Friday, June 09, 2006

For The Right Price

On the first Hip-Hop song most people were introduced to, Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight, the often-confusing subject of ghostwriting also left its mark. Big Bank Hank, with lyrics reportedly stolen right from Grandmaster Caz' notebook, charged into music history without so much as even bothering to modify the rap's reference to Caz, "I'm the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A." As many know, while this may have been the first such case, it certainly wasn't the last. Guys like Dre and Puffy, albums like Eazy-Duz-It and Mecca and the Soul Brother, all benefited from outside assistance. In the process, Ice Cube and Grand Puba furthered their legacies, The DOC did what his voice couldn't, Sauce Money got a couple extra checks, and so-called Hip-Hop purists stood arms crossed, a defiant b-boy pose. In practically every other genre, a co-writer can potentially play a large role in the crafting of another performer's lyrics, and be accepted. It's not a dirty secret, Jerry Butler never threatened to out Otis Redding, and life goes on. However, in Hip-Hop, where we're taught to believe that everything we hear and see out of these rappers is the essence of real, that those jewels aren't rented, that those girls aren't either, and that those rhymes came right out the mind of the MC moving his mouth, ghostwriting is perceived as a sin almost worse than snitching. But really, once you look at how far this tradition stretches, back to Rapper's Delight, say what you will about it being "a bad thing," just don't gas yourself up that it's a tactic reserved for a scant few. Other folks, rappers that we put in our top ten lists and call "legends", the Ice Cube's and the Biz Markie's, for instance, to varying degrees, had some of their writtens written by some others. Will Smith too. Just ask Nas.

In 1997, as popular as Nas was, the sounds of Will Smith's Getting Jiggy Wit It were everywhere. Nas however played a role in the success of this new Fresh Prince just the same. According to the Big Willie Style credits and ASCAP database, Nas co-wrote Yes Yes Y'All and Chasing Forever, and then Just Cruisin' off the Men In Black soundtrack. (Technically, "ghostwriting" would imply a co-writer not being credited, but, again, in Hip-Hop, where we're led to assume a rapper writes everything he recites, that's really a semantics argument.) Beyond those three, in a 2002 interview with Carson Daly, Nas also reported that he did indeed contribute to that oh-so-unavoidable '97 anthem, "we worked on Get Jiggy Wit It, . . . You know, but he'll put it together. I was just there vibing with him." Speculation also says that Miami bears the influence of the Esco'd one. While some of Nas' other extracurricular activities have been rather obvious (Puffy getting dark on Journey Through The Life, Foxy getting mathematical on Affirmative Action), we should evaluate these aforementioned Will Smith songs for their traces of Nasisms.

On Chasing Forever, the first verse finds Will namedropping Prada and Gucci, and asking of an anonymous female if she would stick around when all those fade away. Although these themes are found in several of Nas' rhymes, they are also standard in rap music, most music really. Nevertheless, the delivery on the second verse sounds particularly like Nas on the Street Dreams remix, from around the same time, with the well-executed double on "chasing the dream / casing the scheme" lending further support to Nas being present. Next, the Trackmasters produced Yes Yes Y'all certainly suggests a great likelihood that Nas was involved, as he and Poke and Tone were a steady 1-2 punch ever since the release of It Was Written. Plus, with its random female celebrity brag, it seems reasonable to suspect that the line "accidentally spilled a drink on Naomi" could come from the same man who would soon after say, "Halle Berry blew a kiss at the Barbra Streisand concert." Then, on Just Cruisin': "Intro / the maestro / nice flow / hot like nitro / cool as ice though"; "zero to sixty / flossing / ninety degrees / Sony cartridges / ten CDs / each." Yup. Also, "female-attracter" stands as a possible variant of the later Hate Me Now boast, "model-dater." So, for the songs with explicit credit given to Nas, it's believable that he was around, but what of the other two?

