Matthew asked me about the Lil Reese video from a few weeks back of him beating up a girl. And, I emailed him some quick scattered-brained thoughts about it. But, last night as I was reading about Obama’s reelection, one of the first songs I played as I sitting in my room was Lil Reese’s “Us”.
After the song ended and I posted it to Facebook—the few of you that are my Facebook friend got a live playlist of what I was listening to election night. And, once the song ended, I felt weird. Not sure if this was the appropriate thing to post at this time. I wrote something trying to justify why I would be playing Lil Reese as Obama was being reelected, but I deleted that post and went back to this email I sent Matthew. So, here is part of that email with a few slight edits, but with full of random capitalization and keyboard slams intact.
As, for Lil Reese…Okay, the video of him is pretty fucking terrible and reprehensible. But, I still like his music. Ugggg. I have no good way to say this, but I’ll still listen to his music, and probably just feel like an asshole for doing so, kind of how I LOVE “Deuces” despite being from Chris Brown. WWWragadgadfakd I don’t know how to say this well, as I mean I get being upset at this moment, but a shitty youtube video that is a couple years old is not something I would hold forever against the kid, because if it is a few years old then seriously a teen doing violent shit is not that surprising…….Uggggggg. I’m really torn about this. It’s bad. But, I like his music. He should be held responsible. But, he was probably 15, and that is pretty damn young. I haven’t mentioned the victim in this email…GOD DAMNIT I Don’t Know Dude. I mean Jay-Z fucking stabbed a guy at some point, well into his career and he is one of the most respected Black men in America, so you know MALE PRIVILEGE and all that jazz. :/
Rap lyrics, at least among mainstream pop music are some of the most explicit in term of language and in actual content. So when a fan wants to express a love of a rap song and sing-a-long, some might feel a certain amount of trepidation in how to approach the lyrics. This is an issue can be left up to individual listeners because rap music unlike other genres traditionally doesn’t feature many rappers exactly covering other rapper’s work.
That is the problem faced by the duo Karmin, who have made a name for themselves doing acoustic covers of pop songs, ranging from Train to LMFAO, but their most popular songs were rap covers. I was introduced to Karmin in the most dismissive terms (“Ha, This Song is Fucking Terrible”, so I just avoided their music. I continued to see their name pop up, never listened, until one day I was watching MTV and saw their music video for “Brokenhearted”; thought it wasn’t a half bad pop song and figured I’d actually check out more of their work. To my surprise I really enjoyed “Hello” and even found the very awkward rapping and questionable singing of “Crash Your Party” goofy fun. But, it wasn’t their pop work that got people to be dismissive of this young couple, it was their rap covers.
The first Karmin cover I sought out was “6 Foot 7 Foot”, and after a minute or so, it finally hit me. Not that Karmin were terrible people who shouldn’t be allowed 50ft of a camera connected to YouTube; it hit me that they found a way to cover raps songs that was most comfortable for them. Lil Wayne’s original version of “6 Foot 7 Foot” is a weird pop (and rap) song with no real hook entirely composed of non-sequiturs. I’d bet Lil Wayne even at his weed and syrup highest couldn’t make sense of it; but as a rap song it’s just some basic unrestrained shit talking and Karmin’s version just finds another way to express that feeling.
In their covers, Amy Heidermann raps with a certain try-hardness that usually bothers me in rap music, but that forced earnestness works with their attempts at rap chest thumping. She not only edits out the cursing (yet for some reason “nigga” is replaced with “jigga”, which I really don’t understand); she also changes whole phrases to create a unique version of Lil Wayne’s hit. In her edit, “Life is the witch”, instead of “bitch”; the “fucking family picture”, turns into an “awkward” one, and bizarrely “fuck segregation” turns into “forget”. The surrealistic quality of Wayne’s original isn’t lost in the cover, as much as it’s cleaned up, while still remaining as nonsensical.
Karmin’s original work has turned into this well-manicured shit talking pop-rap. “Crash Your Party” is less Ke$ha, Jessie J, or Nicki Minaj, than it is the continuation of these cover Karmin’s been doing the past couple years. One might take issue with rap being reduced as a way to address one’s “haters”, but once again this shit talking and the unneeded defiance isn’t limited to the rapping sections but runs throughout songs like “Hello” or “Brokenhearted”.
