Jesse Jarnow

Archive for August, 2003

“shake ya tailfeather” – nelly, p. diddy, & murphy lee (part II)

The vocals flit by pretty quickly. Maybe I’m a 24-year old classist geezer, but I don’t think you’re particularly supposed to pick up on all of ’em. At any rate, I’m not gonna try. The vocal arrangement is centered around the chorus.

During the chorus, the three vocal parts interweave pretty much equally: I’m not sure who’s who, so I’ll just assign numbers to ’em:
1.) Vaguely epic “whoa”ing.
2.) A rhythmic semi-chant, building around the title.
3.) A slightly higher melody, building around the phrase (I think): “Just take your ass to the floor…”There might even be another layer or two in there.

Each of the song’s sets of verses – one each, I’m assuming, from Nelly. P. Diddy, and Murphy Lee – takes an aspect of the chorus and puts it in the foreground. A common trick through all is to have alternate (sometimes unpredictably pattern) words/phrases doubled.

The first verse, pulling from the “whoa”ing is the catchiest to me, especially the first few lines: “Who your names is, where you’re from, turn around, who you came with…”

The second verse, pulling from the title chant, has a cool little game. It begins with a call-and-response/echo between the lead voice and the background. Then, the lead phrase expands until there’s no room for an echo. Cool effect.

The third verse has a cool high voice doubling some lines to great effect (“when I’m really a Thundercat!”)

Since I can’t pick up on the vocals too well, I don’t really get a narrative outta the tune, and I don’t think I’m supposed to. Like I said last night, there’s no real instrumental narrative, either, in terms of solos. What pushes the song along is the combination of elements — in this case, the voices. In that sense, I guess it is a performance, albeit not the kind of literal/live/linear type that I (unfairly?) expect out of a song. It’s a collaborative performance in the one-off studio sense — not quite improvisation, but not quite pre-conceived (and certainly more of a collaboration than a random guitarist sitting in with a band and soloing over changes). And given that these are all megastars, it’s also a performance in a cultural sense — a specific combination of star power, perhaps never to be repeated again.

“shake ya tailfeather” – nelly, p. diddy, & murphy lee

I like how there’s a bumper identifier at the beginning and end of the track: “My man Nelly, Murph Lee, Puff Daddy! … Off the Bad Boys, part II…” It’s as if it was a video. There’s the acknowledgement that the listeners might tune in midway or even that they might be checking out an mp3 and that there will be no DJ to announce what it is — might as well embed the information, eh? Either way, it implies a nice autonomy, which I dig. The track exists on its own in the world.

Though I listen to plenty of guitar-less music, my ears still tend to grab for obvious chord changes. The approach here sounds alien to me, rhythmically. And even though I listen to plenty of electronic music, I still think of a song as a performance, and therefore look for instruments that are, y’know, doing things — a guitar playing a fill, a drummer accenting a rhythm, etc.. There’s a certain vocabulary of tricks that I can point to. Listening to “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” which doesn’t call on the same tricks I usually hear, underscores how much those effects become shorthand, understood as general tropes. Being pop music, there are obviously tricks at work here also, but I’m not attuned to them yet.

Anyway, the point is, what I think I’m looking for are describable things. There’s a police siren that turns up throughout the song. It’s one of the few elements that stand out. It’s not locked with the rest of the rhythms, and seems like a solo voice (which is why I think I keep noticing it). Rhythmically, the song is way more complex than the usual rock tune with guitar/bass/drums, at least in the way the rhythm shifts between different instruments. First, there’s the beat, with a snare that sounds like a handclap. There’s a high-pitched keyboard note that comes every four bars. Then, as the verse accelerates towards the chorus, a distantly faded brass hit. The way the rhythm shifts between these different voices creates an inevitability in the track the way the tension/release of chord changes building to a chorus would.
The vocals on top, almost all rhythm as well, add the final layer. With the exception of the first verse, and the neat “whoa”ing underneath the chorus, I don’t find the vocals so much catchy as texturally cool. I like the way they pull on the rhythms. There’s no big build, no climax, no solo. I like that. Admittedly, I know jack shit about Nelly, P. Diddy, and Murphy Lee, but it seems like their relative star power is the attraction, the sense of “place” that the song creates for the listener, the thing (whatever it is) that the song has achieved.
Lyrics, eh? Maybe tomorrow.

it’s got a good ideology and i can visualize it!

A while back, I thought it would be a good idea to check out the number one song each week. It didn’t happen. For a combination of reasons, it seems like a good time to start.

Like a lot of people of my general disposition – which is to say, white, liberal arts educated, etc. – I have a natural bias against truly popular music. It’s ingrained, and probably more than a mite classist, that if it’s on the charts, it’s probably not worthy of my attention. Snobbish, no?

In a backwards way, pop music has become the most challenging style of music I could possibly approach. Free jazz? Avant-garde experimentalism? Noise? Yeah, yeah. Now, I love me some feedback, minimalist skronk, and atonal bleeping and yowling as much as the next fella, but it’s not that challenging, y’know? Pop music, though? Shit, that’s the avantest of the garde right there.

Pop music is bland because it’s obvious. At least, that’s how that argument runs. (Or, maybe not — but that’s why my guts tell me that I shouldn’t like somebody who’s popular.) But what’s so obvious about it? I dunno. It seems worth investigating. Is there some hump that I need to get over? Some mental block to fart through?

A few things convinced me that I should try this: the first, and most important, is my roommate’s blog. He’s turned me on to some ill pop stuff lately, and I think I’m ready to venture out on my own. The second is an absolutely killer Slate article by Sasha Frere-Jones. Seriously worth reading. Da Capo Best Music Writing material, y’dig? Dunno how it’ll all turn out, but why not, eh? Likewise, a blog, the most instantly ephemeral of critical forms, seems like the perfect forum for this kinda project.

On with the countdown…