There are a bunch of songs that I wish I’d mentioned in 2010 (or 2009) that came out in 2009. And they don’t quite fit here. So I’ll get them out of the way in one post.
Gucci Mane feat. Usher, “Spotlight”
It’s neither the biggest hit (“Wasted”) or the most memorable song (“Lemonade”) from The State Vs. Radric Davis, but it’s definitely the one I love best, and it has everything to do with Polow Da Don completely spazzing on the beat. Gucci gets in a couple of choice bits — “Gucci on Elimidate, four girls wit’ me / Simply, I glaze they ass just like some Church’s biscuits” never fails to make me laugh, because it’s superb food-as-sex metaphor and ludicrous; — and Usher’s “uh-wha-OH-oh” makes the entire hook, but Polow layers like four completely different drums on, and has complete control of when he wants the slow-motion flashbulbs or twinkling garnishes to stop.
That’s what makes the bit where he drops the drums at the beginning of the third verse so powerful: It comes just in time for Gucci to admit “I had a girl, left alone / Gucci Mane’s a bachelor” with only the synth that’s been hanging around like smoke in a club as background, and for the spotlight to seem like a rather isolating thing. Then Gucci gets back to the fun (“Ass fat as two basketballs / Gucci finna DONK her”) and the moment’s gone. A song as forgotten as this with components as wonderful as Polow’s production and a moment as great as that didn’t deserve its fate. (Also, this is one of the few R&Bish pop songs in recent vintage that has a required viewing video, if only for the gliding move Usher pulls early on.)
Cheryl Cole, “Fight For This Love”
Another instance of production trumping vocals and songwriting: There’s no one moment when Cole’s pleasant enough voice really rises over the swamp of whirring drum effects, muted synths, and precious keys (it’s also telling that her last act in the video is miming along to the strings of the hook, wisely saved for saying goodbye) and every single time I hear the first verse, I wish someone had noted that “Too much of anything can make you sick” and “Makes it hard to know which road to pick” rhyme. But “Fight For Your Love” has soft-loud-soft down to a science — it’s produced and written by Steve Kipner, who was responsible for “Genie In a Bottle,” among other pop treats — giving the bit of quiet heading into the post-bridge hook enough oomph to be a release.
Beyonce feat. Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne, “Sweet Dreams”
No Ceilings might not be the best of the Lil Wayne projects released in the last two years (Rebirth is a cult classic already, and I Am Not A Human Being … well, I’ll get to it later in this series, but it’s good), which is nuts on a did-you-hear-Weezy-rap-on-this-tape? level. But while Wayne caught bodies over a host of fairly standard hip-hop cuts (“D.O.A.,” “Swag Surfin’,” “Ice Cream Paint Job,” “Make Her Say,” etc.) and came up with one of the best songs of his career by talking about text message etiquette over a barely-there beat (“I’m Single”), Nicki got busy throwing bodies in the bayou, nearly stealing the entire project with a show-stopping verse over the wobbling Jim Jonsin synths.
More e-words have probably been spent on Nicki’s awesome “Monster” verse than any other contribution to rap by a woman in the past decade. (And, well, that’s sad.) But there’s something satisfying about knowing that she’s been doing that sort of Sybill-with-a-scythe stuff for a while. Here, she’s big-upping her flow and warning “rap bitches” about trying her (“Get gassed and get at me, Texaco / Shoot yourself in the leg, Plaxico”), getting “It’s good for the goose, then it’s good for the gander” into a verse, recontextualizing sex (“I’m a bad bitch, on all fours / The President be like “It’s all yours!”) as something a woman gets rather than something she gets done. When Wayne comes around and starts adding syllables to “careful,” he can’t compete: “And she’s the queen” and “Nicki Minaj is the hardest bitch” seem at once like filler on a verse that isn’t as strong as Nicki’s and concessions to the victor.
Jay-Z feat. Kanye West, “Hate”
Shouldn’t have been on BP3, but too stocked with disdain for disdain and we’re-actually-trying hashtag rap and “ra-yer” and “fa-yer” to have been as maligned as it was. Kanye says, “We blastin’ off just like a laser / Nigga, pyoon-pyoon-pyoon”; Jay asks, “Why I never see ’em at the Clearport, ‘Ye?” It’s a great trick, two of hip-hop’s biggest and most bulletproof acts dedicating a song to the haters that at once says “Screw y’all” and “Thank you.” That doesn’t make it a good song, but it does make it one of the more interesting tracks on BP3.
Don’t bother looking for profundity or reasonable treatment of women; songs that involve the phrase “Fool, your royal penis is clean!” aren’t going to have them. But the sunrise synth in the hook makes the “Every day I see my dream” refrain sound like an achievement, “I check my MySpace, and I got a lot of friend requests, yes!” makes me smirk, and if you can get past scions of Berry Gordy’s empire (son and grandson) bragging about riches, you get a dance track that works as a “We made it” track. LMFAO is Das Racist plus too many synths and too much money and minus going to class in college, interest in diasporas, and the ability to rap.
That’s not entirely a bad thing.
(The song’s more than three years old; the underrated LMFAO album that dropped in 2009, Party Rock, isn’t.)
A song new enough for me to have done the lyrics, and old enough for me to have failed to properly SEO the post. (2009, man.)
Quotables abound (“It’s just me, 40, O, and Neek standin’ in a huddle” has had its names replaced with your favorite rap blogger’s inner circle), and the moment Drake captures — just getting too big to be normal, and realizing that the things one wants forever come with things fame obliterates forever — is one of the best-realized ones of his career. Drake may not cop to being a fairly boring rapper and singer whose success is based on connections, work ethic, and a superb understanding of the formulas behind meter and melody, but he’ll cop to being a fairly regular guy thrust into the limelight; that’s a bit of the “honesty” Drake’s less critical fans lap up, and what keeps this in Drake’s career top five despite the release of one of 2010’s better albums.
Also, “I didn’t cry when ‘Pac died / But I prolly will when Hov does” might be the line of demarcation between the second and third waves of hip-hop.
Cobra Starship feat. Leighton Meester, “Good Girls Go Bad”
It’s in the screw effect that gets thrown on the “Baaaad” in the hook, and the smirk that you can hear in Blair Waldorf’s voice as she skewers the bad boy buying her drinks with “Boy, you’re dain-ger-ous”: This is a song for good girls who aren’t really going bad but will definitely enjoy getting Facebook comments about how scandalous their outfits were.
Between that cynicism and the song’s stewards (Kara DioGuardi and Kevin Rudolf, ugh), I should hate it. But this was one of my staples in the summer of 2009, and it’s got soft-loud-soft DNA that works. “You make me wanna lose control,” Meester sings. She never does, but this was the pre-Ke$ha era: It would have been gauche to do so.
(There are probably more songs than this that I have opinions on, but can’t think of right now. Leave comments with them? I’ll respond with thoughts.)