28 December 2023

"Big Everything" (2023) by Busta Rhymes ft. T-Pain & DaBaby

The mistake I made with Big Everything was listening to it for the first time while concurrently watching the music video.  That's to say that the plethora of second-rate special effects and almost-naked ass shaking actually distracts from what can be considered an above-average lyrical outing.  But that reality has also granted me the opportunity to further expound on a themed we've been focusing on of late, which is how aged rappers fit into the grand scheme of the hip-hop/music industry.

Busta Rhymes (center), T-Pain (left) and DaBaby (right)
from the music video of Big Everything.

BUSTA TEAMS UP WITH DABABY AND T-PAIN

Busta Rhymes wasn't a first-generation rapper, but he can perhaps be considered second generation, having come out early in the 1990s.  To put how long Bus has been around into perspective, when his original crew, Leaders of the New School, dropped their debut album in the summer of 1991, T-Pain was only six years old, and DaBaby wasn't even born yet.

To be honest, I can't say with certainty that I've ever heard any of DaBaby's songs prior to this one.  However, I have read many of his verses and can confidently assert that he's one of the better rappers out there - a fact that's pretty self-evident considering that two of his four studio albums have managed to top the Billboard 200.  In other words, while some of his contemporaries have proven to be one-hit wonders, it's obvious that the DaBaby had a sustainable level of talent.  And for a while there, it looked like he may have even been on the way to becoming one of the kings in the rap game.

That all changed in mid-2021, when he publicly made what can unanimously be considered as anti-gay comments.  The two albums he released just prior to making those statements, 2019's Kirk and 2020's Blame It on Baby, were the ones that topped the Billboard 200.  The latter was also nominated for a Grammy Award.  Meanwhile, the (solo) LP he came out with afterwards, 2022's Baby on Baby 2, didn't even crack the top 30 of the Billboard 200.  Nor has DaBaby dropped any certified hits since 2021.

DaBaby throwing up the "OK sign", a gesture many believe.
has occult connotations, on the music video to Big Everything.

Dave Chapelle even pointed out the irony of how DaBaby actually killed someone - an incident no one seems to care about, yet the media went bonkers when he made a few statements against homosexuality.  So it can be said that Busta sorta looked out by putting him on this song, which appears as if it's being promoted as a single.

As for T-Pain, I thought he had already retired from dropping new material.  He was by far one of the hottest musicians of the late aughts, but last I heard (via a gossip site), his music career wasn't going particularly well.  So it's even more surprising that Busta reached back, if you will, to feature him on this song, though the two already have a collaboration history, including Bus featuring T-Pain on his 2009 track Hustler's Anthem '09.

"BIG EVERYTHING"

As for Big Everything, T-Pain's vocal contribution isn't as pronounced as it would have been if this track came out 15 years ago, back when he probably would have been afforded his own verse.  The focus is more on the two rappers, and it's as if they're battling so to speak, seeing which one can spit the fastest while still being understandable to the listener.

In terms of the content of their verses, this is where the debate about the presence and role of older rappers comes into play.  DaBaby uses the first verse to seemingly depict himself as having been a successful drug dealer before becoming a rapper.  Busta doesn't take an identical approach but rather uses his verse that follows to brag about getting drunk to his heart's content and his sizable cashflow.  In the final, extended verse, the two emcees team up to, most simply put, boast about their wealth, women and toughness.  And as for the chorus, T-Pain is also braggadocious but more in an inspirational kind of way, alluding to the notion that he's "been working all day and all night" in the name of generating bread.

Busta Rhymes, to my knowledge, has never been a gangsta rapper per se.  But generally speaking, there's little difference between the nature of his lyrics and that of DaBaby's, despite the nearly 20-year age difference between the rappers.  To some extent that's to be expected, since you can't have two emcees on one song taking different stances.  But this is the problem that some pundits have with many of the older rappers who are still pertinent in the game, i.e. their lyrics not reflecting a higher state of maturity.

And so it is with the music video to the track.  A few years back, HBO aired this special about Black strippers, and one of them was saying that booty dancing, i.e. twerking, is derived from traditional African culture.  Since then, I've learned that's an erroneous statement.  I heard one African elder say that back in the old days, if a woman were dancing and proceeded to shake her ass in guy's face, that would - understandably I might add - be considered an act of disrespect.  Meanwhile, look at your boy Spliff Star in the video:

I'm not against strippers in music videos per se.  For whatever reasons, strip-club culture has been thoroughly intermixed with that of hip-hop.  But I don't necessarily like watching videos - such as this one, which starts off like a cartoon - where about two-thirds of the way through, out of blue half naked asses are everywhere.

One may presume that Busta, given his age, would have opted for something classier, i.e. imagery that could be appreciated by a wider, more general audience.  But obviously, he isn't the parental type.  That said, if I had listened to the song first, I would have definitely known that twerkers were going to popup in the clip sooner or later.

Busta Rhymes' 11th studio album, Blockbusta,
was released on 24 November 2023.

CONCLUSION

If rappers from two different generations collaborate, it isn't the younger who's challenged to be more mature.  Rather, given the nature of mainstream rap, it's the elder who usually has to make an effort to appeal to a less-sophisticated crowd.

But even if some listeners don't agree with that tactic, you have to give it to Busta Rhymes for being able to hang.  If you would have asked hip-hop fans 30 years ago which emcee they thought would still be strong in the game into the 2020s, I don't think many of us would have predicted Bus.  However it's very difficult, if not impossible when looking at established precedent, to trend musically as an older rapper.  And that may be why, despite the admirable effort, that Busta's latest album, Blockbusta, didn't perform particularly well on music charts.

23 December 2023

What Is Kente Cloth Turning Into?

Ghanaian model Mx Barrony wearing a Kente skirt.

One thing I never think twice about is fashion.  I love fashion.  And when it comes to fabrics and prints, one of the most unique and popular has to be this type which comes from Ghana.

I've admired this style for so many years but have never been lucky enough to own one.  A lot of people here in Nigeria don't know what it's called, because we just refer to it as the "Ghana print" or "that Ghana fabric".  But it does have an official name, "Kente cloth".  And it's not uncommon to see Nigerians wearing Kente-inspired shoes, matching outfits or bags.

