January 23, 2013

There’s just one thing Deen wants to say.

I know that most rap nerds tend to hate, or at least not prefer, sung hooks by R&B folks in lieu of some hard rap shit. I think there was a point in time when heads called that shit “Rap & Bullshit.” Clever, eh?

I’ll happily admit to being one of those heads – till today. I dig the occasional sung hook, such as Victoria Monet’s work on Nas’ “You Wouldn’t Understand” or Stacy Barthe on T.I. and 3000’s “Sorry.” Those hooks strike me as being simultaneously solid and understated. On the other hand, a melisma laden hook like Alicia Keys’ contribution to Jay-Z’s “NY State of Mind” (if we can even call that shit Jay-Z’s) is the most irritating shit ever. Just saccharine, calculated and annoying as all the fucks.

It ain’t an exact science or anything, but I know a shitty and cynical R&B/Pop hook when I hear one and I tend to hate them. Basically, if the singer exerts more of a presence over the rapper on a rap song (usually the rapper’s fault), then I don’t fuck with it.

However, there’s a third and extremely rare R&B/Pop/Sung kind of contribution to a rap song – the “almost duet.” At the moment, I can only think of the two examples that just so happen to be the inspirations for this post: Grand Puba and Mary J. Blige’s “What’s The 411?” off the latter’s eponymous 1992 debut album and its sequel of sorts, “Check It Out,” off the former’s 1992 debut album Reel to Reel.

It seems kinda counter-productive to even attempt to describe what Grand Puba and Mary J do on these songs, but I’ll try anyway. They’re basically trading rapped and sung lines throughout the song and even when Mary decides to start scatting n’shit, she never really overshadows Puba. The result is an aural potpourri of awesome. I’m serious mane. Just click on those links and go listen to both songs. I’ll wait…

Done? Good! See what I was saying? From the moment I heard Mary J’s What’s The 411? way the fuck back when, I’d always hoped that this style of rap + R&B duet would take hold, but for some reason it never really happened and I’m still heartbroken over that shit. The closest we’ve come to that shit in two decades is Future and Kelly Rowland on the “Neva End Remix,” but it doesn’t quite do it for me like Mary and Puba did, given the largely separate verses and the fact that Future Pendergrass and Kelly are pretty much pulling a Marvin and Tammy on the hook. That shit still fire though.

But yeah, until someone (maybe Mary J. Blige? I know her rolodex game is heavy as fuck) decides to resurrect this ancient and abandoned artform, I’ll just stick to listening to this pair of songs. Especially “Check It Out.” Not because it’s better than What’s The 411?, but because I’ve heard “What’s The 411?” significantly more times. Like most of you, I haven’t listened to Reel To Reel in eons (more like a solid 4 years for me if I had to guess), but What’s The 411? never really slips outta the rotation for long. Mary was so pretty and damaged and sexy back then too. Memories. Great, aren’t they?

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