Monday, April 13, 2009

Brief Thoughts on The Charts

I don't really listen to new music anymore, but I do listen to the radio on the way to and from places. Here are some thoughts on what's on the radio.

Soulja Boy, 'Turn My Swag On' (#42, Hot 100, #15, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, #8, Hot Rap Tracks).

As Master P once said on the intro of his slept-on classic, Ice Cream Man, the cream really do rise to the top. It's so gratifying to hear this song that I championed about six months ago getting some play, and in the context of the radio, the thing sounds so avant-garde compared to what else is on. All it is is this shouted refrain and some sung-mumbled verselets. Besides the formal qualities of the song, it's cool that, unlike a Rick Ross or all the other rappers soporifically bragging about their opulent lifestyle, Soulja Boy really is getting money. I don't like to emphasize artist biography or stress over whether their real life and their lyrics match up, but what makes the song work, I think, is that this is a really young kid thrilled to have recently become obscenely rich, not some grizzled vet pretending to be thrilled about being obscenely rich. And it's nice to know that at least someone's getting money these days.

Yung LA f. Young Dro & T.I., 'Ain't I (Remix)' (#49, Hot 100, #10, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs).

It's so rare to hear a great or even good 16 bars on the radio these days. T.I.'s verse definitely qualifies. (Dro's is good too, although it's pretty lazy with all the cliches - choppers in the trunk that make you do the macarena and ice 30 below minus the wind chill in the same verse?) For about 40 seconds you totally get all the Jay-Z of the South hype dude used to get 3-5 years ago... then you remember Live Your Life, Dead And Gone, and Whatever You Like (worst first three singles off a rap album ever?) and you snap out of it. But even this verse, as masterful as it is, leaves me a little cold. Something about the tidiness of it, coupled with the sneers at his community's lack of gratitude, turns me off, and I've come to like Yung LA's bit the best, even though he can't rap and I can hardly understand what he's saying - is it Grand Hustle moooooney or Grand Hustle roooyalties?

Beyonce, 'Halo' (#18, Hot 100).

The Wicked Witch of R&B Pop returns with a power ballad. How does Beyonce so dependably turn out loathsome hit after loathsome hit? Besides the fact that 80% of this song is her shrilly shrieking "HALO HALO HALO, HALO HALO HALO (x 36)," there's this pretty creepy deification of the love interest going on that ultimately is just the dressed-up flipside of the sex slave/personal shopper/maid for hire arrangements she loves to croon about (see 'Upgrade You,' 'Cater 2 U,' etc.). Note the "walls" that came tumbling down, her imploring Halo-Dude to "hit me like a ray of sun," her "addict[ion] to [his] light." Now, Madonna famously did this same sort of conflation of the spirtual and sexual on 'Like A Prayer' ("down on my knees, I want to take you there") to brilliant effect, but besides that that's a ridiculously catchy song and this is an unpleasant woman doing multitracked screaming of HALO HALO for four minutes, Madonna was way more up front about it. Whereas Beyonce goes to great trouble to cloak her desire to be totally owned by dude's magic ray of sun in power ballad obscurities. I'm not sure what the difference is here but it's very real. Beyonce needs to retire, which brings me to...

Keri Hilson f. Lil Wayne, 'Turnin Me On' (#16, Hot 100, #2, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs).

I liked this song when it first came out. Now when I hear it I feel like I'm listening to an incredibly annoying and way less talented version of Mya. The attitude is a good thing, but the bragging about herself in the same reductive terms that you hear in every Flo Rida/Plies/The Dream/Fat Joe song - i.e., she can buy out the bar, has her own dollars, etc. - is not. The whole thing's very boilerplate, and by the time she gets to the chorus line-y "ah, ah, ah, ahhhh" part, it gets very grating. Wayne's verse isn't enough to rescue this turkey. His remix verse, however, almost is, and would be if it weren't for Keri reaching new heights of unpleasant obnoxiousness when she goes on a not so related tangent to complain that Beyonce turns her off and should go have some babies because, like, Keri wrote one of her songs, and check the credits. Beyonce should have some babies, but even though she is the worst thing to happen to music in the past ten years, I don't see how Keri has any business telling her so. It's just very unbecoming. Know your place, ho. (Hey, that could be a great refrain for a Three 6 song.)

Black Eyed Peas, 'Boom Boom Pow' (#1, Hot 100).

How this became a hit is totally beyond me. What exactly do they think is so futuristic about this garbage? Don't you hate a song that keeps telling you that it's futuristic when it's not? And yeah, it may be true that there are some artists out there copying Fergie's swagger. But that doesn't make her or her bandmates less poor excuses for human beings, it just means that some people have awful taste. Besides, some of those artists have done way better things with it, see below.

Lady Gaga, 'Pokerface' (#2, Hot 100).

From one of the many imitators of Fergie Ferg's swagger comes this great tune that intriguingly walks the line between tough bitch clubtrash slut and vulnerable clubtrash slut. I even love the kooky breakdown.

Britney Spears, 'If U Seek Amy' (#21, Hot 100).

