When Rappers Ruin Great Songs

From J. Cole's punchline on "Apparently" to Canibus' questionable diss, the line between greatness and trash bin can be razor thin.
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From J. Cole's punchline on "Apparently" to Canibus' questionable diss, the line between greatness and trash bin can be razor thin.

The song begins and it’s love at first note. The production is exquisite, the first verse gets better with every lyric, and then it happens. The dreaded "it." Something ruins the greatness. It could be a tasteless punchline, a horrible hook, an obnoxious feature, an annoying soundbite, what began as an incredible song decays and by the end, you’re almost dreading hearing it again. It rarely happens but it happens, and even our favorite artists have all delivered cringe-worthy moments in their music.

Nathan was raving about a song on the new Toro Y Moi album, one that he loves right up until the end, where a clip from the movie TheNotebook is used. In agony, he described how he’s considering just opening up Pro Tools and removing the clip to preserve a song he enjoys so much. It reminded me of all the songs that are tainted by tiny yet unbearable moments.

[Note from Nathan: True story. “Want” is a great song, but I can barely bring myself to press play knowing I’ll have to eventually endure a minute of Ryan Gosling crying at the end. Come on Toro, why would you do that? Why?]

I’ve been a fan of J. Cole since TheWarm Up. His catalog of music is full of excellent lyricism and records that prove why he’s one of the most acclaimed artists today. His catalog is also littered with plenty of lyrical gaffes. The second verse on “Apparently” is a perfect example, I’m so embarrassed for Cole when I hear “I’m hot, dog, catch up [ketchup] to me” that I now just skip the song entirely when I’m listening to 2014Forest Hills Drive. His verse of Jeremih’s “Planes” also completely ruined the song for me. The way he describes a girl giving him fellatio as a foot being in her mouth is the kind of imagery that will ruin your day. I just can’t stop picturing an entire foot...in someone’s mouth...I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

We all know Diddy isn’t your rapper’s rapper. He has charisma and a certain energy that naturally entertains and that makes him enjoyable despite rapping lyrics that are the equivalent of a flat soda. “Been Around The World” is one of those records that was supposed to be a fun single, something that will always exist in the summer time, it wasn’t meant to showcase any lyrical prowess. But that doesn’t change the fact the last line of his second verse is absolutely horrible. All of the ghostwriters that must have worked on that song and no one could do better than, “N*gga please, I’m the macaroni with the cheese”? It’s literally the kind of line a third-grader would write, and I can’t even hear it without getting angry.

Ab-Soul is the opposite, a rapper that I consider to be a wordsmith, which is why I was excited to see him featured on Acid Rap. I just knew in my soul that he would put the song “Smoke Again” in a body bag. You can only imagine how distraught I was when I first heard, “Let me put my mouth where you potty boo.” Just reading that line makes me upset all over again.

One song that I’ve always hated is Wale’s “Bad,” a sensual single that looks into relationships driven by lust and not love. Tiara Thomas kills the hook, I’m surprised she hasn’t appeared on more singles. The problem is the bed squeaking, it completely destroys the vibe. I didn’t mind when Lil Scrappy & Trillville used the sound in “Some Cut,” the song is filthy, raunchy, it should play at the beginning of every porn placed in the Ebony section. “Bad” isn’t in that class of debauchery, which is why the squeaking feels completely unnecessary. In its attempt to simulate sex it becomes instead a bed of gnats swarming around a pretty picnic. It could be the perfect place, with perfect weather, dining with the perfect person but those gnats will ruin the experience the way the bed squeaking ruins “Bad” for me.

“Second Round K.O.” is a tremendous record, Canibus is an emcee that you have to place in an elite class and his beef with LL will forever be remembered in hip-hop history. We will also always remember that he said, “You ain’t got the skills to eat a nigga ass like me.” In one line he turned a vicious diss into a never-ending joke. It doesn’t ruin the record, but it will be infamous for all the wrong reasons. Even the greatest of lyricists will slip on a horrible line or a terrible verse. 

It doesn’t take much to ruin a song, the line between regular rotation and trash bin can be razor thin, so what baffles me is how there’s no voice of reason in the room that will be the bearer of bad news. Someone should have been there to tell Rick Ross that putting that molly in her champagne glass without her knowledge isn’t a good idea, or that saying, “Trayvon Martin, I'm never missing my target” is asking for a press day from hell. And I know it's not exactly easy to tell JAY Z the verse he recorded for your album is terrible, but Drake really should have sent "Pound Cake" back to Hov. 

As listeners we all have a line in the sand that just can’t be crossed, whether that line is serious or petty, it’s a line. I enjoy most of Future’s DS2 album but the song “Slave Master” is one that I always skip. Even though I would love to croon “R.I.P A$AP Yams” every time I hear him say, “Jump out a new whip like slave master,” my line is crossed and I have to move on. As a listener, we all have a unique taste, pet peeves that will completely influence our music of choice. Maybe you love TheNotebook and the sample used in the Toro song will fill you with the same nostalgia as your favorite movie. Maybe you love the sound of a bed squeaking, it reminds you of the summer you had the best sex. Hopefully, a new car doesn’t make you feel like a slave master but hey, who am I to judge? It’s just the way of the world.

As long as there are artists making songs there will be artists fucking up songs, and we’ll be right there, ready to cringe.

By Yoh, aka Jansport Yoh, aka @Yoh31

Photo Credit: Instagram