A Cee-Lo State of Mind: The Summer in Hip-Hop
Leaves are falling, bellies are bulging and good television is returning-the summer is a distant memory. So what better time to review what happened in hip-hop during summer 2010.
You can gauge how dead the scene was this summer by counting how many times you heard Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” And if you heard it as many times as I did, you’ll probably agree that it wasn’t a great summer for hip-hop. Nonetheless, there were a few notable exceptions that kept the season from being a total wash.
Big Boi – “Sir Lucious Left Foot … The Son of Chico Dusty”
Outkast’s less-outspoken half’s solo effort certainly wasn’t the album that I would have expected to be this summer’s banger-but I was wrong. “Sir Lucious” was a crucial moment for Big Boi to show the world that he remains an integral part of hip-hop’s most soulful duo.
Its 17 tracks of sunshine tinged soul-rap make “Sir Lucious” the perfect summer soundtrack. It also features some of the biggest names in mainstream hip-hop. Of course, big name guests are de rigueur these days. But Big Boi makes sure to use each guest to their fullest potential, making them rap or sing over more complex beats than they’d be expected to grapple with if they were spitting a few bars on, say, the new Rihanna record. It’s clear from T.I.’s verse on “Tangerine”-a string-heavy groove with the catchy, “shake it like a tambourine” hook-that Big Boi makes artists work for their money.
Surprisingly, the record’s most pleasant guest appearance comes courtesy of actor Jamie Foxx. As a staunch believer that almost any acting to hip-hop crossover is a bad idea and being an overall hater when it comes to Foxx, I was shocked to find myself humming the melancholy R&B chorus of “Hustle Blood.”
Big Boi has managed to think outside the box throughout his career, and always successfully. The beats on this record are imaginative and wide-ranging, just like his flow. Big Boi has enough of a sense of humor to be likeable even when he’s talking about his “fingerprints on your butt.” “Sir Lucious Left Foot” has made Big Boi into a much bigger presence-both as a solo act and as a member of Outkast.
Drake – “Thank Me Later”
I was very slow to hop aboard the Drake train. First, I hated the name. Something about it made me assume the guy was some half-assed R&B singer, and seeing his face for the first time seemed to corroborate my suspicions. Secondly, I hated “Degrassi,” the Canadian drama that featured Drake in the role of Jimmy Brooks for seven seasons. I’ll never understand the adult obsession with this show. I guess I’m just a hater when it comes to anything that most people get into before me. Drake, in other words, had a lot going against him when it came to getting the Reiss seal of approval. Nonetheless, “Thank Me Later” won me over, and quick.
Something about Drake’s voice and flow feels very natural-nothing forced, nothing contrived. Hearing him for the first time, it’s clear Drake is a wunderkind. His deep voice with that slight rasp works whether he’s rapping or just doing his R&B thing. And crucially, the beats on this record are all originals. Songs like “Over,” where the beat keeps changing but the music stays the same, give Drake a clean plate on which to display his skills.
But most importantly, the kid is clever. The many quips, jokes and one-liners on “Thank Me Later” are very satisfying. It’s nice to listen to a rapper that’s not afraid to be smart, but isn’t obsessed with showing it off (see El P). Drake proves that you can be intelligent, but still street.
Cee-Lo Green – “Fuck You”
Cee-Lo Green’s album, on which this single will appear, hasn’t come out yet. But his tune, which was released near the end of the summer, is by far the best hip-hop track of the season, and its accompanying video is the cherry on the sundae.
“Fuck You” points to the bebop resurgence that has been cropping up throughout mainstream pop (see Justin Beiber’s “Baby.”) However, Cee-Lo, unlike the other artists who’ve tried their hand at the genre, does so without over-modernizing the music. In fact, Cee-Lo’s use of the profanity in the hook is the only real hint that song was released in 2010. “Fuck You” is just straightforward bebop splendor. It’s hard not to find yourself gleefully cursing out an ex while driving around on a summer day.
Cee-Lo Green, like Big Boi, is half of a successful, slightly silly, rap duo whose partner is more well known. After the release of his Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up “The Grey Album” back in 2004, Danger Mouse’s name became something of a household name. Not so for Cee-Lo. A lot of people continued to think that the second half of Gnarls Barkley was the guy who did that “I wish I was a little bit taller” song.
“Fuck You,” with Cee-Lo now emphasizing his last name, has made the singer impossible to ignore. The highly stylized video has the vivid coloring we saw in Katie Perry’s “California Gurls,” but with a throwback “Happy Days” vibe that turns Cee-Lo into Kevin Arnold from “The Wonder Years,” bitching over his many unrequited loves. But now “he’s rich bitch!” so he gets to say, “fuck you” and revel in his success-giving all of us permission to do the same.
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