Tag Archives: rap

End-of-Summer Music Roundup

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It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve been patiently waiting for the summer to end so I’d have the chance to write my “End-of-Summer Music Roundup”. I assumed I’d be writing this sometime in early June, but the sun’s been kind this year, and every time I sat down at my laptop, fingers poised to hit the keys and delve into it, that ball of brightness cheekily reappeared, as content at its mischievousness as the smiling (yet thoroughly punchable) mutant sun baby from Teletubbies. It’s now early September, and as I force myself to forgo waiting on the end of summer, those flirtatious rays are still peeping through the window, and all the cherished elements of British summertime are still also present: air-conditioning on full blast indoors, because if it’s slightly warm outside, of course we all want to simulate the Siberian igloo experience inside; and middle-aged men strutting around topless, exposing their beer bellies adorned with enough tattoos to put both Parker pens and octopi out of business.

But while crowds have been gathering alfresco to soak up the sun, à la Sheryl Crow, perhaps they’ve been out of touch with what truly matters: the radio waves (Spotify), and the box (Netflix). In other words, while they’re spending their sunny season socializing and living their lives, they’re missing out on hearing and watching others socialize and live their lives through the media. God forbid these sun-soakers missed the news that the hyphen has been permanently removed from Jay Z’s (formerly Jay-Z’s) name. While they’ve been basking in the heat with few cares in the world, the rest of us have been incessantly troubled by the subtle name change (this is no explicit alteration like Puff Daddy à P Diddy…or Diddy…or Diddy Dirty Money). Grammatically speaking, what if we need to use Jay Z as an adjective? Then is it plausible to reinsert the hyphen? For instance: “That was a very Jay(-)Z performance”, or “Are you using that hyphen in the adjectival Jay(-)Z sense?” Note, of course, that the hyphen should not be confused with the em dash, as in “Jay Z – Jay-Z, as he was formerly known – confused rap fans and grammarians alike with his impetuous hyphen deletion”.

Do these revelers even realize that Kimye had a baby? Do they even know that Kimye is a thing? Though it may sound like a refreshing yet potentially disease-ridden tropical fruit, Kimye is actually a portmanteau of KIM kardashian and kanYE west. How would these sun-coholics know how to react once they finally learn the baby’s given name: North? As in: North West. As in, she’s not just a baby girl, but also a portable compass for journeyers traveling from Florida to Washington state, for instance, without a GPS navigator. Of course, on the way back she would be useless; her counterpart, South East, would be required in her place. (Incidentally, the hyphen issue extends to Kanye’s daughter’s name: does North West become North-West when used adjectivally? Or does it merge into a single word, Northwest?)

Oh – and babies and hyphens aside, Jay and Kanye also released some music this summer. Their albums, along with J. Cole’s Born Sinner, were the big three hip-hop releases of the season, as discussed by the critics on the New York Times Music Popcast. Reviewers agreed to disagree about their likes and dislikes, especially in the case of Kanye’s modestly titled album, Yeezus, which some thought pretentious and others deemed artistically solid. Personally, I found the record aggressive and abrasive – and unnecessarily so – all for the objective of bolstering the ever-growing “Kanye West is a jackass” notion (in President Obama’s words, of course). It appears to me that West knows that his big ego – or, more specifically, the concept of his having a big ego – will sell, so he throws together a messy jumble of mostly hostile tracks, knowing he’ll reap the monetary rewards. It’s an intelligent move from an unquestionably savvy producer. But the more critics praise this work as “creative”, the more he’ll escalate the antagonism and the egotism, however disingenuous, for publicity’s and finance’s sakes. At this rate, with a track on the album entitled “I Am a God”, apparently by Kanye West featuring God, the possibility of a return to the simpler yet vastly superior College Dropout style seems bleak.

