Jesse Jarnow

“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.


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