Hip Hop/Rap Song: Too Legit to Quit
To me, the winner here is the track that is most authentic. I define authenticity as such:
1) Does the beat groove? Is it danceable (if applicable to the song)?
2) Are the vocals energetic enough to match the intensity of the instruments they are replacing?
3) Does the lead vocal communicate emotion and story? If it’s a rap, does it flow in a way that serves the lyrics and isn’t just a gimmick?
If all those things are in place, then we get to go a level deeper into arranging nuances and originality!
To call the winner, I’m going to address each track on these terms.
All of the Lights (Plaid Productions feat. The World)
Wait, didn’t this come out, like, 3 years ago?
Ok, the groove is sick. The toms are awesome, and the half time near the end was actually ahead of its time in a cappella when this came out. Everyone’s doing it now, but this was one of the first.
Energy/communication? I’ll give it a B. There are soooooo many people on this thing, and honestly it sounds like some went in harder than others. The hook is my favorite part – it has a fullness to it that some of the solo vocals lack. The raps are really solid but…
I think my biggest issue with this track is the thinness of the arrangement. It doesn’t grow in the way that I want it to in order to match the growing frustration in the rap’s narrative. As the narrator’s emotion rises, I want the backs to as well, and they sort of stay static.
The track definitely has its moments arrangement-wise. I love the Sonos section, and again the half time break is sick. The problem is – this tune is 5 minutes long, and I want more development to keep me engaged.
B.O.B (Fundamentally Sound)
Sweet intro mimicking the sirens, and one of the most original textures I’ve heard this year with the spitty “bms” (I’m not sure how else to describe it!).
Unfortunately everything after that is kind of average. The beat is solid, but I wish the sounds were fuller and more convincing. They sound a little too vocal for the style. Energy is good, but could be better – the choruses especially sound a little anemic. The rap starts strong, but starts to sound…out of breath as the song continues. Like it’s more about getting the words out and less about telling the story. Not bad, just not great.
Some of the quick textures in the arrangement are neat, but they’re really just passing moments of interest. The overall effect of the track is still just OK.
Carry Out (Eight Beat Measure)
The beat is just so sick. Really, I dare you to listen to this one and not dance. See? Can’t do it, can you?
I like this track a lot. Tons of energy, a great beat, and sounds to match the intensity of the original. Bonus points for an arrangement that evolves without being distracting. All awesome things.
The tune only comes up short for me in two ways. First, the lead just sounds too low in the soloist’s voice, which makes him sound awkward against the rest of the track, which just sits so perfectly. His pronunciation is a little too perfect at times as well (“company” becomes “com pan nee”).
Second, a small thing, but it happens a lot – the way the main backgrounds clip the word “out” in the chorus (“carry out,” “hear me out,” etc) drives me nuts! It sounds like chipmunks when is should sound baller!
Other than those two quibbles, I’m really into this track.
Gold Digger (feat. For The Love Of Money) (AcaBelles)
Probably the most original idea in the bunch. There’s a lot to like here!
Great energy and commitment in the vocals, right from beat one. The groove is good, but never quite fully clicks with the backs. There are lots of instances where the vocals are a little out with the drums (example – the bass/drum moment at 1:51 – the bass is way ahead of the drums on the back half of the measure). That’s my biggest obstacle to really just enjoying this track.
I have to tip my hat to how well the block vocals are sung. They have a great intensity to them that helps sell the track in a big way. And seriously, bonus points for the original direction. Just wish the groove was more settled.
I’m Coming Up (Remix) (Forte)
The only track that can give the AcaBelles a run for their money in the originality department (you know, because it’s an original. By a high school group. What!?).
Some of the best rapping of the nominees here, and a pretty cool, well written song to boot! The rapper stays on top of the flow, really communicating the story instead of being overwhelmed by the language.
The backgrounds sound a little young at times – sopranos in particular stick out a bit to me. Groove is good, but as with many of the other nominees, sometimes a bit unsettled. Gotta applaud the originality and craft of the writing, but overall the delivery of the song does miss some of the vocal maturity present in its competitors. It doesn’t quite have the same swagger.
Thrift Shop (The Exchange)
It’s fun, but it sounds more like a fun demo to me than a fully polished track. The vamp doesn’t groove as well as the original, and the rap is missing Macklemore’s laid back, bouncy tone (it works better in the moments where the original is more straight-ahead: the 2:26 “limited edition” line is sweet). All these things wouldn’t bug me as much if this track were more of a departure from the original. However, since it’s basically a transcription of the original track, I miss the things that I like so much in the real song.
I do dig the drum and bass sound, though I wish the drums were a little bigger at times. I’m also into the rapper’s tone (Jamal, I believe), I just wish the delivery was more relaxed in some places. Overall, it’s fun, it’s cool, but it doesn’t have the polish or energy that some of the other tracks do.
It’s a toughie, but I’m gonna call:
Winner: Carry Out (Eight Beat Measure)
Runner Up: Gold Digger (Feat. For the Love of Money) (AcaBelles)
For my money, Carry Out covers all the bases to sound authentic, plus I really like the way the arrangement develops. In this category, it’s really hard to argue with a rock-solid beat, and at its core that’s what Carry Out is all about!
Gold Digger comes up a little short in the groove department, but delivers big on the energy. Plus, you have to respect a fresh spin on a tune that still rings so true in the style.
I enjoyed all the nominees in this category, and I’m excited to hear vocal music inching over the divide toward a really legit club sound!