Kente-inspired shoes for men

Lately, Kente cloth has been popping up everywhere - in fashion magazines, on runways and even in my favorite songs.  It's as if Ghanaian culture is finally being celebrated by the mainstream, and it's pretty incredible to see.

Ivorinan football legend Didier Drogba wearing Kente cloth.

As an African, it's very inspiring to what other people embracing Kente, because it shows that we are all connected, no matter where we're from.  When I see celebrities and models wearing Kente clothes, I can't help but feel a connection.  It's like we're all part of the same story and histories, and even though we may come from different places, we can still find common ground through our love of this beautiful, vibrant fabric.

Prominent American politicians, including then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,
wearing Kente cloth in honor of George Floyd in 2020.

Over the years, Kente cloth has taken on a life of its own.  It's gone from being this old-school fabric worn only by Ghanaian royalty to being incorporated into all sorts of modern designs.  Its come up is similar to denim, which started off being used for a specific purpose but can now be found in all sorts of clothes, accessories and home decor.

Kente cloth has a long history and deep cultural significance in West Africa.  It's not just a fabric - it's a symbol of identity, culture and tradition.

It's believed that Kente cloth originated with the Ashanti people of Ghana in the 17th century.  The word "Kente" means "Basket", which is a nod to the woven nature of the fabric.  In Ghana, it's often worn during important events like weddings, funerals and festivals.

Within these ceremonies, Kente symbolizes things such as wealth, respect and family ties.  For example, at weddings the bride and groom may be wrapped in Kente cloth to symbolize the union of their families, and at funerals, it's used to honor the deceased and pay tribute to their life.  Each color and pattern have a specific meaning during these occasions.

Mermaid-style Kente wedding dress

In the fashion world, modern designers have taken Kente cloth and run with it.  They are finding all sorts of creative ways to incorporate this traditional fabric into their designs.  Some are using it for bold statements, while others are about those subtle details, like trims or accents.  Can you believe that Kente cloth is making its way into ball gowns, tuxedos and even wedding dresses?  It's having a major fashion moment, and I'm here for it!

Kente cloth made the cover of Vogue, as worn by
American activist/poet Amanda Gorman in 2021

Kente cloth isn't just a piece of fabric; it's a cultural phenomenon.  From its rich history in West Africa to its modern-day takeover in the fashion world, it is a symbol of pride and identity.

The late Virgil Abloh utilized Kente cloth as part of
his Autumn/Winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton.

Kente cloth is very special not just to Ghanaians but other African countries and parts of the diaspora as well.  For example, it is highly respected and appreciated in Nigeria.  So whether you are rocking Kente at a wedding, funeral or on the runway, remember that you're not just wearing cloth.  You're wearing a piece of history, a splash of tradition and a whole lot of style. 

15 November 2023

"Luxury Life" by Busta Rhymes ft. Coi Leray (2023)

Busta Rhymes' discography dates all the way back to 1991, thus making him perhaps the longest-tenured rapper who's still notably dropping singles.  He came out as part of a clique known as Leaders of the New School, around the time in rap history when many emcees started getting by on style as opposed to lyrics per se.  And in that regard, Bus-a-Bus established himself from the get-go and most especially on 1991's The Scenario by A Tribe Called Quest, which is one of the greatest posse cuts ever.

Keep in mind, at that time rap music had only been around for about 15 years.  "Old school" rappers, like Run DMC and Kool Moe Dee, who were only in their late 20s / early 30s.  So no one actually knew what an aged rapper looked like, because none had ever existed.  And it's also safe to say that back then, none of us were really imagining that dudes would still be rapping into their 40s or even 50s.

But so is the case with Busta Rhymes.  His latest single, Luxury Life, was released on 8 September 2023, with Bus concurrently being 51 years old.  There are a handful of rappers in his age group that have notably dropped songs in recent years, i.e. tracks or albums that generated some buzz.  But the lyrics of such artists, i.e. Jay-Z, Scarface and even Will Smith have, to varying degrees, matured with their age.

The reason I'm pointing this out is because Busta has recently faced criticism due to the nature of Luxury Life and his stylistic leanings in general.  In a Black Arts Review post published just a couple of days ago, I pointed out how the music industry largely caters to younger generations.  As such, many musicians fall off as they age, sorta like athletes, if you will.  And this dilemma is especially pressing to the likes of rappers, since rap songs are often based on unsophisticated topics.  In other words, it's more fitting to have a 20-year old rap about money, sex, drugs and guns than for someone in their 30s and beyond to do so.  So sometimes, when an elder rapper does take such an approach, he or she may be called out for it.

THE LYRICS

That said, the lyrics of this song aren't standard hip-hop braggadocio.  Busta has never really been on it like that per se, at least not on the songs of his that I've come across.  It's difficult enough to make out what he's saying.  But Bus has never particularly been the money-flashing, drug-dealing type.  His approach is more party-oriented, and the subjects he seems to harp on most are his formidability and romantic interests.

So with that said, Luxury Life is in fact a love song.  As implied by the title, there is a money-based element to the lyrics.  But as presented in the chorus, it isn't that Busta Rhymes and Coi Leray are bragging about riches for bragging's sake.  Instead, they're referring to how they intend to enjoy a "luxury life" together, presumably alluding to both parties involved being well-paid and now, as a couple, pooling their resources to further partake of finer things together.

THE CONTROVERSIAL FEATURE

But one of the issues that has arisen, at least in minds of some people, is that fact that the featured rapper who's portraying Busta's sweetheart, Coi Leray, is 25 years his junior.  Personally, I'm not the type to criticize a man for being attracted to younger women.  Indeed, such a disposition is common amongst men as we age.  And the logical presumption would be that the rappers are portraying musical roles as opposed to being actual lovers.

Moreover, the lyrics themselves, even if at some points NSFW, aren't raunchy.  And as for the video, it doesn't really feature any romantic imagery at all.  Instead, the vocalists come off as a couple of armed robbers, akin to Bonnie and Clyde.  The clip is also very cinematic, obviously having a lot of money invested into it.

