Tuesday, January 27, 2009

#9 Song of the Decade- "In Da Club"

When I first saw Ridley Scott's Alien, I didn't understand why it had the reputation it did. It's a run-of-the-mill horror movie in which several different characters are, methodically, one-by-one, killed in increasingly elaborate ways by an unfeeling antagonist. Of course, this was a more claustrophobic, tense version of that story, with a more artistic sheen; but it still felt as if I had seen it before. That's when I realized that the original power of Alien has been dulled by the countless inferior rip-offs of it. If you had seen it in 1980, you would understand what made it so special. It wasn't Alien's fault that it was the first of its kind.

Listening to "In Da Club" in 2009 is much like that first viewing of Alien. There's a weirdly dated quality to it, but it's only as a result of its own success. Since 50 Cent captured lightning in a bottle my freshman year of college, many musicians have tried to follow his pattern of success:

A: Build an underground reputation through mixtapes and word-of-mouth.
B: Hook up with established stars and release a club-ready lead single that fuels crossover interest.
C: Sell ten million records and change music.

No one but 50 Cent has gotten to step C this decade. Do you realize how big of a star 50 Cent became based on this one song? Characters in movies threw out lines about fictional rapper X who "is so hot right now! He got shot nine times!" and an allusion to a specific person actually became a cliche. No less than three TV shows had subplots with aspiring rappers trying to get shot for street cred. That story behind 50 had enough cultural capital for people who had never heard any of his songs to know who he was. With the splintering of Web 2.0, that may never happen again.

Of course, if the song was just important, it wouldn't have any business being on this list. It's also great. Although he exudes east coast arrogance, Fif's mealy-mouthed delivery--less pronounced on later albums--takes a page out of Tupac's playbook, managing to sound both stifled and explosive at the same time. And the bridge crafted by he and Dr. Dre halfway through--"my cribs, my cars..."--had more in common with Brian Wilson than anything on the radio at the time. Everyone recognizes the burst of the synths and the gather of those handclaps right away, but Dre's little touches like the guitar line that picks up the slack on the coda did just as much in creating the larger-than-life persona of 50 Cent as anything he says. Jay-Z was wrong; this is Black superhero music, and his super-power is getting rich.

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