Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hey Matlock

What's so wrong with a formula? Einstein had a famous one. The Bulls had a winning one. McDonald's had a secret one. Infants have a liquid one. So what's wrong with rocking over non-boom bap beats, featuring a female singer, and talking about her? The girl-record is a formula, sure, but it shouldn't be an instant death. And though fans want to front hard and act hard, if it's done well, why front at all?

Hey Nas follows the formula laid out above: the beat's a little light, the style's not Shook Ones, and not only does it guest one "famous bitch on the hook", but both City High's Claudette Ortiz and would-be-wife Kelis stop by. From that very outline alone, I'm sure the jump-to-conclusions crowd had the fatwa ready at speaker-side. And never mind what they thought once they heard actually heard it, the song's fate was already decided: "How can the same guy who did NY State of Mind do this formulaic, pandering, commercial, disposable, generic, radio-friendly nonsense?" With pitchforks in hand, there was no way the song was getting by. But now, having seen enough Law & Order and Matlock episodes to stand a respectable chance on the LSATs, I'm going to play the part of the defense on this one: Hey Nas is actually a good song.

Exhibit A. Salaam Remi's production. It's old-school without the Apache breaks. It's fun without being cliché, a laidback late Saturday afternoon feel that you can relax or get up to; it's got that good times vibe. The opening sounds start off like bird calls at a block party in the jungle, plants pushed away to the reveal sun-topped groves and exotic grooves. Then the bass line rides in like a nervous pulse, complimented with drums that aren't death but aren't Downy Soft either. And the flute, don't forget the flute. It's as well-played as any verse on the album: subtle yet constant, melodic.

Exhibit B. The hook. Before we get to Nas in particular, he has accomplices: Claudette Ortiz and Kelis. (I'm pretty sure Claudette Ortiz's defense speaks for itself.) But as for their singing, it's not screaming or American Idolesque. It's rather restrained, played in well with the beat, accenting the production not overpowering it. What's more, the contrasting vocal styles of the two female leads prove great choices and are well-transitioned throughout the song. Plus, even the occasionally-grating Kelis, who managed to out-horrible the worn-out Atomic Dog sample and dorm room politics on American Way, stays within her range here. It's not R&B, it's actually good.

Exhibit C. Nas' lyrics. It can easily be said that on songs not fitting the Street's Disciple profile, our QB rapper on trial has played his hand horribly before. However, Hey Nas comes off better than a You Owe Me, for example, because it's not club-sterilized or pop station-fodder really. Production-wise, as mentioned, it acquits itself well-enough . And lyrically, while the third verse drifts dangerously close to Bonnie and Clyde by-the-book sentiments, there is enough attention to detail, creativity, and focused rhymes throughout to put it outside the typecast realm of a Ladies Night or a Dedication Hour. It's not "deep" per se, but it's deep-enough.

Beginning with a brief story to tell, Nas patiently describes a phone call, even elaborating on the number of rings, as "another peaceful moment is lost." Pressing pause on the TV, he brings the weed to his lips in the same instant that he answers, "It's Tamika saying, 'Hi Nas." A simpler rapper might not even mention the set-up and instead just start from the point of the conversation. But here, you get the impression of something real, there's background, an idea of a setting, stage directions almost. It's not just a conversation with a girl, it's a phone call interrupting a smoke and the movie Set It Off, where the still of the scene is overturned by four or five rings--her name is Tamika. And that's really why this song succeeds. It could have been Bad Idea Jeans, a weak plea for spins, another carbon-copy record to entice female consumers. All the elements are potentially there for infamy: two R&B singers, sunshine sounds, and radio-ready subject matter. But Hey Nas is not like what's on the radio. It's fun while largely escaping being trite, standing well-written and well-produced, a formula that works.

Now the verdict is yours.

Nine push-ups . . .
Strength's gone at the tenth one, so why hook up?
The pimp's gone off the Patron--Tequila
Put on my Lee's and the original Fila's
Sedated from L's, .380 cocked, naked ladies laid up in tails
Nas: Hey Nas


Blogger Fletch said...

so this song is still basically wack to most people?

February 23, 2006 8:45 AM  
Anonymous tm0 said...

Its alright for what it was, which was a pop-rap jingle type shyt with the bridge or chrorus doubled. You know, "Nas needs a queen, to, point out my enemies...." and all that, I mean the lyrics were a better than Ja Rule and 50 Cents forte but I mean come on...does Hey Nas deserve an argument?

February 23, 2006 5:10 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Yeah, I obviously think that Hey Nas deserves an arguement. Memory Lane doesn't need an arguement, The Message doesn't need an arguement. They speak for themselves. But Hey Nas is a much maligned track that shouldn't be, so I'll get my "worthy cause" on.

This idea of a "pop rap jingle", which is its most common criticism, is odd to me. The throwback-ish beat and the quality off the hook (it's unique really) don't sound like some pop garbage you hear featuring Joe or Chris Brown or someone like that. But I can see how one would say it's that type from the subject matter, but every girl track isn't primetime ready. And to my knowledge, I never saw a Hey Nas video on MTV, never heard Hey Nas in between a Destiny's Child or B2K, never saw the commercial tie-in a Pepsi ad. It's not that to me.

Plus, that bridge you referenced adds an element of musicianship that I think elevates it further.

The one concession I'll make is that maybe it doesn't work in the context of God's Son, it doesn't feel like a strong album cut there. And in the imaginary world in my head, it's a strong soundtrack type instead. (They shoulda held it back and put it on the Charlie's Angels soundtrack instead of that truly lazy pop Neptunes joint.) But I don't regret that it got made or defending it.

February 24, 2006 10:14 AM  
Anonymous tm0 said...

I don't have a problem with the song, I have it on itunes and don't skip past it when I play them on shuffle, but really, this song isn't anything special. It's an above average pop song, no matter what the beat offers. When you think of Nas, you don't wanna think of Hey Nas, you wanna think of Stay Chiselled and other songs that he really rips through. In reality though, he does have songs that are like this or that fall near this category. It's not a bad thing, it's just not anything special, unless you consider elevating it over the industry standard set by the more commercial rappers. The other songs you mentioned that don't need an argument are lightyears ahead of this song, anyhow, you could state a 60 page persuasive essay on "Big Girl" and I doubt it would change my mind on that song.

Anyway, the blog is hot tho, and can see how this is more than just a "pop-rap jingle". Your right though, it was a little off in the sense that it was on godson, and you already mentioned that on the same cd he pretty much disses the formula that was discussed.


February 24, 2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

1. I'll say it is an "above average pop song." "Above average" in the sense that it isn't as disposable of most of what's on the radio now.

2. Yeah, definitely, it's not what I think of when I think of Nas. He has his name on easily 100 songs I'd put above this. But I feel like it was well-done, and as Nas is often criticized and often falls shorts when he does these more pop-bent songs, it was kinda special in that sense. And it was in my head for whatever reason.

3. Also, if you ever find me listening to Big Girl again, let alone writing 60 pages on it, call your local authorities please.

February 24, 2006 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one for the honeys who roll up blunts but dont smoke/ two for the few who see potential in you when you broke

hot track, regardless

March 19, 2006 8:30 AM  

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