20060329

Barney Rubble With the Top Popped

T.I.: King Back
T.I.: What You Know
T.I.: Get It
King

Any asshole with a keyboard and two dicks to type with can walk you through "What You Know" and the regal horns big sound "alas, T.I. is the king," etc. Which is frustrating to an extent. "Know" does what every pro white rap consumer loathes: Turns regular white non-consumers into huge rap fans because it's that good, and everybody knows it, and no matter how little or much backreading, slumming in the ATL blogs or taking pictures of rappers at car conferences, "What You Know" just is better than anything either party's heard for a while. Yeah, my money's on Stack Bundles too.

Let's go beyond the OMGs though: great production, but it's Tip's flow that makes "Know" work. He's steady, long, and wide--never "spits" the words, never has to, as he's merely the mouthpiece for something greater coursing him. What do you know about that? Getting romantic, sorry. But it's like what Jameson Marvin said about good choral singing back in my glee club days: Keep the breath going, the mouth merely shapes the air. You get the visual in the "Know" video, T.I.'s mouth stuck in that half figure-eight snarl, minimal lip/jaw movements. It's not just a look--it's a look with actual repercussions (i.e. not just a look).

Not to ruin a good thing, but there are decisions T.I.'s making w/r/t word choice that keeps his flow so uninterrupted. Unwitting or not--who cares--and this ain't too scientific an inquiry, just some things I've noticed, and please take issue if things get wack. T.I. avoids a lot of sounds that stop the air: Bs, Ds, Ms, Ps, Ts, Zs (which are TSs). When he does have to use them, he gets them out of the way quick, hangs on the vowels, which separates him from the H-Town clowns who power through consonants, gravel in the mouth, etc. That he rhymes "king back" with "lean back," holding that short "i" as long as lean's diphthong, speaks to the liberty he takes with vowels, though he's not obnoxious about it--compare the way Kanye drops the ends of words so sloppy, as if he's cheating or something when rapping "years" with "his" on "Golddigger."

First lines:

The first line of "King Back" is, as Standard Written English, not particularly pleasant-sounding, esp. with that run of six short vowels in the middle: "Who knew you could fit on your wrist a whole pound of diamonds." Not the best example, but watch how T.I. works it, smoothes it out, elongates: "Who knew you coo fee on ya wris-ta whole poun-da di-mons."

"Know" does subtler, beyond the typical fast/slow, shout/quiet, DMX/not-DMX choices emcees make for deliveries. "See me in ya city sittin pretty kno I'm shining dawg/ Ridin wid a couple Latin broads and a china doll," goes the first line; though T.I. changes up the rhythm on the next line to something faster, he picks that "aw" off "dawg" and "broad" and "doll"-- maybe the most natural, unconscious sound humans can muster (we make it we sigh and yawn)--and that sound gives the line its float: "And you kno how we ball (Ay)/ Ridin in shiny cars (Ay)/ Walk in designer malls (Ay)/ Buy everything we saw."

"Get It" is also worth paying attention to. It's Jack Swagger's big number, so I'll let him wax on the specifics whenever he gets to it (soon, Jack?). This being the party track, Tip's more willing to annunciate his percussives, really bang them out, spit them uh-huh. "GET" "IT" is defiantly two different words the way they're pronounced here, contrasted with the song's much looser fast-raps ("got that guacamole holy moly you don't know me"). Notice too Swizz Beats throws the mids up really high, there's no bass or treble on his voice, which softens the grate, demands replay in the way, say, Mu's "Chair Girl" cannot.

As this is a half-assed linguistic inquiry into three of the year's best songs, do any of you know of similar, for similar? I'm wondering why we (or just I?) separate flow and timbre and word choice so much, except when it's really obvious there's a connection. The whole process scares me either way--potentially dehumanizing, demystifying, overly reductive--but seems like another trick to keep up our sleeves.