LIL WAYNE | "Prostitute Flange"
It's a testament to Weezy's genius that he can take what sounds like bad MIDI music from a "With Sympathy" e-card and turn it into a six-minute track that'll tear your fucking heart out. As sensitacho confessionals go, "Prostitute Flange" is right up there with any of Prince's classic I-love-you-and-your-vagina odes. Pledging his unconditional, Lil Wayne raps like he's been up all night crying--"I wouldn't care if you were a prostitute / And that you hit every man that you ever knew"--before offering to take vows and make this woman his missus. The guy's got so much force right now he's the mix-tape Yoda.
HURRICANE CHRIS | "A Bay Bay"
Hurricane Chris's Shreveport drawl and high whine are so charismatic that his raps are instantly memorable even if you hate them. Here he's taken a phrase that's half salutation, half birdcall ("a bay bay" = "hey baby") and turned it into a five-minute anthem about nothing. From the toddler doing drops on the chorus to lines like "It's so hot up in the club / I ain't got no shoes on," this single is idiosyncratic enough to go down as the "Chicken Noodle Soup" of '07.
EVE | "Tambourine"
Eve is such a mainstream mainstay you tend to forget she's a rapper, but this song will remind you. It's her best single in years, which is kinda surprising since it features Swizz Beatz, who's been mostly awful since forever. But 'roided-out production is the one thing Beatz can do well, and here he goes Godzilla with it. "Tambourine" is three and a half minutes of whistles, synths, and a shit-ton of shouting that never lets up or changes as Eve waxes about dancing, her vast fiscal holdings, and lame dudes stepping to her in the club.
M.I.A. | "Boyz" and "Bird Flu (Diplo Remix)"
M.I.A.'s Arular deserved all the hyperbole it inspired, but it wasn't nearly as exotic as most critics would've had you believe. If these two leaked cuts are any indication, however, her forthcoming major-label debut, Kala, is a paradigm-decimating revelation, a heretofore inconceivable dance-music Valhalla. Massive rhythms lurch like a bucking front loader in tribal time signatures; the beats, constructed from samples of clucking girls and yelling men, with sub-bass supplanted by tympani boom, are a straight FU to nu-dance. And her lyrics, foretelling a third-world slumpocalypse, will shank you in your bourgeois guts and leave you bleeding to death on the disco floor.
AMERIE | "Gotta Work"
Things sure have changed since a few summers ago: Beyonce has settled into life as an entertainer who's more fun to look at than listen to and Amerie, once pegged as a Beyonce wannabe, has just put out an album with multiple hits that'll have you dragging your friend through the club yelling, "Girl, this is my jam!" Her latest single, "Gotta Work," is an armada of funky breaks and horny horns that perfectly frame her diva range and raw expressiveness.
LIL MAMA | "Lip Gloss"
This summer's product-obsession hit, by 17-year-old Lil Mama, is about the empowering effect of lip gloss, which is somehow better than the usual dudes rapping about shoes, booze, or the options menu at the car-detailing place. (I find all these songs strangely comforting, though--maybe 'cause there's no obfuscation about how end-times capitalism is biting our faces off.) My favorite thing about it, other than the minimalist beat that sounds like a Dumpster lid banging shut, is that there's no distinction made between boutique cosmetics and drugstore gunk. And at the end Lil Mama gives beauty tips to her principal.
COMMON | "The Game," "The People," and "Misunderstood"
Maybe Common is trying to atone for smiling pretty while rapping about Gap hoodies, because these three leaked tracks from the forthcoming Finding Forever portend an album about dreams deferred and existential panic. Com hasn't entirely shaken off the self-serving, beanie-wringing, lone-prophet routine that led white America to adopt him as its hip-hop savior, come to right bling's wrongs with a few Gil Scott-Heron samples, but hearing him riff on street life like Randy Crawford is a welcome change.
R. KELLY | "The Zoo"
THE GAME (featuring Kanye West) | "Wouldn't Get Far"
Maybe you're like me and you have a long-running internal dialogue about whether it's OK to like R. Kelly. From all available evidence, he seems to be a real-deal sketchball. But then lots of male celebrities are probably bad people--he just got caught. And when a song like "The Zoo" comes on WGCI, you turn it up, thinking, This song is so funny! R. Kelly is singing about being a sex dinosaur! If it's a joke, then he's a joke, and if he's a joke, then I don't have to feel super awful about enjoying his product.
Here's my solution: a penance system. Every time you willfully partake of R. Kelly, you have to listen to the Game's "Wouldn't Get Far" twice in a row. Don't bother with the vague radio edit, which could be confused for a song about video vixens and the high price of trying to love a rap star. Listen to the dirty version, where he checks women by first and last name and implies that they're whores, and see if your humanity doesn't shrivel a bit. Lines like "If you could keep your legs closed, girl" are the sort of thing some scenery-chewing stepdad says in a Lifetime movie of the week before he backhands the teenage girl.
Obviously, the Game is a no--talent knuckle-dragger who's probably mad that the dancers in Busta Rhymes videos have more of a career than he does. Thinking that way, you could argue that he's not even worth taking seriously. But I don't think you can excuse pop music by prefacing it with a "just," whether it's about sex dinosaurs or hating women.
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