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The Short, Weird, Career of Rich Boy (So Far)


When ‘Throw Some D’s’ showed up almost a year ago, it became another hot song amongst non-elitist types and a guilty pleasure among “discerning” types. It should have been some kind of minor rallying cry for everybody who likes good rap (I guess it ultimately was?). The reaction among modern rap skeptics was predictably knee-jerk: they saw a Southern rapper, heard “crack” and a chorus about rims and blew it off. Fair enough I guess, but what’s so striking about the song is that it’s scope is so minor and the beat, besides being great, maintains some of the melancholy strains of the Switch sample and really, has more in-common with regional 90s songs about cars and women than it does with the scourge that is/was? “trap-hop”. The video too, had enough of that corporate sheen to play on MTV but with a certain naturalistic edge to match the song. But almost immediately, Rich Boy was out-shined by his overrated, loudmouth co-producer, Polow Da Don who stole the song, co-producing the beat and dropping that dick-on-the-wall line; it left Rich Boy looking like a lucky idiot with a hook-up.

I stupidly bought into this perception of Rich Boy. His rapping wasn’t anything to write home about (although it is rewarding, Rich Boy’s actually subtle), he looked pretty stupid (like a character from NES’s River City Ransom) and through some unfortunate marketing- advertisements showing a thin, designer hoodie-wearing Rich Boy, chest-exposed, mugging for the camera- and my rap-fan cynicism (too many rookies with hot singles, not delivering) seemed verified. Somehow, that lame-as-shit cover was burned into my brain. It meant that either Rich Boy wasn’t the kinda-everyman ‘Throw Some D’s and his electrical engineering dropout anti-street cred that became street cred persona suggested or he was the kind of rapper willing to you know, put on a lame hoodie, expose his chest, and cash-in on his single. Just from that cover, I could predict an album that was a little too long, started out with five or so good tracks, suffered from poor pacing, and had at least one R & B crossover. Then, a few weeks before the album, ‘Boy Looka Here’ was released and for the simple fact that it wasn’t ‘Throw Some D’s’, it was disappointing but Rich Boy was just as good if not better on the track. His accent is even more pronounced (that in itself is political, hints of ‘Let’s Get This Paper’?) and he fits the beat’s stomp quite well. The video, like ‘Throw Some D’s’, maintained some regional specificity and cleverly contrasts it with some “the night before…” Vegas partying and makes a marching band parade seem way more fun than sin city. Oh yeah- and because it’s what I do (make vague, pretentious connections) there’s this vaguely Diane Arbus-like aspect to the video, especially the little kid in cowboy masks…and there are the really effective medium shot and close-up of the dude with one eye in the ‘D’s’ video. That highlights the good, stranger side of Rich Boy, the guy who was an electrical engineer and raps in a so-thick-he-doesn’t-complete-words accent and scrunches up his face to spit about dead friends and hypocrite religion and bullshit wars…
Ultimately, as Rich Boy’s album loomed, I found Polow da Don to be full of the same mixed signals as Rich Boy. The beat for ‘Boy Looka Here’ is cool but it’s this obnoxious Timbaland type beat that brings together Southern stomp and disparate elements like a strummed acoustic guitar and space synths and people are supposed to be impressed, well fuck that. Of course, around the same time Da Don was dropping this surprisingly great song but that too feels underwhelming next to ‘Throw Some D’s’ and Da Don is revealed as a good but not great producer; and then, Rich Boy’s album drops and the Rich Boy produced ‘The Madness’ has more in common with ‘D’s’ than a lot of da Don’s beats…
And then…the next next single is ‘Good Things’, the track I knew the album would have and surprise- it falls exactly at track 6 and slows the album’s momentum down and just its existence is enough to make me revert to those initial rap-cynic feelings for the guy. It is a track like this, its inevitable release as a single, and songs with titles like ‘Touch That Ass’ that make a guy like Rich Boy hard to embrace and explains why talk of him as not being great or even good, but “showing potential” were so pervasive: Talk of potential is the kind of talk mixtapes should be prefaced with, not major label debuts.

