LIL’ WAYNE feat. ROBIN THICKE / “Shooter”
AllHipHop.com: With "Shooters," did you hear the original version by Thicke and just wanted to redo it? Lil' Wayne: Yeah, hell yeah. I heard it years ago, on his album. AllHipHop.com: Do you think that would surprise people, like, "[Wayne] listens to Thicke?" Lil' Wayne: F**k people. —From “Lil' Wayne: Boiling Point” by Bill HeinzelmanIf only, Wayne. If only. Despite his self-avowed anti-sociality, it’s obvious the youthful Mr. Carter does care about what people think. Later in the same interview, the interviewer asks Wayne why did he release “Grown Man,” a sound-a-like ‘love’ song (you gotta put the word ‘love’ in quotes…this is g-rap) as a single instead of the wild and intense future-funk of “Shooter.” Wayne answers: “Because, first of all, I am Lil' Wayne and you know me as Lil' Wayne. Whatever you come up with in your head when someone says Lil' Wayne, that's what comes up. Now, ‘Shooters,’ that's a good look, that's a real good look and I'm not saying we not going to do that. But it’s so far away.…” Right. In other words, “I’m bound by professional obligation to stick to the script.” Gotcha. This is the state of the modern music industry. Record company execs, A&R men and, yes, the artists themselves are so afraid of deviating from the top-of-the-chart norm, that even when the people obviously want that deviation, even when they’re practically begging for it, the record companies just won’t give it. Case in point: I never listen to commercial radio (OK, almost never), and yet, I’ve actually heard “Shooter” on the radio. In California. And it’s not even a single. Come on, Cash Money. Get with the program. Drop the “Shooter” single. Just do it. And make a video, while you’re at it. I’m imagining a bank robbery gone bad and lots and lots of guns. Just an idea. It’s not as if the acclaim isn’t out there. In a feature length rave, Tom Breihan of The Village Voice wrote:
There's a swaggering piano, Thicke singing ecstatically, everything coming back. And then more: sirens, horn-stabs, machine-guns drum-fills, almost-gospel backing vocals. And then it's over, four and a half minutes of classic-rock blissout; it's like Wayne had wandered into "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and suddenly, improbably figured out a way to make it twice as good. If it wasn't for all the cussing, my mom would like this.My Mom wouldn’t. Even if it wasn’t for all the cussing. Because Tom’s ebullience aside, “Shooter” is a crazed mix of rich boy heist-lust and New Orleans-style shit-talking. You can dress it up any way you want, just know what’s going on. Robin Thicke is the son of Alan Thicke (yes, that Alan Thicke) and “Shooter” (originally titled “Oh Shooter,” as in, ‘a tribute to’) was originally a track from Thicke’s all-but-aborted 2003 debut album A Beautiful World. If you like “Shooter,” don’t run out and buy Beautiful World unless you also like fairly whiny neo soul love songs, because that’s what the balance of Thicke’s disc delivers. Lil’ Wayne has being doing what he does here for years. The critics seemed newly stunned—there’s lots of talk about ‘when did he get this good’ and ‘wow, he learned how to flow all of a sudden,’ but Wayne has been writing some of the smartest, funniest and tightest verses coming out of New Orleans for quite a while now. Unfortunately for Wayne, a lot of his best verses are only available on hastily burned ‘mix’ CDs like the seemingly endless ‘Squad’ series from back in 2002 and ‘03. (Thanks, Tuta!) And unfortunately for me, a would-be Lil’ Wayne fan who’d rather not hear women denigrated and the Rolls Royce corporation celebrated and young black men murdered multiple times per song, the quality of Wayne’s subject matter rarely keeps pace with the quality of his volubility. You want truly bizarre? Do a Google search for Wayne and Thicke performing “Shooter” live on the Jay Leno Show. Nick Sylvester of pitchforkmedia.com called the performance “one of those black-and-white-to-technicolor moments after which, if you still don't believe in Wayne, you're just lying to yourself.” (http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/l/lil-wayne/tha-carter-ii.shtml) I don’t know, dude might be getting ahead of himself with that one. Because, as Nick also mentions: “music was playing, but you could probably hear a pin drop,” and it’s true. I’ve driven down Alameda in Burbank and seen Leno’s audience standing outside waiting for those free tickets. Believe me, if the people I’ve seen are representative of Leno’s crowd, they had no fricking idea what was going on. Watching that performance, I was reminded of some of the legendary artist-out-of-place moments like Jimi Hendrix