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There’s a reason why Jay Z is vastly more respected than Mr. West. Though Jay’s album has an equally arrogant title, Magna Carta Holy Grail, the veteran rapper balances his braggadocio – unarguably necessary in hip hop – with a certain dose of humility. Indeed, he recognizes his unique power in tracks such as “F.U.T.W.” (Fuck Up The World), but this aspect is evened out with more modest elements, such as insights into his doubts as a father in “Jay Z Blue”. But this is irrelevant; as the most famous rapper in the game today, and possibly of all time, Jay Z has reached a point in his career where he can say literally anything he wants and still sell records. Take the track “Tom Ford”, whose hook comprises three distinct statements that, when put together, form no sense of story. “I don’t pop Molly / I rock Tom Ford / International, bring back the concord.” It’s as if someone’s asked him to tell us three completely random facts about himself, and he’s consolidated them into a chorus. A rough translation may read: “I don’t take drugs / By the way, I wear pretty nice, expensive, designer clothes / Oh and before I forget – please sign my worldwide petition for the reintroduction of fast airplanes.”

Yet Jay is untouched by critics. He doesn’t hold his own lyrically these days, but he’s still so amiable in that he can brush pride off (his shoulder) and team up with pop’s sugary superstar, Justin Timberlake, for the album’s opening track, and go on the road with him on the Legends of the Summer tour. This is something his pal Kanye cannot yet do: perhaps envious of Jay’s newfound touring partner, he lashed out at a recent show, spouting “I ain’t fucking with that Suit and Tie” – referring to the other JT and Jay-Z collaboration. (Did you notice that natural use of an adjectival “Jay Z”? You’re welcome.)

The Legends of the Summer tour kicked off at the Yahoo! Wireless Festival in London, two days of which I attended back in July, thus joining the rest of the sun revelers. In addition to the headliners, I had the distinct pleasure of watching the (indirect) contest between Miguel and Trey Songz as to who can be the douchier R&B crooner. Both artists scored several douche points for lifting up their shirts on multiple occasions to reveal their show-off 12-pack abs to the gushing audience; but the coveted douchebag award had to ultimately go to Trey for not only performing his douchey-lyric-laden song, “Dive In” (incidentally not about his experiences at public pools), but also taking breaks to shout out to the audience asides such as “How many ladies out there ready for me to dive in?” and “I’m swimming, I’m ain’t gonna drown”. Suffice to say we were all relieved to hear of Trey’s safety. Furthermore, Miguel’s rendition of “Adorn”, other than being the only track of his people recognized, was admittedly sing-alongable – and he was gracious enough not to kick any fans in the face this time around.

Hip-hop royalty shone at Wireless. Snoop Dogg, also known as Snoop Lion, formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg (a series of name transitions totally free of hyphens), played a set brimming with career-spanning hits, from “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to “Still D.R.E.”; the crowd was so adoring of the Compton legend that all he had to do was stand still for an hour and not waste any energy on performing – which was just as well, because marijuana is a known detractor of stamina. A$AP Rocky played a set, and might as well not have bothered. A long time now since Jay Z and Nas’s beef was buried, consistently underrated Nas showed off his unrivalled lyrical skills and social clout during his set, while super-group A Tribe Called Quest reunited for the first time in 20-odd years to achieve a similar feat, also bringing politics into the equation with frontman Q-Tip’s shout-outs for Trayvon Martin, whose aggressor, George Zimmerman, had been acquitted earlier that day.

Opinions about the best rapper in the game aside, all these towering acts were still merely a warm-up for rap giant Jay Z and Justin, the latter now automatically venerated in urban music merely for his association with Hova. Timberlake behaved as was to be expected when given equal standing with a more powerful, distinguished and probably formidable co-performer (Jay Z grew up selling crack cocaine in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn; Timberlake is the son of a preacher and was a Disney Mouseketeer opposite Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling): namely, he threw out unnecessary F-bombs at times and even inserted a rendition of “Niggas in Paris” into pop ballad “Cry Me a River”. But all this is forgiven (and appreciated, really), as Timberlake is indubitably musically gifted: not only were his vocals faultless, he also showcased his other talents as he played the piano and even the electric guitar.

