Wednesday, December 14, 2011

(87) The Roots - "Make My" (f/ Big K.R.I.T.)

[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.]

(87) The Roots - "Make My" (f/ Big K.R.I.T.)

There's a kind of catch-22 inherent in every new Roots song.

On the one hand, The Roots have worked for decades to cultivate a signature sound, and it's paid off.  Questlove's snare drum hits are one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in all of popular music.  After years of touring together, the band falls in behind Quest perfectly.  Black Thought has more experience handling the mic in front of a live band than any other emcee in the rap game.  The Roots function as a cohesive whole.  You couldn't just throw a guest verse from Snoop Dogg or Ludacris on a Roots album like you could with just about anybody else.  It wouldn't fit.  The Roots have to respect their own style.

On the other hand, that carefully cultivated sonic identity means there are familiar qualities the listener can expect in every new Roots song, which is a nice way of saying that sometimes all Roots songs sound the same.  They have to.  Making major changes in songwriting or instrumentation would undercut everything the band has stood for over the years.  You couldn't just throw a guest verse from Snoop Dogg or Ludacris on a Roots album like you could with just about anybody else.  It wouldn't fit.  The Roots have to respect their own style.

The sameness is the reason they should probably try something new.  The sameness is the reason they can't try something new.

"Make My" is a good song, but just about all Roots songs are "good" songs, as in not-great songs, consistently damned with faint praise.  What sets "Make My" apart, what inches it toward greatness, is the way Big K.R.I.T.'s guest verse splits the difference between the new and the familiar.

K.R.I.T. is reined in here, dread and remorse in his voice, far from the pointed boasts of "Country Shit" that made him blog-famous.  He's talking about Benzes and blunts, but he's talking about the karmic consequences of that lifestyle.  It's obvious he has a lot to say, but he's not trying to match the style and vocabulary of Black Thought (who will rhyme "pedantic" and "semantic" in the next verse).

Thought's style can become exhausting for the listener.  I'm sure he'd say that if you're not willing to put in the work necessary to keep up, then it's your loss, but music doesn't quite work like that.  As listeners, we need a break sometimes.  I don't mean some kind of catchphrase chorus or a verse that just rhymes letters and numbers with each other.  I mean something a little less cerebral once in a while.  Something like K.R.I.T.'s verse here.  By the time Black Thought jumps on the mic for the second verse, his style is already fresh again.  I'm looking forward to hearing him.  That's not always true with the Roots.

Big K.R.I.T. made the list last year, with the remix to "Hometown Hero," and I said:
Here’s a question that’s either really deep or really stupid, I honestly can’t tell:

The best things about this song are (1) the sample (Adele’s “Hometown Glory”); (2) the Friday Night Lights-quoting intro; and (3) Yelawolf’s incredible second verse.

I’m assuming Big K.R.I.T. didn’t make the beat. I’m assuming he didn’t write Yelawolf’s verse.

However, I’m also assuming he chose the beat, and that he chose to work with Yelawolf.

So, even though Big K.R.I.T.’s two verses are absolutely the two weak links in this song, the fact remains that this is a Big K.R.I.T. song on my Top 100 list.

Given those facts: Do I think Big K.R.I.T. is a good artist or not?
When it comes to backhanded compliments, it's hard to top telling an artist that his contributions are the worst parts of his own song.  This year, K.R.I.T. gets to be the best part of someone else's song.  The guy's got range.

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