Ranking the "A Milli" Freestyles
Goon to a goblin
I probably hear Bangladesh's hammering mantralike "A Milli" beat twenty times a day lately. "A Milli" has cruised to song-of-the-summer status in something like record time. In New York, it's inescapable, booming out of every car that has its radio up loud enough for me to hear it. And now it's supplanted "Roc Boys" as the song everyone raps over on mixtapes. Except I can't remember any song inspiring quite this many remixes; any rapper who hasn't done a verse over it is probably working on one. Wale even has a line on his new "Mr. Carter" freestyle about how he didn't want to rap over "A Milli" because it's become cliche. More importantly, these freestyles are turning out to be a real dividing line for a whole lot of rappers. Some of them sound totally grunty and out of it over this track, and others sound totally invigorated, ready to just annihilate the thing. And it's impossible to predict who's going to respond how. I really love Wayne's version, with its garbled free-associative nonsense and its demonic self-possession. But a few rappers come close to equalling Wayne's version, and one absolutely surpasses it. These freestyles are becoming like crack to me. Lately, I can't seem to make it through, like, the new Deerhunter album without stopping it and putting on some "A Milli" freestyle instead. So I thought I'd take a look at some of the more prominent freestyles and grade them in relation to Wayne's version. I'd been planning on writing this entry for a while, and today, Jozen Cummings at Vibe has an article where Bangladesh himself talks about all the different versions. But fuck it, I'm doing it anyway. (A freestyle I like exactly as much as Wayne's version would be 1.0 Wayne; one I like just slightly less is 0.9. I determine these things with total scientific rigor.)
Jay-Z. Just masterful. Jay sounds more alive on this than he's sounded since the fake retirement, more charged-up and delighted. (And he's done great work since that fake retirement, but he's done it while sounding bored.) He's all over this beat, bringing back the intermittent quicktongue thing he used to use on Timbaland beats. He keeps mentioning a billion, like it's a magic number, the number he dreams about now that he makes such ridiculous money that money is pretty much a theoretical thing anyway. (For the record, I'm guessing Jay is nowhere near billionaire status.) There's also a whole lot of twisty and vague political stuff: "Sean Carter, Sean Bell / What's the difference? Do tell / Fifty shots or fifty mil / Ain't no difference, go to hell." Obviously there's a few pretty substantial differences between fifty bullets and fifty million dollars. But Jay's idea here seems to be something like this: There's still massive racism and oppression in the world, problems that me being really really rich won't solve – but I am really rich. He follows that line up with this: "So brra, lick a shot for Barack Obama / Change gon' come or I'ma buy the whole hood llamas on me." And then there's this: "It takes a nation of millions to hold us back / But when your boy reach a billion it's a wrap / Off of rap? Yeah!" I love that yeah; he sounds like a little kid. 1.3 Wayne
Fabolous. Just like on Wayne's "Nothin' On Me," Fab's delivery here is so cold and matter-of-fact that it takes a minute to notice how goddam funny all his punchlines are. On the first verse, he rhymes every line with illi motherfuckers: "What's really the dilly with these silly motherfuckers / Bunch of fake-ass Milli Vanilli motherfuckers." And just about every line hits like that; my favorite punchline is this one: "You can be a vic if you get silly, motherfuckers." You can be a vic! That's really smart! He ends the verse with this: "I'm like Obama to these silly motherfuckers / And you niggas is Clinton, hillbilly motherfuckers." And then he explains the joke: "Nigga said you niggas is Clinton! Hillbilly motherfuckers! Hillary? Bill Cli... Fuck it. They don't get it." It's just an awesomely cocky way to end it. If the not-as-great second verse wasn't here, this would be 1.0 Wayne easy. 0.9 Wayne
