For those of you who, like me, have been wondering “What’s it going to take to get Wayne to stay on subject for more than 8 bars?”, turns out his name is Chance.
Lil’ Wayne – You Song (feat. Chance the Rapper)
For those of you who, like me, have been wondering “What’s it going to take to get Wayne to stay on subject for more than 8 bars?”, turns out his name is Chance.
Lil’ Wayne – You Song (feat. Chance the Rapper)
Iamsu! – Don’t Stop
Su drops some real obvious “wobbledy wobbledy” New Orleans-style rhymes throughout here, but does anybody else remember his little outro number from anywhere else?
Lil’ Wayne – Got Money (feat. T-Pain & Mack Maine)
This wasn’t the first time Mack used that little hook though.
Lil’ Wayne – Ballin’ (feat. Mack Maine)
Part of me feels like he’s maybe referencing something even older on here too, I’m not sure why though. Y’all let me know if you’ve got the missing piece.
It’s really interesting how much the new West coast owes to the South, and how much the old South owes the even older West coast.
I don’t know why, but today I inflicted the Rolling Stone “50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” list on myself, in its entirety. I know that “Greatest of All Time” lists are inherently dumb, and complaining about them is even dumber, but this particular one seems so especially dumb that I think it might not be excruciatingly dumb to criticize it, as long as I can keep it short and un-ranty. So I’ll put aside as many personal biases that I can and try to actually play by the guidelines of a list like this. These kinds of lists measure things like historical significance and cultural impact, and they worship “firsts”. “Great” in the sense it’s used here isn’t an extreme form of “good”, it’s an attempt at objectivity about something inherently subjective by looking at factors like a song’s sales, chart positions, and the population’s general familiarity with it. Framed in this way, it’s easy to see why lists like this are dumb, because those things aren’t what’s actually interesting about music. But this list doesn’t even follow through on that flimsy objective. It is unsurprisingly biased towards old guard “Golden Age” sensibilities, and yet still finds ways to overlook many obvious old school contenders as well. Hardly any of my personal favorite songs are on that list, which is to be expected, but there are so many truly relevant-to-our-culture artists, songs, and movements that aren’t even touched on that I think it would be worthwhile to create a new list in response:
DRIVE SLOW’s Top 15 Artists Somehow Completely Ignored by Rolling Stone’s “50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” List
1. Too $hort
5. Gang Starr
6. Goodie Mob
7. Slick Rick
9. Gucci Mane
10. Three-6 Mafia
11. DJ Quik
13. Nate Dogg
14. Ice T
15. 2 Live Crew
But nobody really reads Rolling Stone anymore anyway right?
Reeve flattered me the other day in the comments to this post, claiming he’d “polled the readers” of DRIVE SLOW and the “consensus” was that they wanted my opinion on this track.
Iamsu! – 100 Grand (feat. Juvenile & Kool John)
I have my doubts that there is a large number of people out there that Reeve is in touch with that are anxiously awaiting my opinion on specific obscure rap mixtape tracks, but I’ll humor him on this one because it actually is a pretty cool and interesting track. I wrote a post back in April about Juvenile‘s push to regain some of his fading relevance and my mixed feelings about the results, and I unfortunately feel kinda the same way about the stuff I’ve heard him put out since then, too. Rejuvenation didn’t really do much for me, not that I felt betrayed or that it was a total waste of time or anything, it just felt like Juvenile forgot all the things that make him sound like himself. It’s like he became convinced that his own style isn’t enough so he adopted this obviously weaker, more watered down, and basic style just to distance himself from what he used to be doing. I’m not one of those dudes that thinks that artists need to stick to the styles they start out with forever, hell I even stuck up for Snoop Lion when that stuff came out, but I just like it when the changes feel genuine, and Juvenile’s stuff lately doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels like he’s trying to rap like somebody else, which, as I mentioned in my previous Juvie post, isn’t doing anybody any good.
That said, “100 Grand” is still an awesome song. I’m sure Iamsu! was stoked to share a track with such a legendary artist, I’m totally happy for him about that, he deserves it. And Iamsu! sounds great, the beat is great, and Juvenile’s verse is, well, fine. It gets of to a little bit of a rough start, and hearing him talking about buying stocks feels a little strange. But there’s still some lovable Juvenile in there peeking out the whole time; his voice is still captivating and his flow, while a shadow of its former self, is still pretty good compared to a lot of other rappers. I just can’t get as excited about it as I would be about tons of his previous material. Like here is a track I chose at random from his back catalog that I had in my collection. Tell me this doesn’t grab you 500% more than verse 2 of “100 Grand“.
Juvenile – A Million and One Things (feat. Lil’ Wayne, Young Turk, & B.G.)
