Friday, August 28, 2009

#125. 'Gon' start again where it started at'

DJ Quik & Kurupt "9 Xs Outta 10"

I'm a bit hesitant to put a lot of very recent singles on this list because by their very nature I have less history with them. In time I may realize that "Daniel" is the definitive Bat for Lashes single but as of right now I don't have the same perspective on it that I have on "What's a Girl to Do?" since the former has only been on my radar for a few months as compared to the year and half I've had to parse the latter. I'm sure that if I revisit this list in a few years there will be quite a few instances where I'll tip my had towards a later single for a given artist or displace other entries with some 2009 singles that I just haven't quite had the time to fully appreciate, but for now there's a heavy tilt towards earlier material. There are three singles from 2009 on the list, and one of them is even in the upper reaches of it, simply because they represent those moments when a song comes out that manages to completely floor me.

Of course the problem with songs like that is that an instant pleasure isn't necessarily indicative of a long-lasting favorite. I can't begin to count the number of singles I heard once and fell hard for only to get completely sick of after a while, songs I would have easily filed away for this list after a few listens only to completely forget about after a few months or songs that seemed great at first but slowly revealed themselves to be much less upon closer inspection. The preference this list shows towards older material is also a preference towards material with a degree of longevity, songs that I have no doubt I can put on 10 years down the road and still adore on some level even if that level is only nostalgia. I can't be sure of that with a song I've only had in my sights for a few months, so I tend to err on the side of caution as far as those go.

Of the three 2009 singles that grace this list, "9 Xs Outta 10" is the newest, but it's also the one I have the most hope for the longevity of. I won't divulge the identities of the other two, but I will say that the thing that sets "9 Xs Outta 0" apart from them is the sense of mystery within it. Every time I listen to it, which has been quite a lot since I first came across it a few months ago, it always seems like there's more to it than I've heard so far, like a part of it is slowly revealing itself with each subsequent listen but never quite getting all the way there if that makes sense. The song is so brief and ends so abruptly that it could feel like a case of building up to something that never quite arrives, but it's all there and it's endlessly fascinating.

The key is, like "Crabbuckit" (but on the exact opposite end of the spectrum sonically) it's such a unique sound compared to most rap these days. The beat is jagged and minimal, but not in the inane snap music sense, and Kurupt's rapping matches both qualities. In short, it's miles removed from the smooth, glossy hip-hop that worms its way into public consciousness and it's also miles removed from the type of independent hip-hop that gets good notices from critics. It occupies an odd middle ground that's too harsh for either camp, and as such it's one of the most unprecedented singles in the genre, hell in general, that I've come across.

The key here is the interaction between Quik's beat and Kurupt's rapping. Other tracks may have stronger lyrics and better production, but it's rare to find a track where the two elements are so wickedly interwoven. Kurupt navigates through the thumping drum pattern Quik lays down so fluidly that the two facets of the track sound more like a cohesive unit than two different things. It helps that the beat is so minimal in construction, just a drum loop with a chopped up opera vocal sample thrown in later, that Kurupt doesn't have a lot to weave around, but the beat is easily the focal point of the song too. The drum loop just sounds huge, so heavily reverbed that the spaces between the beats are still thick with the remnants of the beat before. It's the key rule of minimalism, that the space between notes is as important as the notes themselves, deconstructed so that the space is so thick with reverberation that it's more the illusion of space than actual space. Then the opera sample gets laid on top and it's so meticulously chopped up that it sounds less like a human voice than an aural approximation of a strobe light. It's a transfixing beat, one that would threaten to overtake any MC that happened to rap over it.

Luckily Kurupt is up to the challenge here. I'm not too familiar with his previous work, but if he's anywhere near as nimble and intense as he comes across here on his other stuff then you can bet I'll wind up loving it. It's another case where the words aren't nearly as important in content as they are in sound, and his heavy reliance on repetition and consonance throughout the verses compliments Quik's beat rather than trying to outshine it. Although Quik is halfway responsible for my favorite lyrical bit in the song, when he appears poised to take the next verse, gets one-and-a-half lines out and Kurupt just tersely cuts him off with a 'Stop' and moves back to the chorus. It works so well mainly Kurupt seems so coolly in control of the track that he doesn't need the help in the lyrics department.

Coming up tomorrow: Why Matchbox 20 aren't gonna make the list or how to make adult alternative that might actually pass for alternative.

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