Stop, drop, and roll. Justin Bieber is a fire.
Stop, drop, and roll. Justin Bieber is a fire.
It’s not often that I’ll be writing substantial posts for this blog, as I would hate to contribute to the smog that is the internet’s information cloud. Anyway, today I was listening to Last Call from The College Dropout and for the first time I paid attention to Kanye’s dialogue after the rap where he talks about how he initially struggled as a producer and that even though he had all these connects not a lot of people were interested in his stuff or in giving him a contract. He eventually played one of his beats for this guy over the phone and he tells him that Jay-Z might want it for The Dynasty: Roc La Familia; this eventually becomes This Can’t Be Life, which is the first song Kanye ever did for Jay. So I went and listened to that after and realized quickly that it samples the same thing as Shine Blockas and I guess that just seemed pretty darn neat to me. In Last Call Kanye also talks about how he sped up the drums from Xxplosive from Chronic 2001 to make that beat, which is pretty cool too, because Dr. Dre and Kanye West seem worlds apart when it comes to production and to imagine that part of Kanye’s signature sound comes from something that seems so obvious is weird. Shine Blockas was co-produced by Big Boi and DJ Cutmaster Swiff(not to be confused with Cutmaster Swift), who is also Big Boi’s tour DJ. I imagine they’re buddies like Lil’ Wayne and his tour DJ from The Carter were before they started beefing and had to travel in separate tour buses. I can’t help but wonder if Cutmaster Swiff found the sample on his own or heard it in Kanye’s song and decided to rework it? This kind of thing happens a lot in house music too, like here and here. And yes music with sampling in it is derivative and you can argue for a million years about whether that’s creative re-appropriation or stealing blah blah blah. At the end of the day all four songs sound good and they each suit a different mood for me and so I’m glad they all exist. The end
Yes yes yes this is good. That part at the end of Last Call is really interesting, by the way. I recommend listening to it if you haven’t.
Even when you get over the fact that Bob Herbert is not a great columnist, and that is particularly grating here, where the format is to offer some dire statistics and then lament a set of apparently shallow cultural heroes, this column should make you angry. The basic premise is that the College Board released a report saying that the current generation of young people is less educated than its parents and that America no longer leads the world in college degrees, facts that confirm Bob Herbert’s fear of cultural decline. This is frustrating news, but Herbert reacts to it in all the most predictable and least productive ways, ultimately getting to the heart of the problem in a purely meta capacity. For instance, look at this quote that essentially sums up Herbert’s argument:
A society that closes its eyes to the most important issues of the day, that often holds intellectual achievement in contempt, that is more interested in hip-hop and Lady Gaga than educating its young is all but guaranteed to spiral into a decline.
Look, I don’t deny that American culture “often holds intellectual achievement in contempt,” but to try to draw some kind of link between this problem and hip-hop or Lady Gaga is really stupid. It’s not like society is in some kind of sudden decline because people are listening to hip-hop. This is not an argument that should hold water in any environment other than on The O’Reilly Factor circa 2002. In my case, a love of hip-hop dramatically enriched and broadened my formal education, but, regardless, whether or not people are listening to Lil’ Wayne (who, by the way, could make more topical pop cultural references to prove a point in one bar than Bob Herbert makes in this column) is not the issue with our educational system.
No, the issue, Mr. Herbert, is that your generation’s distorted politics have dismantled this country’s educational system and economic advantages in pursuit of easy wealth and misguided wars. Your generation has instilled America with the firm beliefs that government is never the solution, that the individual and his or her selfish interests reign supreme, and that the most effective way to deal with the problem is to pass the blame along to someone else.
We shouldn’t be pissed that America now ranks below Belgium in college degrees (by the way, it’s an incredibly condescending conceit to consider this “beyond pathetic” — it might be beyond pathetic if it were North Korea, but the nations mentioned are not exactly cultural backwaters), we should be pissed that a generation of Americans dismantled this country’s public institutions to the point that their children can expect less from this country than they could. So yeah, before we make any more tired laments about the collapse of intelligence in America, maybe we could begin by explaining the collapse of civic responsibility in political discourse, and we could also maybe note that the strongest endorsement of government action I heard today was in a Nicki Minaj punchline*.
Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to go get dumb to some highbrow literary fiction.
