[In the past, I've written short blurbs for each of the year's 100 Songs. Some of these "short blurbs" were actually thousands of words long, but you get the idea. This year, sadly, I didn't have time to do that. But I still have a lot to say about almost all of these songs. So I'm just going to start writing. This is one of a still-undetermined number of essays. Maybe I'll find something to say about all 100 Songs. Maybe there will just be a handful of these. I'll try to write one every day, but I make no promises. Also, they will be in no real order. In case it gets buried, the original 100 Songs for 2011 post, with links, can be found here.]
(89) AraabMuzik - "Streetz Tonight"
I've always listened to hip hop for the beats. This is kind of a false dichotomy, of course. Every song is a synthesis of music and lyrics. A great beat can never be totally divorced from the words laid over it. However, I'm always more than willing to put up with subpar verses if they come with incredible production. (This is why I frequently listen to Cam'ron.) I'm very rarely willing to put up with terrible beats in the interest of great lyrics. (This is why I never listen to Nas.)
This could be a product of timing. My formative hip-hop years (early-2000s) were a golden age of superstar producers: Neptunes, Kanye West, Timbaland. As such, I have no problem referring to producers as "artists" (or even more directly, "musicians"). I'm hesitant to say the same thing about rappers. I don't own any of Tupac's poetry books.
Maybe I'm in the minority here, I don't know. But if the producers are the true engines of creativity in hip hop, it seems bizarre that so much of their artistic legacy is at the mercy of rappers. If Just Blaze creates the greatest beat in the history of the world, it won't even see the light of day unless Jay-Z deems it worthy of inclusion on The Blueprint, Volume 6. The biggest names can turn the tables (i.e. Timbaland can put out his own album, choosing which rappers appear on which tracks) but I'm still surprised that more hip hop producers don't venture out into more esoteric musical territory in the name of artistic freedom. As an artist, it has to drive you crazy that the only thing standing between you and superstardom is your ability to convince a record label that your work would be the perfect canvas for Rick Ross to say the word "boss" two hundred times.
Certainly superstar producers have been able to transcend. The Neptunes went rock with N.E.R.D. Kanye West went R&B with 808s and Heartbreak. However, before 2011, it was nearly impossible for lesser-known producers to cross over. In this respect, the year was a breakthrough. As this trend was largely fueled by Pitchfork, Spin, and a host of music blogs, it would be easy to dismiss it as white kids latching on to a less intimidating subset of hip hop culture, but that's unfair to the music. At the forefront of this movement were Clams Casino and AraabMuzik.
AraabMuzik comes from the Diplomats' stable of beatmakers, probably best known for hard, angry tracks like The Diplomats' "Salute" and Cam'ron's "Get It In Ohio." So it's confusing that he apparently wants to make cheesy Euro-dance music, but whatever. As Pitchfork explains:
It's tough to imagine the tracks on Electronic Dream getting any play in any dance club in the world, and it's virtually impossible to picture anyone rapping over them. Instead, this album is a genre unto itself-- ominous future shit that creates an atmosphere but never bleeds into the background. Araab's snare-hits resonate like eye-punches, and his drum-programming is pure, unrelenting rap shit. But he's applying that sensibility to songs where the melodies shine even when Araab's using a screaming sound effect as part of the rhythm track. The end result is a truly weird little album-- something at once anxious and euphoric.I can tell you what Cam'ron's flow is going to sound like in five years. I've got a pretty good guess regarding the subject matter on Ludacris' next record. I would bet that Jay-Z still has more to say about really nice watches.
But I don't know where AraabMuzik is going. And I'm excited about that.