Karmin’s Hello EP is kind of a dismissive of not only desperate guys, their new girlfriends, and generally anyone who Karmin wouldn’t accept a friend request from. It’s kind of hilarious not that isn’t acceptable to make songs about not liking the dudes who are interested in you (“Too Many Fish”) or not getting over that particular dude (“Brokenhearted”), but contrasted with multiple deliveries (singing and rapping) and various musical styles (2010s Pop this varied is actually pretty refreshing) it’s all a bit overly theatrical. But in “Brokenhearted”, Heidermann says “Business in the front, party in back, maybe I was wrong, was that outfit really wack” and Heidermann ends verses saying “Cheerio” in a weak British accent, so obviously their having fun here.
They’re having fun. That is such a terrible thing isn’t it (well it must be if they need a “Hater’s Guide”). I can defend their actions of covering rap songs and acknowledge I can see why their covers of rap songs might annoy and bother some people. But beyond that, I think their music is silly fun, so “Cheerio”.
Chris Brown is hard to like, but that has not stopped—it has probably helped—him appear all over Rap and R&B stations this year. His success has seen him appear on tracks from Benny Benassi, Chipmunk, and just about any rapper who really desperate for career starting or reviving hook (Big Sean and The Game, say hello). But, the more interesting trend with his success has been the remixes coming from his hit singles: “Look At Me Now” featuring Jermaine Dupri and Da Brat; “She Ain’t You” featuring SWV.
“Look At Me Now (So So Def Remix)” reads 6 (better yet 10) years out of date, but results in one of the better takes on this year’s biggest rap hit. Jermaine Dupri’s first verse switches out “Ladies love me…I’m on Cool J” with “All of them pretty bitches love me….I’m on my Chris Brown”, which makes sense as it is Chris Brown’s song, but that aside is a terrible on plenty of levels, but Jermaine Dupri has plenty of other awful rhymes for the song to make sure it doesn’t stand out too much. The real reason this reason is worth a listen is more than halfway through for Da Brat’s verse coming out with the rapid fire intensity of a great Yelawolf or Twista song. Covering the topic of getting out jail and looking forward to life brimming with a swagger of her new found freedom. That purpose behind her words is what was lacking so much in the original: a truly memorable beat and quick tongued rapping, but Chris Brown, Busta Rhymes, and Lil Wayne’s lacked the motivation that pushes Da Brat.
The other remix, even more left field than one featuring Da Brat, is “She Ain’t You” which I started hearing on the radio a month ago and wondered why the song began “S…W…V”. Then I looked it up to find SWV were not only the group added to the song, but the original group who is sampled in the song. On a first listen, the addition of SWV didn’t really change the song too much, and in fact even with additional perspectives it is still saying how this girl is not as good as Chris Brown’s pervious girl, and SWV just continues to pile on to this other girl (she apparently buying Louie Vuitton with Brown’s credit card). SWV haven’t had a hit in well over a decade, and this is probably a good way to get their name back out there, even if their only positive addition to the song is Chris Brown’s ghostly rendition of their name. Similar to Jermaine Dupri’s boast about “bitches” and Chris Brown, this remix not only proves how successful the song is but also shines Chris Brown a better light on him than his original songs, as his rapping in the original “Look At Me Now”, is not helping anyone.
Keisha - Jawan Harris (feat. Tyga)
This has been a great year for Chris Brown singles and features, even if his public image has only continued to deteriorate. With one of the biggest rap songs of year (“Look At Me Now”), “Beautiful People” doing well on charts across the world and has a great slot on a late night pop station mix, “My Last” his most successful feature spot will be feeding Big Sean for years to come, and looking at the rest of his work: he has nearly a dozen songs that could be played on radio, which is a impossible to not know if you turn on a Rap or Pop station.
Jawan Harris is not Chris Brown, and even with all of the success of Chris Brown probably has no aspiration of wanting to be Chris Brown. But, his single “Keisha” sounds like it could have been the Chris Brown hit in 2005 with just a hint of Justin Beiber (who I forgot to mention also has a song with Chris Brown out now). The well under 18 years old Harris singing “all that pretty on your face” is pretty goofy no matter his age, but for a song that is going to be a slow jam at a Middle School dances, that line only raises the innocence of the song. Tyga appears as the older brother or the Juelz Santana in “Run It” to Harris’ Chris Brown, and while Tyga verse is minor R&B rap, there is something odd in hearing him as the elder voice on in a song. But, with a video full of high school hallways, letter jackets, and thick rimmed glasses; the 6th grade me would have seen Tyga as a big time rap star and Harris as his little brother singing his heart out.
