R&Behemoth. You like that? You can’t have it. It’s mine.
We should probably talk for a minute about the new issue of Spin with Beyonce on the cover. Spin is sort of a big deal to me: the magazine that made me want to be a rock critic, the one that once upon a time gave great writers the space to stretch out and expand and put together seriously data-crammed brick-dense reviews that were usually a lot more interesting than the music they were covering. Ten years ago, it was the best magazine in the world. Getting my name up in Spin was always a huge career goal of mine; I finally realized it when they ran a Mary J. Blige review of mine a few months ago. I don’t know anyone who works there, but friends of mine freelance over there pretty heavily. So I’ve got some strong feelings and some vague connects over there, but I haven’t been reading it much lately. Walking into Barnes & Noble yesterday looking for the new Fader (Ricky Rizzle!), I did one of those awkward neck-snap-back spit-and-squint things when I saw the Spin cover. Spin is under a new regime with a new owner and a new editor (though if you believe Gawker, he may have already been shitcanned), and they’ve been trying to skew younger (a tough goal for a magazine that ran two My Chemical Romance covers in one calendar year), but this is still some Twilight Zone shit. In a way, it’s sort of a good thing; the mainstream rock press has been falling asleep for years, blowing off new-pop masterminds so they can give more space to the Red Hot Chili Peppers or whatever. And when was the last time Spin had a black person on its cover? Stankonia? But the story isn’t the think-piece Spin would’ve run a few years ago; it’s mostly about how evasive Beyonce was in the interview and how she’s “R&B’s answer to Madonna” or something.
It’s a missed opportunity; as far as I know, nobody’s yet gotten Beyonce to talk about herself as a musician instead of as a public figure, even though she’s a hell of a musician. Beyonce’s new single, “Deja Vu” leaked yesterday; Spine has the mp3. It’s a monster, a luxuriant wide-screen love-crazy squelch-funk jam with horn blats and an itchy bassline and rippling bongos and two Jay-Z verses. It’s probably going to run the summer of 2006 the way “Crazy in Love” ran the summer of 2003. That’s clearly the intent, anyway; it’s got the same spit-shine retro-organic production and head-spun crush-wails. Jay does the same thing where he completely ignores the song’s lyrics and just sort of raps about how cool he is. It’s hard to tell just one day after hearing it for the first time, but it might actually be as good as “Crazy in Love.” The chorus doesn’t have that dizzy adrenaline-rush with the horns soaring up and Beyonce yowling over it; it’s all cool, in-control multitracked vocals and percolating drums and sidelong guitars, more ellipses than exclamation point. But on the verses, she’s shaken off all the awkwardness she had on “Crazy in Love,” just nailing them with this toothy determination; it’s pretty much impossible to imagine her singing them any better. There’s a neat bit at the beginning where she names the instruments on the track as they come in, like Neneh Cherry on “Buffalo Stance,” all leading up to the first Jay verse. After coming off clumsy on the “Hustlin'” remix, Jay is absolutely back on his game here. One of the things that’s always made Jay great is that he (usually) treats pop-song throwaway-verses almost as seriously as he does his own songs, packing in all these dense little lines that you don’t always pick up the first time (“Flow, blow, what’s the difference? / One you take in vain while other you sniffin'”). Last night, Nick Sylvester called me totally bugging out over the song: “It’s so much better than ‘Promiscuous Girl’! Everyone hates promiscuous girls!” That’s a weird thing to say, but it’s worth bugging out over a song like this one.
“Deja Vu” reminds me a lot of “Ain’t No Other Man,” the new Christina Aguilera single. They’re both love songs so dizzy and emphatic that their singers can only adequately express their feelings by totally howling on the choruses. They’re both up-tempo club jams with lush and expensive tracks, things that sound like they have a ton of musicians playing on them even though they might not actually have any at all. They’re both event-songs; you know they’re both going to get all-out record label pushes and that neither one is going to relax its hooks on the radio until like September. Neither one was produced by Rich Harrison, but they both sound just like him: “Crazy in Love,” yeah, but especially Amerie’s “1 Thing,” with its itchy drums and ecstatic vocal and all-encompassing Jackson 5 vibe. The producers of the two tracks couldn’t be more different (Rodney Jerkins for Beyonce, DJ Premier for Christina), but they’re both great at doing this rich, airy r&behemoth stuff. For sheer overwhelming cultural dominance, neither one is really fucking with “What You Know” or “Ghetto Story” yet, but it’s only a matter of time. When radio really gets ahold of them and the videos come out, it’s a wrap. This is going to be a great summer.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 14, 2006