Defenders of the rapper cite label politics and waning sales as excuses for the album missing greatness. That’s not an excuse for making an okay-but-lifeless album (especially one looked over by a producer with something resembling a vision!) but it does explain why it happened. It reminds me of resentful sports fans defending their team or justifying a loss, “if we hadn’t given up that touchdown” (oh but you did!): If Rich Boy hadn’t succumbed to major label expectations and maybe the demands of an asshole producer he’d have made a great album! Not catering to those demands or somehow magically, rapping over them and making them irrelevant is what separates a great rapper from a good one. Still, that potential and a particularly crappy year for new artists got him on the cover of ‘XXL’ with a bunch of other relatively good newcomers and the release of ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ shows a saavy focus on the smart, good, side of his rap persona:

The video’s a little calculated with it’s overwrought imagery and beautiful-but-broken cinematography but rappers have done way worse. The whole thing is really sincere and obviously comes from a real place. His calling-out specific dead friends (“R.I.P Pooh Bear”) and not just general appeals to dead homies is effective, as is seeing a grave- prop or not- with those same words Rich Boy just rapped, framed in close-up. The dropping of the gold atop the grave is obviously performative but it too works. The song and the video, makes clear everything that’s been bubbling under the surface in other Rich Boy songs and videos. Those realistic images from ‘D’s’ and ‘Boy Looka Here’ are now explicitly political and the everyman victory of getting new rims on your car becomes the angry everyman observations that the same prick you went to high school with is now a preacher: “Preachers in that pulpit, say they teach that bullshit/Know how we know it’s bullshit? Same niggas I went to school with”. His answer to all this very real and palpable bullshit is to “get that paper” and while simpletons might bemoan this “problematic” suggestion, they are missing the point (and probably have enough money).

I considered writing a whole blog on this and might still, but more often than not, what these demands to get/make money are is a less douchey way of saying “let it go”. That is to say, when Jay-Z and Nas squashed their beef, Nas said something about how they were going to join together and get that money instead. Rappers, for reasons valid and retarded, don’t like to sound like hippie-dippie faggots so saying shit like “Oh you know, I’m really above all this beef foolishness” is something they just don’t do; instead they say, “fuck that, let’s just get this paper” which says the same thing in a way that is no less self-congratulatory but a little more honest: it’s much more realistic fuck you than some “being the better man” bullshit that still leaves you feeling like a punk. ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ is a call against apathy and for action…Stop complaining, go out and do it! The song is not only orders around its listeners with smart, pissed off rhymes, but it is Rich Boy’s own statement self (he paid for the video himself). Somehow, given the push and pull of Rich Boy’s brief career (so far), it makes weird, convoluted sense that a true assertion of self wouldn’t occur until the fourth single.

Written by Brandon

October 10th, 2007 at 6:40 am

Posted in Polow Da Don, Rich Boy

leave a comment Article: Rap & Country More Alike Than I’m Willing to Admit…

“Kelefa Sanneh’s article ‘It Takes a Tough Man to Tell a Bad Joke’ contrasts the serious attitudes of most rock stars with country singers who are more than willing to joke around: “While rock stars often try their best to make audiences forget they are professional entertainers, country singers have often been happy to celebrate the fact.” (23). Sanneh invokes Brad Paisley’s love-song ‘Ticks’ (“I’d like to check you for ticks”) and Toby Keith’s ‘High Maintenance Woman’ containing the chorus “A high-maintenance woman don’t want no high-maintenance man” (1). I know, I know… this isn’t, it’s but bear with me…”

Written by Brandon

June 27th, 2007 at 6:29 pm

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Humanizing Fergie: Polow Da Don’s Greatest Accomplishment?

There’s an impressive consistency to Polow Da Don’s production extending beyond a “signature sound” and moving towards a signature feeling. ‘Throw Some Ds’ in addition to being the best single since ‘Stay Fly’, has a vaguely sad sound that underscores the apparent enthusiasm of the beat. This is what makes it interesting after the 1000th listen. Sampling the pretty sad-ass ‘I Call Your Name’ helps, but Polow doesn’t just pilfer the song for a hot beat, he maintains the emotional integrity of the original. He begins by simply playing the intro to the song, Debarge talking about the possibility something only being a one-night stand; hardly conventional Southern crack-rap fare. Although Rich Boy isn’t really saying much, the minor scope of the song, putting rims on your Cadillac and nothing more, is matched by the beat never becoming too exciting, always maintaining that down-to-earth melancholy about it. I’m not hating-on conspicuous consumption or anything but the beat probably sounds a lot like getting rims put on your car. It’s exciting but not too exciting…Satisfying but only sort of? All of Polow’s productions have something resembling this feeling: he just refuses to make out-and-out bangers. Ciara’s ‘Promise’ has a melancholy, even desperate sound that fits her content and even though its absolute crap, when Ludacris wanted to get all serious he got a Polow beat for ‘Runaway Love’. Even the beat for ‘Pimpin’ All Over the World’ has a certain sadness to it, kind of like Kanye’s work on ‘Selfish’. Polow seems to be a real producer, not just a beat-maker. He slightly tosses a vocoder effect in a song without it sounding weird like it does on Akon or ridiculous as it does on a T-Pain song. Have you ever noticed the subtle wind-sound that plays as Rich Boy begins rapping on ‘Throw Some Ds’? That’s good! He doesn’t seem to be just making beats and handing them out to anybody, he really is producing.