Coi Leray, as with her music-industry contemporaries,
relies heavily on her sex appeal as an artist.

But whereas she and Busta don't have any type of amorous interactions in the clip, Coi does flaunt her body - to no surprise of those of us who are already familiar with her style.  But you would never know that the lyrics of Luxury Life are romantic by looking at the video.  Rather, the visual implies that the rappers intend the live the "luxury life" by stealing from others.

Coi Leray and her dad, Benzino, have regularly been at odds
as she's become increasingly famous.

One figure who has publicly spoken out against the clip is Benzino, aka Coi Leray's father.  Benzino is a 1990s' rapper himself, somewhat a contemporary of Busta Rhymes.  He took issue with the clip, specifically that his daughter appeared "half f*cking naked" therein.  But apparently, Benzino was more offended by the fact that Busta, whom he has a personal relationship with, didn't consult him before its creation.

Ultimately, Benzino acknowledged that he couldn't really do anything since both Busta and Coi are "grown" adults.  Furthermore, as alluded to earlier, Leray has a tendency to regularly appear in public semi-dressed.  Virtually all female rappers and pop singers are on it like that these days.  And she's lucky, so to speak, to actually be naturally attractive.

Benzino also proceeded to allude to how parents only have limited control over their children in this day and age, and how "the internet is definitely killing the family communication [and] the family bond".

It reads kinda ironic - or even karmic - to come across a rapper, i.e. an artist belonging to a genre that relies heavily on sexual depictions of the female body, lamenting about his out-of-control daughter.  For instance, take a gander at the music video to Benzino's 2003 track, Bellowzino.  It was dropped when Coi was about five years' old, at a very impressionable age.  Benzino complaining about Leray flaunting her sexuality almost as hypocritical as Charlie Sheen being upset that his daughter is on Onlyfans.  But that said, I would speculate that no father wants to see his child exposing herself.  So I do feel for Benzino, even if Coi, in all her nakedness, is prolonging his relevancy as a celebrity.

AND THEN.... AZAELEA BANKS

After the drooping of Luxury Life, the fearless Azaelia Banks also went on a rant against Busta Rhymes, in part due to his age, though she incorrectly referred to him as being "55+" years old.  The point she was trying to make - while totally dissing Busta's health, appearance, age and styles of dress - is that if he isn't getting fat-shamed or criticized, then neither should the likes of Lizzo.  But beyond that, she obviously has some type of beef with Bus.

THE AUDIO

But now, amidst all of the drama, here's the kicker - Luxury Life is actually quite dope.  Whether or not Busta's rhymes reflect his age, he still possesses one of the most-exciting deliveries in the game.  Busta can rap, period.  And so can Coi Leray, as I now realize, with this being the first time I ever heard homegirl, that she isn't just all looks.

The cover art to Busta Rhymes' upcoming album,
Blockbusta (2023).

Also, Luxury Life is based on Ain't No Nigga (1996) by Jay-Z featuring Foxy Brown, which is one of the most-memorable male/female rap collaborations in the genre's history.  And Busta has gone all out in enlisting talent for his upcoming album, Blockbusta.  It's a shame that this song didn't chart.  But that's probably due to the fact that the music industry, to a large extent, is dominated by who's trending as opposed to what may actually sounds better.

CONCLUSION

When writing about these new songs, I don't actually listen to the tracks until doing the research.  And in all honesty, I wasn't expecting to enjoy Luxury Life this much.  But now, after giving it a spin, I'm actually looking forward to the rest of Blockbusta.

Rapping is unlike singing, in that the former doesn't adversely affect the vocal chords as much.  So in theory, a rapper can get better with age.  However, emcees do, like everyone else, become less energetic as they mature.  But that reality isn't as noticeable with Busta, since he's always had a faster pace.

Generally speaking, elder rappers can't compete with their younger counterparts.  You're pushing it by the time you're 30, and once you reach 40, you should be thinking about retirement.  But maybe, Busta can prove to be one of the few who buck that trend.

Last revised on 10 May 2024.

13 November 2023

"First Person Shooter" by Drake ft. J. Cole (2023)

One of the ways in which the rap game has evolved throughout the years is that back in the days, collaborations were rare.  Or more specifically, if distinct rappers collaborated, that usually meant that they were somehow connected, i.e. being homeys, part of the same clique and/or from the same 'hood.  Or another way of looking at it is that emcees considered teaming up with other artists as sort of an artistic privilege or favor.  The most-extreme example of that frame of thought was probably the Wu-Tang Clan during their early goings.  But later on, they also served as an example of how being too exclusive can hurt your brand, as it became obvious that fans need more variety from time to time.

But now, as we head deeper into the 21st century, most rappers have become increasingly dependent on collaborations.  I think there's a number of reasons why this is so.  For instance, the game is no longer as regional as it used to be.  Also, collaborations, especially if you team up with someone of equal or higher standing, tend to generate more buzz.  And with that in mind, I believe the monotony of the genre has also become a factor.  In other words, with everyone now rapping about the same things, the need for occasional diversity is more pressing than ever.

Drake and J. Cole don't regularly collaborate,
but they've been homeys for a minute.

Drake has been prolifically dropping albums of late, and while researching them, I did find it odd that he has teamed up with most of his A list contemporaries but not J. Cole, who's one of the few emcees that can actually hang with Drizzy.   It got to the point where I was even speculating that the two of them may have beef, which is not a completely unfounded notion since J seemingly dissed Drake, albeit nearly a decade ago, on his track January 28th (2014).  But apparently that was just my imagination running wild, as they do have a terse collaboration history as well as, it would appear, a friendship or at least mutual admiration of each other.

Up until last month, J. Cole and Drake had only dropped one song together many moons ago, that being a 2010 track titled In the Morning.  That song wasn't a single, and it came out before Jermaine blew up and while Aubrey only had one studio album out.  Beyond that it was featured on a mixtape, Cole's Friday Night Lights, which would further explain how In the Morning flew under the radar.

