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How Big Is Your World? Some Good New-ish Rap Songs

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-Playaz Circle featuring Lil Wayne – ‘Duffle Bag Boy’
Click here to watch the video for ‘Duffle Bag Boy’.

I could talk about the beat, I could talk about Playaz Circle’s ridiculous enthusiasm, but it’s Lil Wayne that makes ‘Duffle Bag Boy’. He doesn’t even rap, he just croons the chorus but I think I may prefer Wayne the singer (I’ve read about his Whitney Houston covers when performing live). What Wayne does on ‘Duffle Bag Boy’ is repeat the chorus with the same amount of chaos and fun as he does on his freestyles, croaking, crooning, and squeaking it out, a little different every time. It’s a typical music “trick” (deliver the chorus with increased passion each time) found on plenty of rock and soul songs but less on rap and pop songs. On rap and pop, the chorus following each verse is either repeated to sound as close to one another as possible, or the same chorus is pasted in, giving the song a symmetry between verses that makes it go down even easier. Wayne makes no such attempt at symmetry on ‘Duffle Bag Boy’ with the hook/taunt “Now go and getcha money little duffle bag boy” sounding and feeling different depending on his delivery. He sounds mocking on one chorus, forceful (as if he were ordering someone around) on another, and like it’s his last, dying words on the other.

It’s also long-as-shit for a hook, especially in the ad-lib crazy world of rap radio: “If I don’t do nothin’ I’m a ball/I’m countin’ all day like a clock on the wall/Now go and getcha money little duffle bag boy/Get Money!/Now, I ain’t never ran from a nigga/And I damn sure ain’t about to pick today to start runnin”. He even throws in that “Get money” ad-lib almost as an after-thought and not you know, the basis for a fucking song. Also, having a respected rapper sing the hook is a good idea for maintaining the balance of the song. There’s no awkward jump from “street” raps to Akon or female R & B singer and then back again.

And finally, add this song’s video to a growing list of great Southern rap videos that eschew narrative for a realistic but still exciting “day in the life…” or “here’s a few hours in the life of…” structure. ‘Stay Fly’ and ‘Throw Some Ds’ being the best ones…This one isn’t half-bad either- rapping in front of a ‘Stop N Shop’? That’s so good! Just one more way that the mindless anti-Southern rap types miss the point. With rap as big and grotesque as it now is, it is a political act to rap in front of a gas station.

-Median – ‘How Big Is Your World’
Click here to download ‘How Big Is Your World’.

This beat for Justus League rapper Median is a great example of 9th Wonder’s impressive production abilities. 9th really does get too much shit, undoubtedly his sticking to an archaic program like Fruity Loops and using soul samples that anybody could make into something awesome is cheap, but he’s one of the few “Underground” producers that actually produces. By produces, I mean he doesn’t just chop samples and organize them into beats, but does these little things that your ears may not even realize are happening but make you fall in love with a song. On ‘How Big Is Your World?’, it’s that slight change-up on those snares at the end of the measure or or the way he pulls that single-note pulse sound that echoes throughout into the forefront for the chorus and then drops it back into the warm, 70s soul haze for the verses. The thing that really made me go crazy about this song, production-wise, was that weird, crumbling, bassline that sounds like it’s both nimble and quick but being played by a guy wearing gardening gloves or something…plenty of producers can chop a good sample or make a hot loop, but most don’t waste their time with perfect mixing and other subtle details.

The song is an appeal for cognizance in the form of a non-judgmental but challenging question “How big is your world?” and ultimately, a song about self-reflection and moderation. Who are you affecting and how? Have you considered the consequences? The first line of the song, is the kind of too-easy to mock “concious” rap lyricism (“a tree died for me to scribe on this looseleaf”) but it’s also a microscopic understanding of one’s effect on the world and kind of loaded because fuck, you can’t not write on paper, so it goes beyond blame or prevention and into inevitability.

He sort of continues this sense of making rappers think of their effect on the world, be it the tree that made the paper bound in their notebook or the self-involved beefing that is so pervasive in rap, contrasting it with world events that you know, actually matter: “World trade terror/Now that’s true beef”. There’s a sincerity that begins with that smart demand for self-reflection and continues as the song bounces between the personal and the political and really does conflate the two. Median’s mother seems to be the (sorry) median where the person and political meet, as his voice quivers impassioned when he describes her living situation (“Now we got killers where my Momma be”) or her fucked-up working conditions (“Tryna get my mom out the factory job/Arthritis in her hands be makin’ her wrists throb”). It’s clear that she functions as a working-class everywoman as much as Median just giving you some affecting autobiography. I immediately thought of my retired Grandmother who still has arthritis because organizing greeting cards in Rite-Aids for 30 years sucks ass and Hallmark gave her a pretty shitty retirement plan.

