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.