Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Album Better Than All Albums That Dropped This Year

A force that sons everything in its path.

Continuing on my path of being iconoclastic and obnoxious, I thought I'd take a look back at one of my favorite albums, that widely acknowledged classic, Press Play. Before I do that, though, some comments on the Soulja Boy record. If you don't count the crappy intro, I'd argue that it starts with the best 1-2-3 punch of any album all year. Namely, 'Bird Walk,' 'Turn My Swag On,' and 'Gucci Bandana.' (Although the mixtape version of 'Gucci Bandana' is way better.) But the album rapidly goes downhill from there. 'Booty Got Swag' is particularly bizarre, this weird fusion of booty obsession and swag obsession (how does a booty have swag?), 'Whoop Rico' is a sad 'Knuck If You Buck' ripoff, 'I Pray' is laughable ("with. every. move. I. make. I. make. a. lot. of. people. mad/ but. with. every. move. I. make. I. make. a. lot. of. people. glad"), one of those "why does everyone hate on me" songs all crappy rappers make, there's a bad song about his new shoes on here, a shitty song for the preteen ladies, some unlistenable kiddie-whisper-rap with the guys who made "Lookin Boy," and a ton of other filler. Do download the mixtape versions of 'Shopping Spree' and 'Gucci Bandana' though.

But back to Press Play, which Jesus was so kind to remind me of, what a stellar album. Possibly the best-produced album to come down the pike in the past two years, the funniest album in the same span, an unexpectedly touching album, and quite easily my favorite post-Purple Haze New York album. The album memorably opens with Diddy bragging that he "survived Reagan, survived the first Bush" (yeah, you were at Howard and a nice Catholic school at the time, playing football with kids whose dads were in the Mafia) and that his life was "almost like seein through the eyes of a crack child." I guess you need a little prenatal crack in you to say things like "moisturize your situation and preserve your sexy." Then he raps some garbage name-dropping lyrics supplied to him by Game over a better version of the "Show Me What You Got" beat. In Diddy's hands, of course, Game's creepy Big/Pac obsession isn't so creepy because, unlike Game, Diddy actually knew the dead rappers of whom he speaks. After a short interlude (where Diddy, already on his third ghostwriter, amusingly quips "I've got a brand new flow man"), it's two straight Pharoahe Monch ghostwrites! Produced by Havoc! This is the first real genius stretch of the album. Among other things Diddy says that

  • "maaaaan... I extend credit to a vagabond!"
  • "America, fall back, you can't stop me
  • Got a thing for pigeon toed chicks who walk knock-kneed"
  • His kitchen is chrome
  • He likes to peep the moon through his retractable dome
  • What they thought they assassinated was only a Puffy clone
  • He's a Bluetooth nigga but he don't got any cavities.
  • He's a Bad Boy but far from a Detroit Piston.
  • You're not focused enough, you're not listenin. [To his brilliant lyrics.]
  • You need to slow down, hold up like kickstand. (What?)
  • He's got it wrapped like cocoons.
  • He pops shit like needles in cow manure balloons.
Then we have the first two singles from the album, which are also the album's second and third worst songs, followed by some futuristic Danja shit that should have been singles, complete with an on-fire Big Boi, a Diddy trying to rap like T.I., and some girl talking about fucking Diddy on Mars. After that, Nas kicks the best verse of his Def Jam career over a great Kanye beat and writes Diddy a damn good pair of verses too. Then, Diddy does this crazy Prince impersonation that's so bad, he had to have written the lyrics himself. I mean, it starts out:

If I take you out on a date
You'll feel real special and great
So why don't we formulate a plan
to meet up at a special place?

He also says that "nothin, can compare, to fuckin, fuckin my dear" and offers to lick the girl's "sweet cherry pill." Great. But after all that amazingness, there's a whole suite of r&b songs on love and Diddy's problematic relationship with that bitch he finally broke up with last year that shits on both (a) all commercial r&b and (b) a certain other producerterntrapperterntsanger's breakup album. You know, of course, 'Last Night,' or the badly truncated version they put out on the radio, but have you heard the Brandy-featuring drums and bass tour de force, 'Thought You Said'? Or Timbo's triumphant return to Aaliyahville on the Keri Hilson-featuring 'After Love'? Or the stunning Rich Harrison-produced Puff and Mary J collabo, 'Making It Hard'? I hope so. Shit is just as good as 'One Thing' or 'Crazy In Love' were the first time you heard them.

Now, it's often said that these are great songs but they'd be a lot better without Diddy, or with a different rapper - but really, would they? What rapper would do a better job with 'Making It Hard' than Diddy? Please don't say Wayne. He'd take these songs on a totally different direction, that, while potentially interesting, would ultimately ruin them, turn them into just another bunch of Wayne features. Luda, the ex-go-to guy for this type of shit, can't rap anymore. (Ross might be interesting though, as he's the only big-name rapper around who kicks love raps as opposed to sex raps, and these are love songs.) And on a serious note, there's an interesting dialectic going on between the professionalism of the vocalists and Diddy's amateurish raps that I like. Just as Kanye's godawful singing works for some people because his being lost and all off-key musically mirrors, in a way, the content of those songs, Diddy sounds like he's genuinely trying to work out some shit here. The Keris and Mary J.'s and Keyshias and Brandys give him a soundtrack over which he can do that. Unlike Kanye though, who, while he's bleating into autotune, still tries to maintain this air of artistic superiority and pseudo-profundity that's totally unearned, Diddy's just real humble and unguarded on these songs. The outro on 'Making It Hard,' where he talks about meeting Kim for the first time, is this genuinely touching shit, and that's really shocking coming from a douchebag like Diddy. Press Play: half bizarro rap record, half In The Wee Small Hours.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed the post. if only for the fact that it reminded me that there exists a record that contains a line as ridiculously fantastic as "He pops shit like needles in cow manure balloons" (who wrote that btw?)

I think Diddy despite his achievements will always have this 'not an artiste, just a brilliant entrepreneur' stigma attached to him. Maybe rightfully so too, but then most of us will eventually sleep on those great moments where he plays his cards absolutely right.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

t.i. should ghostwrite for diddy more often, cliff's arrogance suits diddy well.

on paper, the production really is pretty great. he should have bought all the songs common made for UMC and rerecorded them in autotune. seriously, instant hits.

tray said...

I didn't listen to UMC but I imagine some of those could work for Diddy.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

"He pops shit like needles in cow manure balloons" (who wrote that btw?)

monch did it. that's a line that only works coming out the mouth of the guy who had a sense of where the verse was going, otherwise it just sounds ridiculous.

so is 'press play' the greatest ghostwritten album ever, or will that require a greater survey?

tray said...

Um, what about The Chronic? Of course, probably a majority of the rapping isn't even done by Dre, but still. Also, Eazy's first album is a near-classic, and I suppose Lil Kim's first album isn't bad. Oh, and of course Efil4zaggin is two thirds ghostwritten rapping.