Fireworks have come and gone. Despite flooding in some parts of the country, triple digits are now more of a fixture on local five-day forecasts. You've probably broken out your shorts and best potato salad recipe too. Baseball's heading to its all-star break, girl's are heading to the pool, and everybody's heading back to the fridge for another 6-pack. Summer's here. The movies'll grow bigger, the music will try its hand at a club anthem or thirty, and the potato salad will have a longer shelf life than all of them. Or the cole slaw, whatever you prefer, both being requisite eats at another summertime staple, the cookout.
Beyond those two above-mentioned must-haves, cookouts, "picnics" for the Williams-Sonoma crowd, really don't require much more than a full plate and a jump on seconds to be successful. Add in a copy of Gap Band IV, keep Uncle Mike as far away from the grill as possible, and it'll go over even better. And once you grow tired of playing Outstanding ad nauseam, Hip-Hop has supplied its own summer month sounds, suitable for any backyard or park gathering you got.
Within the genre, the first song that should come to mind is Will Smith's Summertime, and appropriately enough. Instantly, its airy vibe hits you with this idea of July blessed by a manageable breeze blowing through. It's a break from the heat and the hardcore, by Will's own admission, a moment for memories to rush forward, "sitting with your friends 'cause y'all reminisce / about the days growing up and the first person you kiss." In sound and lyrics, it's a classic that acutely captures the openness of summer, energy and opportunity bubbling to the surface, where cookouts and hookups go hand in hand, "she turn around to see what you beeping at / it's like the summer's a natural aphrodisiac." Another to ode to this same season, the similarly-titled Summer Time, by the Lost Boyz, is a winner just as well. However, here Mr. Cheeks words a more frenetic portrait of summer, the rap more explicit, the beat benefiting from an increased pulse, life moving a little faster, "with Newports in the air, playing concrete sports / and shorties walk around in Daisy Duke shorts." Different though they may be, both songs remain two great, genuine interpretations of this time of the year, but not the only two. Nas, with Nature along, likewise has contributed his own (unreleased) triple-digit-temperature themed track, specifically detailing that aforementioned summer landmark moment, The Cookout.
Starting the song off by noting a phone call to Nature, Nas then remarks how the barbeque is a welcome break from the usual hood drama, the carnage this time limited to fowl, "each year, we try to take time out / hate to empty 9's out." Not since Nino Brown stood in the street passing out Thanksgiving meals has food-related relief been so welcome, and Nas' flow, relaxed as it is, reflects that contentment in full. Doing so also, the light beat, with its throwback appeal, puts the listener into an immediate lean-back beach chair groove. Then, as even the ceremonial ice run is counted, our acclaimed QB narrator leaves no part of the day unexamined, "D batteries for the radio to blast these hits by the oldies / Eating macaroni / Ladies playing cards, yo, the fellas play dice." However, it just might be Nas' cohort, Nature, who manages to out-detail his host, cleverly going through a list of who's in charge of what, e.g. tin foil, paper plates, and BBQ sauce duties. But The Cookout's high point surely comes when Nate proves that the phrase "rap is real" can apply to much more than merely bats and gats, "Then it happened / The spatula dropped / But whose fault?" Simple but true, that line is the essence of a familiar occasion, a summer tradition removed from shootouts, where the only heat you meet is solar and the only thing you're reaching for is seconds.
Nas, Nature: The Cookout
BONUS: Lost Boyz: Summer Time
BONUS: Will Smith: Summertime