So now finally, with the release of Drake's album For All the Dogs in October of 2023, we have a new collaboration between he and Cole, which is First Person Shooter.  It likewise was not issued as a single, but it is the only track from that album to have topped the Billboard Hot 100.  Or put otherwise, it has proven to be the best-received tune from For All the Dogs.  And the fact that it did reach the summit of the Hot 100 is pretty amazing, when you once again take into consideration that it isn't even a single.  And as sorta implied by Drake, this was a last-minute addition to the project.

Concerning For All the Dogs, it didn't do particularly well (commercially) as far as Drake albums go.  So it can definitely be gleaned that Drizzy finally featuring Jermaine was a timely move, one that produced the sole chart topper song from the LP, furthermore during a year in which rap hasn't been doing particularly well on the Hot 100.

THE LYRICS

Drake and J. Cole are arguably the two best lyricists currently in the rap game.  Drizzy may or may not be as consistent as he was in times past, but he still shows out on occasion, and he tends to shine more when collaborating with other emcees.  Meanwhile, Jermaine is considered to be the top 'conscious' rapper, i.e. one who regularly focuses on more pertinent issues than the standard self-glorification.  So these two teaming up, at least in the opinion of listeners such as myself, is met with high expectations.

The term "first-person shooter", as generally understood, is a classification of videogame, the type of which, like Doom for instance, the player goes around shooting enemies from the perspective of the character he's controlling.  However, it becomes abundantly clear from the intro, as held down by J. Cole alongside Drake's five-year old son, Adonis, that the title of this song is not meant to point to gaming.  Rather, the homeys seem to be implying that they named it so as a metaphor for their superiority over opps.  But it also reads like, at least during Part I of the track, that said superiority is in reference to that of the lyrical/rapping variety.

With that in mind, Drake starts off the first verse alluding to a couple of realities I mentioned earlier in this post.  First is that, when he teams up with others, he tends to outperform them.  Second, when it comes to debates about who's currently the best rapper, at the top of the list is usually 'just (him) and Cole'.  That said, the verse in and of itself is far from being anything lyrically exceptional.

In the following verse, Jermaine also sorta acknowledges an idea I mentioned earlier, that analysts, including myself apparently, "start looking too deep" into his lyrics, interpreting some as alluding to beef when in reality they don't.  Or as Cole goes on to imply, if he were to diss someone, it wouldn't be in an ambiguous, indirect manner.

He also names "K-Dot", aka Kendrick Lamar, as being one of the top rappers, alongside himself and Drake.  When Kendrick's dropped his most-recent album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022), I was tasked with going through just about the entirety of it (working on behalf of another blog).  And whereas he is considered to be an all-time great, i.e. the only rapper to have thus far to have won a Nobel Peace Prize, Lamar has arguably lost a step or two, which I'm mentioning as a reminder that no reign is indefinite.

Meanwhile, the entirety Part II is held down by Drake, which is understandable, since this is his song.  And in terms of this segment, the titular term "shooter" can be taken more literally, as Aubrey starts off by apparently threatening opps with gun violence.

He then proceeds to harp on another one of his favorite topics, which is basically bragging about the innumerable ladies sweating him.  And Drizzy closes out the verse by focusing on his ridiculous professional success, how for instance Grammys are meaningless to him, and he's just "one away from" having just as many Billboard Hot 100 chart toppers as Michael Jackson (1958-2009) himself.  In fact he did tie MJ in that regard with the success of First Person Shooter, as they are now the two solo-male artists with the most Hot 100 number 1s (at 13 a piece) and are both fourth on the list overall.

Drake concludes by interpolating one of such MJ tunes, 1983's Beat It, in the outro. It's sorta funny because, just before researching First Person Shooter I was thinking to myself how I can't recall any rap songs that have sampled a Michael Jackson solo track.  I would presume that's because Jackson's legal team, even after his passing, is no joke.  But obviously, Drizzy is of a high enough standing to garner such a privilege.  And it's sorta prophetic that he did it on this particular track, which did go on to tie Michael's record.

THE AUDIO

One thing about music, which differentiates from other forms of writing, is that at the end of the day, the ultimate judge of what makes a good piece is how pleasing it is to the ears.  And as for this track, it definitely sounds better than it reads on paper.  That's a testament to the fact that Drake and J. Cole are not only exceptional lyricists but are also skilled in delivery.  But a shoutout should also be relayed to Boi-1da and the rest of the producers (Coleman, Oz, Tay Keith, Vinylz and Finatik & Zac) since, besides providing a hype instrumental, they're all also credited as co-writers.

CONCLUSION

The likes of Drake and J. Cole may be the lingering rap G.O.A.T.s from the 2010s, but times are changing.  In fact Drizzy recently announced, fresh after the dropping For All the Dogs, that he was going on hiatus.  The stated reason was health issues, but it has also been speculated that doing so is his way of acknowledging that he's not as poppin' as he used to be.

One of the things I learned as a researcher of the music industry is that this business is by and large a youth game.  Practically every famous musician became professionally active while in their teens, and many of their most-loyal fans are their agemates.  Or another way of looking at it is that trending musicians are often those popular with younger generations, and youth are more partial towards their own.  Therefore no one stays hot forever, and that's probably truer for rappers than any other genre, which would logically explain why many adult emcees harp on the same subject matter as their teenage counterparts (a standard which Drake has recently been criticized for).

But the current struggles of rap music on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 are probably indications that fans are growing weary of this type of monotony.  So it feels like there's going to some type of change soon, but it remains to be seen who will become the next G.O.A.T.s as Drake and co. slowly but surely began to fade away.

29 October 2023

"IDGAF" by Drake ft. Yeat (2023)

Drake's most-recent album, For All the Dogs (2023), reached number 1 on the Billboard 200, UK Album Chart and quite a few other national music rankings around the world.  But by the looks of things, those achievements were more due to Drizzy's star power than people actually feeling the project.  For instance, as highlighted by MediaTakeOutthe LP only scored 52 out of a possible 100 on Metacritic, thus marking Drake's lowest-ranking album on that respected platform.  And as can be further gleaned from its Wikipedia page, professional critics across the board weren't really feeling For All the Dogs.

The cover art to For All the Dogs,
Drake's album that was released on 6 October 2023.