*”Ask the IRS, bitch, I’m paying for your healthcare,” from the “All I Do Is Win Remix”
Thank Me Later is going to be generating a lot of discussion and backlash in the next few days (especially following, I see as I’m finishing this, Pitchfork’s review, which is actually a pretty accurate and fair assessment, although, unfairly, not a Best New Music). Inevitably, people will say all the things about Drake being depressing and complaining about his success, but hopefully people will realize that, like So Far Gone, this is an album whose stark honesty and straightforward consistency make it really worthwhile. Anyway, I’ve been listening to it, and I’ve gathered some thoughts, probably far too exhaustively, that I’ll cover track-by-track:
- Not a great leadoff line, but it’s a pretty good thesis statement for Drake. And I love that he dives into this album in confessional mode.
- I feel like a lot of albums this year have started out with firework sounds. Fang Island at the very least.
- Kenneth loves the “My 15 minutes started an hour ago” line.
- One of the best Drake lines ever: “Wayne put me right here, that’s who I get the paper with/I hope that my success never alters our relationship.” I love this line because on one hand it’s really raw and vulnerable, and you see Drake as this huge Wayne fan who can’t believe where he is, but on the other hand it’s a massive boast, like, someday I might be bigger than one of the biggest pop stars in the world. It reminds me of the Wayne line from “Something You Forgot” where he says “What you mean to me is what I mean to rap:” this totally vulnerable emotional confession that it takes a moment to realize is also completely laced with ego. To me, those are the best type of rap lines.
- The second verse is about Rihanna, which makes it awesome. I mean, if I dated Rihanna, well, “I’ll never forget it baby/what an experience” is probably the best way to sum that up.
- The third verse is what we talk about when we talk about love. This verse is honest, straightforward, and straight-up interesting. Not only do we get some personal history, which, I will add to give the critics a moment of reflection, is a pretty understandable middle-class type of hardship that will resonate with his audience (he uses the phrase “our parents!”), but we also get a little bonus poetic musing on the nature of love.
- This is a great opening track: huge sound, great hook, and Drake rapping at near the top of his game. It all leaves me excited for the rest of the album.
- I think that this will probably be the most polarizing song on this album. On one hand, you have the type of sadsack verse people hate Drake for (“Don’t be fooled by the money/I still just young and unlucky”) and this protracted, emotional neo-R&B vibe, but also Drake’s sounds really good singing here, and this verse is great. It sacrifices basically any kind of wordplay for blunt honesty, and it hits hard on those notes (“Damn. Of all the places you could go/I just thought you’d choose somewhere that had somebody that you know”). And here’s the thing: you may think that Drake’s not real, or he’s ungrateful about his situation or whatever, but this song is unflinchingly real, and, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, it still sucks to be out of love (I just read The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, fyi). Being honest about this type of thing is pretty damn hip hop, if you ask me. If you like Drake, you’ll probably relate to this song on some level and see it as a logical extension of a track like “Little Bit” or “Lust for Life” off of So Far Gone.
- As someone who has a job selling both tea and kettles, I will point out that the line “You put the tea in the kettle and light it” doesn’t make any sense.
- While we’re talking about relating to Drake’s lyrics, we need to include the first line of this song (“Yesterday when we were getting high you were invited”). Can any dude in his twenties honestly tell me he can’t appreciate what Drake’s talking about here?
- The line “It’s happening Penny Lane” sounds so honestly amazed it makes me really want to be in the midst of the process of becoming famous, which I think is one of the reasons I like this album. Even though Drake doesn’t always make it sound fun, he is so wide-eyed about his fame that I kind of feel like I’m living it with him. I think this is, in many ways, a more fun form of escapism than listening to raps about G4s or whatever, because I can almost imagine it happening to me.
- “And you can tell by looking in my eyes right now/That nothing really comes as a surprise right now/’Cause we just having the time of our lives right now.” There. That’s it. That’s the point.
- 40’s production sounds so great. I said a bunch that So Far Gone was the album that 808s and Heartbreak should have been, and this album is a natural extension of that mixtape. I think part of why a lot of hip hop fans who shouldn’t logically like Drake that much think he’s so great is that, at a time when hip hop is kind of starved for innovation or marketable emerging artists (see: Wale, Asher Roth, Kid Cudi album sales), he is taking the genre in his own direction and making it sound good (as opposed to say, Charles Hamilton, who just sounds weird). Credit 40 for that. Even the other (superstar) producers on this album kind of bend to this aesthetic, which says a lot for the quality of this guy’s work.
