Zilla Rocca brings you Day 2 of Lil Wayne week. Stay tuned for tomorrow where we’ll discuss his dental records, what television programs he Tivo’s and his favorite breakfast foods (omelettes, one egg short.)
Anytime I go to a hip hop show or a DJ night or a cookout held by people who love music, I’ll hear the usual cavalcade of rap songs: something from Black Moon/KRS/GangStarr, “Passin’ Me By” by Pharcyde, and “Get it Together” by the Beastie Boys & Q-Tip. An “event song” by hip hop standards—”Get It Together” features a first-time collaboration from two massive acts. Hell, in 1994, you couldn’t find two acts with more commercial appeal, critical praise, and loyal fans than the Beasties and Tribe. Yet “Get it Together” doesn’t feel or sound like an event. The beat sounds like an album cut Tip could’ve passed to Nas, Mobb Deep or Large Professor. The rhymes are loose with references to “Happy Days,” John Starks, and Patty Duke. Q-Tip is clearly going off the head, and they kept all the parts where he messed up (“One-two, oh my god”) and turned them into small choruses. The song isn’t mind-blowing or revolutionary—it’s just really good.
I’m pretty sure, with the exception of DJ Khaled’s purposeful “epic posse cuts,” most “event songs” don’t really get much burn after the idea of “Famous Rapper A Rapping With Famous Rapper B” has happened. There’s about 25 songs from his catalogue that I’d listen to before I put on Nas & Jay-Z’s “Black Republican or “Success” (which is still one of my favorites from ’07). However, when I listen to the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, there are only 3 songs I’d play before skipping to “Get it Together.”
And the same thing happens when I listen to Ready To Die—“The What” must be heard ASAP! Other non-event event songs that are pretty amazing include “Life’s a Bitch,” “Respiration,” “The Bizness,” “Guess Who’s Back” (Scarface with Jay and Beans). There’s tons of songs like these, and they all succeed because at their core, none of them strive to “change da game” or “make history, bay-bee!” It’s rap dudes doing what rap dudes do best. Do you want eMC or do you want The Firm?
I Will Suck Your….Oh Nevermind…
This past week, I haven’t been able to tiptoe through the Internet without reading reviews of Lil’ Wayne ’s The Carter III. Of the reviews I’ve read, it seems that Wayne stumbled with the whole “masterpiece breakthrough LP” aspect. Subsequent follow-ups from the Holy Trinity of East Coast MC’s (Jay, Nas, Big) have been ehhh too….and from what I gather about The Carter III it looks like Wayne fell into the same box. Kanye might be the only rapper who set out out to make his own Sgt. Pepper and actually pulled it off with Graduation. But he first had to stumble with Late Registration, a pretty good album that featured Jon Brion and Adam Levine and strings and French horns and songs about conflict diamonds and race and women chasing materialism. With all of that wizardry, it still wasn’t better than an album about a suburban Carlton Banks hip-hop geek that never got his B.A. and worked at the Gap accompanied by beats straight jacked from “Solid Gold” compilations of Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, and Luther Vandross.
Bands like Pink Floyd wouldn’t get out of bed unless they had a grand, indulgent, and moving statement or laser light show to smack people with. The Wall stayed on the charts for 49 years straight, the movie made $97 billion dollars (pro-rated for 2008), and the songs, t-shirts, and influence are still everywhere. It all happened exactly like they planned it.
Make no mistake: rock bands in the 60s and 70s wanted to take over the world. Rappers do too. Their personas and endorsements are built to handle this task, yet few can. I’m thinking Kingdom Come and Stillmatic and Born Again and LL’s Phenomenon and Puffy’s Forever didn’t really pan out as gloriously as hoped.
The Masterpiece Rap Album is rarely constructed on purpose. There’s too many variables: new trends, fickle fans, “it” producers, bad ideas that aren’t scrapped before the album is handed in. Even worse, rappers try to make events out of songs instead of just making them plain ol’ good. Good songs = good album.
It seems like having a mediocre album with 2 great moments suffices, whether that moment be a beat from Timbaland or a guest appearance from Jay or a song featuring Fall Out Boy. The new Busta single with Linkin Park is an “event song” but the “Ante Up Remix” was an event. Puffy’s entire career has been built on botched attempts at “events songs” when really he’d never be able to top two of the best events in rap history: “Victory” and “All About the Benjamins.” Akon grabbed Eminem for his first of many “event songs” with “Smack Dat” but it will never get as much replay value or be remembered more than “Forgot About Dre.”
And that’s what’s truly ailing most mainstream rap today: good is boring.
I thought the first two Carter albums were really good. I thought both Dedications were really good mixtapes. But Lil’ Wayne cannot allow himself to be just good—he has be transcendent. He has to be the hottest. He has to Pink Floyd the shit out of mainstream rap music. Jay-Z strived for the same thing with Kingdom Come. He failed. He then went back to just being good with American Gangster and reclaimed his spot as “one of the hottest in the game” (no MTV News). Long-standing acts like The Roots and Ghostface Killah don’t have any inkling to be anything but really really fucking good at making albums. But unlike Wayne , every time they come out with something new, people aren’t tapping their foot waiting for that elusive classic album to validate them in hip hop’s canon.
Akon Pictured Here With Jay-Z and An Unidentified Companion
By touting himself as “great” and “the best,” Wayne really screwed the pooch (disguised as Baby) on this album. Since I didn’t start listening to rap when Beg For Mercy came out, I haven’t championed Wayne ’s 19,342 mixtapes of the past year. Besides the 4 releases from him I already owned, the most I’ve heard of Weezy was three songs: “Barry Bonds,” “Hello Brooklyn,” and Little Brother’s “Breakin’ My Heart.” Wayne was good, not great, on all three songs. He received a lot of backlash from stans and haters alike for each performance. Sure he got sonned on each song, but so did Raekwon on “Criminology.” So did Talib Kweli on “Get Em High.” So did Royce on “Motown 25.” The difference is that having Wayne on your song today is an attempt at an “event song.” And since those songs were memorable because of the other guys rapping on them, Wayne took the heat because he, along with the online press and MySpace DJs, has built himself up to a level he could never consistently match.
Jay-Z has popped up on some many remixes and guest appearances for shitty rappers that he no longer makes songs “events.” But listen to Rick Ross’ “Maybach Music” featuring the original Carter from Trilla. Jay made it an event just by rapping really dope over an ill beat. No grandstanding, no dramatic intro, no orgasms from publicists. Jay spit a good verse on a good song, something that is escaping mainstream rap. Knives or guns, you still have to kill a cow to eat it. It’s like they said in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrells: “Guns for show. Knives for a pro.” And a lot of these cats are just plain misfiring.
So what’s next? I have to think that the best course of action for Lil’ Wayne would be to stop rapping for about 2 years, then hit the lab with 3-4 producers and speak his mind. I think if Wayne was just real, honest, and organic, he could make a timeless hip hop classic. Technically, he’s done just about everything a rapper can do with his voice and flow. The problem is that he hasn’t mastered being good. If a song with this lyric “I eat the fuckin pineapple now and laters, listen to me now or listen to me later” can become classic material, the guy who claimed to be “allergic to the wintertime, hot!” can surely cook up some marvelous shit.
Be good, Wayne .