As a hip-hop fan raised on Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and the Wu-tang Clan, I tend to take the view that rap music isn’t what it used to be.
My last significant foray was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, which is less a rap album and more the sound of Kanye’s ego expanding to swallow up the known universe.
On the UK side of things, I am aware of Plan B, who is a tedious curmudgeon; Giggs, who thinks anything less than sullen aggression might compromise his heterosexuality; and Klashnekoff, who tries to sound preachy, and intelligent, and fails at both.
I’ll say this up front. I like commercial rap music. I like rappers who are boastful, arrogant and never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And not afraid to write a stupid lyric. Nelly’s first album has brought me more delight than all of the conscious rappers put together. His chorus to ‘Ride Wit Me’ never fails to make me smile:
Oh why do I live this way?
Hey, it must be the money
Conversely, when Jurassic 5 came up with their pantwetting line, ‘I’m not trying to say my style’s better than yours’ my thought was, well if that’s your attitude why don’t you fuck off and play folk music instead?
So that’s where I’m coming from.
My investigations into modern rap began with Drake. I’d heard word he was the coming man. I YouTubed him and it just seemed like pop to me. A rapper with all the edges smoothed off. Boring.
I next looked at Kid Cudi, who has got an absolutely awesome freestyle he does on Westwood’s show. It was cool, but rather too intelligent for my liking.
YouTube then pointed me towards a freestyle Lil Wayne had done, also on Westwood. He prefaces his performance by saying ‘I can’t rap’ and proceeds to fully justify that claim. It was so incompetent I decided Lil Wayne was definitely worthy of further investigation. I’m also predisposed to rappers with ‘Lil’ in their name, as I’m rather lil myself.
I’d usually go for the first album, but it appeared that Lil Wayne was almost totally inept on his debut. Wikipedia suggested his fourth album, 2004’s Tha Carter,‘marked what critics considered an advancement in his lyrical themes.’ With tracks such as ‘Hoes’, ‘Snitch’ and ‘I Miss My Dawgs’ one wonders what his less mature lyrics were about. Cheerios, perhaps.
Excited, I downloaded the album. It didn’t disappoint.
On the track ‘This is the Carter’ he opens with perhaps the best boast I have ever heard when he declares, ‘I’m finally perfect.’
‘Hoes’ has a lovely nursery rhyme chorus:
‘Hoes, let’s just talk about hoes
Can’t we talk about ho-o-oes?’
There’s a rehash of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, called ‘Shine’, which he converts into a boast about one night stands. I imagine if Common heard it he’d have his head in hands, despairing about a new low for rap music. And then wank off to Gil Scott Heron.
But my personal highlight is ‘We Don’t’, on which he sounds like a skateboarder desperately trying to stay upright, and succeeding, but not quite knowing how.
In it he audaciously rhymes ‘feel me’ with ‘dealy’, creating a word to make the rhyme. Later he rhymes ‘Missi’ (as in the river) with ‘Swimmi’ (as in swimming). This, you have to admit, is technically rubbish, and would probably upset the GZA no end, but with his winsome southern drawl, he has enough gusto to pull it off.
When I mention my new rap love people uniformly respond that I don’t look like a Lil Wayne fan. I think that’s part of the appeal. There’s something good about standing on a packed bus, in my suit, reading the Guardian, while listening to a chap rapping about snitches, bitches and, indeed, riches.
He might be stupid, commercial and not that good at rapping. But, dammit, I HEART Lil Wayne.