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“Girls (Who Run The World)” vs. “Ass On The Floor”


Yes, this new Beyonce song is disappointing, but her strategy for the last two albums has been to first drop a “meh” single (because people will still listen and radio will still play it no matter what) and save the better stuff for when the album is out or 5 months after it dropped. B’Day’s first single was the “Crazy In Love” retread “Deja Vu,” and the second, the edgy Kelis rip-off “Ring The Alarm.” The third single was ” Irreplaceable.” Though it was officially released at the same time as “Single Ladies,” the first song we heard from I Am…Sasha Fierce was the boilerplate, double-standard ballad “If I Were A Boy.” The last time Beyonce came out swinging was on her solo debut with “Crazy In Love,” and that was because she had to.

“Girls (Who Run The World)” at least finds Beyonce a little closer to the cutting-edge, playing off the steady ubiquity of Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” and the mega-success of Diplo and Afrojack’s production for Chris Brown “Look At Me Now.” In a sense, Beyonce’s attempting what M.I.A could, and should be doing, if she could actually hack it as pop star–and if the industry weren’t so afraid of female pop stars with opinions. So yes, a comforting, zeitgeist-grabbing first single, complete with motivational lyrics is exactly what Beyonce’s supposed to do and everyone needs to be okay with that. It is a bummer though, that the beat is so weak: A “Pon De Floor” rehash with a backing track that crams a whole bunch of synthy radio sounds together. “Girls (Who Run The World)” feels undercooked and cynical.

Diddy-Dirty Money’s Swizz Beatz-produced “Ass On The Floor,” does so much more with the “Pon De Floor” drums. Swizz and Diddy know that even though it’s all about those off-kilter catchy drums, the rest needs to be fleshed-out if it’s to be peddled to regular-ass people, who intuitively grasp the core elements of dance music much better than a producer/ DJ making music for a contingent of likeminded, solipsistic dance music nerds. So, Swizz puffs up “Pon De Floor” with more percussion, and then, smooths it out with fluttering synths and subtle vocoder, and scores the song’s break-up back and forth with electronic strings. Like “Girls (Who Run The World),” “Ass On The Floor” is a song of goofy platitudes, but it’s also tinged with this very-real sense of post-relationship anger in the Dirty Money “pop” verses (“you motherfucker”) and it all builds to Diddy’s verse, which is wounded, knowing, narcissism. Once Diddy’s verse fades out, Dirty Money return, as do those just gorgeous swooping Phillip Glass-goes-disco strings. It’s an epic moment that expresses the frustrations Diddy couldn’t fully figure out with words, and gives the song’s cast some hope for clarity and maybe even, reconciliation.

Swizz Beatz the art-collecting, A.D.D producer who sampled Daft Punk before Kanye, who sliced and diced Justice into a hit for Jay Z, seems to always be just a little ahead of his time. And Diddy? A few years ahead, obsessively working out a way to incorporate house and trance into navel-gazing broken-hearted dance pop for so damned long that he was lapped by Kanye,, and much of the industry, but was still, just a little too early for this post-dubstep, Diplo-on-the-radio trend.

Written by Brandon

April 23rd, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Beyonce, Diddy, Diplo, vs.

“Tang Golf” vs. Pharrell’s “Liquid Swords”


Or: “How Everything Wrong With Rap Right Now Can Be Unpacked Via Two Of The Odd Future Kids Rapping Over “4th Chamber.”

So, you’ve got Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats, part of the oft-compared to Wu Tang crew Odd Future, confirming their fans’ lunkheaded, connect-the-dots hype/mythology in the laziest way possible: Rapping (not even that well, mind you) over a beyond-classic RZA beat. It makes sense. Too much sense.

Then there’s Pharrell, a pop-rap genius producer, known for a goofy falsetto and lumpy verses here and there. For 2006’s In My Mind: The Prequel, he teamed up with DJ Drama, a dude from Philadelphia who made a name for himself compiling Southern hip-hop mixtapes. Together, they made one of the weirdest entries in the trap-rap mixtape series. It nods to Pharrell’s backpack rap origins just because, but mostly features raps about high-end fashion and models over Young Jeezy hits and 80s and 90s rap classics. Pharrell raps over two Liquid Swords productions. This is how dude promoted his solo debut. Think about that.