By the looks of things, that sentiment has also echoed with the audience itself since, despite the undertaking being a chart topper, it hasn't sold particularly well.  In other words, For All the Dogs was released nearly a month ago but, as of this writing, has yet to earn any certifications.  For an average artist that wouldn't really be a big deal, since it tends to take some time for an album to sell enough copies to be certified.  But for a permanent musical A-lister like Drizzy it may be counted as a failure, relatively speaking.

That said, virtually every track featured on For All the Dogs has charted individually, which is an amazing feat considering that only three of them have thus far been issued as singles.  As a matter of example, IDGAF reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (debuting that high on the list) and number 5 on the UK Singles Chart, marking the second-best performing song from the project and even garnering its own Wikipedia page, even though it wasn't released on its own.

WHO IS YEAT?

I can't remember, in all of the songs I've researched over the last few years, if I've ever come across Yeat before.  He's a rapper who got his start on social media, and musicians being able to blow up via the internet, even prior to signing a record deal, is one of the reasons why the music industry is so saturated these days.  But you have to give credit where credit is due, because it's easier to score that one internet hit as opposed to achieving lasting musical success.  And Yeat, who traces his come-up back to TikTok (and more specifically his 2021 track Gët Busy, a song/video that was obviously influenced by Drake's style) has since dropped a couple of albums, 2022's 2 Alive and 2023's Afterlyfe, which have scored within the top 10 of the Billboard 200.  Also to note according to Genius, IDGAF apparently originated as a Yeat solo track back in 2021, with Drizzy, being a fan of the rapper, deciding to jump on it after it had already circulated underground for a couple of years.

Yeat is of Mexican and European descent and by the looks of things didn't grow up in the 'hood or at least not entirely.  For instance, the secondary school he attended was recently ranked one of "America's Best High Schools", while most notable (American) rappers came from educational backgrounds whereas the institutions they attended were crime infested.  Of course hip-hop artists of today, on a global scale, come from all sorts of diverse histories.  But if Yeat does proceed to truly blow up then, given the nature of the North American rap scene, as with Drake he can probably expect to be criticized for not truly coming from the streets or whatever.  And as for his unorthodox stage name, it is reportedly a combination of the words "heat" and "yeet", the latter of which, according to Cambridge, means "to throw something with a lot of force".

THE HOMEYS "DON'T GIVE A F*CK"

"IDGAF", as you probably already know, is an acronym for "I don't give a f*ck".  Such a disposition, i.e. doing what one feels s/he needs to do regardless of the consequences, is highly idealized in the world of hip-hop - a standard which, it can be said, some artists have even died by.  And we see in the chorus that Yeat is letting it be known that he 'says and does whatever he wants', such as for "popping (Percocet pills) for fun".

Percocet or percs, as it's called colloquially, is a painkiller that's actually the combination of two other drugs, oxycodone and paracetamol, which are also used to relieve pain.  The latter is an over-the-counter medication that I sometimes take myself (for headaches), and I never heard of anyone being addicted to it.  However oxycodone, which requires a prescription, is "highly addictive", and some people do get hooked on Percocet.

Yeat doesn't come off as an addict but more like someone who likes the feeling of popping percs and isn't concerned with the consequences, such as potentially getting hooked and overdosing.  But as also implied in the intro and leading into the chorus, the real source of the rapper's confidence isn't his lifestyle per se but rather his multi-million dollar cashflow.

As for the individual verses, there really isn't anything unusual going on here.  Drizzy for the most part focuses on presenting himself as being street-tough, while Yeat puts more of a lyrical premium on his come-up.  There are a couple of interesting musings here and there, such as the latter implying that he's made a deal with the devil.  But again, in today's rap scene such assertions aren't really anything unusual, and the main theme of the song seems to be the vocalists are letting lessers in the game know not to f*ck with them, since the opps/rivals can't measure up.

THE AUDIO

Before turning into a full-fledged trap rap, IDGAF starts off with a gentle sample of a 1977 track titled The Tunnel by Azimuth, a jazz trio from the UK that was around during the late 20th century.  My personal opinion is that Drake's verse is okay, illustrating that even at the ripe age of 37, he can still flow to these types of fast-paced instrumentals.  But Yeat's verse is so lowkey that it's hard to differentiate between where it begins and the chorus ends.  Also, it's very difficult to make out what he's saying.  But that is obviously the kind of "mumble" sound that's trending amongst rap fans of today, considering how well this song has performed as compared to others on the album.

CONCLUSION

The first time I ever heard Drake was on 2009's Miss Me, one of the greatest rap duets of all time.  So comparing that to some of his more-recent songs, such as 8AM in Charlotte and IDGAF, I can see how, compared to Drizzy's earlier works, some fans are no longer pleased.  But there is one last track I intend to have a look at from For All the Dogs, which is First Person Shooter, in hopes that teaming up with a top-notch emcee in J. Cole may have brought out the best in Drake.

20 October 2023

The Come-Up of Jay-Z

I saw Jay-Z perform live once, back in the 1990s at Hofstra University, via an event organized by the school's Black students' union.  This was back when no one foresaw that he would become an  international A-lister.  But we, the fans of (New York) hip-hop knew who Jigga was, primarily because Jigga he had just scored a hit, Ain't No Nigga (1996), featuring Foxy Brown.  In a way, that was the song that put Jay-Z on the map or at least identified him as a unique, noteworthy artist.

Jay-Z's first big hit was 1997's Ain't No Nigga,
alongside Foxy Brown.

Carter did something during that performance that I don't think I'll ever forget.  The event was held in the university's basketball stadium (which was relatively small at the time), with the audience basically being split in two, i.e. bleachers being situated on either side of the court.  So he got to rapping Ain't No Nigga, sans Foxy Brown, who wasn't there.

At the beginning of his performance, Jigga faced the audience on one side of the court and was like 'everybody throw your hands in the air'.  And I don't know, it's like cats were too embarrassed to respond or something.  It was sorta a shock moment, similar to when a comedian stands in front of a crowd and tells a joke, but nobody laughs.  And I was sitting there feeling embarrassed Jay-Z even moreso than the shy audience members, since the stoplight was on him, wondering how he was going to respond.

