Soul-Searching In Post-Soul Rap Songs

Lil Wayne took his time to release this “Lollilop” song as a so-called single. First, the speculative nature of deciding what makes a single other than its intentions for the radio, is futile practice. Most artists decide what will be their “hit” based on public response just as much as the song’s composition. “Lollipop” is not designed for airplay, despite its lean toward current trends like the vocoder, frequent snaps and bottle-popping makeup. Lil Wayne as weird scientist is in full play here. “I Feel Like Dying,” the summertime drug odyssey of Wayne, was his first venture into absolute crazed territory. But taken in concert with “Lollipop,” “Leather So Soft” of the last album, and “A Millie” from the new batch, he has works that function more than just anathema for rap traditionalists. “Lollipop” has touches of bluegrass and country because of Wayne’s extended croak through computer effects. I have always said that the best rappers can use their voices as instrumental accompaniment. Peedi Crakk has the percussive flow of a Philly soldier; it has made him the perfect compliment to Black Thought on the last two Roots albums. On “A Millie” Lil Wayne imitates a drummer’s steady tap. On “Lollipop” he is a twangy guitar, drawing out Static Major’s crooning with his own disaffected harmonies. But, because the rap audience expects rhymes in orthodox fashion, both of these songs were greeted with virulent criticism. At its best, “Lollipop” is an acknowledgment of trends that bends them intentionally to mete out the qualifications of Wayne’s World. The “lick the rapper” pronouncements throughout the song make it partly sexual, mostly ridiculous. Even the tinny chorus explains how little commitment Wayne has to the topic, instead giving his creative force to the execution of saccharine, nineties-styled R and B: “Shorty want a thug…/bottles in the club…” leaves the arguments about deeper meaning in the periphery, allowing for pure enjoyment of the vast spaces between beeps and singing.

The humming at the end disperses the constant beep and the Bounce music drums with a Tim McGraw allusion. Lil Wayne pays attention to musical patterns and, in all likelihood, more so than his observers give him credit for. There is hip-hop soul here, a genre to which he, Nas and 50 Cent belong because of their affinity for infusing song into beats. Many rap musicians are afraid to claim allegiance to the hip-hop soul era as much as it appears on their songs. Defining hip-hop soul has become academe’s arduous, convoluted duty but the simple version goes: hip-hop soul emerged exactly after the great 1988 rap surge, after the gangster rap, G-Funk era; it was a necessary hybrid of rap rhythms and soul singers. Total, of Bad Boy records, made almost exclusively hip-hop soul records. Aaliyah added to her soft-voiced moaning with sincerely schizophrenic Timbaland production. Some rappers hew more toward hip-hop soul than others, maybe Ja Rule and Lauryn Hill are on the far left with their work. Pharoahe Monch does a lot of lyrical singing and melodic rapping to show how quickly lines might blur in that kind of category. Jay-Z on the other hand is more loyal to rhythms, even if he will implement great melodies so he falls in the moderate part of the spectrum. Jadakiss and Beanie Sigel won’t be soon singing along to their song’s tonal fluctuation, thus conservatives. Weezy is going for experimental but not in the ersatz, predictable way in which Fat Joe approaches “turning crunk” for a hit single. Instead, Wayne wants to make an earnest song borrowing from both trends of the day and his hometown Bounce music.
Clap…clap-clap-clap. Sound familiar?
This is not the product of hackneyed contrivance or over-viewing Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction.” Rappers are allowed to use other music forms in order to expand themselves, their work. Rap fans have an unusual aversion to leftist reasoning possibly because they feel ownership of a form that often gets appropriated by others in awkward, misplaced ways. Common, Andre 3000 and Mos Def receive much ire from their long-time fans because they are both pillars of traditional rap with their first albums and consistently experimental. The problem of “Lollipop” will persist as long as there is a perceived method of making all rap songs. Besides how infectiously good it is as an R and B song, since a rapper has performed it, possibly with teeny boppers in mind, it makes the song abhorrent to some, ugly to the rest. “Lollipop” stretches Lil Wayne’s creative will, addiction to codeine syrup and dips it in a pool of pop culture. The result rises above his mixtape material, and even his potent singles like “Fireman” and “Hustler Muzik” into the realm of beautiful oddity. The soul of rap music comes through most when its leaders refuse to be confined to some preconceived boundaries laid out by nostalgic fans or record label expectations. If not for that, Graduation would have been a stale third album from Kanye West and 50 Cent’s Curtis would have been the praiseworthy norm. And we all saw how that turned out.
Is this a “traditional” rap song? Or just a good one?

3 Responses to “Soul-Searching In Post-Soul Rap Songs”

  1. 1 lou911 April 22, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    blank stare…great post. I linked your blog. peace.

  2. 2 random July 14, 2008 at 10:19 am

    yo u suck man, wat lil wayne does is killing hip hop. u obviously havent heard proper rap songs and hip hop songs. back from 80’s and 90’s nd shit. lil wayne is just a faggot ass bitch who depends on closet homos to buy his shit. as far as im concerned u nd all of waynes fans can continue sucking on the lollipop, nd while he spits on lollipops, ill listen to real mudafukin rappers who spit fire on mics.

  3. 3 92twos August 31, 2008 at 2:50 am

    good read man, but you dont need to sing in your songs to have soul. keep writing man

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