Now, it’s the next-big-thing iconoclasts that tow the party line–almost expertly so. Pharrell took that line and bent it back on itself until it was a big continuum of hip-hop: Backpacker shit, trap-rap, gritty NYC stuff, moody synthy pop-rap and more. It’s really this simple: Pharrell violated the sanctity of Liquid Swords much better.

As I (and others) said before, perhaps Odd Future are best understood not as iconoclasts out of nowhere, but subversive opportunistic shitfucks toying with the system from the inside, exposing Nahright and 2DopeBoyz as ad whores, highlighting the boring biases of the bleeding edge tastemakers, and showing the goon from Gorilla Vs. Bear to be one more guy who suddenly starts writing in rap slang when he blogs about hip-hop!!!!!.

Written by Brandon

April 13th, 2011 at 1:08 am

“Runaway” vs. “Innocent”


The title of Kanye’s song should be “Innocent,” and Taylor’s Swift’s, “Toast For The Douchebags.” “Runaway” doesn’t work for either. This whole MTV masterplan to relive a not all that interesting or controversial moment from last year, by having each artist perform a song kinda sorta about that event thing was a terrible stunt/concept and it only worked out because the artists involved, Kanye West and Taylor Swift, are top of their game types. Both “Runaway” and “Innocent” are quite good but they’re also each respective musician/persona doing exactly what’s expected of them.

Kanye writes a confused, emotional epiphany rap that falls somewhere between honest and “honest” and steals the show (because he’s like that), continuing his culture-jamming streak by getting Pusha T up in front of an audience that probably doesn’t know who the hell he is, and shows that same rap-unaware audience an MPC in action. Not bad.

Swift does her A-student pop star thing, which totally stands-out because her peers are like D-minus students in terms of craft and performance, but it comes off a bit too precious and hedged. Nobody likes an A student because the A student route is mad easy and like, programmatic. She doesn’t put herself out there, but then again, Taylor Swift never does.

Kanye of course, must put himself out there for “Runaway,” but he can’t formally apologize and he can’t explain his actions either, he’s gotta do a little of both. So, he clouds the concept of the song with that immediately talk-about-able “let’s have a toast for the douchebags” hook and turns the whole thing into a knowing joke and a disarming confessional. “Runaway” is Kanye’s take on Scarface’s “say good night to the bad guy” speech.

Despite all that inward-looking self-justification, Kanye is talking about events bigger than his VMA assholism. The Taylor Swift “incident” is not the crux of the song, but one part of his “I’m an emotional fuck-up” narrative. Most of the song is actually about his issues with girls and intimacy and here, he’s quite honest: “Never was much of a romantic/I could never take the intimacy/And I know it did damage/Cause the look in your eyes is killin’ me.” That’s in sharp contrast to 2008’s “break-up album,” 808s & Heartbreak, where Kanye worked with a mix of grinning, laughing knowledge of how shitty he is and open-wounded, last-word obsessed, “fuck you hoe” bitterness.

“Runaway” is no less public about Kanye’s lovelife—and because we’re in gossip blog end-of-times here, we can connect 808s to Alexis Phifer and “Runaway” to Amber Rose—but he’s kinder and more apologetic. Take note of that aside in the “toast for the douchebags” part, where Kanye shouts-out “the jerkoffs/That’ll never take work off.” He’s extending his plight to something larger and distinctly, male: the focus on everything but the real, emotional stuff that actually matters, you know, being there, being available for another person. This is the sound of a person’s emotional growth trying to catch-up with their artistic growth and it sounds wonderful.