Unless Nas said it himself, I would not have thought to credit him with Getting Jiggy Wit It. Yes, the '97 time was Nas' most jiggiest, iced out and excessive, but, lyrically, Jiggy features very little in common with the man who once was crowned "The Second Coming." But I guess you also have to recall that as that excess did take over, especially notable on The Firm album, Nas' rhymes became bloated with not much beyond uninspired materialism, the type of stuff that might be found alongside, "women used to tease me / give it to me now nice and easy / since I moved up like George and Weezy." Miami follows the same template of Jiggy, with a couple double rhymes and a bizarre shoutout to Sly Stallone being especially Nas-like, so maybe it counts as well.

Here's what you can say about these fives songs: 1) Nas really didn't surrender a greatest hits worth of rhymes; no loss there 2) Nas helped a legend; that's always a good look 3) Nas got paid; ditto 4) We got Escobar 97; success.

While Nas couldn't quite pass on any paycheck and personal satisfaction he received from this work, fans could partake in the Men In Black-soundtrack only Escobar 97, the final result of these collaborations. Because it appeared on Will's project, the only ever officially released version of this track is edited, but here we at least find Nas speaking for himself, "from Nasty to Nas to Nas to Escobar." We also get a sense of what The Firm album could have been. While, lyrically, Escobar 97 is a slight step down from It Was Written, a buoyant flow and creative tongue bounce brags with ease. Moreover, a head-nodding, comfortable Trackmasters beat propels the rush of swagger, "El Dorado Red, sipping Dom out the bottle."

If you've ever seen the Firm Biz music video, there's a performance shot of Nas and AZ and crew on a ballroom floor, with glasses in hand, all tuxed out, and noticeable smiles spreading across their faces. Although, musically, not much to be happy with came out of this project, that look they had, like they were some kids finally able to enjoy themselves, wild out and just grin, was both infectious and hard to discourage. Escobar 97 is the closest song we have to capturing that percise vibe, Nas living it up and writing it down.

I mean, before this
I used to rock a Taurus with the donuts
Now I've grown up, I got it chromed up
Got the rap game sewn up, sho' nuff
Nas: Escobar 97
BONUS: Will Smith: Chasing Forever
BONUS: Will Smith: Just Cruisin'
BONUS: Will Smith: Yes Yes Y'all


Anonymous Colin said...

I was always under the impression Nas ghostwrote all of "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It", but I never actually looked at the song. So props on doing that.

That shot of Nas and AZ is one of my absolute favourites. There's a potential for a real serious blog about them. Yeah, that was intended.

One more question, are you saying that Puba wrote for CL? I know someone who would take that as a personal blow, so I have to let him know. :D

June 10, 2006 12:10 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Nah, Puba wrote for Pete Rock, which may be less impressive, but I just think it's interesting that on two of my favorite LPs of all-time, and some of the most well-respected, The Chronic and Mecca, ghostwriting was going on. My source . . .

And are you hinting that you wanna do an AZ entry? I'm not dude's biggest fan, so that's gonna require an outside contributor probably, someone else to call in. Yeah, that was intended.

June 10, 2006 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Fletch.

I'm a big AZ and Cormega fan, I'm still mad Mega got kicked out the firm lol

June 10, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger El Diablo Negro said...

Good Post. The first verse from Esco 97, part of which is also on Everyday thing with dre and Nature is my alltime favorite Nas verse.

June 10, 2006 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

I was just thinking of something more along the lines of how Nas and AZ have had such great chemistry and worked so well together. In particular the (sort of) recent track "Serious".

You don't like AZ that much? Why's that?

June 10, 2006 5:52 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

El Diablo, I thought the second verse of Escobar 97 is actually what Nas used on Everyday Thing, but I agree w/ you nonetheless about the first verse here.

Colin, I don't wanna get too deep, for now, on the AZ subject. Just, to me, he's one of the most uninteresting so-called "great rappers." I addressed this a bit in the comments section of an old post before. And, on a completely unrelated topic, this might be of some interest.

June 11, 2006 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from Will Smith's "Big Willie Style" song -

"From civllians to stars they wanna know who we are,
It's me, big Will, Nas Escobar"

true story. NaS gotta be ghostwritin' for him.

October 15, 2006 7:58 PM  

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