Lil Mama. A couple of months before Tha Carter III came out, Wayne said that instead of skits, he'd have quick "A Milli" freestyles throughout the album from younger rappers like Cory Gunz and Hurricane Chris and Lil Mama. I liked that idea, even if one of the rappers Wayne named was the utterly detestable Tyga, but it never happened. Maybe it never happened because Lil Mama gave Wayne a six-minute freestyle and he just couldn't find room for it on the CD. I like Mama a lot, and she goes hard here, all precise and fired up. But I have no idea why she needed to keep going for six minutes. By the end, she stops making sense altogether, talking about going to the Carter Factory with Wayne. Still, this is incontestable proof that Lil Mama knows how to rap, something that some people still haven't figured out. 0.7 Wayne
Chris Brown. This kid's feeling pretty confident these days, huh? He actually raps here, the first time I've heard him try that, and he manages not to embarrass himself. Like most R&B singers, he's got this oddly prim and fussy delivery; you can hear exactly where each word starts and the next begins. On the version I've heard, all the cusswords are blurred out for some reason. I like this line: "A milli here and a million there / Selling out stadiums, million chairs." (This is a teenage R&B singer we're talking about here, so yeah, we're grading on a curve.) When he finally goes back to singing at the end, he sounds awesome. And he compares himself to Wayne and Jay-Z. You have to like his moxie. 0.7 Wayne
Cory Gunz and Jadakiss. Here's a weird one. Why are these two on this track together? They don't complement each other at all. The first version of "A Milli" I heard was the one with the really great fast-rap guest-verse from Cory. I was initially pretty pissed that he wasn't on the final version of the song, but now I'm glad that it's a full, uninterrupted immersion in Wayne's addled silliness. Cory still rips this beat to shreds, speeding in and out of the track in a yammering nasal blur. I'm still not sure how it happened that the weird-looking guy who did half of "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" had a kid and that kid is turning out to be a great rapper, but there it is. Jada, meanwhile, sounds totally lost and sleepy, delivering a whole lot of boring tough-talk and just barely staying on top of the beat. He can do so much better than this. Cory: 0.9 Wayne. Jada: 0.4 Wayne.
LL Cool J. Embarrassing. For some indefensible trendhumping reason, LL opted to deliver this whole freestyle through a T-Pain autotuner, which just sounds godawful. His punchlines all fall completely flat, but he still laughs at his own jokes. He rhymes with "get you killed" with "ly-ra-keel." And he spends the entire second half threatening bloggers who hate on him, which I guess means me: "They say I need to get my flows tighter / Pop you in the temple while you're typing, now you could be my ghostwriter." Stop worrying about blogs, LL! Stop it with the autotuner, too. That's so not you. You are not a child. 0.2 Wayne
Gillie Da Kid, Bump J, Meek Meel, & Peedi Crack. Nobody really sounds good here. Gillie gives a whole bunch of boring death-threats, and the claims that Wayne stole his style from that guy get less credible every day. Peedi, who I usually really like, totally loses me with the gross riff about how he used to be shit-brown but now he's money-green. The other two guys are squeaky and irritating. (It's pretty funy how Meek Meel says "bling-bling on my neck and wrist" even though the only thing on his neck or wrist in the video is a Lance Armstrong LiveStrong bracelet.) But the video for this one is just incredible, like one of those cheap Rik Cordero YouTube videos except with all these disturbing and surreal close-ups on fish and lobsters smoking blunts and chopping each other in half. They use real dead fish and lobsters, too, and they're all shiny and sickening. The whole thing is just unbelievably confusing. Why did all these random Philly rappers even make a video for their "A Milli" freestyle? And why is it such a headfuck? I've watched it like three times a day for the past couple of weeks, so somebody's doing something right. Everybody: 0.3 Wayne (but the video is like 1.6 Wayne)
Lil Wayne. Wednesday morning, when the insane and inspiring Carter III sales figures came out, Wayne came up with a new version. It's fun hearing him on his victory lap: "A million sold, first day I went gold / How do I celebrate? Work on Tha Carter 4." Pretty soon, he's back to his usual randomness ("I'm the dude from Reading Rainbow, but in Roots"). But this version doesn't have the nutso kamikaze sense of purpose that the original had. At one point, Wayne asks us if we can imagine Tha Carter 5. I can't. At all. I just hope he's alive and free long enough to make it. 0.7 Wayne
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