Jesse Jarnow

“yeah!” – usher featuring lil’ john and ludacris

#1 this week, #2 last week, 8 weeks on the chart

In an effort for this blog not to become just another web statistic, and me not to become further out of touch with what most of the people in the country are actually listening to, I’m gonna revive this here project with this week’s #1: “Yeah!” by Usher, featuring Lil’ Jon and Ludacris. Though the last thing I wrote about was by Lil’ Jon (“Get Low”), I really don’t remember all too much about it except what I wrote about (and, obviously, the “to the window… to the wall” hook).

Like “Get Low,” “Yeah” doesn’t have a verse/chorus/verse structure. Instead, it has what I’ve started unconsciously referring to as a “performative” structure. And though that’s a fucking pretentious term, I’m not sure how else to describe it. There is a catchy-ass repeating element in the tune, of course, but it’s not a vocal hook or a chorus or any of that — it’s this little three or four note synth figure that never quite lands the way I expect it to. Everything is organized on top of that, which is to say: Usher’s performance, as well as the guest appearances from Lil’ Jon and Ludacris. And since the different sections of the song by the different performers are all drastically varied in terms of rhythm and melody, it is that keyboard riff that ties everything together and guides the song from part to part.

The track begins with a quick shout-out to A-town (a “news” element that either serves to ground the song as part of reality or a hint that this is the beginning of a performance), and then what I figure is Usher’s vocal: a soulful/”soulful” vocal with a heaping helping of vibratto. Production-wise, there are high-pitched stereo-panned chimes. The vocal melody dives around the keyboard loop, which literally repeats until the end of the song. The second verse is marked by the introduction of a counterpoint on a synth flute. (I’m guessing the gruff vocals are Lil’ Jon.) The third verse, a solo by Usher (I think) is impassioned, with a different, sweet harmonized call-and-response.

The keyboard loop is really quite liberating, structurally. It repeats endlessly. Stupidly. At least, that is, until one thinks about it. Having it there for the entire song allows practically every other element of the song to change — different vocal arrangements, for example (multiple voices emphasizing different phrases in each verse), the different singers, etc.. It allows the tune to sustain a lot of different work.

Of the different sections, I think Ludacris’s is my favorite, because he pushes the hardest against the keyboard loop. (At least, I’m assuming it’s his, based on the identification.) There’s a nice atmospheric shift right before he starts singing. Not sure how, since there’s no real change in the production. It all hinges on the line “gimmie the rhythm,” where he crams about a billion syllables into one breath, and – for that second – the possibilities seem limitless, but the song quickly snaps back into line, and something that sounds like a chorus, even though I don’t retain a note of it when the song ends. Besides this middle part (the Moment of Being for the tune, maybe?), the track doesn’t excite me all too much.