Like at the Watch the Throne gigs, Jay seemed happy to take the back seat and allow the younger artist take the helm, with Justin truly shining as he performed back-to-back hits; but the true magic emerged when the duo teamed up, from the opening “Holy Grail”, to a clever blending of “What Goes Around…Comes Around” with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, to JT pre-cursing “Empire State of Mind” with the inspiration itself, Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. Clearly, though, the highlight was when the schmaltzy and guilty-pleasurific “Mirrors” dropped. It’s SO good. So I walked away from the festival a happy bunny, until I squeezed onto a packed Underground train – and as numerous other Londoners sweated and coughed over me in the routine tube fashion, I opened my drawstring bag to find that my pasta salad saved from earlier had burst and covered my headphones, books and wallet with honey-mustard dressing and a putrid stench. What else was I to do but eat the pasta out of the bag for lunch the next day?

As entertaining an artist as Timberlake is, I was not prepared for The Justin Timberlake Show, aka the MTV Video Music Awards 2013. JT performed an entire setlist in 15 minutes, within which was sandwiched the much-hyped *N Sync reunion. For a whole week, Twitter, Buzzfeed and all the other sites I use as a distraction at work from time to time (or rather, all the sites I browse at work while using work as a distraction from time to time) were “blowing up” with updates of the boyband’s reconciliation; as twentysomethings asked “will they?” and “won’t they?”, Beliebers and One-Directions tweeted: “Who or what is an *N Sync?” As I felt the irritation of these ignorant youngsters churning inside, I realized how my generation’s parents must have felt when we mocked their old-timey music, thinking for half our lives that Fleetwood Mac was some kind of first-generation Apple computer made from timber.

After all the buildup, the reunion did happen, but lasted approximately two minutes, after which Fatone and friends were shoved offstage before an encore of “Mirrors”. But it wasn’t just the over-abundance of Justin that signaled the desperation of the once-glorious VMAs. The scandalous award show with which I grew up in the late 90s and early 00s – spawning timeless performances like Britney on stage with a Burmese python around her neck, and Britney stripping off for a raunchy rendition of “Oops, I Did It Again”, and Madonna kissing…Britney – is now an utter mess, devoid of interest, and Britney, and laughably trying to exist while MTV today plays a grand total of 0 music videos. The VMAs now merely create scandal for the sake of it, in an attempt to live up to what it once was – which would explain the gag-inducing display that was Miley Cyrus and the Twerk-a-thon.

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I need not write an account of what happened during those dreaded minutes: if you haven’t heard by now, you must be living inside a giant, furry teddy bear like the one from which Cyrus strutted out, tongue out to one side – an image that would recur time and time again during the performance, in memes and gifs in days to come, and in many normal people’s nightmares. We all knew what was to befall us, having seen the video for “We Can’t Stop”: Hannah Montana twerking. We were forced to watch what looked like a pancake gyrating as the little white girl aimed to shake what her momma never gave her; and as if it that wasn’t enough, she insisted on grinding that pancake into sleazeball Robin Thicke’s crotch while he stood there dressed like the McDonald’s Hamburglar with the stripes the wrong way round. I still haven’t the faintest clue “what rhymes with hug me”, but what I do know is that I was repulsed as 2 Chainz and the stupidly talented Kendrick Lamar joined Thicke for another track, while Miley seemed quite contented to stand in the corner, tongue still out, fingering herself with a giant foam finger. Next time you’re at a baseball game, my advice would be to think twice before picking one of those fingers up to innocently support your team with – it might well have been in or around Miley Cyrus’s vagina.

