Things that make me go hmm: In 2011, why would you recruit Lil Jon to screech on your first single, when you can have the Valkyrie crunk of Lebron Flocka James. After all, Joaquin essentially stole the Golem’s ring and made “Bow Bow Bow,” the new “Yeah.” All this with a bare minimum of facility with the English language. Say what you want about Flocka. His music may have the subtlety of a snuff film, but he has the steroid swagger and statistics of a Bash Brother.
If that’s out of the question, you go to Eminem. Right now, the sultan of 12-step could put fishooks on shit, wrap it on tin foil, and sell enough copies to get Royce a gold plaque. So why not just get Diplo and Switch to rip off “Look At Me Now,” and let Yela and Em have a rap off (old school rules). Or maybe get Dre to stop looking at himself in the mirror with only a stethoscope on and give him a beat that preferably sounds nothing like “I’m A Doctor.”
Look, Yelawolf is a great rapper. Right now, he is in the middle of a historically significant run that we will look back at in three years and say, “man, remember when he was rapping like that.” After all, things on the Internet look closer than they may seem. Every time he drops something, I end up writing something effusive, and spend about a half hour searching for a fresh synonym for “tongue twisting” (there aren’t many). But there is something that leaves me cold about “Hard White (Up in the Club”).
It’s beyond the obvious titular metaphor or upfront invocation of “club.” That’s what major label rappers do in 2011, even though the songs that actually sound best in the club “Six Foot Seven Foot,” Black & Yellow,” “BMF,” are usually the ones that don’t sound desperate to be club banger. In fact, the letter was released on a free mixtape. It was never “the single” until it became abundantly clear that the Crab King had a hit on his hands.
But Wolf is in a different situation. He hasn’t had a “Hustlin” to break out beyond the blog bubble. So we get a beat that sounds like the halfway point between Flocka and Rich Boy’s “Drop,” and talk about club VIP sections and fucking critics with a spiked dick. It’s not a “Chillin” level misfire, but it seems slightly too calculated to be the organic “My Name Is” that everyone wants. Maybe it’s too much to even ask for that. Even if I think “Hard White” lacks swing, movement, and sonic novelty, if you don’t like something, all you have to do is wait.
So I suspect that today’s leak of the Big K.R.I.T. collabo, “Happy Birthday Hip Hop,” is expressly designed to placate people like me. And I can’t complain. It may be as comfortably retro as a Helly Hansen bubble goose, but I am a sucker for the DITC-type jazz piano roll. Plus, Group Home, Souls of Mischief, Coup and UGK references are catnip to those with foggy MTV raps nostalgia. It might be equally contrived, but the sentiment seems sincere. The sort of loose jam conceived after a bullshit session where Wolf and Krit geeked out about Big Mike, Odd Squad, and Pete Rock. It’s not great either, but it’s pretty damn good.
Maybe I’m going soft in my senescence, but I find it hard to blame gifted rappers trying in vain to land a radio single. It’s fucking anarchy out there. There are no rules. “Hard White” probably has no chance to be as popular as anything Smedium Sean has released in the last six months. I mean have you examined the Power 106 playlist?. It’s like the soundtrack for people who bath their genitals in Joop cologne. (No Issey Miyake).
So for those still with me, this is how it breaks down. Those who still collect vinyl get a hip-hop throwback cut, Lil Jon gets a check that will postpone the inevitable Reality Show Years, and Yelawolf finally gets to put out an offical single on a major label. I’m not taking any bets on how this is going to perform though. Maybe I should forget what I said in the first paragraph. Who needs Flocka or Eminem. The smart money says to get Deadmau5 and Pitbull for the remix.