I continue to love all the singles off Brit's album. It will be said that the song is a sorry gimmick that plays at being transgressive because it nonsensically spells out radio-censored words. And that's true. But more importantly, what we have here is this very maligned woman, who's lost a great deal of her sex appeal, pathetically and somehow touchingly insisting that all the people - of both genders! - still want to fuck her, so fuck what you say about her bad choices because hey, at least she's still a very desired piece of ass. Which is all very sad and pathetic but at the same time a pretty authentic and honest depiction of the nutty thoughts that must run through this fucked-up woman's head. The Max Martin beat that sounds like something off a Kidz Bop CD only adds to the "I'm a fucked-up badly aging twentysomething with the mind of a 12-year-old" vibe. If you like 808s and Heartbreak, you ought to like this. (On the other hand, if you like this, you're not at all entitled to like 808s and Heartbreak.)

Ciara f. Justin Timberlake, 'Love Sex Magic' (#13, Hot 100).

This song is pretty clunky (starting off with the line "touch is so magic to me," making you believe in love and sex and magic all at once?) and uninspired, but I think it's wonderful that there are still artists at least trying to make pop that sounds like Golden Age Timbo and Neptunes and not just surrendering to the drive to make everything sound like autotuned Kidz Bop. There's a real grown-up-ness to the Timbo/Neptunes sound - even, dare I say, a grown and sexy-ness - that the Dr. Luke/Max Martin/Jim Jonsin produced crap on the radio totally lacks. Sometimes it got stale, take 'Change Clothes,' but it at least sounded like something way beyond the ken of your average 12-year-old. Back to the song itself, one of my complaints, besides the clunkiness, would be JT. Great at the breakup songs and cheap Jacko imitations, but does the guy - strictly aurally speaking - actually have sex appeal? N/h but I don't hear it at all, making this thing a total mismatch.

Craig David, 'Insomnia' (barely charted on anything but seems to get a lot of play in Philly).

On a similarly retro tip, this song is far from perfect and reminds me ever so slightly of 'Disturbia,' but the lead-in to the hook is gorgeous, and I love how the "never thought I met a girl I could trust, trust, trust, trust" part is in the same vein as that syncopated style Sisqo perfected on 'Thong Song' (I mean, of course, the 'bumps like a truck, truck, truck, thighs like what, what, what, lady move your butt, butt, butt' part).

That's all for now; I'll reflect on some other hits sometime soon.


Badmon3333 said...

There are a handful of songs on Hilson's new album that are pretty decent. My favorite is probably the Eastern-flavored "Intuition," but you're right, there's definitely nothing original about much, if any, of it.

tray said...

As I say, I don't listen to new music, but yeah, not feeling the singles. Even the one with Kanye, the only part I like is the Kanye verse. And I hate Kanye! And it's a pretty flawed verse. I mean, flying off into NASA... appreciate your craft a little before you just go lisp a bunch of nonsense. Thing's an agency, you can't fly off into it. NASA, outer space: not the same things. Plus the bad, real bad, Michael Jackson, real mad, Joe Jackson... I know there's some kind of defense you can make of that crap as, I don't know, cute little throwaways, but it just doesn't work. (Whereas the 'OMG/woe is me' part does.) Nevertheless, only half-decent part of the song. I should check out the Timbo tracks out though. 'After Love' on Press Play is basically a Keri/Timbo song, and that's great, so... (then again, The Way I Are is one of the least interesting things he's ever done, largely thanks to her, so there's only so much production can do).

Badmon3333 said...

I spend most of my music-seeking time nowadays looking for old vinyl albums you can't buy anymore that are available for free on MP3... or looking for stuff to sample in beatmaking.

The only Kanye verse I really enjoy is his guest spot on 88-Keys' 'Death of Adam' album: 'What she got is so Niagara/Make a young n*gga straight need Viagra'... plus he ends it with a Borat reference, and it's hard to hate on that, cornball though it may be.

tray said...

That's the only Kanye verse you enjoy ever, or recently? I've kinda transferred most of my music-seeking time to film-seeking time - I can't be a rap nerd and a movie nerd at once, too much nerd.

Badmon3333 said...

Recently - but I'm more of a production guy. I have some lyrically indefensible albums (can I get a Group Home's "Living Proof"?) because of the beats.

tray said...

A lot of ink's been spilled on Livin Proof, but basically, while, yeah, they're not the best lyricists and have a few insane clunkers, mostly Malachi's, they don't try to do too much, you know? There are rappers who could've done way worse with those beats. I think they definitely brought something to the table. Even if you look within the GangStarr Foundation, I doubt I'd like the album as much if it were a Big Shug project, and I don't know about Jeru either - what would he do with Supa Star? They have a certain salt of the earth quality going for them, and a total lack of artifice. Whereas Pete Rock's project with INI is more to me a classic case of great beats wasted on subpar rappers. Group Home, there's a synergy going on there.

Badmon3333 said...

I always thought Lil' Dap and Jeru would make a decent tag team.

Leah said...

I feel you Tray on everything except for the Soulja Boy review. Now, I am aware of the whole "I hate soulja boy he's killing hip hop" bandwagon. Let me just clarify I'm not on it. I love to see a fellow youth do good, but not at the expense of hip-hop. I am in no way saying that lil ol soulja boy killed hip-hop that's just really a huge cop out. I mean it took 30+ to create hip hop right?

I'm just saying (as a music fan) his rhymes suck his beats suck. It's just that simple. You called it "avant-garde" really Tray? If you listened to the song he is indeed "rapping about his opulent lifestyle". As far as the whole money thing....yeah that's always a good look. But Hitler, not to compare soulja boy to a dick head dictator, got money too. I mean what weight does "he's getting money" hold?

Rant Over...Thanks Tray