Median also does the Kanye West thing that is quickly devolving into cliche, hinting at one’s flaws but I find them moving and real nonetheless. When he admits he was basically too busy “trying to find a freak” to concern himself with world politics, I’ll buy it. His half-joke about the other side of his personality, the “the one you’ve seen if [he's] ever played your ass” too is real without sounding forced. Those assertions too come across better because of Median’s flow which has a little of Lupe Fiasco’s “well-spoken but SASSY” style to it but is also quieter and more modest.

-Three-Six Mafia – ‘Like Money’
Click here to download ‘Like Money’.

With all the talk of Kanye or Timbo’s futuristic production, DJ Paul and Juicy J drop a beat as “next-level” as anything on ‘Graduation’ or ‘Futuresex’. The high-pitched scratching, catchy guitar riff, and to-be-expected hyper-complex drums programming that counters and complements itself, are all forced through this oppressive layer of flange and echo that destroys anything you listen to before or after it. Dig those clipped “drums” that coincide with DJ Paul’s “I look-I look”. I say “drums” and not drums because I don’t even think that’s any kind of conventional percussion, it’s like they threw some of Ben Burtt’s ‘Star Wars’ sound effects into the ol’ MPC and went crazy. I don’t think any rap group out there can match Three Six’s integrity. Dudes win an Oscar, get a reality show, and still make songs that sound like this. You know that crazy outro freak-out on ‘Doe Boy Fresh’? Well that’s what this whole song sounds like.

These guys sure do have a funny way of selling-out. Juicy J’s verse about doing coke and being paranoid is great as usual and really sort of off-sets one’s expectations of the song about money, from guys who really seem to be getting paid now that they have an Oscar. I’m not saying it’s some Kanye-ish “money doesn’t make everything great” statement but I’m not saying it isn’t either. What pushes Three Six above so many other Southern party-rappers (besides their production) is how weird and disinterested in being cool they are. Outdated slang, weird-uncool chants (“just look at me dummy”??)…you get a real sense of who these guys are and how they speak and think through their music.

There’s also a version with The Game on it that I think will show up on the album but I haven’t fucked with it because this version is too good.

-Bruce Springsteen – ‘Radio Nowhere’
Clickhere to watch the video for ‘Radio Nowhere’.

Not a rap song but I won’t front- I like this song. “The Boss” along with probably U2 and Led Zeppelin, are responsible for my general contempt for “rock n’roll” and inability to ever fully embrace it. In the past few years, I’ve grown something of an affinity for Springsteen and repeatedly tried to get into his music. I’ll hear a song, seek out the album and quickly grow tired of his forced accents, condescending idealization of the working-class, and E-Street overproduction…I dunno, Springsteen is just kind of a goon be it his all-American rocker phase or his poor man’s Dylan phase that elitist fans cite when jokes are made about “Clarence”…

So, funny I’d enjoy this song because it’s sort of this old-man rocker that even focuses on the theme of radio’s demise and goofily invokes America (“the last lone American night”) but the guitars totally do it for me. It reminds me of The Replacements or something, that kind of uplifting but depressed sound; it’s got a good tone which is important on a rock song. Springsteen also totally sells the song, delivering it with enough passion to match the guitars, those fucking guitars! You know it’s a good riff and a good tone when it’s able to recover the song after a saxophone solo!

When he sings “I just wanna hear some rhythm” it’s desperate, like Michael Stipe ‘Country Feedback’ “I need this” desperate but it’s not you know, pathetically desperate more like, “Godammit, I wanna hear this, right now” which to me is easier to relate to; it’s the same hard-ass vulnerability of Weezy’s “I ain’t never ran from a nigga/And I damn sure ain’t about to pick today to start runnin”- BUT…If all Brucio wants to hear is “some rhythm” then why doesn’t he just Crank Dat Soulja Boy?

or crank dat Ryu?
or (my favorite) crank dat Lion King?
or, I know he’s getting up there in age, so maybe he should crank dat Grandpa?

Written by Brandon

September 24th, 2007 at 6:35 am