If a song is going to encapsulate an entire year (well half a year) then it better pull and grab from the many trends that are floating around the pop world and still result in a hit. Luckily there are plenty of trends to catch: faux-dubstep sounds, Chris Brown sung hooks, Nicki Minaj rapping, being produced by Dr. Luke/Max Martin, embracement of the Euro-trance-pop-dance sound, or maybe it just features Lil Wayne as the dude cannot go a day without being featured on a new song. That is a lot of different trends to grab from, so let’s see if we can hit on all of them.
If pop song writers were actually well known, Jessie J, a British rapper, would be best known for the death of Osama Bin Laden anthem “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. Her song “Price Tag” climbed onto Billboard top 25 relatively quietly considering the number British rappers who have tried to cross over into the United States. Produced by superstar producer Dr. Luke, it contains a feature by Pop-Rap everyman rapper B.O.B. Whose biggest hits last year “Nothing On You” and “Airplanes” were notable not for his rapping, but the hooks of Bruno Mars and Haley Williams respectively. That kind of facelessness to his rapping makes him the perfect guest rapper for this particular type of single, it compliments Dr. Luke’s unmemorable production and Jessie J’s poor rapping by not allowing her to be upstaged by own guest.
The pure-pop appeal of B.O.B. is one of the few traits that would not be ascribed to Lil Wayne, even as he in the last six years has attached himself to nearly every song that could appear on a rap or pop station. “Dirty Dancer” by Enrique Iglesias features Lil Wayne and unlikely trance-pop star Usher. Without invoking a sense of false early 2000s nostalgia, “I Need A Girl Part 1” and “U Got It Bad” are done by the same guy who sings “More” and “DJ Got Us Falling In Love”, which are some of the most generic trance-pop tunes of the past couple years where any vocal or lyrical styling unique to Usher are lost in the sea of pulsating synths. Enrique Iglesias has ridden bland techno on his way back to the American pop landscape with “I Like It“ with Pitbull and “Tonight (I’m Loving You)” with Ludacris, where the formula of frat fist-pumping combined with a disposable rap verse has resulted in top 10 songs. “Dirty Dancer” is all of these elements distilled to one mediocre song, where Lil Wayne awkwardly raps, Usher gets a paycheck for his slight vocal contributions, and Enrique Iglesias says “You’re a 5 when you drink and you’re a 10 when you’re on top me”.
Lil Wayne’s ability to go from Enrique Iglesias to Rick Ross and Drake could be lauded, but the guy has been doing this for what feels like decades resulting it being more surprising when he does not appear on a song, remix, or freestyle of it. “I’m On One” from DJ Khali’s most recent album, which like most DJ album on major labels exists to stuff as many rappers as possible on one song or to figure out the best way to calculate a hit song, produced by Noah “40” Shebib, Drake sings the hook, and with verses by Lil Wayne and Rick Ross what more could a rap song do to climb the charts. Not much else, as it has the biggest rap-pop star in Lil Wayne (the featured single Wikipedia page for him is actually frightening) and the biggest rap star: Rick Ross, who went from a laughing stalk to being the last act to play at New York’s 2011 Summer Jam. Drake’s hook of “I got that drink could be purple could be pink depending on how you mix that shit” is one of the best hooks this year and Rick Ross and Lil Wayne verses even if a little by the numbers on top of this beat are great, which might be why the song has been one of the biggest songs of the year.
Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, and near dubstep sounds have yet to be covered…“She Ain’t You” by Chris Brown covers the Chris Brown quotation along with Jason Duerlo’s “Don’t Wanna Go Home” as great examples of post-mashup songs where multiple elements of songs are grabbed and pulled apart to create a by definition unoriginal and derivative pop song (“She Ain’t You” is a lesser remix of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and a couple other songs, while “Don’t Wanna Go Home” is derivative of 60 years of pop music in under four minutes). “Till the World Ends (Remix)” by Britney Spears should not count, as it is exists to hit on all of the different trends of 2011, but it does them all so well. Nicki Minaj’s verse is fine (not a “Bottoms Up”, but then again not many rap verses can be), Ke$ha probably should have kept the song for herself as it would have been one of her better tracks, and the increase bass and dubstep breakdown are either interesting pop embracing of the underground or a more problematic pop just stealing from the underground as Brandon Soderberg has pointed out (I’d like to be believe the former, but it is most certainly the later).