But it was his reaction that always stuck in my head.  Jigga just went 'alright then, f*ck it', went to the other side of the court and started rapping to the people there instead.  They weren't overly boisterous themselves, but at least were more receptive, seeing that this man didn't give AF and was going to do his thing regardless.  And now looking back, I identify that as one of the main qualities which contributed to Shawn Carter's success.  Fate was on his side, in a manner of speaking, but he also wasn't afraid to seize the moment.

'FATE' FAVORED JAY-Z

Earlier this year, Billboard named Jay-Z 'the greatest rapper of all-time'.  But Jigga wasn't even the most-talented rapper of his era.  He didn't really hit his lyrical stride, i.e. become a master emcee if you will, until around The Black Album (2003).  Jigga's most-impressive song lyrically, at least that I've heard, is Empire State of Mind, which didn't come until 2009:

A close second is probably Thank You, which was dropped that same year...

...though 2003's Allure is nothing to sneeze at either, a song that actually makes me feel like I'm back riding down the streets of New York:

I knew a couple of heads who were up on Jay-Z in the 1990s, but it wasn't until The Blueprint (2001) that people started talking like he's the best rapper in the game.  But Jigga achieving that status was not only the result of the type of confidence that could even dominate a nonresponsive audience.  His career also benefitted from the death of Tupac in 1996 and the Notorious B.I.G. the following year.

Pac, heading into the late-1990s, was the top rapper.  He wasn't necessarily the best lyricist, in a manner of speaking, either.  But he was a fearless yet lovable artist who got into a lot of trouble, and in the rap game those types of behaviors tend to translate into money and popularity.

After Tupac was murdered, then Biggie became the king of rap, and at first it looked like his reign would be a long one.  But of course, he ended up losing his life just a few months after Shakur.  And one thing a lot of people forget is that Jay-Z was not the next in line.  He wasn't the prince of late-1990s' rap, so to speak.

Rather, it was another Bad Boy artist named Ma$e Murda who was in position to take over.  For instance, he co-starred on Mo Money Mo Problems (1997), Biggie's first-notable posthumous collaboration that was released as a single, which also resulted in one of the most-iconic hip-hop videos ever.  Shortly after Pac died, Suge Knight got locked up, and Death Row Records proceeded to fall off.  But Puffy, relatively speaking, was able to keep his nose clean, and he retained a number of trending artists under Bad Boy, with Mase being at the top of the list.  Diddy also personally dropped 1997's No Way Out, a classic album itself whose success is illustrative of how wide open the game was at that moment, considering that he isn't even a rapper per se.

However, Mase retired from the industry in 1999, with the stated reason being what he perceived as a "calling from God".  A couple of months after making that announcement, his second album, Double Up, came out.  If you look at the cover, you'll notice that he's even dressed like a pastor, and upon retirement Murda did become an ordained minister.  But just to note, Double Up didn't do nearly as well as his debut joint, 1997's Harlem World.  Logic would dictate that its failure had something to do with him retiring.  But in any event, those series of events set the stage for a new king of rap to crowned.

JAY-Z, AN ARTIST BEFORE HIS TIME

And that someone ended up being Jay-Z.  This wasn't something that happened instantaneously, not until The Blueprint, which by that time was Jigga's sixth-studio album.  All of his first six LPs came out between 1996 and 2001, and when the first one, Reasonable Doubt, was dropped, he was already 26 years old.  As evidence of how far Shawn had evolved as an artist since first coming on the scene in 1989, take a look at the first single in his discography, Hawaiian Sophie, as a feature of his mentor, Jaz-O.  This is an effort that even Tupac made fun of:

and compare it to that of Izzo, the lead single from The Blueprint:

I had a chance to read Jay-Z's memoir Decoded (2011) a few years back, and, to my remembrance, he doesn't attribute his come-up to work ethic per se, though such is implied.  Rather, the mid-1990s was a pivotal era in the history of hip-hop.  If you listen to the influential rap albums prior to the Bad Boy era, such as Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle (1993), the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the 36 Chambers or Nas's Illmatic, they weren't really about riches.  Back then, chillin' was more or less defined as having nice kicks, a sexy chick and an abundance of whatever intoxicant(s) one prefers.

However, largely as the result of the reign of Bad Boy, rappers were no longer just biggin' up popular street brands but also started promoting those which were expensive or trendy no matter what walk of life you come from.  They became mainstream within the context of commercial America, so to speak.  Jay-Z, Dame Dash and them caught wind of that trend earlier than most and, instead of behaving like street artists who felt lucky just to have their own label, decided to approach the game as intelligent businessmen who knew their worth.  Again, if I remember Decoded correctly, they faced discouraging levels of rejection at first.  But going back to that performance at Hofstra, Jigga and co. just said 'f*ck it' and keep forging ahead.

I'll be honest and say that I was never really big on The Blueprint and, upon doing this research, was shocked to discover just how highly professional critics regarded it.  However, I always had a strong liking for Renegade, Jigga's classic collaboration with Eminem, as found on the album...

...as well as the live version of Song Cry alongside The Roots...

...which is actually featured on Jay-Z: Unplugged, a project that came out later in 2001, though the original is found on The Blueprint.

Also, just to point out, it was around this time (or more specifically that of 2000's Roc La Familia) that Shawn first started throwing up the Roc-A-Fella hand sign, which many people believe may have attributed to his unprecedented success as a rapper though on an esoteric level.  But when you look back at the turn of the century, he did have a better 2001, from a performance standpoint, than any other rap purist.  And that was something that both the industry and the streets for the most part agreed on.

JIGGA MARRIED BEYONCE KNOWLES

I have a lot of respect for any African-American male in the entertainment field who maintains a marriage with a Black woman, because as you can clearly see these days, that's not how many of them make it.  Jigga lived the dreams of Biggie - in a manner of speaking, when you think back to the latter's Just Playing (1994) - by going on to hook up with "the hottest chick in the game" himself.

And of course, Beyonce is absolutely no joke in her own right.  As of the writing, it's safe to say that she's the most-powerful Black musician in America.  I'm not trying to imply that Jay-Z married her for money, because obviously he was genuinely smitten (if you check out his 2004 documentary Fade to Black for instance).  But from a business perspective, he made one helluva choice.  Carter and Knowles have fed off of each other to become the most-famous power couple in music.

