Thursday, February 14, 2013

Werner's Top 5 Sweetly Unromantic Hip-Hop Moments

It's Valentine's Day! So I thought I'd go back and listen to a bunch of old school love raps. 'Cause 'tis the season. Donald D's "A Letter I'll Never Send," Just-Ice's "I Write This In the Dark," Eric B's solo album... if you don't listen to 'em today, you'll have to leave them in your crates for another whole year, because there's no chance you'll break these songs out any other day. And while listening to all these songs, I started to reflect on some of my favorite lines and moments that've popped up over the years. Slowly, I came up with my Top Five Sweetly Unromantic Hip-Hop Moments.

Let me clarify what I mean by that real quick. We all get what a romantic moment in a song is... the music swells, or a really touching, poignant lyric graces our ears. But that's not what these are. These are unromantic moments. BUT. They're still sweet. So, not the opposite of romantic hip-hop moments, like some vile Akinyele song about kicking his pregnant girlfriend down a flight of stairs. These moments are still meant to be loving; they're sincere, they're earnest expressions of love, that also just miss the mark of being romantic by such a wide margin, they so fail at saying just the right thing in the right moment, that they become delightful for all new reasons.  With me? Okay, let's go!

#5) The World Class Wreckin' Cru's biggest, most enduring hit, "Turn Off the Lights." Each MC kicks a short, almost whispered verse to the woman he loves over an elegant, effective instrumental. Dr Dre, Yella, Shakespeare... they're a little hokey and simplistic, but they're fine. And every time the chorus comes in, Michel'Le astounds with an amazing voice that could stand right alongside the greatest hits of classic R&B. And then Lonzo, the frontman of the crew, comes in for the fourth and final verse, and kicks a cringeworthy verse about how, "like a male, exotic dancer, for you I'll dance," and just breaks the mood in half! The stilted language, the goofball concept... "Your kisses and hugs I'd slowly collect, for they will be my tips." What? This is taking bad poetry to new depths. And you can't help but picture it as he describes, "with nothing but a g-string upon my hip." Look at the picture cover and reread those lines. Just no. You know he means well... it's intended to be a genuine expression of sensual, erotic passion, but surely no one's ever gotten through a full listen for the first time with a straight face.

#4) The Fat Boys have a love song on their fourth album; their first really mainstream album on a major label, called "Falling In Love." It's sort of a love song, and sort of a cautionary, anti-love song, detailing heartbreak and how hard it can be to trust somebody... and ultimately hurtful when you do. It's well produced, but you know... poppy rap love song (well, as much as any song can be a love song while including the line, "now a skeezer's a skeezer, and a freak is a freak, 'cause I was all about freakin' every day last week"), so I doubt anybody ever checks for it. But there's a really interesting moment, which is both touching and utterly silly... a sort of skit, mid-song, where Buff Love calls up his girlfriend and beatboxes, "BRRRT! I! Pft ski-pft! Love! Pft pft pft! You! Pa-pa-pa-pfft! Pa-pa-pa-pfft! BUH-HUH-HUH, BUH-HUH-HUH!" The acting leading up to it is actually pretty sincere and compelling, you really feel like this guy is pouring every ounce of his heart into this, and then the begins with an epic fart noise and ends with his trademark, exaggerated huffing. It's all a bit mad. And then, in the song, the girl winds up laughing him off and rejecting him. Our Buff Love, who tells his girl he loves her for the first time through his beat-boxing. It's the most heart-breaking thing ever.

#3) I'm almost inclined not to include this one... to go back and pick something else. Because in this case, the artist is deliberately subverting the emotion. It's a joke song, and it's an intentional twist, which really kind of goes against the sincerity of this list. The other artists here are really trying to bowl the women in the audience over with how deep and romantic they can be. It just so happens they're charmingly inept. Except in this case. But ever since I was a little kid, the line where Bobby Jimmy, freshly signed to a major label after spending years on the indie west coast Macola, promises his sweetheart on his ballad, "Close the Door" that, "I'll even pop the bumps on the back of your neck." Both funny and scarring, it's permanently embedded on my brain since childhood, few lines in hip-hop have made such a last impression.