With the exception of “She Aint’ You” (which is really just a 1984 song), despite all of the different trends these songs represent listening to the previous tracks mentioned in a quick mix can gloss over the differences, except “I’m On One”. Yet Drake, one of the most successful rappers in the last couple years, has done this type of track so well that even being an outlier here is well grounded in the pop landscape.
This “problem” of the derivativeness in Pop music is a topic Simon Reynolds talked about his New York Times article, after pointing out ways modern pop is just recalling past music from the 60s to the 90s, he reluctantly (“For better or worse Auto-Tune is the date stamp of today’s pop.”) gives auto-tune the credit for representing this time in Pop history. Maybe I like auto-tune too much, but he seems to down play the effect: “Blow” half of the fun of the song is the fact that Ke$ha’s voice is extended and echoed to unrealistic proportions as the club is about to “blow”, or even the Black Eyed Peas in their current form owe quite a bit of their style and robot appeal to the effect. It just seems weird to me to worry about the derivativeness of Pop music, when the one of its biggest factors is dismissed and accused of being just another thing ready for a future hipster revival…haven’t in the last decade Bon Iver, The Knife, and other “Indie” group used the effect to critical acclaim… Looking at the trends of a musical style are easy to minimize when you put blinders on to the types of songs you are willing to consider, but it is easier to make your point, when the last decade’s biggest Pop trend is reduced to a future hipster gimmick.
If only real remixes were this exciting.
Correction. This is real, and great as Da Brat goes on the track with more intensity than any other rapper or Chris Brown.
Look At Me - Chris Brown (feat. Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne)
Chris Brown is now a rapper. Not a good one (“She waxes it all off, Mr. Miyagi”). But his quick raps transitions to Busta Rhymes pretty well, so that has to count for something I guess. Chris Brown’s lack of rapping skills aside, the song is another 2011 Lil Wayne feature with good rapping, and currently sits 11th on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making this song Diplo’s second hit record after “Paper Planes”.
This beat could be called weird, but considering how often it starts and stops and repeats the same slide whistle like pattern, “weird” would be selling it a little short. With as few rap songs that actually are heard on the radio, that this one can drop to only the drums and then complete silence for extended moments is great, and is as far away from Chris Brown’s other more generic single “Yeah 3x”. The changes in the beat sound more pronounced with the nimble rapping, as Chris, Busta, and Lil Wayne are never able to overshadow the beat always keeping it at in the forefront of song.
2011 should be an interesting year for Lil Wayne, because he is expected to release the follow up to what is thought to be the last truly successful rap album ”Tha Carter III” (A million albums sold in one week sounds nearly impossible to consider just a few years later). He is also coming back to rap where people who used to be under him are now on top of the rap game in Drake and Nick Minaj. In leading up to that, Lil Wayne has been appearing on quite a few different songs and remixes, and as Brandon Soderberg pointed out these songs have been pretty good so far. Lil Wayne’s rapping on this song may sound better coming off of Chris Brown terrible attempt at rapping and Busta Rhymes just being Busta Rhymes, but the line “What’s poppin 5, nothing slime, ain’t got time to shuck and jive, these niggas as sweet as pumpkin pie” is something the radio been missing the past couple of years.
Duces- Chris Brown (feat. Tyga & Kevin McCall)
“Duces”, should end up pretty high on a list of my favorite songs of the year, as it is one of the easiest to recognize radio songs I have heard this year, with the synths laying the foundation of the mellow tune of the song in addition to the kicks and claps. The song is easy to standout when other R&B songs either lend too heavily on rap music production or on a track where there is almost nothing in the track besides the singer’s voice. Even despite the rapping that occurs by Tyga and even more unfortunately Kevin McCall (who is also the producer), the song’s atmosphere is hard to miss when changing stations and you hear the kicks and synths all of sudden bring down the speed of what every you were just doing. Rihanna’s single “What’s My Name”, reminds me of “Duces”, if “What’s My Name” were slowed down and a little chopped up.