Rock wit' it, Roll wit' it: Screw Rock 'n' Roll Top 69 Singles of 2006, Nos. 1-5
I got my ballot for the '07 Pazz and Jop a week ago, so I'd say it's time to put this thing to bed. Relief.
As has been well documented and discussed, Juvenile takes aim at the right wing ("Fuck Fox News, I don't listen to y'all ass"; the Bush and Cheney masks in the video), and they're as well deserved as the swipes at the left (New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin). But what is most politically potent about "Get Ya Hustle On" is its depiction of the destruction and abandonment of New Orleans post-Katrina. Juvenile achieves this with the cold nihilism of his lyrics, and his brutal solution to government failure, but XL's beat is just as effective.
The song starts with a ticking keyboard line that will recur throughout the track. It's reminiscent of that familiar melody that underpine the opening of the Triggaman beat that underpins New Orleans' native strain of hip hop, bounce music. But where Triggaman is lively, "Get Ya Hustle On" is chilling and empty. Before FEMA abandoned NOLA, the city, however crime-ridden and poor, was known for its hedonistic partying, and bounce reflected that. "Get Ya Hustle On," is an inverted celebration playing for a ghost town. In lieu of lewd sex chants, it has only ruthless profiteering: "We take the pyrex, and then we rock wit' it, roll wit' it.
Now that we're getting to the end of the list, some of these blurbs may be getting a little cursory. That's because with so many of these songs, I've already written elsewhere, over and over again, about how great they are. I blurbed "Chips Ahoy!" for Stylus' Top 50 Singles list last year, so that gives a more contemporary look at the song, albeit one that's a little brief.
This was the Hold Steady's most obvious single to date when it was released (apart from "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," and perhaps still is. It's also a fantastically enjoyable song, not only for the riffing, but also for the concept. Craig Finn's lyrics are always great, but his little dive into X-Files territory is extra neat. The idea is, you see, that his girlfriend has a clairvoyant ability to pick the horses, which allows him and his buddies to get loaded all the fucking time. The twist is that he still has relationship anxieties, even with loads of weed and booze. Which, uh, also applies to a lot of Hold Steady tracks that don't feature psychic girlfriends.
The problem, and the genius, inherent in this song, is that everything that makes it great is contained in the paragraph above, and all of that can be gleaned from your first listen to the song. If you can't see how this isn't incredible, there's nothing I can do. I'm sorry.
It's a lof of Southern rappers talking about Cadillacs, which isn't particularly unusual. The beat, though, is something special; a dark, buzzing creeper that sounds like an expensive car rolling menacingly down dark, deserted city streets. This is the sort of thing that suits Trae perfectly. He almost always sounds gloomy anyway, and with this kind of beat, he sounds almost properly pissed off that he owns a Cadillac. With guest verses from Paul Wall, back when was still making raps worth shit, and absolutely stellar efforts from the guys from Triple 6, it's absolutely fantastic. I wrote about this record over at the Funky Funky 7 last year, and I summed up what gets to me about this song pretty well, I think. It's basically a really great Houston posse cut, and posse cuts are almost always great. This is one of Houston's best ever. No exaggeration.
The thing about TV On The Radio is that writing about the band, like writing erotic fiction, is a sure route to producing mortifying pap; for some reason no writer I have read has been able to successfully capture the magnificence of this record, and I’ve seen a good many talented scribes fail. Chris Dahlen at Pitchfork, for instance, managed OK while he wasn't directly addressing the sound of the album, but when he tried to describe it, he can only approcimate a sample as "a bellow like the sound of a sad elephant, which fits right in with the defeated verse." And this isn't a bash-Pitchfork rant; my attempt at capturing "Wolf Like Me," for the Singles Jukebox, was not much better:
Managing to be big and excitable and yet twitchy and withdrawn all at the same time, “Wolf Like Me” bristles with some unstated menace. The drums rush along gripped tight to the edge of a brittle buzzing guitar, which rockets through some lonely abyss like a frenetic ghost train, little flashes of melody blinking like distant signal lights, flickering out before they can properly be focused on. A horn honks at harmonies and twitchy guitar swipes before the whole mess blows like it’s been blasted out into an abyss. Simultaneously terrifying and unreal, a dream that might not even be a dream, it rattles along relentlessly, too fast, unstoppable, disorienting, some wild-eyed monster not even alive or dead.
I’ll avoid further failure by saying nothing more than “Wolf Like Me,” while described by seemingly all and sundry as seductive and sexy, seems to me to me to be unhinged and terrifying. Please don’t unleash Freud on me.
Pop music doesn’t fit into a narrative very easily, but because I write about it, I like to pretend it does. That’s why every December when I choose the song to honor as my number one single of the year, I look for a track that not only represents my favorite piece of music from the past twelve months, but one that can also bear the burden of summing up the entire annum in its four minutes. That’s why I awarded my ever-so-important gold medal to Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’” in 2005 (the ascent of Houston as mainstream rap force), to Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” in 2004 (indie rock asserting some small domination over the mainstream charts) and Outkast’s “Hey Ya” in 2003 (irresistible pop winning over everyone’s hearts, no matter what they're preferences might usually tilt toward.)
2006’s best single was T.I.’s “What You Know,” which rather derails the thematic neatness of my choices over the past few years, but, hey, — what can I do? “What You Know,” announced itself as the year’s best with its opening synth blast, an indolent fanfare ushering in a King who no longer required the words “self-appointed” to precede his regal title. There were artists who deserved to be mentioned alongside T.I. in my imaginary VH1 special, Best Year Ever: Music Geek, but none could quite claim his monarchical position. Lil’ Wayne excelled with a near absurd application to his craft, the Hold Steady schooled the entire world on how to do right what no one else was doing at all and Justin Timberlake confirmed his longevity by simultaneously begging for attention and miraculously deserving it, like a kid urging his parents to “Watch me dive,’ and then pulling off a gracious backward somersault pike, or whatever diving stans think is worthy of applause. T.I. wasn’t necessarily better than these guys, but he alone could claim his title with little more than divine right. “Key by the three, when I chirp shawty chirp back, Louis knapsack where I’m holding all the work at”? Put the crown on him. “Fresh out the jet to the ‘jects where the Gs at”? If only for those few minutes, opposing Tip Harris’ reign was tantamount to opposing the natural order of the universe.
In 2006 music was more about beautiful songs and unforgettable moments than fertile scenes and zeitgeist shifts, and perhaps it is fitting that the year’s best song should be “What You Know.” If the year was crippled by unproductive scenes and stars, then nothing could be more typical of its redemption than a fantastic single. The year was flooded with them, and T.I. was behind the best. He fell off some in '07, though not as badly as the majority of critics would have you believe (a good half of T.I. vs T.I.P. is worth keeping, and there's still his contribution to "We Taking Over"). But that's 2007. In 2006, T.I. was flawless.
Labels: Top 69 Singles 2006