Kanye, Wayne, Jay-Z, and T.I.’s “Swagger Like Us,” which trickled out over the weekend, proves among other things that we are still living in the year of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” whatever year that is. A Pineapple Express trailer has become, in due time, the year-thus-far’s “event record”—the “I Get Money (Forbes 1, 2, 3 Remix)” of ’08—almost full year after “Paper Planes” had its own “event” remix and took #6 in Pazz & Jop’s Singles Poll.
“Swagger Like Us,” with its “Paper Planes”–sampling hook, would be a disappointment if its crash landing hadn’t been so predictable: Wayne, out of things to prove, pretty much just nuzzles the track into sleepy submission; Kanye, who also produced, sounds exactly as anxious as you’d expect from a guy with an inferiority complex hopping on a song with three rappers who he knows run circles around him; Jay-Z, in bless-the-moment autopilot. T.I., who’s having the worst year of anybody here, personal life–wise, at least sounds motivated: “Looking from the surface it may seem like I got be reason to be nervous/Then observe my work and see that my adversity was worth it.”
What’s really depressing though is the way in which M.I.A.’s Kala continues to be chopped into little tiny pieces—festival stints, Rihanna covers, Seth Rogan montages, mind-numbing ubiquity. The process of watching one of the more politically/sonically ambitious projects of the last few years get ground down into easily palatable dust—if not out-and-out marketing fodder and hucksterism, more or less how it serves on “Swagger Like Us” —is news to no one, let alone surprising. But there’s something dispiriting about it. No wonder she talks about quitting.