Jonah Bromwich knows who the original Teflon Don is
I’m both happy and sad that it’s come to this. It’s awesome that Kendrick won. He put in the work, he made good, uncompromising music and he was lauded for it last year. He’s selling records, and those records aren’t shitty.
But along with the other trappings of success come the empty guest verses. Kendrick is a commodity, and getting him to appear on a song gives the other featured artist a boost. Which is funny, because Emeli Sandé didn’t appear to need the boost. Other than the entirely gratuitous Kendrick verses, the Scotslady (that’s the opposite of Scotsman, right?) has a banger on her hands with the single “Next to Me,” which had been previously released without the guest verses. The track is new-school Whitney Houston cut with Mary J. What’s the 411 stomp, with an unabashedly huge chorus and relatively stripped down verses that show off Sandé’s voice. Kendrick doesn’t really have anything to be ashamed of—even Biggie didn’t do much but provide Blige with a short recess when he appeared on the remix of “Real Love.” On songs like these, the rapper is just a sentient alternative to what would otherwise be an instrumental bridge. His function, at least from a musical standpoint, is to slow the song down so that things can get amped back up for the final few refrains.
The name grab works though, doesn’t it? My attention got pulled by Kendrick. The song is good enough so that he doesn’t lose any credibility with me for his lazy-ass rapping. He cashes an easy check and suddenly I’m checking for the first Scottish lady that I’ve ever checked for in my life.
The low cunning that led to Kendrick’s presence is unsurprising because Sandé has some major players behind her. The woman is a known known in England where her debut album Our Version of Events was the number one seller of 2012. In choosing Kendrick, the good folks at Capitol Records behind her aren’t using any new tricks. He’s successful in a medium that they understand: the charts. Putting a rapper who proves he can sell on a song with a new artist is a classic move.
With the hipster&b trend going full-force right now, the people in charge realize that the best rapper to put on the track is the one who’s getting both money and blog attention. And thankfully for us, that rapper is Kendrick, who thus far has proved to have good taste (save a coupla rock hooks a coupla years ago) which means it’s (hopefully) safe to assume that he recognized the quality that he was cynically asked to help boost. Lesson being, once again, that when talented artists win, it’s good for everyone, and that includes industry people too.