Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Flowtation Device Prezentz: "Usual Suspects" by Rick Ro$$ ft. Nas (CUSSING, BIG SURPRISE)

In which the Flowtation Device comes to the controversial conclusion that NAS IS A BETTER RAPPER THAN RICK ROSS. OR maybe you already knew that without the FD's help. Indeed, any four-year-old could probably deliver the same verdict, provided we let them listen to Rick Ross CDs in the car, which we certainly DO NOT. So this particular aesthetic judgment is not particularly earth shattering, nor was the FD necessary to its derivation. BUT! Maybe the Flowtation Device can help to clarify WHY Nas is superior. Listen and we'll chat:

Truth is, Rick Ross is pretty good. And his CD! Deeper Than Rap should TOTALLY have made my '09 list, probably #3 or #4. (Adios, U2!) The first several songs hone to perfection a smooth variety of "yacht rap," based on conspicuous-consumption lyrics and perfectly placed sonic elements, that's as reassuring as reading the Zingerman's catalog. (Or another expensive catalog from which you dream of someday placing an order.)

But back to Mr. Ross. He's maybe a little stiff and doesn't attempt anything too outrageous, but he's certainly more authoritative than Soulja Boy, let alone the guys in Lonely Island, whose "I'm On a Boat" sprays Rick's whole block with a glock. His two verses here set up such regular rhyme patterns that you barely need the Flowtation Device to make them scan:

If you balling physics, nigga money never flow
Meaning every day I'm living tryna stay afloat
Coming from a BOSS, I can predict a double cross
Handlers managing money, they never come across

Of course I have to point out that he rhymes "cross" with "cross." There are worse crimes. For instance, there's fact that a bunch of his rhymes fall square on beat 4, which makes him sound like he's trying to run in lead shoes. But he's capable of changing things up on occasion, like with this swingin' syncopation from Verse 1:

*i'mTOO_COOL_FORlame / =dudes=thatRIDiCULE_ /

So, yeah, faint praise, but it's not like he's got no business doing what he's doing. As I said before, he knows how to make a great album and he's a talent magnet--as evidenced by the Nastradamic greatness of the middle verse, at 1:59.

If Ross sounds leaden, Nas's verse has more twists and swoops than Muhummad Ali flying around the ring. Here's the blow by blow:

*andSTILL_MYtalENTis / YETtoBEchalLENGED.HADno /
JET.WITHmyOWN_PIlot / *noBLASTingOFFbutFLEXing /
DjKHAled*myMOM_ / STRESSingCOLLege*.BUTmy /

Rhymes are EVERYwhere. Notice that "talent" and "challenged" start on offbeats, while all the others--"pilot," "Khaled," "college," "logic," "wallet"--start on the beat, but on DIFFERENT beats--4, 2, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. You can tell immediately that Nas commands his words enough to rhyme wherever he wants. Ross's regular rhyme patterns, on the other hand, make it seem like he HAD to put those rhymes on the final beats or else he'd get lost. His attitude is big enough that it doesn't undermine his authority too much (he's THE BOSS, after all), but next to him, Nas sounds like he's spiraling into the stratosphere. And it gets better:

*trySPITtingONaGREEN_ / TINTedACcord=.WHICHcould /
MEANaSENTenceUPnorth=. / WHEREtheHOMieWASbutBACKthen /

!!!!!! In case you missed it:


That virtuosic run of 29 syllables without a rest is a thrilling contrast to the shorter phrases that precede it. Listening to this verse is like listening to a Sonny Rollins solo heat up. When it starts out I'm thinking, "OK, I think I know what's going on here," I can follow the notes and the tune and everything, and then all of a sudden he's gone, and I have NO IDEA what's going on, and I love him even more. Not done yet; I believe Nas was talking about his wrists...

*wasNOTbev /
STANDonROOFtops=withTWO_ / GLOCKS_*.FIGurIN'how /
DOiTURNmyTIMberLANDSto / CROCS_*nowREPtiles=

I sheepishly admit that I don't understand why the Nazareth wants to turn his Timberlands to Crocs. Please explain this mystery to me, and then allow him to flabbergast you again:

was /
PLUStheMUScleTHATyouBRINGin' / ISnothINGtoMEifYOUthug /
GIN'andFAKEorSHAKEDon=cub / ANshoutOUTmyRICans*dealt /
WITHallOFyouGANGstasTOthe / ROUGHestJAMaiCANSandHAItians /

ANOTHER 29 syllables without a break, the strong ones on offbeats and the weak ones on strong beats, except in those cases that they're not. In this verse, Nas demonstrates his unique gift for creating an rhyme logic that doesn't fall into those cookie-cutter "sung-style" (Adam Krims holla!) patterns, patterns that are weaker MCs' bread and butter. This verse would be amazing in any context, but it leaves Rick Ross in the dust. One Youtube commenter wonders, "Why would Nas go on a song with this guy?" That's like asking, "Why would he want his dick to look huge?"

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