King or not, T.I. essentially gets bottom billing on his single “Swagger Like Us,” which also features Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z. Ridiculous, right? And yet Mr. Candle Guy still steals the scene.
Kanye sports a memorable line or two, with: “I know I got it first / I’m Christopher Columbus, y’all just the pilgrims.” But with the mixtape-style beat he jacked from M.I.A., the producer still comes off a bit lackluster. Meanwhile Jay-Z just raps about stacks of money (“Can’t wear skinny jeans ’cause my knots don’t fit”), and Lil Wayne is still using that effing autotune effect. Enter T.I.:
You go see Weezy for the wordplay
Jeezy for the birdplay
Kanyeezy for diversity
And me for controversy
Though more compliment than kiss-off, T.I.’s opening salvo establishes him as the ace in this star-studded deck. His three colleagues have their uses, he’s saying, but by distilling each to a couple words he cuts them down to size while aggrandizing himself. If nothing else, T.I. puts himself on the same level as Jay-Z, Kanye, and Wayne — an impressive feat in itself.
“Cannon,” the near-legendary cut from Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2 mixtape, is stunning through and through — possibly the best use of guest verses this decade. Every rapper — Wayne, Freeway, Detroit Red, Willie the Kid, and Juice — puts in a couple knockout punches. It’s like watching the Harlem Globetrotters as they toy with the “cannon” sample, shooting behind their backs, dribbling between their legs. But the most quietly impressive trick comes from Juice, tucked away until you think the last verse is over:
I’m hot, they fannin’
That’s it; four words. Can anyone beat that? “Fuck you, pay me” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s from Goodfellas. Surprisingly, the best that comes to mind is from Kanye West, who in the song “Two Words” spits:
I am limelight
Blueprint, five mics
In three words he points to his biggest success (at the time) and the pretty irrefutable cred that comes with The Blueprint getting The Source‘s perfect five-mic rating. The list of albums sharing that honor includes the saints of the hip-hop canon: Run-D.M.C., Straight Outta Compton, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), The Chronic, Illmatic, and Aquemeni, just to name a few.
So: Who else has achieved such perfection in four words or less? Readers, I need your help on this one.
Pharoahe Monch’s Desire somehow evaded 2007’s best-of lists. In addition to a dozen absolutely blazing beats, Monch (a part-time Diddy ghostwriter) sports a spectrum of rhymes, from fun wordplay to left-field philosophizing to good old-fashioned self-hype. Here’s an example of the former, from the gospel-style shout “Body Baby”:
No flash in the pan raps are not flashy
Free at last we, will never recycle
the same songs from last week, we’re free of last week
Thank God almighty we free at last, we
Went back to the ashes raw raps and raspy
Monch’s delivery sputters rhythmically as the backbeat jolts his trains of thought, like Harrison Bergeron interrupted by his in-ear noise machine. This leads him to explore every permutation of a phrase like “free at last,” until the repetition of that phrase becomes a sort of paradox. First he promises not to repeat himself. Then he almost does, but instead he pulls a lyrical fakeout, pulling up out of a nose dive with yet another play on “free at last.”
Meanwhile, “Let’s Go” shows what Monch can do once he gets a theme on his mind: exhaust it.
You use sex to sell, your Nextel to Sprint
Everything you represent is immoral
Cingular, not plural
You and your Sidekick get rid of that whack Trio
I freeze emcees zero degrees below
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
You need to get loose, to the heat of produce
From Long Beach to Boston
Your chicks text us like Dallas and Austin
I spark tireless illumination
Fire sixteen bars, wireless communication
That a solid eight cellphone references, six of which are brand names. Not the album’s strongest work, but it shows Monch owning a verse, flexing a new muscle, showing us a new trick. And if that’s not your bag, I’ll leave you with a one-liner, from the song “Desire”:
Still get it poppin’ without artist & repertoire
‘Cause Monch is a monarch only minus the A&R
You may have noticed that we have a weakness for well executed tales of earning a more … unconventional living (see: Clipse,Killer Mike). But M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” still catches us off guard every time. And now that it’s being featured in the Pineapple Express trailer, the Sri Lankan’s stock is rising even higher.
You’re probably already familiar with the hypnotic beat, courtesy of Diplo and a Clash sample. But M.I.A. also sports buttery delivery and a structure that is brilliant in its simplicity (every verse is exactly four bars, repeated twice over).