Despite all of this, I still find most of Polow’s work underwhelming. I’m sure it’s hard to follow-up ‘Throw Some Ds’ and I’ve been waiting for something resembling that quality and excitement. Some of his beats sound cool or interesting but the same mixture of melancholy and unbridled excitement that made ‘Throw Some Ds’ what it is, seems to prevent stuff like ‘Promise’ or ‘Boy Looka Here’ from getting beyond pretty good. Although it is hardly the greatness of ‘Throw Some Ds’, I’ve found myself being increasingly impressed with Polow’s Fergie track ‘Glamorous’. When I first heard ‘Glamorous’ I dismissed it because it was another Black Eyed Peas related project just totally jacking an old song, this time ‘The Glamorous Life’ by Sheila E. But the song is played every half-an-hour on the Baltimore/DC rap stations and it has totally grown on me to the point where I not only like it, but have something of an emotional reaction to it. Although it is certainly not the same level of quality, it recalls ‘Juicy’ in its electro-funk source, its from-nothing-to-fame content, and a certain sadness to the track.

Like ‘Juicy’ it has an appropriate mix of joy that is always controlled by the song’s looking-back aspects which if the artist is going to really sell his suffering, it would be absurd for the song to be an out-and-out party track. Like Rich Boy, Fergie follows the formula for the type of song she is making, which because she’s making a “I’m still Jenny from the block” song, Fergie not only reminisces but addresses “the industry” and how she’s got “problems up to here” and blah blah blah… However, Polow’s production makes the song work. When Fergie talks about where she came from and all that, she affects defiance but the beat counteracts Fergie’s overcompensating “street voice”. The quiet claps and synths add a warmth to the beat that never rises above a certain level of excitement but this totally fits this time because Fergie’s argument is that she’s the same chick she’s always been so she and her song can’t be too proud. The voice telling Fergie “if you ain’t got no money, take your broke-ass home” is another aspect that doesn’t allow Fergie to sound too confident, it’s mocking her, but the mockery can also represent everything Fergie has transcended now that’s she’s “flying first class/up in the sky”. These little details move the song in the direction of something beyond another song against haters. The vocal effects are way too nutso on Ludacris’ verse but with Fergie, Polow putting a slight vocoder or that underwater-sounding effect on Fergie’s voice downplays the shrill, obnoxious qualities that usually make Fergie annoying. All of this stuff adds to the success of the song and this is exactly what a producer, in the truest sense of the word, is supposed to do: highlight an artist’s best qualities and downplay their worst.

Fergie’s really hard to like. She’s totally beat, she thinks she’s hot, she’s this obnoxious white chick in the most hard-to-like “rap” group ever but ‘Glamorous’ made me reconsider her, at least for the duration of the song. The fact of the matter is, Fergie probably has just as much of a right to make a “nothing to something” song as Biggie. At some point, she was addicted to meth and here she talks about some crazy shit. I could be totally cynical and cite that she was a child-actress and her drug addiction was admitted “rebellion” from fairly middle-class upbringing, but how different is that from Biggie, the son of a schoolteacher, choosing to drop-out and sell crack? Not that much. Think of those girls you know that you smoked weed or worse with in high school, think of those vaguely white-trashy girls who were weirdly nice but would go bitchy at the drop of the hat, think of those girls that have so much attitude that anyone can tell its over-compensation for something…well, imagine one of those girls got a record contract and is now a superstar. That’s a nice thought, right? ‘Glamorous’ has apparently done the impossible: humanized Fergie!

Written by Brandon

April 4th, 2007 at 7:49 am

Posted in Fergie, Polow Da Don