July 21, 2011

You have to like this. I mean, it has the corpse of Otis Redding propped up like Bernie and it has JAY-Z!!! and KANYE WEST!!! and you can’t even write any of these men’s names without three exclamation points and ALL CAPS. This is a contractual thing and I don’t want to risk getting sued at Passion of the Weiss. They have very expensive high priced lawyers who I am probably related to. There is no other way to clear an Otis Redding sample.

I’m not going to say that this is bad. It’s not. It’s perfectly fine. It’s yacht rap or soulless soul (word to Ivan Rott and G Rap). And both of these men have made music that I used to or still do cherish. And honestly, there’s something pretty strident about being a grown up adult lambasting older grown-up adults for not making music like they did when they were younger better adults. That may be pretty wrongheaded or elliptical reasoning, but it’s exactly the sort you have to employ for men who have an elliptical in every room.  Did you see Kanye at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival? He looks like he’s been doing Tae-Bo.

But I don’t enjoy this song and I’m not quite sure why. Sure, I could get analytical and delve into specifics. The “Try a Little Tenderness” flip is the sort of low-blow victory that Puffy would have done at the height of his “Mo Money, Mo Problems” zenith. And even then it never quite fits as well as “Gone,” the other Otis Redding lift in the Louis Vuitton dong’s catalogue. Fun fact: Jay-Z was once my favorite rapper and never for one second did I ever think Nas won. Listen to “Takeover” again, the way the Doors sample adds punctuation, a level of venom and taunting that made it seem like an entire Vietnam Memorial’s worth of soldiers were there for back up. This is softer. Otis, gone ghost for almost half a century, grunting into the swag echolalia of two men worth more than the parents of the combined student body at Beverly Hills High. Hyponotized by the glow of their watches and their reflection in the mirror.

That’s the weird thing about art — or at least, great art. You can’t will it into existence. No matter how expensive the mixer or the engineer or the sample, you can’t buy permanence. You can produce something pretty good, an acceptable simulcra of greatness, but the creativity is the ultimate leveler. It is a numinous thing that you can ascribe to soul or pain or suffering or just some mystical godhead that pops out great ideas. I remember once I was reading something about Neil Young and the writer was describing one of his particularly cruel nadirs during the 80s, and his subsequent revival during the Harvest Moon era. And to badly paraphrase Neil Young describing his own renaissance: it was a matter of him remembering that he needed to use his soul to produce anything worthwhile.

Of course, rap music isn’t all about writing quivering shaky-voiced ballads. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. You could say that “Song Cry” and “Blame Game” are two of the best songs in each man’s discography and I would agree. But if you ask a normal person (i.e. someone who doesn’t read esoteric blogs on the Internet), they would probably say “Big Pimpin'” or “Golddigger” and they’d be right too. So it’s pretty telling that Jay cribs some old lyrics from his UGK-Timbo collabo, because he’s obviously trying to go back in time to a decade ago, when the feeling of standing on a yacht was relatively fresh for him. Rich people can create great art — just ask the ghost of William Burroughs (he’s going to be guest appearing on Kanye’s full-length collaboration with Cyhi the Prince: The Heroin Diaries). But they have to be attuned to something relateable in the normal range of emotion. Jay-Z has been going to parties with nice girls for a very long time and he invented swagger and Kanye made Jesus Walks and he dated Amber Rose before Wiz Khalifa and yadda yadda. AND OMG,DID YOU SEE THE JASPER JOHNS COVER ART.

And I guess that’s the thing for me. There are so many gifted rappers making powerful, funky, and fun music that I don’t have time to hear soul night at a post-modern art gallery only open to people whose fortune exceeds 50 million or last name is La Croix. I never cared about my music making me feel bad about being poor or making me want to feel rich. I just want it move me, whether emotionally or through locomotion of limbs. And “Otis” never does that for me. Not once. Don’t feel bad if you love it. You should enjoy music if you can. It’s not like some awful hipster funk-schlock like Theophilosopher’s Stone London or something. It’s just disposable art that we’re supposed to believe belongs on the wall. It’s probably my fault. I still haven’t even opened up an IRA account.

See Also:

The Lethargy of Post-Retirement Jay-Z

Can We Get Much Higher- A Round Table on MBDTF (Jeff Weiss)

The Making of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Zilla Rocca)

Download:
MP3: Kanye West & Jay-Z-“Otis” (Left-Click)
MP3: Otis Redding-“Try a Little Tenderness (Left-Click)