- I guess I can understand thematically why this was the first single off this album, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s probably the weakest track. It’s still a decent song, but the production doesn’t really suit Drake, and he brings all the corny punchlines he can to match it. I’m glad for him that it blew up, but it’s not really what I put on Drake to listen to. Apparently this beat was originally for Young Jeezy, which makes sense, because I would put on someone like that if I wanted to hear something like this.
- One of the cool things about Drake that distinguishes him from most of his peers is that he has a really cohesive vision for what he’s trying to do artistically. This song kind of deviates from his aesthetic, but it’s a really conscious statement, and, even though I usually skip it, it comes at exactly the right point in the album. You get three sort of introspective, typical Drake tracks, and this big victory lap that sort of kicks off a succession of singles.
- But still. Not a big fan.
"Show Me A Good Time"
- What’s up with that weird chirping sound, Kanye?
- Lamest line of the album: “I live for the nights that I can’t remember/With the people that I won’t forget.” Destined to become an integral part of the Quotes section on Facebook of every sorority girl in America.
- Whatever. This song is probably worse than “Over,” but it might be one of those kind of left-field Kanye songs like “Celebration” or “I Wonder” that sounds pretty good at a party in like a year.
- I’m not really sure when Drake had any backpack cred, but it’s cool whenever a rapper of his status acknowledges an admiration for people like Little Brother or J Dilla.
"Up All Night"
- Man, Drake has maybe the best features lineup of any album, ever. Literally, probably the biggest scrub on here is Swizz Beatz.
- This song should be a single. The beat is ominous and epic, both Drake and Nicki drop great verses, and the hook gets annoyingly stuck in your head.
- The part where Nicki stops in the middle of her verse and goes “Wait, wait, fixate” is one of those rap moments that just oozes so much swagger and is impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t listen to rap.
- This song sounds like “Bring ‘Em Out Pt. 2,” which makes no sense considering that it’s on a Drake album and that thematically it’s a for-the-ladies song more in line with “Miss Independent.” I can only assume that Swizz Beatz got a feature because Drake and Alicia Keys are friends. That said, it’s a fun song. Drake loosens up for a moment and T.I. is predictably solid (although who are these girls who “f*** for…bowls of baked ziti?”). Also, even on an incredibly typical Swizz Beatz song, Drake manages to get a low-key, minimalist outro to twist into his own style, which ensures that this remains firmly his song. No idea what this song is doing on this album, but it’s still good.
"Shut it Down"
- This shouldn’t be surprising, but I think this is hands down the best song on the album. Drake and The-Dream are not only just about my favorite artists at the moment, but they are also natural collaborators. The original leak version of this was more of a typical Dream song, and it was great, but this song builds to something more epic. Drake’s verse is solid, and, in true The-Dream fashion, everything in this song comes at exactly right the time. When the first version of this song leaked, the “You looking good girl/ Go, go, go get ‘em girl” hook was a classic Dream outro-hook that ended up stuck in my head for days, and it’s great that here it comes right at the end of Drake’s rapped verse and blows it up into this huge crescendo.
- I don’t get the “shut it down - onyx” line, but I really hope it’s some kind of convoluted reference to the Pokemon in Super Smash Brothers that drops rocks on you. Based on Wikipedia, maybe it’s a comic book reference?
- The line “You finer than your fine cousin” is hilarious to me.
- The transition after that hook sounds like a nice little homage to chillwave, even though I’m sure it’s not trying to be. Ask me to explain my thoughts on the evolution of sampling into that subgenre some time, though.
- How the hell did a major label release get a seven-minute R&B song as its centerpiece? This is so great.
- The outro to this is so sleazy, but Drake makes it sound so good!
- This is so obviously the breakout single on this album that I’ve already started hearing it on the radio. I mean, lighter-waving Aaliyah sample, an actually triumphant verse from Drake, and a huge, roll-down-the-windows hook from Jeezy? This song just sounds awesome, and it kind of makes you feel like you can do anything. Which, as a musing about timelessness and fame coming from a 23-year-old, it damn well better.