I hope this satisfies my breathless readership, you all just let me know if I can offer my opinions on any other pressing topics.
If you haven’t picked up Gucci Mane‘s newest tape, “Trap God”, you probably should. You can get it free from basically anywhere on the internet legitimately for free, or you can pay $9.99 on iTunes, I guess it just depends on how generous you’re feeling? Or how important it is for you to own the one bonus track on the iTunes version? I’m not quite sure what the strategy is there. But putting all that aside, it really is a nice listen. I feel like I actually hear some moments where Gucci is taking a little influence from Waka Flocka on his hooks, and Flocka himself appears several times on the tape prominently sporting the flow I mentioned back in this post. The production is really interesting too, there’s considerably less ruckus and harshness in the tones used across the board than what I’ve grown accustomed to hearing from Gucci, and the tape as a whole comes off sounding more like a stream of fluid than a blast of hot sand, which some of his recent efforts have felt like to me (not necessarily in a bad way).
One song in particular caught my attention for purposes of this blog though since it’s got a pretty rich history that’s really worth tracing. I definitely learned a few things following it.
Gucci Mane – That’s That (feat. Kevin McCall)
The first time I ever heard Jay Rock, another rapper who, like Gucci, isn’t usually found rapping over upbeat major key soul samples, it was on this song that should sound strikingly familiar after hearing “That’s That“.
Jay Rock – All My Life (feat. Lil’ Wayne & Will.I.Am)
While tracing the source of both of these surprising pairings, I came across this much older track from 2Pac‘s one-album group Thug Life that actually uses the same song that “That’s That” and “All My Life” use, but a different section and to a much different effect.
Thug Life – Stay True
So where did it all start? I don’t think many sample-hunters will be shocked to find that this song springs from the same artist that so many other upbeat hip-hop samples have come from over the decades.
Curtis Mayfield – Just Want To Be With You
A few weeks ago Matt hit me with an email simply containing his 5 favorite songs at that moment, and asked me and a few of our friends to reply with theirs. I’m not the kind of dude that picks favorites usually, but I enjoyed the challenge of selecting just a handful of songs out of the infinite music in the world as my favorites, at least for the time moment. I’ll spare you the full list, even though I gotta say it was pretty good, but I wanted to post this one because it’s really remarkable on a lot of levels.
B.G. – From Tha 13th To Tha 17th (feat. Baby D)
The first thing you need to know about this record is that the D in “Baby D” is short for “Dwayne”, and the second thing you need to know is that the rapper you and I know as Lil’ Wayne was born with the name “Dwayne Michael Carter”. The album this song was lifted from was from a time when the rapper you and I know as B.G. (known as “Lil’ Doogie” on this release) was in a group with the rapper you and I know as Lil’ Wayne, and the name of their group at the time was “The B.G.’z”, which stood for “Baby Gangstaz”. In this case, the “Baby” part of their name was not a reference to the co-owner of their soon-to-be iconic label, it was more likely a reference to the fact that B.G. and Wayne were only 14 and 12 years old, respectively, when they recorded this music. That’s young even by young rapper standards. But they don’t let their limited time on this Earth keep them from having a surprisingly masterful handle on the genre. Their styles are both remarkably similar to the styles that made them famous, and you can hear the characteristic elements of each of their flows starting to emerge out of their obviously Bounce-influenced rhymes on this album. Hearing this album really made me realize just how much of Lil’ Wayne’s style lies in his pronunciation of individual syllables. He’s possibly more conscious of that one parameter than any rapper I can think of. You can really hear, even in this super early example, how he’ll exaggerate, downplay, elongate, or shorten certain sounds and syllables throughout his verses and the dramatic effect it has is undeniable. The sheer musicality of his pronunciation is really a remarkable feat, especially from a not-quite-teenaged kid from Hollygrove.
The other thing about this song was something I didn’t notice quite as quickly: the piano part in the background of this track is actually not a repeating loop or sample, it’s really someone just soloing on the piano setting on some cheap keyboard for the entire song. Anyone that knows anything about hip-hop (or dance music in general) is that it’s built on repetition. Bass lines, chord progressions, melodies, rhythms, whatever the song is built from, it’s built from short patterns that loop. Not here. Usually, we only get hip-hop songs with prominent improvised solos in specifically branded “jazz rap” subgenre stuff, the fans of which would most likely turn their noses up at this less refined Southern version of the identical concept. I mean when it comes to raw elements and approach, what’s the real difference between “From Tha 13th To Tha 17th” and, let’s say “Black Ego“?
Digable Planets – Black Ego
Check out these 5 pop rappers reviving some old Bone.