Kendrick Lamar must have been embarrassed to be associated such a sham, given his unfathomable adeptness, lyrically speaking. Again, for those sunbathers’ benefit, Kendrick delivered the rap verse of the year, killing and calling out Big Sean on his own track, “Control”. In the most talked-about verse for a long time, the biggest new star in hip hop spits a rhyme that indirectly wiped the floor with aging rappers, and directly challenged his peers to step up their games: Kendrick summoned Drake, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky and a host of other young emcees to come out of whatever giant, furry teddy bears they were hiding in and to join him in the ring – tongues intact and without foam fingers in this case, please.

Yet amidst the shambles of the night, from somewhere in the middle of the twerkage wreckage came a faint flicker of hope. Two commercials aired during the US broadcast of the VMAs, both advertising Beats by Dre headphones, but in reality advertising the return of one of Kendrick’s – and just about every other modern-day rapper’s – heroes. In the first TV spot, we are given the lowdown in a few words projected rapidly onto the screen: Eminem. MMLP2. Executive producers Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin. 11/5/13. But it was the second, longer spot I saw first; I was in Paris at the time, waking up for sightseeing duty in the early morning, and was prompted by a tweet or two to watch the ad, which featured a blond-haired Eminem, swagging in front of a speakers in a plain white tee, reminiscent of “The Real Slim Shady” video, now 13 years old. Was this a dream induced from the fatigue of climbing up the Eiffel Tower the day before (rapping Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” to myself all the way up, by the way)? Clearly not, as the whole ad was spliced over a brand-new track, “Berserk”, different from anything I’ve ever heard from Eminem, an homage to the Beastie Boys and to old-school hip hop in general. The Marshall Mathers LP 2: ingenious publicity-wise, and brave and perhaps stupid in what it must live up to – that is to say the seminal 2000 album that sent stunned parents of America into a frenzy. The suspense is already thickening, and it will certainly take more than a head of freshly dyed hair to settle critics come November.

At which point, presuming the summer hasn’t become irregularly Indian and stuck around all the way through the fall and into Guy Fawkes Day itself, the sun-soakers should be back indoors, tattoos once again unexposed for the good of humanity, and will be able to make their own minds up about the record. As for the summer shenanigans just passed, they’ll have to take my word as truth. Though they may return, skin red and peeling like tomatoes being savagely julienned, to politely disagree about the merit of Yeezus or the Jay Z/JT dynamic, they will surely find the Twerk-a-thon just as harrowing and violating as the rest of us, and may be forced to find comfort in hibernating in a giant, furry teddy bear – only to find inside a menacing Miley, tongue and all, ready to murder them and sell their organs in return for a lifetime’s stash of foam fingers. Serves them right for being able to enjoy the sun while the rest of us are working overtime, not unlike Miley’s buttocks. And as I conclude here, I’d just like to point out that no hyphens were harmed in the writing of this article.

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Upper Tier Blues

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I was going to write this article three weeks ago, right after seeing the Watch the Throne concert, but I couldn’t find the words to describe what I’d just witnessed. There were a multitude of adjectives buzzing around my head at the time, including the ones below:

Electrifying. Stupefying. Awesome. Mind-blowing. Momentous. Grand. Sensational. Spectacular. Phenomenal. Insane. Unreal. Surreal. Extraordinary. Meaty. Artery-clogging. Bloating. Constipating.*

(*There’s a chance that some of these words describe a particularly troublesome burrito I was eating at the time. I believe the two lists of words somehow got mixed up.)

After sifting through the innumerable words that could possibly have described the event, I turned to plagiarism for my selfish benefit. The word I came up with (stole) to characterize the event was: Cray. There’s truly no other word that suits. That shit (was) cray.

But more on cray later. (Also coming up, in case you’re already bored: Paris, pickles and sex tapes. I like to include something for everyone – Francophiles, foodies, and sex maniacs.)

