I’m always interested in what Sasha Frere-Jones has to say about music, especially hip hop, as he has a great knack at being clear and concise in his overviews. I recently read his take on Lil Wayne’s single A Milli. That’s the link to the whole piece but here’s the relevant clip –
“Lil Wayneâ€™s â€œTha Carter IIIâ€ went double platinum in eight weeks. It is the biggest hip-hop album of the year, and will likely be one of the yearâ€™s biggest pop albums, too, in terms of both sales and cultural footprint. One indication of the albumâ€™s momentum and appeal is â€œA Milli,â€ currently the number six song on the Billboard Hot 100.
â€œTha Carter IIIâ€ selling a million copies in the first week was one thing; â€œA Milliâ€ becoming a pop hit is quite another. â€œA Milliâ€ is not a crossover song sweetened for the radio with borrowed hooks or easy melodies. The beat, by the producer Bangladesh, is both heavy and barely there, built from a sub-bass kick, a thin snare, and synthetic handclaps, none of which play at the same time. The song stops and starts, and never really builds up a head of steam. There is no chorus, and no melodic information beyond a loop that shouldnâ€™t work but does: a vocal sample from a 1990 single by a A Tribe Called Quest that never, ever stops. Though the words sound like â€œa milli, a milliâ€ repeated over and over, the sampled lyric may originally have been â€œa biddley-biddley,â€ a common opening gambit for MCs in Jamaican dancehall during the seventies and eighties. (Imagine a patois version of â€œCheck, 1, 2,â€ or â€œYo, yo.â€)”
The last time I fell for a minimal groove/beat was a few years back when Pharrell dropped “Can I Have It Like That,” a slyly, sexy yet monotonous beat that nonetheless bubbled along with a sprinkling of glitter on top provided by Gwen Stefani’s vocal additions. Lil’Wayne tears things down to the foundations compared to that one.