The Game – Celebration (feat. Chris Brown, Tyga, Lil’ Wayne, & Wiz Khalifa)
Just between you and me, I think those ladies were letting Tyga win that b-ball game. Don’t you think?
Here’s a little context for those of you that have never heard me DJ a New Years’ party.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – 1st of tha Month
It’s interesting how both Game and Tyga start out really trying to do their best Bone Thugs impressions, but both end up slipping into the same currently popular slow syncopated flow that everyone from Gunplay to Ab-Soul to 2 Chainz to Buddy to Jay Ant has sported in the past year. Bone impressions and references pop up in some of the most unexpected places. There are the high profile instances like Wayne’s sly nod at the end of “It’s Good” all the way back to Biggie’s famous “Notorious Thugs” verse, but sometimes you’ll hear a little Bone peeking out of some more unexpected corners. It’s cool to hear such an obvious backpack-rap instrumental track that revolves primarily around an Aaliyah sample and a Bone Thugs sample.
Count Bass D – August 25, 2001
And if you’re like me and need to know where DJ U-Neek got the inspiration for this anthem of new beginnings, check the chorus of this tune.
Chapter 8 – I Just Wanna Be Your Girl (feat. Anita Baker)
I’m real thankful to @noz for bringing up this interesting story, and to @supermerk2 for providing the conclusion. It concerns one of the most interesting Lil’ Wayne songs in existence, and one of my personal favorites.
Lil’ Wayne – I Feel Like Dying
It’s really interesting that Wayne chose to record and release this song considering it was during a time when he was catching a lot of flack for his substance abuse problems and stayed mostly uncooperative when posed questions directly about it. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to not have developed a substance abuse problem, so I can’t know for sure, but I have a suspicion that this song is probably a really good depiction of what it’s like. The sparseness of the production (there’s basically just a very simple drum machine loop and a single sample to back Wayne’s vocals) gives a very lonely, isolated, and empty mood to the whole song while Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics seem to wander back and forth between positive and negative feelings he has toward the drugs he describes, which I think is a perspective only a person in the midst of an addiction could compellingly provide. Somebody who’d kicked the habit would probably have some kind of dramatic arc to the song; starting fun and lighthearted, descending into darkness, and then emerging triumphantly from the struggle. This song is not that. This song goes into great detail describing the supernatural powers provided to him by the chemicals he ingests, while in the same breath honestly stating the extent of the captivity they keep him in. This aimless meandering between these feelings without much demarcation between them is very interesting, it gives the impression of feeling good things but not feeling very good about it, and feeling bad things while not feeling very bad about it. Punctuated by his whispered ad libs and inappropriate laughter, this song really creates a singular mood that I’ve never heard even Wayne produce on any other song of his, much less anyone else — including the lady that sang the song that provided the inspiration for Wayne’s version.
Karma Ann Swanepoel – Once
There were some legal issues surrounding this borrowing a few years back that may or may not be of interest to you (click on that link up top if it does), but I think the interesting thing about this story is how these two artists treated this same material. In a lot of ways, Lil’ Wayne’s version is a much more complex and artistically advanced depiction of this topic. Karma Ann’s song and performance are undeniably moving and beautiful, but her mood and lyrics are all very straightforward and uniformly negative. She’s taken the experience of addiction, laid all the parts out in front of her, and averaged out the feelings and rounded the result to the one that dominates most of the time: sadness. But in this completely mournful depiction of this topic, we lose so much of the complexity of it. To my ears, Wayne’s breathtakingly honest portrayal of substance abuse with all of the beautiful and awful parts of it all inseparably smashed together feels a lot more like how real problems feel in the real world. I’ve never gone through something tragic and not at some point surprised myself, and sometimes even felt guilty, for discovering some result of the tragedy that benefits me in some way. The same can be said about times when I’ve been truly fortunate.
People ask me a lot why it is that I like rap music, and I think this is a great example of one of the things that really appeals to me about it. There’s not a need to be 100% consistent and only portray the dominant side of any givens story. From song to song, and in this case even within the course of a single song, rap artists often will put forth very contradictory attitudes towards various subjects, and I think that’s a good thing, that feels more like how things really go in reality. I feel like most other genres of music feel the need to make up their mind and take a side when they approach writing a song, but rappers seem much more comfortable taking on both sides simultaneously and letting them counterbalance each other and, possibly most importantly, letting the listener decide what to think about it. There’s pretty much one interpretation of “Once“, but “I Feel Like Dying” has a much more complex message with a whole spectrum of interpretations that could be drawn from it. I by no means intend to disparage Karma Ann’s creation, I think her song is amazing and it obviously made one of my favorite Lil’ Wayne songs possible, so I applaud her. My intention is only to express my personal preference for the way certain styles of artists tend to approach creating, and in this case (and let’s be real, most others), rap wins.
