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)”
off Double Booked

A good jazz song with a particularly affecting or smart title can somehow make it even better: “Just Friends”, “Idle Moments”, “Mandrake”, “Fables of Faubus”. That said, this has led to a lot of musicians trying really hard to be clever or insightful (a ton of puns, pseudo-poetry, etc) but “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)” is like, haiku-perfect. There’s nothing explicitly “country” about the song, no twang or grafting of folk/country melodies here, but there is a certain ease and comfort, a rolling along feeling that indeed, invokes the cliches of a somewhat derisive adjective like “country” but turns them into the strengths big-city fucks are too cool for. A jazz tune for provincials. Cooly confident, but not stupidly prideful either. Robert Glasper’s from Texas.

further reading/viewing:
-Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of OBD by Jamie Lowe
-Harvey Keitel’s wail in Bad Lieutenant
-”The Documentary” by a bunch of the XXL Staff
-Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz by Stanley Crouch

Written by Brandon

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:53 pm