I've been intrigued by this post on J-Zone's Myspace about why hip-hop is supposedly dead. For the most part, I agree with his reasoning, but he fails to mention one crucial reason for rap's decline: the producers are more important, consistent, and creative than the rappers.
While in the past a dynamic beat only made a competent rapper better, mediocre rap acts are now blowing up based more on the svengali behind the boards than the frontman on TV.
Case in point: Mims, whose "This Is Why I'm Hot" is number one on iTunes and all over the radio at the hands of The Blackout Movement's menacing backing track. Seriously though, who is pre-ordering Mims' album? On any school bus across the country, fourteen-year-old kids are putting him to shame over that instrumental. Any douche on Myspace can rap better over that production than Mims. The same goes for Rich Boy and the "Throw Some D's" monument built by his producer Polow da Don.
I'm not laughing at Rich Boy looking like he has Down's Syndrome or pointing to the state that leads the country in Down's (possibly not true since I made it up). I'm laughing at him wearing an over-sized baseball jersey.
Here's another example. Almost anyone will admit that Young Jeezy's skills as a rapper are poor; he himself often starts tracks with, "I'm not a rapper but..." Yet he has sold millions more records than Lupe Fiasco, who most people would acknowledge as a wondrous lyricist with some middling beats. Even I am culpable for this double-standard, and it's killing hip-hop. Not that the producers do better work than the rappers--which certainly isn't their fault--but that we as listeners don't demand excellence on both fronts.
Perhaps I can articulate this idea better using Just Blaze's "Behind the Scenes: Return of the Hustle"
There are a lot of things I learned from this clip. One is that white people--the engineers, the conductor, the studio musicians--are secretly doing all the legwork in rap. Another is that Just Blaze, though he's obviously a talented artist, is pretty poorly-versed in music terminology and specifics. How pissed would you be if you were a classical musician, and the guy making a hundred times more than you for your work was humming how to play? Finally, the point that really pertains to what I'm talking about, who is more responsible for the success of "Return of the Hustle": Fabolous, who delivered his workman-like verses onto a skeletal time signature only to have all the important shit added later, who seems completely tangential to this whole process, or Just Blaze, who organized unprecedented resources to create a monster?
Television has always been a producers' medium; film has always been a director's medium; theater has always been a writer's medium; and, up until now, music has been a musician, artist's, medium. But since the dawn of the Age of the Superproducer (2000-present), that has obviously changed.
I know that's a long introduction, but all that baggage is what makes the current Timbaland-Scott Storch beef so captivating. No one quite knows when it happened, but Timbo and Storch are bigger artists than the rappers themselves, and the people they supposedly work for are much less captivating than they are.
The point of contention is that Scott Storch believes he contributed more than the studio musician credit he got for "Cry Me a River," which is probably the crowning achievement of Timbaland's illustrious career--nevermind that it sounds nothing like Storch's other work. To Timbaland, this allegation smacks of ungratefulness, since Storch cut his ugly teeth on Justified, and it was one of the bulletpoints on his resume that led to him solo producing "Lean Back," "Just a Lil' Bit," "Make It Rain," "Naughty Girl," and other songs that sound exactly like those, rather than just being one of Dr. Dre's ghost-producers. Tim still sees the kid as a keyboard player, while Storch fancies himself some kind of John Brown-esque entity. (Buy the way, I would totally buy that guy's CD. I love the hate. Hallelujah hollaback.) Add to this that Storch, in his infinite and hilarious hubris, has insinuated all kinds of other stuff about work Timbo has or hasn't done, some of his insults not even making sense.
This definitely isn't the first producing feud, but it is one of the more documentable ones, thanks to 21st century media. The interesting thing is that it functions within but without the system of rappers' beefs. Although the battle is clearly for publicity and follows the same pattern of cramming in a few homophobic insults and shooting a crappy video in two days, there seems to be something tangible at stake here; and the personal pride involved with a craftsman like a producer is a bit different. These guys appear to have once been colleagues but are now sour with each other based on claims of legitimacy and unverifiable credit. It's more dramatic but still silly.
Every picture of Scotty looks as ridiculous or more ridiculous than this. Did I mention he's from Canada?
A1. In "Give It to Me," the lead single from Timbo's upcoming Shock Value compilation that I linked to a few weeks ago, he bellows, "When Timbo is in the party everybody throw up their hands/I get a half a mil for my beats, you get a couple grand...I'm a real producer and you're just a piano man/Your song's up on the charts/I heard it, I'm not a fan/Niggas talkin' greasy, I'm the one that gave them their chance/Somebody need to tell them they can't do it like I can."