I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make ’em all day
I’ll get one done in a second if you wait
In just four quick bars, M.I.A. gives an image with detail most coke rappers haven’t produced in their whole catalogs. The tropes are these: you’re a modern day Pablo Escobar, you supply kilos, you know different ways to work in yet another variant of the words “girl,” “white,” and “fishscale.” Our girl from Sri Lanka doesn’t waste breath on that, instead going for a picture that really sticks in your head. We bet even Pusha-T, a vivid writer in his own right, is kicking himself for not thinking of “visas in my name” first.
Even if bragging is your thing, and we’ll admit, we’re suckers for a clever boast, M.I.A. still handles it:
No one on the corner has swag like us
Hit me on my burner pre-paid wireless
We package and deliver like UPS trucks
Already going hell just pumping that gas
Again, here’s the specificity we crave is here — ask Omar or the Baltimore PD if you want to learn about “burner” phones and why they’re needed. And flooring the accelerator on the highway to hell? That’s brazen.
Finally M.I.A. leaves us with a punchline so good, it almost feels wrong to spoil it for you if you haven’t caught it yet. To close it out, she casually proclaims:
Yeah I got more records than the KGB
So uh, no funny business
That’s an exit worthy of some serious gunshot samples.
(Many thanks to hip-hop scholar and RNN co-founder R.T.D., who helped make this post possible.)
Wordsworth Media and Weezy F. Baby Productions present:
Weezy Wisdom: An Educational Adventure
Hip-Hop Wisdom is usually a pretty simple bit. Someone says something real funny or real smart, and you get to hear it. But today you’re gonna learn something. The line, from “Seat Down Low” on Da Drought 3, is:
I am so so New Orleans Like 1825 Tulane
“You gotta be from New Orleans to know what the fuck I’m talking about,” Weezy says as the synthified horns from the Mannie Fresh beat (originally from T.I.’s “Top Back”) fade out. Well now you don’t. Here’s the quick rundown, straight from NOLA-area comedy singer and online nostalgist Benny Grunch:
Rosenburg’s Furniture Store at 1825 Tulane Avenue absolutely won the radio and TV promo spot lifetime achievement award. The simple address, sung in a kindergarten child’s voice with no accompaniment, is totally indelible. You can’t forget it, ever. “Eighteen Twenty Five… Too- lane”
Hear the original jingle after the jump — 1,024 times more adorable than when Wayne sings it.
Yet more evidence for why Clipse are some of the best rappers around: In one verse Malice justifies hip-hop bragadoccio, marries his boasting with humility, AND takes a smart potshot at positive rappers at the same time. From Hell Hath No Fury‘s “Hello New World”:
I ain’t coming at at ya, quote unquote “famous rapper”
Who turn positive, try to tell ya how to live
But this information I must pass to the homies
If hustling is a must, be Sosa, not Tony
We can all shine, I want your wrist lit like mine
Neck and ears, I want it lit like mine
Foreign cars, stick shift, six gears like mine
Anything that keep mama from crying, visiting
You from behind that glass, while you await sentencing
But the judge is saying “life” like it ain’t someone’s life
Though Malice distinguishes himself from positive rappers, he borrows from their evangelical techniques, combining them with hip-hop boasting and materialism to give advice that bling-seeking kids want to hear: “We can all shine,” if you listen to Clipse and follow their path of drug dealing. But don’t just push. Be the kingpin. Be Alejandro Sosa, not Tony Montana. Foreign cars and diamonds sound a whole lot more appealing that the spiritual enlightenment Jurassic 5 promises for adhering to Islamic dietary laws.
Malice ices the cake with the last few lines, sure to nab anyone not swayed by the promise of riches. If you mess up and get put away, you’re hurting you and your whole family — so all the more reason to be Sosa, above the risky dirty work. Let’s play that wisdom again:
But the judge is saying “life” like it ain’t someone’s life
It’s nice when people are happy, and Nappy Roots certainly embrace that attitude more than most rappers. Their song “Good Day,” a Greg Street-produced single off last summer’s Innerstate Music, is positive rap to the max, complete with a child-chimed chorus.
In addition to rhymes about cleaning up, dressing up, and generally feeling good, Nappy Roots offer hip-hop’s most barbecue-friendly Patron recipe: “orange Kool-Aid go good with Patron.” Sounds even better than the Incredible Hulk (Hpnotiq and Hennessy; it’s actually pretty good).
Rapper Big V gets even more culinary, describing all the fixins for a proper fish fry:
Church folk had a fish fry
Mustard, hot sauce
Light bread, french fries
Love for the big guy