Jesse Jarnow

“tipsy” – j-kwon

#3 this week, #4 last week, 11 weeks on the chart
I’m constantly reminded how little I actually know about pop music — real pop music. It’s a natural inclination to reach for other songs to make comparisons. Context. But there’s so little I can reach for here. I wonder what year it escaped me. What would be the last chart one could put in front of me where I could hum a few bars of even 50% of the songs on there, or identify 75% of the bands? What decade would it even be in? My guess it that it happened sometime around 1992, which is about the year where I started making conscious decisions about what music I wanted to listen to (ironically via listening to Nirvana). That’s a 10-year blackout in my cultural memory, which is weird to think about. But it also makes me a relative blank slate when listening to these songs. Go figure. That’s kind of nice.

So, here we are with “Tipsy.” Or, more accurately, here I am with “Tipsy.” It’s by J-Kwon, a guy so new that the usually reliable All Music Guide is of no help. Arista’s website reveals that this is his debut single. His first full-length won’t even be out until next week, and this tune has been on the charts for almost three months already. Here it is at number three. That seems like a pretty well-timed promotional campaign. But, well, that’s the kind of cynicism I want to avoid. The song is here, someplace in the public consciousness, regardless of how it arrived. What is it doing?

Even before I read Arista’s marketing pitch about J-Kwon as a streetwise 17-year old, the song seemed to have split personalities. The verses of the tune are delivered in a sort of inward mumble, a kid walking down the street (or walking through a club) quietly rapping to himself, working on his flow. The vocals are tight-lipped, and – indeed – the lyrics serve this kind of delivery well, which seems like an internal monologue of sorts (“Now I’m in the back…”). The chorus, then, has J-Kwon (no guests here, even!) busting into a more open-throated delivery (“Everybody in the club get tipsy”) and one can imagine the shy kid suddenly on stage, or at the center of attention, and delivering the lyrics. There’s a video to this too, I suppose, which I probably now have to watch to see if that seemingly obvious version of the song is how they choose to portray it. I’ll check that out later.

The production on this is pretty fresh-sounding to my ears, though not hugely experimental. It’s all sterile synthesizers and beats. I imagine the whole beat carved in imperial grays and silvers, the sort of sharp shapes that might decorate the inside of the Empire State Building. It feels very electronic — like IDM stripped of all its self-qualifying pretensions. The music is very even throughout, and the structure is very simple verse/chorus/verse/chorus, etc.. The episodic structure definitely lends itself to the of guest appearances. It’s sort of natural for that. None of that here. I like it. It’s definitely a change for the ears. Okay, time to watch the video.