JAY-Z, THE BUSINESS MOGUL

Jay-Z was the rapper who really made it chic for hip-hop artists to invest in businesses that don't have anything to do with music or entertainment per se.  Most simply put, he made it big in business by investing in booze and real estate, as well as a bunch of other stuff along the way, such as restaurants and footwear, besides media.  This resulted in Sean becoming the first rapper to make a billion dollars, and as of this writing he's said to be worth $2.5 billion.

JIGGA PUT OUT KANYE AND RIHANNA

Practically every rapper has a crew.  This is a necessity, if for no reason then protection.  But besides that most rappers, when they're coming up, practice alongside their homeys, as part of a clique.  So then if one of them makes it big, it becomes his responsibility to pull others up.

As such, you will notice that most emcees try to feature their boys on record and, as has become more common, start their own labels and sign them or others as artists.  Again, this is something that practically all of them do in one way or another.  Nelly had the St. Lunatics, Eminem with D-12, Nas and the Bravehearts - so on and so forth.  In most cases, the homeys or signees never reach anywhere near the status as the star rapper who put them on.

Jay-Z and his protégées, Kanye West and Rihanna, all appeared on the
Forbes' billionaire list in 2022. I don't believe any other music crew,
past or present, rap or otherwise, can make such a claim.
 

However, Jigga was instrumental in putting out two of the greatest musicians of the 21st century - Kanye West and Rihanna.  He supported a bunch of others, such as Freeway, Beanie Sigel and of course Memph Bleek.  But the success of Kanye and Rihanna - or either one of them individually - trumps that of most other hip-hop crews/signees combined.  The only rapper I can think of who can be mentioned in the same breath as Jay-Z when it comes to having launched the careers of a couple of iconic artists is Lil Wayne.

CONCLUSION

Looking back at the trajectory of Jigga's career, it sorta reminds me of old saying that "luck is... when preparation meets opportunity", though perhaps in his case it's probably more like 'confidence meets opportunity'.  The purpose of this post is not to gush over Shawn Carter.  But as a hip-hop historian, there's two things about him as a hustler and businessman which really intrigue me.

First is the way he unexpectedly emerged from all of the turmoil of 1990s' hip-hop to become the top rapper in the industry.  And second is how, in a way, Jigga has yet to give up that position.

Warren Buffet, "the most successful investor in history",
has strongly praised Jigga's business skills.

Jay-Z has never been the best emcee, yet he was recently dubbed the greatest rapper ever.  And that's a difficult argument to refute, as besides being a legendary musician, he's also had the type of business success that has even warranted praise from the likes of Warren Buffet, who probably never listened to a rap song in his entire life.

13 October 2023

The Come-Up of Tems

When people say things like, 'Wizkid is the reason Tems got famous', I can't help but chuckle. The idea that she owes all of her fame to her collaboration with Wizkid on Essence (2020) is pretty funny if you ask me.  Tems has always had this incredible voice and magnetic personality that set her apart from the rest. The first time I heard her sing, I couldn't help but think of the internationally-acclaimed Rihanna, because they both have strikingly similar vocal textures.

2020's Essence was Tems' first big hit,
but those in the know were aware of her talent beforehand.

I remember like it was yesterday.  It was 2019, a sunny day in Lagos, Nigeria.  I was just on my way to the local grocery store when I stumbled upon the enchanting tune of Try Me (2019):


I instantly became obsessed and had to find the lyrics. A quick internet search later, I had the whole song right in front of me.  Try Me became my go-to jam, and surprisingly, it never got old.

But just when I thought I might get tired of it, Tems treated us to more musical gems such as Damages in 2020:


...Wizkid's Essence, which was a global hit...


...Crazy Tings in 2021...


...and was even one of the five co-writers of Lift Me Up (2022) by Rihanna, which was the lead track from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever:


Each one was a banger I couldn't resist singing along to whenever I heard them playing.

THE INSPIRATIONAL BACKSTORY OF TEMS

Temilade Openiyi - or Tems as we know her - was born in the bustling city of Lagos.  After a brief stay in the UK following her parents' divorce, she returned to her roots at the tender age of five.

When Tems was a child, her mother would only let her listen to Christian music.  Later in her adolescence, Temilade developed a taste for R&B and hip-hop.  She stopped listening to other musicians when she was 15 years old, in order to discover her own individuality.  And Tems' journey in the music world has been nothing short of spectacular, driven by her amazing talent and a passion that connects with fans all around the globe.

TEMS ONCE DID TIME IN UGANDA

On 13 December 2020, something pretty wild happened.  Tems, along with Omah Lay (an awesome Nigerian male artist), got herself into a sticky situation.  They were having a blast at an event that was supposed to be lowkey, like a cozy dinner hangout. But as the night fell things took a turn, and the organizers decided to throw a full-blown show.

Tems served a couple of days in Kitalya, a Ugandan, maxium-security prison,
an experience which compelled her to go on a hunger strike.

After what Tems thought was a pretty epic performance, the Ugandan government decided to rain on the parade. They accused the revelers, including the musicians, of breaking COVID-19 rules and not giving social distancing the legislative love it deserved. 

Tems was bummed, because she never wanted anyone to get exposed to COVID-19.  The singer made it clear that if she had a clue the event wasn't following the rules and put the good people of Uganda at risk, she would've stayed home in a heartbeat.

During her time in detention, she got to see the struggle that the female prisoners and their accompanying children face.  Tems met some incredible women and kids who were going through a lot, and it opened her eyes to the pain and challenges so many of them endure.

Tems wasn't impressed with her own vocals on Essence.

CONCLUSION

Tems' journey is a reminder that success in the music industry isn't about luck or a single collaboration.  It's about talent, dedication and staying true to yourself.  Though she faced challenges, like her parent's divorce and imprisonment in Uganda, while coming up Tems did not back down.  She's shown us that you can make it big without compromising who you are as an artist.  So let's give credit where it's due and celebrate Tems for the incredible artist she is.  Her music has touched the hearts of people everywhere, and that's something truly special.

