Friday, February 5, 2010

Terrible song, great rap

If you are a collossal hit-making R&B superstar like Mariah Carey, you will sometimes find yourself with a song that needs a bit in the middle. The problem is that middle bits are really hard to write. You have to introduce a new melody, deliver a cunning lyrical twist, or develop an existing musical motif in an unexpected way. And then you have to resolve that modulation by coming crashing back to the chorus for an epic finish.

Such a mammoth task can derail even an accomplished songwriter - the syncopated orchestral phrases that appear out of nowhere in The Beach Boys' God Only Knows are mystifyingly bad, for example.

So what are the Mariahs of this world do? In the "olden days" you could get away with a blistering axe solo, or a massive freak-out on the drums. Those things are considered passé now, so in their place we have the laziest idea of all time: the guest rap.

On occasion, this can be a great thing: Kanye blabbing on about Ribena and "Lan-dan blokes" like he's Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is a fantastic addition to Estelle's American Boy. At other times, a rapper will fill up the required 16 bars with some old nonsense about his "massive gun" and excuse himself politely, with little or no impact (hello, Busta Rhymes).

But what happens if the rap turns out to be better than the song its part of?

This is, sadly, what has happened to Mariah on her latest single - Up Out Of My Face. It is a complete disaster until we hear from up-and-coming Motown signing Nicki Minaj (that's her above, telling you how many donuts she'd like you fetch from the shops).

She sounds deranged. She looks deranged. Her rhymes are deranged... and clever, and sharp, and funny. She totally upstages the megastar standing next to her.

Well done.

Up Out My Face

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