- Another huge could-be single as far as I’m concerned. Nothing about it feels too different from any other Drake song, except that it’s really well executed, and the hook is another one of those semi-inspirational I-can-imagine-I’m-standing-on-top-of-a-skyscraper-with-Drake moments that this album is full of.
- I read something where Drake talked about Jay showing him up on this track and telling him how “it really was,” but, honestly, Jay has some pretty lame lines. That said, given the anthemic feel I just described in the bullet point above, a feature from Jay-Z is the most appropriate thing this song could have.
- One of my co-workers mentioned the concept of a triple-entendre to me the other day, and I had to break it to her that Jay-Z had already thought of it. Then I realized that I’m pretty sure there isn’t exactly a triple-entendre here. Doesn’t he just rhyme out with owl with hour? Also, does he say that he “once was/cool as the Fonz was?” Or am I missing something there, too?
- This is that Drake flow that makes him great for radio, and these are those Drake lines that make bloggers like him, and this is one of those Drake hooks that gives him a nearly peerless quality for making great songs.
- I like that Drake gives Bun B a shout-out here. Like, even though Bun wasn’t famous enough to get featured alongside Lil’ Wayne or Jay-Z, Drake still recognizes the value of a co-sign from Bun B on his mixtape, is still grateful, and is still a fan of this guy who’s a huge part of the rap game right now even though virtually nobody outside of hip hop knows who he is.
- Wayne’s verse is so hilariously good. Great lines include “Yes I am Weezy but I ain’t asthmatic,” “Turn you to a vegetable like you lying in soup,” and “Man, I got so many styles, I am a group.” This has to be about the longest Wayne feature anyone has ever gotten, and it’s also one of the best. This is one more reason why Wayne’s co-sign was and is so important for Drake.
- I love the way Wayne ends his verse. He sounds so casual that I picture him literally walking away from the mic as he finishes his line. It’s moments like this where he makes rapping look effortless and you realize that he really is probably the best rapper alive.
- This is in the vein of one of those atmospheric tracks from So Far Gone that helps define Drake’s sound, and it’s great that it made it onto the album.
"Find Your Love"
- Yeah, this sounds like an outtake from 808s, but listen to those drums! The part at the end where it kind of seems like the hook should come in, but instead the drums swell up and play the role of the hook is so cool. Kanye and Drake also seem like natural collaborators, and only they could have made a song like this: something that sounds so different from everything out there and is still undeniably huge pop. Still, you do kind of want to hear him rap on it.
"Thank Me Now"
- This is the perfect conclusion to this album. Drake actually manages to sound like a badass, especially when he drops lines like “I must have been hard to watch/What a year for you,” and he leaves the album proving that, yes, he is in a league with the best and yes, he also is still going to complain about girls, which, once again, is something a lot of his fans can understand.
- This line is one of those things where you’re just like, yeah, that’s true, and its simplicity makes it great: “Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous/’Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.”
Okay, so yeah I’m a huge Drake fan, but listen to this album and try not to feel like it’s something huge. Try not to relate to Drake, even if his problems seem totally beyond anything you can imagine being lucky enough to get to deal with. Try not to get the hooks stuck in your head. This is one of the most cohesive hip hop releases in a long time, and it’s a major statement about the direction of the genre. It legitimizes the increasingly synthetic sound of hip hop production and the increasingly vulnerable and confessional personas of hip hop’s new stars. For both of these reasons, it’s going to get slammed mercilessly by purists, but I think they are positive changes. First of all, music evolves, hip hop has been going this way for a long time, and it’s not worse music because of it. Second, it presents a new paradigm for the rapper that is a much more positive view of masculinity than say, 50 Cent or whoever, and who is also much more in line with the concerns of much of hip hop’s audience, and, hell, the millenial generation, which is grappling with complicated relationships, trying to lead purposeful lives, and obsessed with fame. So go out and buy it, or whatever.
You can make anything Hip Hop, any kind of music. So, we should be the last people from any genre to be putting ourselves in a box. We’re using everybody else’s music to make our sound. We pull from every sound. Hip Hop is a world music. There’s kids in Asia right now sitting in a basement with an MPC player coming up with beats. Let it live. It’s bigger than us. We need to stop that s**t. It’s bigger than us and it will outlive us all, we just need to let it grow.
— This Yelawolf interview has some seriously profound moments, especially about being an artist in the South.