[Image via Instagram]
It was the summer before college, so my days consisted of bullshit shifts at Dominos during the day and trying to find a place to drink too much alcohol at night. This particular night the alcohol happened to be at a friend of a friend’s house. If that sounds obscure it’s because it was; I must have known two people there. As we walked down the stairs to the basement it looked like any other party, a bunch of guys playing beer pong, and a few girls here and there, but mostly guys. After the initial awkwardness, I found my corner to inconspicuously chill in, trying to avoid the dude whose house it was because he had passive aggressively joked about my attendance. They were running out of Natty Light, the pong waiting line looked like Ellis Island, and the music sucked, I was ready to leave.
“IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII CHOOOOOOOOOSEEEEEEEE I CHOOOOOSEEEEEE YOUUUUUU BABYYYY”
Suddenly I was stuck. What was that?
“My Bitch a choosy lover never fuck without a rubber”
Yo. Who is that? I listened intently and watched as the dude who had just given me a hard time about entering his house (he even made us take off our shoes) went nuts, rapping damn near every bar. For some reason the image of him rapping “never in the sheets like it on top of the covers” is burned into my brain. Too afraid to ask for the title of the song, I wrote it down in my flip phone and as soon as I got home I rushed to YouTube. I still see that kid from time to time and I always think about that moment, the moment I first heard “Int'l Players Anthem.”
Flash forward eight years. It’s a Friday night and I’m waiting in line for a burrito with a few drunk friends. I’m sober. The wait is long, as you would expect at 2 AM on a Friday in D.C., but the music is solid so I’m fine. Suddenly, I hear that same, ““IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII CHOOOOOOOOOSEEEEEEEE I CHOOOOOSEEEEEE YOUUUUUU BABYYYY” and instantly feel it in my soul. I’m the designated driver, but at that moment I’m intoxicated, rapping every single line with the accuracy of a brain surgeon. I’m getting a few weird stares, some admiring my command of the imaginary mic, but I couldn’t care less. It’s “Int'l Players Anthem” and I’m in the zone. I can see a few other people bounce their head, asking themselves, “Yo what is this?” I’d like to think they felt like I did eight years before. I thought about it for a moment, thought about how important this song had become to me, but then had to focus on nailing Big Boi’s verse, those last few lines always get me.
They say the best songs remind us of specific moments or people. It’s true, but there’s Meek Mill levels to it. Maybe this song reminds you of a summer, or that one ex-girl, but how often can you remember literally the exact moment you heard it? Those are the truly great songs, the ones where you can still smell the beer, hear the ping pong balls bouncing, feel the carpet on your shoelaces. The ones that compel a usually self-conscious rap nerd to give away all his fucks so he can rap the shit out of said song while waiting in line for a burrito. Eight years later that song still makes me feel some type of way. Eight million listens later it still puts a bounce in my step and a smile on my face.
I'm convinced, “Int'l Players Anthem” belongs in any discussion as one the greatest hip-hop songs ever made.
Now, the words “best” or “GOAT” or “greatest ever” get thrown around a lot these days, but they’re rarely meant literally. In the moment it may feel like the best, but that’s only because our memories are so short. There are so many songs, so many albums, so much subjectivity, proving something as the “best” is impossible. Still, that’s how much I love “Int’l Players Anthem,” how truly I believe in its greatness. I don’t know if I’ll be able to prove it’s the GOAT but I’m gonna to try.
I just spent close to one million words on the intro, digging into my emotional reaction to IPA because for a long time that’s the only way I appreciated it. I listened because it makes me happy, but never really paid much attention to the artistry. Listening, now, on a much more analytical, scholarly level, this song is much more than just a feel-good, fun-lovin' banger. This is rap artistry at its finest, a truly major moment in hip-hop history.
First, I’m a sample nerd. I love a great sample more than anything else, and from a sampling standpoint it’s exceptional. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of listening for samples, trying to hear what the producer would hear, and when I listen to Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You” I’m amazed. Most flips are one small section, a drum beat here, a riff there or maybe a stretched vocal chop. Juicy J and Paul took three different elements from the original, chopped them and pieced them together using an incredible drum beat as the glue. Of course you hear the “ooooooo,” and the “I choose you” vocal, but really listen to the horn section and how they change it as the song progresses. In the beginning it’s slowed down, but as the song hits its stride it changes and, around Bun B’s verse, you can hear it kind of double-chopped. Juicy and Paul took the horns and sped them up a bit, then chopped that stretched sample. The length and depth in which they took this sample is a production nerd’s dream; you can get lost in it. These dudes really unpacked Hutch’s classic and turned it into something original. It’s a blueprint for how sampling is supposed to be done, but this is too special, too advanced to be Sampling 101. Sure it knocks, but there is some very serious skill involved here and it’s helped me to better appreciate Juicy J and DJ Paul as producers. They’re both criminally under-appreciated.
Still, as great as the beat is, it’s just the start. Even by Andre 3000 standards, the 3 Stacks verse is exceptional. It’s a verse so great it doesn’t feel like a verse, more spoken word than rap, Andre’s lyrical flexibility at its finest. You also get Bun B and Pimp C at their most memorable, and an absolutely incredible Big Boi verse that laid the groundwork for every “don’t get a groupie pregnant” song to come after it. And furthermore, “Int'l Players Anthem” was one of the last times Outkast would appear together on the same track and, for a much more tragic reason, the same goes for UGK. Since then Outkast never released another album, though we'll always have the “Pink Matter Remix,” and though UGK released another album, it was done posthumously for Chad Butler. The Bryan Barber-directed video, which really deserves its own article, was one of the last times we would see both pairs together as a group, and they just so happened to be in the same room.
An UGK/Outkast/Three 6 collab is staggering when you think about it. I can’t think of another time three pairings, all of whom are remarkably important to their region and to hip-hop, came together to record. It really is a marvel. Here you have the group which popularized southern hip-hop, introducing many a hip-hop head to the South and the ones who originated the sound together on the same song, in the same video. In the moment, the community seemed to recognize its importance. Seeing Kanye give his BET Award away to UGK was great and the song’s GRAMMY nomination was an affirmation of all the incredible work UGK had done to legitimize Southern hip-hop; it’s a shame Pimp C wasn’t there to celebrate. This song is special, not just because of the charming video, the great sample, or because it’s fun to hear at parties. It’s special because it’s all of those things and it’s a rare, important, yet overlooked moment in hip-hop.
I’m not the gatekeeper of “great,” but I’ll take up the cause because somebody has to, “Int’l Player’s Anthem” deserves it. There are very few songs that can be both played at a wedding (rest assured this will be played at my wedding) and while some 18-year-old, white college kids are playing beer pong. There are very few songs that feature an incredible sample and two of the best rap duos of all time. There are very few records that make me feel as good as this one does, especially after as many spins as it has earned. In fact, there might just be one song that fits all those criteria. This song deserves its own documentary, extensive research, as many think pieces as the internet can write.
So you know what? I apologize if this message gets you down, even my partners are telling me to reconsider, read some literature on the subject. But fuck it, I’m sure.
“Int’l Player’s Anthem,” I choose you.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]