Saturday, March 31, 2007

Swizz Beatz Is Modern Art

I'm behind on a lot of things in my life: sleep, reading, wedding preparations, studying for my PRAXIS test, blog duties, a bunch of albums I've copped but haven't listened to yet. I can explain away those first few things, but the procrastination involved in my listening habits are due to the simple fact that I can't bring myself to listen to anything other than Swizz Beatz's "It's Me Bitches." For those unfortunate souls who are not yet addicted to it and its attendant remix...

Swizz Beatz- "It's Me Bitches" (mp3) [link fixed]

Swizz Beatz ft. Lil' Wayne, R. Kelly, and Jadakiss- "It's Me Bitches (Remix)" (mp3)

Just over and over again. Both of them in a row. Sometimes, without me realizing it at first, iTunes will switch to the next tracks in my library, (Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel" and T-La Rock's "This Beat Kicks (12 inch version)"--get familiar.) and I'll just click back to Swizz Beatz second nature. I'm a bit eccentric, and I tend to do these things, but it's usually with a song I enjoy and understand more resolutely than this one.

Not that "It's Me Bitches" or its even more absurd clean version, "It's Me Snitches," is not good--that's not the issue I'm trying to unpack. I honestly haven't decided whether or not it's good. What beguiles me is that it's meaningless--or, more accurately, so aggressive in its lack of meaning that I associate it more with my reactions to modern art than pop music.

Let's back up a bit. Some things you should know about Swizz Beatz: 1) He's been a big-name producer for about ten years. Beyonce's "Ring the Alarm," Candle Guy's "Bring 'Em Out" and Cassidy's "Hustla" are recent hits, and dude produced most of the early (thus, most of the good) Ruff Ryders stuff. His style is bouncy, incorporating whistles and shit like that, and he kind of uses a sampler as most people would use scratching, to where the beat kind of seamlessly interrupts itself--hard to explain, easy to identify. 2) "It's Me Bitches," the lead-off single from his upcoming album, is his first solo offering, which seems significant in light of number one. 3) His physical appearance kind of reminds me of Wile E. Coyote.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit E...Coyote. ("The Lol," hosted by Anderson Cooper)

As I wrote above, I find it interesting that Swizzy was sitting behind the boards for the past decade, completely content to be the man behind the scenes, until the idea for "It's Me Bitches" compelled him to act. The message he is trying to convey with "It's Me Bitches" was so powerful that he had to overcome the fact that he can't rap just to give it to us. This is the beat and the song that he saved for himself.

And that being said, "It's Me Bitches" doesn't have a message. It doesn't make any sense. I could go through the lines one by one and explain how nonsensical they are (and he thinks the first verse is so great that he repeats it!). Here are the first few lines from the B verse:

"Vida loco, flying through po-po
See me in that four door, that Bentley Esporto (?)
Benzo-lito, my Enzo-lito
You front, I'm a, I'm a shoot that ass like a Frito
Sniffin' that ya-yo, trying to be Sosa
Trying to be tough when ya soft like cho-cha"

The speaker of the song is bragging in an exultant manner, which is nothing new to rap, but with few touchstones to reality or even stabs at creativity, originality, or cohesion (but lots of catharsis with the title line). Assuming Swizz da Monsta didn't just record his own album for money (the biggest "if" any hip-hop writer constantly deals with), why did he find this work so indispensible? And why is it so captivating to me?

Probably because it's so impressionistic. The porous content forces one to evaluate the feeling behind it, the ambience it establishes, and the spaces within the cracks of the song. In that way, it's the closest thing on the radio to modern art.

A large portion, maybe the majority, of contemporary poetry and sculpture and painting is not meant to be understood as much as observed and interpreted within its own context. If you go to an art gallery, people discuss paintings in general, vague terms. They respond to a piece by evaluating the energy of the brush strokes, the use of negative space, the sensations it produces in them. The painting exists, and the last thing anyone would ask is why. You learn early on how presumptuous it is to believe that you know what a painting really means, or that anyone should for that matter.

The fact that we still don't respond to popular music in that same regard is one of the last vestiges of the culture wars that began in the '60s. For whatever reason, the consensus we all have, without even realizing it, is that popular music--especially hip-hop, because those guys are all dumb, right?--should be easily digested. A song is about falling in love or about getting your heart broken or about hating authority figures or about Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, who was a boxer wrongfully imprisoned for murder, and on and on and on. The average person rarely analyzes popular music with the same focus he employs to, say, analyze a movie with an unresolved conclusion. Music is happy or sad, slow or fast, and if you don't understand it, it's indie or not worth your time. And it's our fault, not the music's.

I'm not saying Swizz Beatz mapped all of that out or is conscious of how people like me might interpret his work. I'm not saying that "It's Me Bitches" doesn't have a point and that is the point; that critique is facile and played out. What I'm saying is that the amorphous, utter stupidity of "It's Me Bitches" is kind of beautiful and refreshing.

Clearly, there's something interesting going on here. Watch this video of fairly legitimate rapper Styles P. completely enraptured by the catch phrase:

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