opening for the Monkees circa 1967 or Prince opening for the Rolling Stones in 1980. It was Thicke rocking the young-Republican black-cashmere-sweater with-the-shirttails-showing look besides the diminutive Wayne in full-on gangsta/prep mode (meaning, Wayne tastefully layered the polka-dot hoodie over the wife beater…as opposed to going with the beater alone). Thicke, wailing sincerely and dropping to his knees at all the right moments. Wayne addressing the audience (sans irony) as “Ladies and Gentlemen” and ‘radio editing’ himself, replacing the phrase 'all bullets come out' with 'the best comes out.' (CBS broadcasts 80 different versions of the same gory crime drama every night during primetime but a 5’ 2” rapper can’t say “all bullets” on The Tonight Show? Huh?) Then, during the post-performance interview—. Yeah, right. Wayne and Thicke finished up and the credits rolled immediately. Believe that. In the end, I love this hip-hop record (Tha Carter II) specifically for the same reason I used to love hip-hop in general: it’s a patchwork of bass-heavy electro-funk cobbled together from disparate sources and infused with copious amounts of undiluted energy. The too-slow electro-bassline. The descending keyboard notes. The glittering guitar lines. Wayne’s gauntlet throwing: “To the radio stations, I’m tired of being patient / Stop being rapper racists, region-haters.” (But they can’t play it unless you release it, Wayne!) Thicke’s bizarre, stoned-out mumbling: “All these riches and all these switches / But ain’t no donuts around.” Even the helium-voiced mono-syllable that starts things off. It all counts. And it’s all good. —Mtume ya Salaam I don’t need to get shot...again The year was 1969. We had taken over Southern University in New Orleans. We had a fundraiser, a dance at some joint on St. Roch near Florida Walk. I remember I was by the front of the place. Smiling. Dancing. It was packed with SUNO students. The Commodors were laying down their funk hit, “Brickhouse.” One of the cats was questioning me about the relevance of the song. You got to remember this was a period when Curtis Mayfield and Marvin and Issac Hayes and on and on, were making music that had a big beat but also had a big meaning, even if it was coded, like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Anyway, I told the cat: your problem is you’re listening with this (pointing to my head) instead of with this (pointing to my feet). You got to listen to Lil Wayne with your feet, otherwise it don’t make no sense. Around ten years and a little more later, I was involved in a shooting. Took a .38 slug clean through my knee. I was fortunate. I still can walk. The bullet tore up a bunch of cartilege, but no bones were broken. I didn’t like being shot. When some of my students hear the tale (invariably it comes up because violence and gun shots come up a lot in our class discussions), the youngbloods take it as a validation that I’m a “real G from back in the day.” I tell them, no, I’m just a real lucky Black man, cause as they well know, aint nothing “G” about getting shot, regardless of how much Tupac and 50 Cent might refer to bullet scars as badges of honor and manliness. They see all the cats on the block rolling in wheel chairs. They got brothers, family, friends and acquaintances who are six feet under behind some shooting drama, or sometimes behind drive-bys and stray shots. I was in the military. I was trained in the use of weapons. A bunch of different weapons including a .45 automatic, which ain’t no easy weapon to use well, and the M-79 grenade launcher, which was my favorite weapon on which I qualified. I am not afraid of guns. Back in the SUNO days we were all armed. In fact, Mtume, when y'all were children we had weapons in the house. I say all the above to contextualize what I’m going to say next: the glorification of violence that Lil' Wayne and all his gangsta kin do is bullshit. We saw it and fought it in the Sixties and Seventies, it was especially apparent in Eldridge Cleaver’s bogus line about the lumpen proletariat being the revolutionary class. My view is that all classes have strengths and weaknesses, contradictions and contributions that they can make. No class has a permanent pass. Each class got some serious work to do. Lil' Wayne went to McMain High School. I teach at McMain. At the beginning of each school day there is a short video produced by McMain students; it’s called “McMain In The Morning.” They did a blast from the past the other day and featured a video clip of four students doing a musical skit. They called attention to one of the shortest munchkins. That was Lil' Wayne. Seems like the boy long time been wanting to be an entertainer. I