Jesse Jarnow

“get low” – lil jon & the east side boyz featuring ying yang twins

#3 this week, #4 last week, 24 weeks on the chart.

Y’know what this reminds me of? Captain Beefheart. The timbre of one of the singer’s voices (the first one), specifically, combined with the absurdity of some of the lyrics. It’d be absurd to say that Beefheart had a direct influence on this track, but it might be relevant to point out how patently absurd base-level pop lyrics are these days. And, by “patently absurd,” I mean genuinely absurd. These aren’t the simple handholding stories of pre-Beatles stuff, nor are they simply thinnly veiled sex/drugs references (I don’t think). I mean, obviously, the bulk of it is (“Bend over to the front touch toes / Back that ass up and down and get low”), but it seems to be held together by this sense of urgent lunacy.

But there’s also the call and response, which is the part that first seemed Beefheartian to me: “to the window (to the window), to the wall (to the wall),” with the response being in the Beefheart voice. I’m not sure what it means, exactly, but it does seem to mean something, and does so for some of the same reasons that Beefheart lyrics do: they’ve got an internal logic to them. This song has a bunch of different repeating elements — multiple choruses, in a sense. Each one of them is catchy. It gives the song a different character than the usual, though, and adds to the sense of being driven by an internal logic. Here’s one of the choruses: “To all skee skee motherfucker (motherfucker!) all skee skee got dam (got dam!)” (I grabbed the lyrics off the web, and that seems to be the consensus.) So, does “skee skee” mean anything? Maybe. Objectively, probably not.

Also particularly Beefheartian to me, or at least absurd (or Absurd) in the same sense, is the intro to the song, transcribed as “Brr dum dum dum—dum da da da da dum.” In practice, it’s a cool little riff, just a little flat off the intended notes, I think. Either way, it sounds rough, like an old blues, except not really like an old blues at all. But it’s got a compatible weirdness. (Which maybe explains the Beefheart thang; one could probably draw parallel paths from old blues stuff to both Beefheart and the Dirty South crews.) It’s playful, and that playfulness runs under the whole track, which (along with the different repeating elements) lend it this vibe of spontaneity. I can’t say it necessarily has me convinced, but it’s one way to get at it.

I really like the structure of having lots of smaller call-and-responses, as opposed to one chorus that keeps getting driven home (though it hits the “skee skee” bit a bunch). It makes the track seem a little bit more like a performance, even if there’s no clear narrative (musical or lyrical). It’s what allows the tune to thrive for over five-and-a-half minutes. If it kept reverting to the same chorus, it wouldn’t be able to sustain itself for that whole time. In that sense, the tune feels musically episodic, jumping from one “incident” to the next. I can’t say it feels like a journey, but it moves through time nicely.