#2) Buskwick Bill is on this list! Yes, and maybe just in reading that sentence, you know where I'm going with this one. "Ever So Clear" isn't a love song; it's the disturbing, true story of how he lost his eye. It's meant as a cautionary tale... he specifically warns us not to follow in his footsteps. But the real life events are so fucking insane, there's really no danger of anyone taking his path. He got so twisted, he decided he wanted to shoot his girlfriend, but then concludes, "but you know what'd be sweeter? If I make her shoot me."
Again, this is a true story... the cover of the third Geto Boys album is a candid shot of him being carted out of the hospital. So, he tries to force his girlfriend to shoot him ("but I knew she wouldn't do it on her own, so I provoked her, punched her, kicked her and choked her"), but being at least somewhat sane, she refuses. "Damn near crazy, I ran and grabbed the baby; held him by the window and said 'I'm a throw his ass out, ho'!" So, only in the struggle to save the life of their baby does the gun eventually go off, and he then speaks his dialogue form the moment, not in rhyme, but just perfectly naturally, "Ahhh, my eye. I can't see. Why'd you shoot me in the eye? I woulda shot you in the body." It's probably the most insane rap song in all of recorded history. Yeah, there's horrorcore and shit, but crazy graphic gangsta rap songs, but this is real. And totally fucking nuts. It happened. But even at that worst moment, he tells her that he would've shot her in the body rather than the eye, because of how much more horrible that is. Because even deep within the complete throes of his mania, he still cared at least that much for her. It's like the nightmarish madman's version of saying something sweet. God help us.

And the Number One Most Sweetly Unromantic Hip-Hop Moment ever?

#1) Comes from a true pro of the hip-hop love song. Big Daddy Kane. A lot of this comes from his earnest desire to bridge the gap between hip-hop true R&B soul music. I mean, many rappers have worked with the great acts of yesteryear How many rappers have gotten George Clinton to come out of retirement to appear on their records, for example? But Kane did a song with Patti Labelle that actually made her song better. His pairings weren't desperate cash-ins of struggling rappers with old school performers whose careers were in the dregs. His collaborations (usually) actually worked. They wound up making good new music together, not just cheap knock-offs of past hits.

And one such collaboration was "To Be Your Man" featuring Blue Magic. Kane's spoken word delivery is a little flaccid, admittedly, but the merger of hip-hop beats (and, on the album version at least, the bold use of a high-pitched screeching sound) and authentic, smooth grooves has a live, classical feel. And Blue Magic's singing is beautiful. Kane shares nice memories of times he spent with his girl, it's all cool until it starts to make an odd little turn when he decides to hip things up for his more modern audiences. Instead of rolling out a cliche like vowing to climb any mountain or swim any sea to be with his true love, he switches it up to talking about "that time I called you long distance on my car telephone." Already, it's a bit jarring to the mood, especially as he caps it with, "now that's what I call reaching out to touch somebody in the million dollar zone." I mean, it's real, and he's saying something sweet. Long distance on a car phone from the 80s? That's the down payment on a house! If you were going to do that with your girlfriend, she'd say "hang up the phone! Do you know how much money you're throwing wasting?" That's actually quite a big gesture to make. It just lacks the emotional punch of traditional songwriting about a great sacrifice to end your broken-hearted loneliness to say that you're willing to rack up a large phone bill.

But okay. We've hit a bump, but I'd just let it slide if he didn't keep going with this... He continues, "but you see, it don't matter, baby, because I'd call Mars for you." He'd call Mars? That's so... goofy! And yet totally awesome; I love it. It's my favorite line of any love song ever, hip-hop or otherwise. Big Daddy Kane, out on tour at night in his limousine, calling Mars on his car telephone (which he can do because he's the god damn Big Daddy Kane) to connect with his true love. Can you imagine if the music video had just a tiny, brief cut-away to a Martian answering the telephone for that one line? Kane has won romantic song writing. No one can or will ever top this moment. When I get married, no joke, it's going in my wedding vows. My pick for the most sweetly unromantic hip-hop moment of all time.  Happy V Day!

1 comment:

  1. That's a great post, great concept, Werner. Gotta check these songs out. You've got an impeccable ear for these small details, I love that.