believe Wayne’s smart enough to figure out how to entertain us with something besides bullshit. Read this interview with him. I understand digging the musicality of “Shooter,” but hip beats not withstanding (with that Stax guitar hook—damn, I can’t remember the name of that song), “Shooter” is not something I want to listen to. I do not intend to spend any of what little valuable time I have left on earth listening to music of this kind. But see when I was younger, I listened to a lot of bullshit because it had a hip beat and we could dance to it. I don’t think this gangsta bullshit ought to be censored. I am not advocating a boycott of it. I’m just saying, at this point in my life: it may be funky, it may be phat, but it’s not for me. —Kalamu ya Salaam It's a conundrum... It's a conundrum, Baba, it really is. I feel you on everything you say above, which is why I rarely listen to commercial radio in the first place. I don't like to put it strictly on the rappers though. Not Wayne specifically, and not hip-hoppers in general. Or even, commercial rappers in general. The glorification of guns and criminality permeates our culture from top to bottom. So too with rampant materialism and the almost total objectification of women. If we look at the issue frankly, we'll recognize these as American problems, not as problems that rappers in particular have created or are propagating. Then again, I saw Inside Man last night. It was a classic 'heist' film about an unusual bank robbery. Clive Owen, Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster starred with Spike Lee directing. Was it good? It goes almost without saying that it was. With that kind of talent on board, it should be. But it was also one of hundreds and hundreds of Hollywood movies that I've seen that make guns and shooting and 'the criminal lifestyle' look very, very cool. It's a standard conceit of Western cinema, frankly. And guess what? I'm not even in America at the moment! I caught Inside Man in a crowded multi-plex here in Hong Kong, China. So maybe this is more than just an American problem. Anyway, that said, I agree with nearly everything you had to say. And I do agree that there are specific, relevant issues that we (meaning Black males) need to address as per the epidemic-level gun violence in our society. Still, I posted "Shooter" because there's a lot more going on in the song than gun glorification. (And I don't just mean the funk of it.) Throughout the piece, there's a running metaphor of Wayne, as a Southerner, as a New Orleanian, as a Cash Money artist, 'sticking up' the rap industry to claim what's his. I like the metaphor, I dig his style and his flow and yes, the record is funky. But at the same time, what can I say other than 'I hear you.' —Mtume ya Salaam I hear you that you heard me You probably have no way to know, but did "Oh Shooter" exist before Wayne got hold to it. I suspect that it did and I also suspect that somebody thought that having a "real" thug drop a hot rap on top this funkly little heist fantasy would really be... well, Mtume, you know how these crossover concepts emerge from the smoke of a boardroom or control booth, somebody figuring out young Black thug and hip young White boy together would be, well, would be acceptable even on the Tonight show... anyway, what I'm really asking is: is this a song about Wayne's reality or is this another hustle in the guise of gangsta rap, or (more likely) is it both—a hustle with a heartfelt rap on it? What you think? And of course you are absolutely correct that it is a cultural problem endemic and intrinsic to modern capitalist cultural production, or, in other plainer words: ain't nothing sacred, everythings for sale; if it don't sell, it ain't shit. And yes, it is not simply a rap issue, but it is also true that hardcore gangsta rappers who insist that what they are doing is keeping it real, is simply singing about their lives, their hoods, the way it actually is around their way, well, they heighten the inherent contraction of pimping our people's pain in the name of controlling the man's game. Everybody knows that once you get rich, the average dude is not going to risk that wealth by doing dumb shit. Oh, wait a minute scratch that. I just thought about all the dumb shit gangstas do and continue to do... which, by the way, is no where near as dumb as some of the shit Bush has done. Now you talking about a real G, but that's another story... or is it? Maybe, Mtume, just like you say, and just like I believe, maybe this nightmare we're suffering is nothing but the reality of the America dream. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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