Bwog goes downloading, deconstructs
Written by Bwog Staff
Akon has two new singles out and three still on the charts. Bwog music critic Bryan Mochizuki asks what, exactly, he’s giving us.
I wrote a much longer piece for this week on Akon, Einstein, populism, and “Smack That.” But it topped out at like 1,754 words, which I think is around 1,752 more than anyone else cares about the topic. Here’s the gist: if you’re passing up on Akon because you can’t stand “Smack That” or “I Wanna Fuck You,” understand that’s not really Akon. It’s an imbecilic, over-sexed distillation that’s entirely contrary to his true nature. The only similarity is that both Akon and Bizarro are catchy as fuck—fine for filling MTV troughs, but there’s not much to them besides the catchiness.
Take a pretty archetypal radio jam – Beyonce’s “Irreplacable.” Hate it or love it, you know (or you think you know) a hell of a lot about Beyonce after just three-and-a-half minutes. “Smack That”? Not really happening. I can’t know for sure, but I’m 99% positive that Akon did this on purpose, especially considering the agency that comes with owning his label and being his own go-to songwriter and producer. He knew collaborations with Snoop and Eminem would guarantee him mad sales. And he knew if he made these songs clownish, atypical, and bereft enough, not only would they not reflect badly on the rest of the album, they’d make his typical swagger look extraordinary…
So now his third single is “Don’t Matter,” a goofily saccharine “us against the world” ditty that tingles with old-school vibe. On the heels of “I Wanna Fuck You,” it sounds like the most sincere shit ever written. The juxtaposition takes it from an “aww” track to “that’s fucking ADORABLE and I don’t even use that word!” And consequently, the super chintzy video doesn’t seem chintzy whatsoever. Akon? More like A-MERLIN son! I’m making bad jokes and it seems entirely ok because I’m listening to “Don’t Matter.” This song is not that good. But it is.
This track from his latest album will likely never be a single in the U.S. Thus – following the above logic that Akon’s not compelling when it really counts and is compelling when it doesn’t – “Mama Africa” is ten times more interesting than even “Don’t Matter.” He’s working much more on his turf here, synthesizing all the different parts of his persona into a song that I can’t see anyone but Akon doing. A good two-thirds of his work is autobiographical. Most songs, however, focus either on his life as a drug dealer/car thief or his time in prison, rarely touching on his childhood in both Senegal and the States. The tracks that do– “Mama Africa” and “Journey” – are arguably his richest. It’s not that the content of these songs is terribly revelatory, but rather that, for once, he writes, sings, and produces without any pretense or artifice. “Mama Africa” is not Akon trying to fit a radio mold or doing what is expected of him or getting half-a-mil from Gwen Stefani. He’s doing it because he wants to, and because he can.
This song has been huge in Miami for the last three months and working its way north. On paper, it’s run-of-the-mill – four of the biggest rappers having a pissing contest with an Akon chorus in the middle. Akon’s actually the best thing here. His entrance into the song is breathtaking – on the 19th listen, “If you want to, we can supply you” is perhaps the only thing still interesting about the vocals.
But what makes you keep listening to the 19th time – and the reason it’s getting obnoxious amounts of Cadillac play – is the beat, produced by Timbaland protégé Danjahandz. For one, it’s 111 beats per minute – by comparison, most rap songs these days are somewhere between 75 and 90. On top of that, it’s unrelentingly meaty and not-a-little psychotic. Throw that under Akon’s subliminally druggy grandstanding and you’ve got the Shawne Merriman of rap singles. You’ve heard Danjahandz before – besides co-producing last year’s blockbuster projects from J.T. and Nelly Furtado (including the primary production on “My Love”), his most ubiquitous sound might be the simple but endlessly effective drums on Fergie’s “London Bridge.” I could point to 10 or 15 of his other stunning rookie productions, but he’s already done it here.
Finally, I bring up this song because of the video for “We Taking Over” that some kids did for a church lipsync project. Yeah, I know, YouTube videos of kids singing pop songs are about as played-out as hot-tub boozing on the Real World (or everything on the Real World). But this one just resurrects the whole game—it’s a full-length, thoroughly edited rap video, with equal parts intentional and accidental comedy. Take, for example, the rotating Donovan McNabb jersey, or “T.I.” rapping on top of a shed. “DJ Khaled” is so good that he gets to come back and play “Rick Ross” (in front of his parents’ Benz, no less). Fat Joe has a bowl cut. Jeff Tweedy raps Birdman’s part.
The song’s real video came out yesterday and it’s almost as fun as the kid’s version. Each rapper helps DJ Khaled escape, um, whoever. First, some masked men kidnap him in an ice-cream truck and then – Gene Parmesan! – it’s really T.I. Then Rick Ross shows him how to parallel park and Fat Joe takes him sailing. So where does he rendezvous with Birdman and Lil’ Wayne? A church, just like in the video by the Donovan McNabbs (the shots are pretty similar also). It’s too ridiculous to think that, two weeks ago, Khaled decided to change the entire final act after seeing his young doppelgangers’ rendition. But then again, crazier shit has happened.