Before even stepping foot inside the hallowed walls of London’s O2 arena, we knew this was going to be something special. To see Jay-Z or Kanye West solo is a huge deal; to see them together is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Which is why I was pretty dismayed after walking – climbing – up to our upper tier seats. I’m pretty sure I could see asteroids flying around up there – but maybe that was just the altitude sickness kicking in. A buddy of mine, who bought tickets on the day from a scalper, paid half the money I did, and secured better seats, said I looked so upset “up there” that he thought I was about to cry. Upper tear seats indeed.

So I sat up there on the summit of Everest and sulked, munching on my grubby-ass cheese pizza and sipping on my £8 Heineken that I’d bought from the concession stand, and generally wishing bad things on the lucky bastards with standing tickets way down there on the floor. When, without any warning, two figures appeared on huge cubes in the middle of the floor, and the bass-heavy tones of “H.A.M.” started pounding from the speakers. I was mesmerized. Here they were, two kings of modern-day hip-hop, Jay and ‘Ye, the rap veteran and the virtuoso producer, the businessman and the egomaniac, gracing their cube-stages just for us. And I couldn’t see jack shit.

“Cheer the fuck up, you miserable piece of shit,” were the paraphrased words that my buddy aimed at me. (Actually, they were pretty much the exact words.) So I did. As much as I hated the floor ticket people for that party of a lifetime they were having, and for almost being able to touch Kanye’s leather skirt, I put on a happy face and, like the two hip-hop heavyweights on cubes, resolved to “go H.A.M. – hard as a muthafucker”.

And, boy, did they go H.A.M. After the defiant “Who Gon Stop Me”, during which images of great white sharks appeared on the side of their cubes, they proceeded to the main, front stage as the soulful tones of Otis Redding signaled the start of “Otis”. The party had officially begun, and the giant TV screens suddenly came to life, meaning I could finally see, not just hear, what the hell was going on.

I should note that, from the very start, even though we were in “seated” tickets, I’d been standing in front of my chair. I saw it as taking a stand against the O2, The Throne, but mainly Ticketmaster. Three months ago, I woke up early to get on a 7am train to get into work at an unpaid, two-week internship at 8:30am on the dot so I could log into Ticketmaster and have my finger poised on the “Buy Standing Tickets” button at 9am sharp. Is that not good enough for you, Ticketmaster? Did you want me to camp out in front of the palace at Ticketmaster headquarters (I assume they work out of a palace, not an office, so I can hate them more for being snobbish and rich) the night before and beg for tickets, in return for a hundred years of indebtedness to Ticketmaster? Sadly, I would have considered this. I assume being Ticketmaster’s slave for a hundred years – doing mundane tasks such as sending out flyers, updating the website and performing creepy sexual favours for the King of Ticketmaster – kills you slowly, which knocks at least thirty years off that hundred. And by 11am that day, the site had crashed over and over again, leaving me with no choice but to settle for the cursed seated tickets. So now is my revenge, Ticketmaster. I am going to stand for this entire show, blocking the views of the poor guy behind me, who probably thought he was going to have a relaxing Monday evening, and now he has some jerk in front of him and has to videotape around his fat ass. This is your fault, Ticketmaster, not mine.

(Dear Ticketmaster, I repent for my sin of this outburst against you. It’s only a joke. All praise be to Ticketmaster. As soon as I finish writing this article, I will be sure to get back to scrubbing the palace floors, gypping other helpless people out of their standing tickets, and then I’ll be in the Ticketmaster Master Bedroom for whatever freaky ticket shit you have lined up for me as punishment.)

Luckily, most of the others around me were standing now as the rappers ran through their Watch the Throne collection; it was difficult to not want to be on your feet. The theme of the show, like the title of the Kanye track, was power: about being the best of the best, about being wealthy and having risen up from nothing to being on top of the world – on The Throne, in fact. (Not the toilet.) As Kanye raps in “Otis” about his “other other Benz”, and Jay describes himself as “looking like wealth, I’m ‘bout to call the paparazzi on myself”, it’s evident that the two have reached a point where they have nothing to prove – but they’re proving it anyway. The only people that can top them…are themselves.