Raise your hand if any of these mean anything to you: N.W.A., U.G.K., KRS-One, D.I.T.C., TLC, Y.M.C.M.B., MondreM.A.N., E.P.M.D., O.F.W.G.K.T.A., Big K.R.I.T., M.J.G., RZA, GZA, M.O.P.? If not, you better pay more attention when you read this blog.
When it comes to abbreviations for shit, rap’s got everybody beat. I’ve always taken this phenomenon in hip-hop for granted, it never crossed my mind to examine it closely until I somehow stumbled across this explanation of where the word “O.K.” comes from. If you think you know, you might be surprised, because apparently there are a lot of incorrect stories out there involving everything from ex-presidents to French seaport prostitutes, but the real explanation, though less colorful, actually makes a lot more sense.
The etymology of OK was masterfully explained by the distinguished Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read in a series of articles in the journal American Speech in 1963 and 1964. The letters, not to keep you guessing, stand for “oll korrect.” They’re the result of a fad for comical abbreviations that flourished in the late 1830s and 1840s. Read buttressed his arguments with hundreds of citations from newspapers and other documents of the period. As far as I know his work has never been successfully challenged.
The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, “our first men,” and used expressions like NG, “no go,” GT, “gone to Texas,” and SP, “small potatoes.”
Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, “oll wright,” and there was also KY, “know yuse,” KG, “know go,” and NS, “nuff said.”
This explanation brings up another interesting point too: intentional misspellings. Just like in rap, sometimes words are misspelled in a way that reflects how they’re actually pronounced in that given time period and region; “nuff” instead of “enough”, “yuse” instead of “use”, “oll” instead of “all”. Other times, a certain misspelling is chosen that actually confuses the meaning of the expression instead of clarifying its pronunciation such as “know” instead of “no”, “wright” instead of “right”, or “korrect” instead of “correct”. This is also a very common device used in rap music. Have you ever listened to Z-Ro before? How about Suga Free or OutKast or Salt-n-Pepa? Or Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire? The list could go on indefinitely. It’s interesting that in the 1830s version, they combined the two devices into one, first misspelling the words and then abbreviating them, while in rap it tends to be more one or the other, but both devices are still at work in both arenas, and rap has another interesting practice of taking existing words and acronym-izing them after the fact. 2Pac famously put the word “nigga” in a positive light in “Never Ignorant, Gettin’ Goals Accomplished“, while K.R.I.T. took on the negative form of that word to draw attention to the traps that he feels too many of his race fall into: becoming “another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism“. Cee-Lo told us in ’94 about how “the GoodDie Mostly Over Bullshit“. Killah Priest puts forth a pretty surprising evaluation of the Good Book given his chosen moniker in “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth“. Once again, the list goes on.
But why would anybody want to do this? Superficially speaking, it seems to create a barrier between writer and reader. It takes words that everyone is familiar with and obscures them with confusing mangling and mutilation. But where language purists see verbal disfigurement, rappers and writers see verbal hot-rodding. Why does a car need to go 160 miles per hour, or have doors that open in every possible way except the normal way, or have 26″ rims and a wood grain steering wheel? Because it’s cool. And I don’t mean “cool” in a diminutive way at all, in this case “cool” plays a very important social and cultural role that should not be scoffed at or underestimated.
In the case of the custom car world, any or all the modifications mentioned above could easily get in the way of the normal functioning of a car in the same way that all the transformations words go through in the hands of rappers might get in the way of someone immediately understanding what is being said. The same thing can be said for rappers’ extensive use of slang. But for people who use these linguistic devices, part of the message being conveyed goes way beyond the literal meanings of the words being used. Part of their reason for rapping is to convey a certain access to a set of knowledge only available to a select group of people. If you can’t decipher the message that’s being put out there, then it probably wasn’t for you in the first place. To understand what is being said, you have to either be born (or at least raised) in the culture that gives rise to these word modifications, or study really hard and learn it as a second language of sorts. Some might argue that this is an unfair and exclusionary practice that makes people feel left out, and under certain circumstances I might be inclined to object to these practices, but in this case I don’t, because I feel it’s aimed in the right direction. This is not a case of powerful people of the world imposing an obscure coded language onto a lower class to marginalize those who can’t gain access to the cipher, it’s a tool used by people in positions of societal weakness to have something of their own that they can relate to each other about and gain some shred of power back from those who have more of a say over how their lives go than they’d like. They might get lower wages, get put in jail more often, have more difficulty voting, and not get proper justice for crimes committed against them, but they can at least make you feel really “uncool” when you hear “bickin’ back, bein’ bool” or “MOB Piru Damu” for the first time and have no idea what they’re talking about.
Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M.