06 October 2023

"8AM in Charlotte" by Drake (2023)

I decided to take a look at 8AM in Charlotte because, according to MediaTakeOut, Drake uses the opportunity to diss Kanye West.  And while working on another music blog over the past few years, this is a feud that I studied pretty extensively.

It's one of the pettier beefs in hip-hop so to speak, because Drake and Kanye already squashed it a couple of years ago.  But Drizzy has not been as forgiving as Yeezus.  And from what I gathered based on that aforementioned research, Drake's lack of forgiveness stems primarily from Pusha T bringing his son, Adonis Graham, who was less than a year old at the time (and not yet revealed to the public), into the feud on 2018's The Story of Adidon.

Doing so can be considered one of the lowest blows in the history of hip-hop beefs, and back then, Pusha T was Kanye's faithful sidekick.  So the whole ordeal turned into a big mess filled with denials, counter-disses, so on and so forth.  But on his part, West did try to dead matters early on, publicly supporting Drake and letting it be known that he did not leak the existence of his son to Pusha T and since then has more or less tried to maintain peace with Aubrey throughout the years.

The cover art to Drake's album For All the Dogs,
as drawn by his son, Adonis.

DOES DRAKE DISS KANYE IN "8AM IN CHARLOTTE"

As for the lyrics of 8AM in Charlotte, i.e. the sections that MTO flagged as being disses towards Kanye, they don't all particularly read as such but more like Drizzy may be disrespecting and threatening his opps overall - the subject which most of the third verse is dedicated to.  He starts off by implying that his adversaries are gay:

You niggas obsessed with me, and it's not on no-hetero vibe.

And whereas rumors have floated around in the past concerning Kanye's sexuality, we, the listeners, can't really tell if that's what Drake is alluding to.

The next few lines are more generally interesting:

Handle beef so quiet, you think that I'm lettin' it slide.

Next thing you know, we tip-toein' past enemy lines.

Diss me so long ago, we making your memories fly.

Conspiracy theories start floatin' 'round like the Kennedy guy.

I'll prolly hold a grudge against you guys 'til I'm 75.

This is actually what I was referring to earlier in the post, that Drake isn't the forgive-and-forgetting type of guy.  He has made similar assertions in other songs, that he doesn't overlook past disputes and is rather timing his enemies.  As a matter of example, earlier this year Drizzy basically threatened Pusha T (and by extension Pharrell Williams) in a way that suggested when he attacks, he does so in a way that dudes won't see coming and furthermore confirming that he's not interested in "repairing" damaged relationships or "sparing" his opps.

Drake continues to lambast the addressee of the third verse of 8AM in Charlotte by implying that said individual is not true to himself and therefore has been abandoned by his homeys:

Ayy, niggas lyin' for a livin'.  I couldn't relate.

We all gotta lay in the bed we make, but that couldn't be Drake.

You forced a lot of fake love when real ones stood in your face.

That's why you got deserted by your niggas like puddin' and cake.

I got you on camera bowin' down, but the footage is safe.

Thank God, another USB to put in the safe.

Concerning that idea of being "deserted by your niggas", it is interesting to point out that Kanye has recently fallen out with some of his most-loyal artists/homeys, such as Big Sean and including Pusha T.  West's label, G.O.O.D Music, seems to have all put dissolved, with the only other artists currently signed, besides Yeezus himself, being Sheck Wes and 070 Shake.

That said, out of all of the above, the one line that I most believe may aimed at Kanye is Drake claiming that he has "another USB to put in the safe".  A couple of years ago, a hip-hop media personality named Wack 100 claimed that he had an additional sex tape featuring Kim Kardashian, i.e. West's (ex-)wife, alongside her former boyfriend Ray J, besides the one that has already been in public circulation for a couple of decades.  Wack asserted that said video was "on the laptop" and implied that he was selling the clip, later stating that the laptop itself ended up in the hands of Kanye.  But what I was thinking is that maybe Drake got a copy of the clip, i.e. via a "USB" drive that he subsequently "put in the safe" to later use against West if so desired.

THE REST OF THE SONG

But with all of that being hypothesized, there's a lot more going on in this track than Graham intimidating his enemies.  8AM in Charlotte actually starts off with Drizzy paying his respects to the Most High.  And honestly, this is one of his more, let's say introspective tracks as opposed to just being braggadocious.  For instance, in the first verse Drake laments that while he's succeeding in life, his homeys have rather adopted impenitent criminal/drug-dealing lifestyles.  And this is a sentiment Graham reiterates in the second verse, i.e. his dedication to guiding his "dawgs" down a more righteous path.

8AM in Charlotte is also replete with shoutouts, both direct and indirect, not only to Aubrey's homeys such as Oliver el-Khatib, Central Cee and 21 Savage but also a bunch of celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Shania Twain and T.D. Jakes.  And with that latter reference in mind, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that this song may have been influenced by Kanye's style, as he's the one who made it chic to include Christian references in mainstream rap songs.

ADONIS GRAHAM ON FULL DISPLAY

With this track being released today, 6 August 2023, Drake's son Adonis is currently five-years' old and has actually been heavily involved in the project.  Since 8AM in Charlotte is the second single from Drizzy's album For All the Dogs (which also came out today), the track comes complete with its own music video.  And the younger Graham is all up in that piece, basically being afforded just as much screentime, if not more, than his dad:

Adonis also drew the cover art to For All the Dogs, which, to note, is supposed to represent a goat.  And whereas Drake may have had his reasons for initially keeping the child's birth a secret, more recently the boy has been in full display before the world, being firmly on his way to becoming a nepo baby, if you will:

CONCLUSION

Lyrically, I would argue that 8AM in Charlotte is one of Drake's better songs of late.  But as for the instrumental, it doesn't really do the lyrics proper justice, even though you can clearly hear everything the emcee is spittin'.  Also, at least on the surface, it doesn't seem that this track has anything to do with the titular Charlotte, with Drake rather giving a couple of shoutouts to Houston.  However, as pointed out by Genius, this is the sixth of similarly-titled tracks he has dropped throughout the years, beginning with 2010's 9AM in Dallas.