On a simpler level, the show was about giving the fans what they wanted: the hits. And, unquestionably, they followed through on this. Jay and ‘Ye went on to run through streams and streams of their solo hits while the other took a quite respite – or even stuck around to play the other’s hype-man; Kanye even played the racist cop in Jay’s “99 Problems”.

For me, it felt like Kanye was running the show. I’m not suggesting, by any means, that he was better – just that Jay, the already accomplished, wiser, more disciplined of the two, was letting Kanye take charge. Jay’s already been there and done that – and, besides, he gets to go home to Beyoncé and baby Blue Ivy, while poor Kanye has to trudge backstage and continue teaching Kim Kardashian the alphabet. (She’s currently on S- and T-, for S-ex T-ape.)

Jay still played the role of the mentor, picking up the slack when his former apprentice was out of energy. During the slower “New Day”, when the two sat and caught a breath after a kinetic string of songs, Yeezy, out of breath, looked over to the veteran, and Jay knew what to do: he rapped part of Kanye’s verse for him, while he recuperated. At this point, the two looked less like two giants, and more like a vulnerable son leaning on his sapient father.

This is not to say that Kanye slumped; in fact, the crowd responded wildly to Mr. West’s solo compilation – perhaps because, in this country at least, Kanye has generally had a more successful track record in terms of chart hits and popular consensus; or perhaps because, let’s face it, he has some rockin’ stadium bangers that are designed to tear the roof off. As soon as his first solo song – “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – rang from the speakers, the entire arena broke into screams. Everyone rapped along as he went from hit to hit to hit, from “Jesus Walks” to “All Falls Down” to “Monster”, and from to “Good Life” to “Stronger” to “Touch the Sky” to “Gold Digger”. It was no wonder he was drained of energy – so was I, and I was just standing up on some precipice on the top of Mount Fujiyama, looking down.

Before each hit played, the name of the track would flash across the screens, so the audience knew what was coming next, and so they could respond in the appropriate fashion. For me, that response, in nearly all cases, was: “OH SHIT! [Insert name of song here]! THIS IS FUCKING INSANE! (I WISH WE HAD STANDING TICKETS!)  BUT STILL, THIS SHIT’S INSANE!” I rocked up to the arena dressed in a pretty nice, off-white Polo shirt and dark jeans, and by the end, after all the rapping and arm-flinging to the beat of the music, I was a sweaty mess. The Polo was clinging to my chest as if I’d partaken in a Ralph Lauren wet T-shirt contest. My hair was dripping with perspiration, and my voice had gone. I’m sure it was an incredibly unattractive sight. This, then, was not a great time to pick up girls. Although, if any ladies out there are into sweaty brows, dehydrated cottonmouths and runny noses (which actually had nothing to do with the concert; I just also happened to have a cold at the time), please don’t hesitate to give me a call.

Kanye didn’t fail to inject a little of his egomania and sidetracking into his performance, though. After “Runaway” and “Heartless”, he “went off on one”, as it were, preaching and philosophizing for ten minutes about love and “holding on to the one you’re with”. Which seemed rather romantic and idealistic coming after a song that includes the lyrics: “24/7, 365, pussy stays on my mind”. Perhaps it was the thought of his newfound sweetheart, Kim Kardashian, sitting backstage and reciting her five times tables. (You would think, incidentally, that a man who thinks as much of himself as Kanye does, especially intelligence-wise, wouldn’t settle for a reality TV star for whose brains God didn’t have any neuron fibers left so used dental floss instead. A friend of mine has an intriguing theory that Kanye is gay, and that all this “player” talk is simply a ruse.)

