Ever since Fat Joe & the Terror Squad murdered the summer of 2004 with Lean Back, I’ve been a keen observer of what rapper puts the “summer on smash.” (The phrase comes from a Nas/Swizz Beatz collaboration off Nas’ new album.)
This summer appeared to be particularly enticing, as all of rap’s biggest names lined up to do battle. Such a competitive format reminded me of the NCAA Tournament. Within this analogy, Drake is a perennially strong performer that many people like, but few really love (Kansas), Jay-Z is a fading program living on past glories (Duke), and Kanye is a bitshitcrazy enigma that could implode or explode at any moment (Cincinnati c. 2003). [My favorite story from this era of Bearcat basketball occurred when the team’s center was arrested for punching a mounted police officer’s horse. Seriously, who punches a horse?]
In addition to these major programs, there were a host of young, upstart Wichita States and VCUs looking to pull off a shock upset (Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and Chief Keef). And finally, there was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who reminded me of Butler in the 2011 final. First half: on fire (Thrift Shop). Second half: CLANK!!! (Same Love).
Here are my Big Three rap songs that had this past summer on smash:
Lebron: m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar featuring MC Eiht. Lamar’s debut is quite the anomaly: it’s a rap album that you have to listen to start-to-finish to really enjoy. This is because the album possesses a continuous narrative about a day in the life of a Compton rapper (think: a mixture of Ice Cube’s Today was a Good Day and ‘Friday’). Clips from this narrative routinely pop up in Lamar’s songs. For example, in the chorus to m.A.A.d city, the line “Where yo’ Grandma stay?” is first uttered by the gangbanger who carjacks Lamar’s momma’s minivan. (And yes: that’s supposed to be funny. The ghetto narrative is very tongue-in-cheek.) m.A.A.d city also features one of the summer’s most memorable guest appearances by MC Eiht, who politely introduces himself within the line, “Wake your punk ass UP!”
D-Wade: Live For by The Weeknd featuring Drake. How did Drizzy’s hottest song of the summer end up on somebody else’s album? Drake fans will remember The Weeknd (a fellow Torontonian) from his guest appearance on Crew Love, during which he croons: “They be loving the crew/lovingthecrew/lovingthecrUUUUUUEWUUEW!” As for Drake’s own album, it pains me to say this but it’s kinda a snooze. The slow songs sound like Sade (ouch!) and the long songs remind me of an old SNL Weekend Update joke that Tina Fey directed towards another Canuck musician: “Hey Alanis, not everything you write in your diary is a song!”
Otherguy: On Sight by Kanye West. Yes, Black Skinhead and New Slaves are better songs, but I’m partial to this song because of its humorous lyrics. (Humor? [Gasp!] What’s THAT doing in a rap song?) For example, I love the line: “Soon as I pull up and park the Benz/We get this bitch shaking like Parkinsons,” as well as the insult about a hater’s wife who has “got more niggas off than Cochran.”
Flattop Cole: Control by Big Sean featuring Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica. How did the summer’s hottest song not get released? This song was supposed to appear on Big Sean’s album, but somehow it got axed due to “contractual issues.” After this happened, bits and pieces of the song blew up on the internet, especially Kendrick Lamar’s verse, in which he name drops some of the biggest names in the game and then vows: “I’m tryin’ to murder you niggas/Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas.” And the song doesn’t end there. The next verse is by Jay Electronica, who is famous for his 2009 song Exhibit C, in which he drops the single greatest name-check in the history of rap: “Call me Jay ElecHanukkah, Jay ElecYarmulke, Jay ElectRamadaan, Muhammad A’salaamaleium.” (Jeez, even the Beastie Boys weren’t clever enough to work the word ‘Yarmulke’ into one of their songs, and they were Jewish!)