Still, Swift’s song is the stand-out because it’s so direct and empathetic—like, beautifully so. Swift’s talent and maybe even genius is that she’s sincere in her songs. It’s not that she doesn’t know about irony, it’s just that she’s decided not to be gobbled up and infected by it like the rest of her Billboard buddies. The result of course, is that she comes off a bit above-it-all and cold–like a grandmother giving you a life lesson—but that’s preferable to the sassy, pseudo-feminist kiss-off Lady Gaga or Ke$ha (or shit, even Beyonce) would’ve dropped if they were in Swift’s position.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 15th, 2010 at 6:01 am

Posted in Kanye West, vs.

“Monster” vs. “Runaway Love”


Whether it was putting Jay-Z and Talib Kweli on the same song (back when that was as weird as Raekwon and Justin Bieber), celebrating his contradictions (“first nigga with a Benz and a backpack”), calling out the president on live television, or idiotically racing up to the stage to explain why Beyonce’s better than Taylor Swift, Kanye West’s pop provocateur tendencies have always been as important as the music itself. He’s just become more of a dick about it.

Or rather, he was more of a dick about it. West’s recent works—as in really recent–have been music events first and pop cultural moments second, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t conceptual edges to what he’s doing, he just isn’t footnoting the shit out of it to make sure audiences know it’s a big, thumping statement. So, he drops the video for “Power,” an attempt at art with a capital “A” and one that wrestles with age-old themes of vulnerability and hubris, right after an episode of Jersey Shore but doesn’t harp on that part of it at all really.

And now, he constructs a funhouse mirror version of a DJ Khaled posse cut called “Monster” wherein every aspect of the song is funneled into making Nicki Minaj sound as exhilarating as possible. Then, a few days later, he pairs Raekwon with Justin Bieber on a remix of Bieber’s “Runaway Love.” Both songs are very good and full of musical and lyrical details to obsess over, but they also don’t topple over from the conceptual context West stuck on top them–and at this point in West’s career, that’s pretty novel.

“Monster” works, first and foremost, as a posse cut–at least as its understood in 2010—but one that slowly unravels itself until it exists strictly as a platform for the oft-debated (is she great or is she terrible?) Nicki Minaj to really rap her ass off. Kanye’s a genius at this juggling of disparate guests, and it isn’t just that he put Minaj next to Rick Ross and Jay-Z, but that Minaj gets the final third of the song to do her thing, so that she simply can’t be ignored or laughed off.

Then there’s this “Runaway Love” remix, which sounds like a joke song uploaded to the blogs on April Fool’s day (Justin Bieber – “Runaway Love Remix” featuring Kanye West and Raekwon) but is indeed, very, very real. Part of the joy of this song is indeed, that it exists, but that fun would wear off in only a few moments. Kanye’s brilliance here is that he made a song out of joke he made on Twitter, remixing Bieber’s “Runaway Love” the way a rap producer in the 90s would’ve remixed it–by turning it into a new song–and then finding some strange balance between a hard-edged hip-hop track and um, a hard-edged hip-hop track that has a good and proper place for Justin Bieber’s teenage yelp.

It helps that Bieber’s actually a talent. He’s got a really interesting, specific voice that genuinely sounds great, and it’s just fit for remixing (ask Baltimore’s ). On “Runaway Love” Kanye employs the kid’s plaintive chirp the way on one of those numerous classic house remixes: as a strangely isolated thing of perfection in an otherwise jagged soundscape. Also, by surrounding the shards of the original with edgy, straight-rapping, it feels like Biggie on the “Real Love” remix or something: a jarring, odd but effortless fusion of sounds that shouldn’t have much to do with one another but hey, kinda work!

The best thing about “Monster” and “Runaway Love Remix” though, has to do with the fact that neither of these songs have an intended audience. They’re both the “little bit of everything for everybody,” market-researched singles as of late, reduced to absurdity. Every element of “Monster” moves towards Minaj, which will excite a certain fanbase, but utterly baffle a far more significant group of listeners. And really, who is the Bieber remix “for”? Kanye and Raekwon share some fans sure, and West and Bieber wander around on the same increasingly desiccated pop landscape, but the song seems designed to confound listeners from both the Raekwon and Bieber camp and perhaps ideally, expose fans of one to the other, and move every listener out of their comfort zone.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 6th, 2010 at 7:00 pm