Kanye also stopped “All of the Lights” halfway after the line: “MJ gone. A n***a dead!” He demanded that everyone join in and yell “a n***a dead!” the next time through – “this is the only time you’ll get away with saying it,” he joked. Or was it a joke? Was he making a serious, philosophical point here? Did he mean, on a deeper level, that everyone, despite their race or background, should all come together as one and disregard pre-existing racial and class constraints? No, probably not. But I still held back, uncomfortable with the thought of uttering, let alone shouting, the N-word, even if Kanye had given us his baffling blessing.

Of course, the two rappers alternated, with Jay-Z taking the reins in between Kanye’s ever-enigmatic performances. With Jay, there was a sense of refreshment. Jay gets to the point. He’s there to perform, not to sermonize, and for him, it comes effortlessly. Like his approach, his outfit was straightforward, and without a need for a leather skirt: “all black everything”, topped off with a Brooklyn Nets hat, representing, of course, the team he part owns. He needs to do nothing more than this to show that he’s the shit, and his repertoire supported this, with hits like “Dirt off Your Shoulder”, “Hard Knock Life”, “Public Service Announcement”, “On to the Next One”, “I Just Wanna Love You”, “H to the Izzo” and “Big Pimpin’” – not to mention his full rendition of New York’s unrivalled theme song, “Empire State of Mind”, which was a breath of fresh air directly following Kanye’s “Runaway” rant.

They were at their best when they shared the stage (or their own individual cubes), whether they were playing their Watch the Throne tracks or featured songs from their solo albums, such as Jay’s “Run this Town”, and the remixes of Kanye’s “Power” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”. Oh – and then there was that other one song, and one song only. What’s it called again? They didn’t play it enough times for me to remember…

Of course, I’m talking about the most epic rap song I’ve ever heard: “N****s in Paris”. That shit is more epic than Ben-Hur. It’s more epic than a triathlon across the South Pole with nothing more than a Speedo and a bicycle pump. (And not even a bicycle. That has to be acquired via some shrewd bargaining with penguins. They may look cute, but they’re swindling sons of bitches.)

Why is it “epic”? First of all, the name of the song is “N****s in Paris”. Clearly, the duo’s point is that it’s a rags to riches fairytale for two guys from the hood to be able to producing music in Paris (most of Watch the Throne was recorded in France), in the fashion capital of the world, wearing designer clothes and jewelry and generally “balling so hard”; as Jay says: “[If] you’d escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too!”

Another reason is that the track has enjoyed what I call the “SexyBack Effect”. Every once in a while, an artist releases a song containing a term or expression that everybody will start to use in daily conversation. After the release of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” in 2006, it was hard to avoid hearing at least one obnoxious college kid a day saying: “Yo dude, I’m totally digging these new kicks I picked up from Pac Sun the other day, they’re so sick bro! How much am I bringing Sexy Back right now?!” Even The Queen was heard using the term, on more than a single occasion: “One is looking utterly handsome this wintry eve, Philip, in that terribly tight tank top. One can see one’s six-pack! Has one been working out lately? One is certainly bringing Sexy Back tonight!” Sure, it was irksome that the expression was so overused, but it was a testament to the popularity of the song and its mass effect on the public. Another example was Rihanna’s 2007 hit, after which it was impossible to walk outside on a rainy day without hearing: “Hey, kids, did you remember to bring the umbrella? –Ella, -ella, -eh, -eh?”

“N****s in Paris” is enjoying the SexyBack Effect currently, with “ball so hard” and “that shit cray” – the song’s hooks, repeated by Jay and Kanye respectively – having become the latest slang words to enter the Urban Dictionary. Incidentally, “cray”, evidently a contraction of “crazy”, has been analyzed by some to actually be “Kray”, in reference to the British crime lords, the Kray brothers, who evaded police for several years – they “balled so hard, muthafuckers wanna find [them]”.

