Be very afraid
Consider, if you will, Jon Boy’s MySpace page. A couple of months back, I was in the early stages of my obsession with ego trip’s The (White) Rapper Show, and I was pretty amped to discover that all of them had MySpace pages. Those pages all had some fun surprises (Shifty Shellshock in G-Child’s top eight, RIP Proof shit all over Misfit’s page), but Jon Boy’s page was my favorite. On the show, he’d come off as nothing more than a completely quiet and unassuming guy who could sort of rap. On his MySpace page, the main picture showed him hair-gelled and aviatored-up and sitting in front of a bank of keyboards, looking for all the world like a budget-ass Scott Storch. A couple of weeks later, Jon Boy got kicked off the show on the same episode where he started acting like an egotistical chump out of nowhere (“Dance, ladies! Dance!”). So Jon Boy’s stint on the show turned out to be a pocket version of Scott Storch’s entire career: starting off as a background figure, coasting by on anonymous affability, and suddenly becoming a massively deluded shithead overnight. As a producer, Scott Storch’s blandly chilly synth-beats have yielded plenty of hits and even a couple of good songs, but he’s always kept the lowest profile that a music-industry creative-type with a garage full of outrageously expensive cars can keep, at least until recently. Now, Storch is just starting to show his plastic-looking face in videos, and this week he’s suddenly decided to escalate a long-gestating beef with Timbaland, the most important musician currently working. And he’s decided to rap. Just like that, we’re about five steps closer to apocalypse.
From what I understand, the issue between Timbaland and Storch started when Storch was denied a producer’s credit on Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” even though I guess he did some work on it. I don’t really know anything about Timbaland’s creative process, but if Storch really had a whole lot to do with “Cry Me a River,” then it stands to reason that at least a couple of his own productions would be as rich and dazzling as that one. Needless to say, none of them are, and we’ll probably never know just what he did on the song. A few months ago, a new Timbaland single called “Give It To Me” leaked to the internet, and it’s typically great: chilly synth-notes over complicated, rippling drums with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake talking shit at anonymous foes and somehow not sounding ridiculous in the process. In between their verses, Timbaland gives a verse of his own, sort-of-rapping in his unmistakable cartoon-robot singsong and taking a few mild shots at another beatmaker: “I get a half a mil for my beats; you get a couple grand,” “I’m a real producer and you just a piano man,” “Somebody needs to tell them that they can’t do it like I can.” I like Timbaland’s voice, but he’s not a rapper and he never has been, and “Give It to Me” isn’t exactly an “Ether”; it’s just a really good song with a few lighthearted jabs at a rival. Tim used the track to close his epic DJ set on the Justin Timberlake tour, and now there’s a remarkably low-budget video for the song making the rounds. On a recent episode of MTV’s My Block, Tim announced that he was indeed, as rumored, talking about Scott Storch on the song. None of that stuff seemed like any more than good-natured competitiveness from the guy who’s been consistently making pop music a whole lot more interesting over the past decade, but Scotty took it as a declaration of war. And now look where we are.
“Built Like Dat,” Scotty’s new response track, is also, as far as I know, Storch’s inauspicious rapping debut, a grand occasion he marks by rhyming “piano man” with “billion” in his first line. On his verse, Storch makes a few half-decent points about Timbaland: his Beat Club imprint failed completely, his protege Danja supposedly ghost-produced a number of his recent hits, he didn’t manage to turn Magoo into a star, his muscles are weirdly big. Storch also makes a crack about “that pack of franks out the back of your neck,” which isn’t devastating or anything but which is at least a better punchline than “you look like a gorilla with rabbit-teeth.” Storch also includes a verse by some guy named Nox, who accuses Tim of taking it up the ass and who sounds like a dollar-bin Freddie Foxxx, if you can even imagine that. But Storch’s hammering synth-and-strings beat is just as cold and characterless as everything else he’s ever come up with. If that’s the best response he can muster to “Give It To Me,” a genuinely great song, he needs to abort this little experiment before Tim uses his bass-cannons to melt Scotty’s hair-gel.
It’s not like I hate Scott Storch. He’s had a hand in a few songs that I love without reservation (“Lean Back,” Beyonce’s “Naughty Girl,” the Roots’ “Adrenaline,” whichever tracks on Dr. Dre’s 2001 he ghost-produced). Maybe he didn’t produce “Cry Me a River,” but he had something to do with it, which makes him partially responsible for one of the great pop masterpieces of this century. He kept his fascination with Eastern scales years after better producers had moved on, and I love that. But Storch is the guy who rappers and singers turn to when they give up on crafting a halfway distinctive sound. Every interview I read where a rapper brags about having a Scott Storch beat tells me that that rapper is on the wrong track. Storch is a pop hack, and the world needs pop hacks, but that doesn’t mean those pop hacks have license to attack actual musical geniuses. After all, anyone who signed Brooke Hogan can’t very well accuse anyone else of being unable to spot talent.