April 1, 2010

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Sach O actually had to listen to that Drake song several times to write this post.

Drake’s “Over: is easily the most pompously bombastic rap song since :Empire State of Mind: and may well signal the codification of “Arena rap” as the major labels’ latest and saddest strategy to wring every last dollar out of Hip-Hop. The overbearing sound of a song that’ll be successful by default, the beat manages to suck every last bit of funkiness from its instrumentation opting instead for grandstanding, epic, Hans Zimmer-sized pyrotechnics. Taking Hip-Hop’s 70’s fetish to its illogical conclusion, we’ve now reached a point where producers supersize the sound past prog until it’s so disconnected from the street-oriented bedroom beats that birthed it that one wonders why we haven’t come up with a new genre tag. Drake’s rhymes don’t help either: while he has an undeniable talent for crafting earworm hooks, he’s all-swag and no cattle. Or to put it bluntly: he’s not nearly as good on the mic as he thinks he is.

Perhaps the song’s most annoying characteristic is its peculiar mix of arrogance, insecurity, earnestness and calculation. It somehow manages to be annoying in two completely opposite ways at once. Drake desperately wants you to take him seriously as a rapper but also wants every performance to appear effortless. He’s got the arrogance of a high school quarterback but also the whininess of an emo kid. He’s from Toronto but raps with a southern twang. Like Ben Affleck’s fashionable male in Mall Rats, any guy with an ounce of sense can smell his smarmy incongruence a mile away but women fall for his shtick like clockwork. And all of my kvetching is for naught: this will be the sound of a 1000 graduation parties as drunken frat-boys self-identify with the song’s nauseating combination of entitlement, victimhood, triumph and self-affirmation. Run while you still can and turn off the motherfuckin radio, this Garbage will be on it all summer – Queer*.

***

If “Over” goes for sentimentalist grandiosity, Drake’s Young Money label mate Nicki Minaj goes the opposite route on the up-tempo club-banger “Massive Attack” and what do you know…it’s a really dope song. Combining the best impulses of Missy Elliot, M.I.A and Santogold, Minaj proves that she’s more than Lil Wayne’s token female artist here, delivering rap’s first genuinely exciting dance floor anthem in a minute. It helps that she’s backed by a beat worthy of the song’s critic baiting namesake: a percussive explosion of fire-drill synths and off-beat drums that reverses Dubstep’s half-step trick to make the song’s 85 beats per minute feel like an accelerated 170 without making things un-rap-able. Produced by Londoner Alex da Kid, the track re-imagines Tricky and Goldie’s 90’s darkness and paranoia as pop music filtered through the mind of a teenager too young to experience it the first time around. The closest point of comparison is some of the darker moments on Rihanna’s last album but those didn’t carry nearly this much momentum.

As for Minaj’s rapping, while she probably shouldn’t attempt a self-consciously serious song, her cartoony zaniness shines at this tempo. So far, the top grief against her has been the robotic plasticity of her flow but here she uses its liquid shiftiness to her advantage switching from a faux-Caribbean patois to her best Lil Kim impression to her valley-girl shtick and back without missing a beat. When she growls the song’s title at the end of the bridge, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and that’s the key element: Massive Attack is high energy making it an immediate standout in a rap-era where everyone is too cool lose their shit on a track or on the dance floor. In an ideal world, this’ll come with a remix featuring Busta Rhymes and Luda. Who knows if Minaj’s upcoming album will reprise this sort of zany off-the-wall creativity or if this is a red herring, but while she may not be much as a pure rapper, she won’t have to be if she can pull off fun, inventive songs like this on a regular basis.

*See what I did there?

Download:
MP3: Nikki Minaj ft. Sean Garrett – “Massive Attack”

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