Either way, the song is famous not just for these catchphrases, but also for the fact that Jay and ‘Ye close their Watch the Throne shows by playing the track over and over again. The day I went to the concert, the two played the song four times in a row, which seems like a lot, but made me feel like I(‘d been cheated after hearing that the night before, and the night following, they played it seven times. (They recently set a record – at their show in Paris, fittingly – by playing it a whopping eleven times.) Now, my list of ways I have been screwed over looks like this:

  1. No standing tickets
  2. Only four renditions of N.I.P.
  3. Amazon Prime charging me a monthly fee without emailing me with notification of the end of my free trial. (Again, this has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but still noteworthy, I feel.)

I have since become so used to hearing the song multiple times in a row that it simply doesn’t seem right when played a single time. At a club, recently, soon after the DJ played the track, I went up to her and asked if she could play it again. “I just played it,” she said, perplexed. “I know,” I admitted, “but it’s just so epic.” I think would happily fork out a decent amount of money for a N****s in Paris tour, comprising solely the one track played over and over again.

In fact, I want N****s in Paris to be the theme tune to my life. I want the song played at my wedding. When the bride, shining angelically in her pristine white dress, cheeks glowing with excitement (it hasn’t yet fully dawned on her that she’ll have to spend the entirety of the rest of her life with me), instead of the wedding march, the minister will announce: “We’re gonna skate to one song, and one song only”, at which point the organ, connected to a bass-heavy sub-woofer, will start playing the melody, and the congregation will begin balling so hard.  I also want the song played at my funeral. As guests dine on fish filet, instead of uttering the usual condolences and remarks like “what a shame”, they will – equally somberly – shake their heads and say: “that shit cray”. My gravestone will say: R.I.P., N.I.P. (Obviously, the cause of death will be: balling way too hard.)

After the fourth N.I.P., the show was over, and it was time to descend the steep ridge of the upper tier seating area. (The people in the standing area were able to leave pretty quickly – just saying.) I walked down the steps eating the remains of the grubby-ass pizza, which was now cold, and had probably been stepped on several times by latecomers squeezing through to their seats; and as I chomped down on the cold, hard cheese, I heard a person behind me – who can only be described as an asshole – complain to his friend: “Why did they have to keep playing that song over and over again?”

Instead of cutting his harness and pushing him down the mountain, I reflected on the momentousness of the show and knew it was easily the best concert I’ve seen. Though, admittedly, I seem to say that about every new concert I go to. I said the same thing when I saw Jay-Z solo for the first time in State College, Pennsylvania, where he kicked off his tour for The Blueprint 3. I said the same when I saw a low-budget T.I. concert (in-between his jail stints, I suppose); and also the same when I was fifteen and saw a drugged-up Eminem in 2003 (although to see the newly reformed, top-of-his-game Eminem today would be a mind-blowing experience). And I even said the same when I saw Akon and Rihanna live in 2007, though that was probably because I was a sophomore in college and drunk 95% of the time; and I’m pretty sure that concert was not part of the 5%, as I only reserved that for events that called for sobriety, such as going to the gym, reading books, and some exams.

Incidentally, one concert I did not say was the best I’ve been to was – and don’t judge – a Nickelback concert. Let me firstly defend myself by asserting that this was the tickets were sold at student rates, so I paid rather little to go. And, although the band’s music is generic (generock) and there’s a Facebook group that’s managed to recruit more fans of a picture of a pickle than of Nickelback, I have to admit that they did put on a pretty good show. But the problem arose out of the fact that I’d only bought my own ticket, having been assured by my roommates that they would also be buying tickets in the coming days. Of course, the day of the concert arrived and they had not followed through, and so I was forced to get my money’s worth by going to the concert…alone. In one of the most embarrassing moments of my life (and there have been countless), I tried to avoid looking as if I were there by myself by casually standing close to a large group of people who were there together, pretending I was with them. I even stooped so low as to nod along to their group conversations and laugh along with their jokes.

But at least I had standing tickets for that concert.

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