50 Cent featuring Dr. Dre & Alicia Keys—“New Day”
Another uplifting chorus from Alicia Keys (“Empire State of Mind” it ain’t), a familiar-sounding snare drum beat from her hubby, and 50 Cent at his most mush-mouthed, lying to us: “Nothing matters but the music/Music my first love”. It’s already the clarion call of second-raters around the world, but just a few years ago 50 Cent was saying music was just one element in his diversified portfolio, a way of making quick cash so he could do some real business. Guess that didn’t work out. Oh yeah, also featuring Dr. Dre as himself.
Listening to Miguel’s trilogy of brief mixtapes from earlier this year, Art Dealer Chic, the obvious comparison was to Prince, but this, a reworked version of the song that opened the series, is more Al Green, especially when Miguel is demonstrating his falsettos near the end (yes, he has more than one, and they’re all great). The song itself, and the arrangement, are too busy at times, but that’s because Miguel has more ideas, and feelings, than he knows what to do with, not because he’s covering up any defects. He’s still learning how to deploy his gifts, but this is the best R&B record since “Climax”, and he’s only going to get better.
Rick Ross featuring Wale & Drake—“Diced Pineapples”
If the title, which is a metaphor for both diamonds and pussy, but mostly the latter, doesn’t give you the giggles, Wale’s Smoove B impersonation on the introduction will (“The better my effort, the wetter her treasure”). Rick Ross lowers the temperature a bit, if only by conjuring up images of Rick Ross having sex, while Drake deepens the chill by doing his sad-sack-who-feels-your-pain-and-gets-laid-in-the-process routine. Wale’s final verse is already forgotten. In other words, business as usual.
This is so heavy. Not only is it about the Apocalypse (it says so, right in the lyric: “This is it, the Apocalypse”), but it’s also about the coming of a new age (“Welcome to the new age”). The singer himself, it turns out, is the one who’s radioactive (“I’m radioactive! I’m radioactive!”), and it’s all so heavy he has to stop before the end of the first verse to catch his breath; his inhalation is mixed higher than even the lumbering drums and super-distorted pseudo-dubstep bass, so you know he’s really feeling it. Somebody must like these guys, because this is the second track off their EP to make the Hot 100 in the last month. Every generation has its Queensryche, I suppose.
Keyshia Cole featuring Lil Wayne—“Enough of No Love”
I’ve always liked Keyshia Cole, even though most of her records have been mediocre. This is one of the better ones, a soulful lament with a good string arrangement, perfectly sung with just the right balance of strength, defiance, and bitterness. The song doesn’t build the way it should, though, and the chorus lacks musical punch and drama. Then there’s Lil Wayne’s feature. He plays it just right, at first, sacrificing enough of his usual charm to come on like the jerk the guy in the song is supposed to be, but he loses most of his energy along with it, and his rap tails out with a dumb play on Cole’s name that doesn’t fit at all. It’s a shame; a little more work and this could have been a great one.
Ne-Yo—“Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)”
This isn’t a complete failure, but it feels wrong. Ne-Yo’s attempt to fit his subtle lover man croon to a Euro-disco backdrop sounds strained, not just vocally, but in terms of melody as well. Cutting his usual long, smooth lines into staccato bits strikes me as a mistaken compromise, a failed attempt to maintain his old musical personality in the face of commercial necessity. It’s more interesting in its way than the usual Ibiza outpouring, but not by much. And the title is a disaster. He needs the parenthetical, because he’s already written a song called “Let Me Love You” (a number one for Mario in 2005), but it sure leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air. Is he going to dump her once she learns to love herself, or is he holding back the full force of his affection until then? Whatever the case, the title sounds as compromised as the song itself.
Kendrick Lamar—“Swimming Pools (Drank)”
Despite putting out one of the best albums of last year (Section.80) and being officially anointed by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as the savior of LA rap, Lamar has been keeping a fairly low profile, at least compared to, say, Frank Ocean. But in his own way Lamar is as emotionally open as Ocean is, and in many ways he’s better. He lacks Ocean’s soulful voice and falsetto, but he’s a brilliant rapper, and his sense of humor cuts deeper. Here he deploys more funny voices than a Funkadelic album to shade a serious portrait of a binge drinking loser who just happens to be named Kendrick. The silliest voice, naturally, is the one that gives him the best advice, while the hippest one tells him to fill his pool with liquor and “diiiive in”. Easily the best rap record to hit the chart so far this year.