A2. On MTV Overdrive, (You have to be intertextual as a mug to really be up on this stuff, but I guess that's why you have people like me.) Tim clarifies whom the aforementioned barb was aimed towards. "I'll tell you this right into the camera. It's Scott Storch. If you gonna say you're better than me, let's go at it... [Blah blah blah, it's nothing personal, but it kind of is.] Lemme give you this beatin' right quick. Don't get above your britches now. Remember who's king. The king is king." Who's the king again? Ah, yes, the king is king. That's so stupid it's smart.
I want to electronically put this into an electronic time capsule electronically.
Scott Storch decides, "Hey, what's a better time to make my rapping debut? Maybe when I'm battling one of the best producers in the history of music I should come with a sub-par loop and pace that tired _-man, _, man rhyme scheme. Then my boy Nox can finish the song off. It's perfect."
Anyway, this video's choice moments are:
0:10- Storch calls himself a boss (of wack keyboard fugues?), and Nox agrees by brushing his shoulder off. If Storch is a Dr. Dre weed carrier, and Nox is a Scott Storch Turtle, does that mean that Nox is a Dr. Dre ass-wiper? Or would Dr. Dre even let him get that close? Is Nox allowed inside Dre's house, or does he have to wait in the car? Does Scotty tie him to a tree outside? I have trouble sleeping at night.
0:51- Scotty comes hard for once. The "franks out the back of your neck" line is actually funny and precedes the valid point that Timbaland's Beat Club imprint ultimately failed. It's hard to take dude seriously though. I mean, what do you think Scott Storch has more of: huge pairs of sunglasses to hide his angular-ass face...or friends? Even in his own self-fellating video, he looks painfully awkward.
1:40- So, according to Nox, Timbo and Justin have sex with each other? (J.T. is prettier than most women; you could do worse. No homo.) That's pretty mature. Because Nox's gesticulations have been so masculine so far, right?
2:05- "Them popcorn beats ain't street--they in drag." Scott Storch, if you didn't know, produced the majority of Paris Hilton's album, so he can tell you a thing or two about being street.
2:09- Nox: "Come see me in North Philly/I'll make that ass strip." Then Scotty makes a gun noise. Not gay at all.
2:33- Zoom in on some random guy's throat?
2:59- In what I'm presuming is his house, Scott Storch has a giant portrait of himself. I'm hoping it's his house and not Nox's.
Timbaland and Jay in the studio for old time's sake. (You owe it to yourself to rent Fade to Black if you're even a casual Jay-Z fan.)
A3. In lazy retaliation,Timbaland produces a beat that is devastating in its space-age nonchalance for his Beat Club associate D.O.E. called "Piano Man."
D.O.E.'s points are mostly irrelevant or non sequitur. He doesn't do a good job of defending Tim by expressing his incredulity over Nox being a reggaeton artist. Is reggaeton not a valid type of hip-hop? Nox sucks, but the type of music he makes doesn't really have any bearing on whether or not he had accurate shots at Tim.
Then, I wish D.O.E. didn't have to make this racial, but he does. He claims that Storch called Tim a nigger, which, to Plasticface's credit, I never heard on the song. Then, he repeats several times, "How can you dis a black man during black history month?" Yeah, you're right. No actions by any African-Americans should be questioned or protested during a twelfth of the year. That's thoughtful; I'd love to see it. I can imagine Cedric the Entertainer raping and killing babies and nuns across the globe, and the detectives being like, "We've got to ride it out and resume the investigation on March 1. Nothing we can do. It's black history month." I'm sure Valentine's Day would be quite different as well.
Am I missing something with the "Guy Ritchie ass nigga" line? Guy Ritchie seems like a pretty cool guy to me. Is he an ugly keyboardist who repeats himself?
Good look playing the sample of the Scott Storch-produced Hammer song at the end though. Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em is downright unlistenable fifteen years later.
B2. Your move, Mr. Storch.
- The Rap Po-lice are threatening to revoke my blogger card if I'm the only guy who doesn't mention that Friday was the tenth anniversary of Notorious B.I.G.'s death. I'm not on my own computer right now, so I can't upload any of my Biggie rarities, but I'll update this later. For now, here's Tom Breihan's stellar memorial piece and a link to that furious Bed-Stuy freestyle from when Biggie was seventeen. (I don't mean for that to sound insensitive. I loved the guy's music. I just don't really know what to say that hasn't been said already. He was one of the best rappers ever, but I don't necessarily think he changed the world for the better. I guess that's another column.)
And don't download that new Mick Boogie and Terry Urban Biggie tribute mixtape--it's garbage.