News White the New Black, Soft the New Hard
posted by December 29 at 3:47 PMon
Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Lupe Fiasco, and Matthew Santos
Jay-Z found one in Chris Martin. Kanye enlisted Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Most recently, Lupe Fiasco recorded several tracks on The Cool with fauxhawked warbler Matthew Santos. White guy pop singers are the hiphop musical accessory du jour—part of a lineage that includes black girl pop singers, white girl pop singers, live bands, celebrity producers, “spiritual mentors,” and Lil Jon. High-profile MCs are competing to exploit the trend by penning stadium-grabbing anthems. “Superstar,” from The Cool, is the best example.
The song is flawless. “Superstar” is both triumphant and melancholic, thanks to a haunting minor-key synth melody and Santos’ bittersweet vocals. The lyrics are deceivingly universal: Santos’ chorus—“If you are who you say you are/A superstar/Then have no fear”—is aimed at everyman listeners and their everyday aspirations as much as Lupe the certified star. The crowd roar/piano vamp intro is reminscent of “Bennie and the Jets,” too.
Listening to all of The Cool, it’s clear that Lupe still doesn’t spend to much effort on choruses; most are total throwaways, subservient to Lupe’s consistently dense, masterful verses. “Superstar” is that much more outstanding because its chorus is so unforgettable. The Cool is as intellectual a hiphop album as has ever been recorded, brimming with unconventional narratives, political skepticism, ambiguous morality, spirituality, humor, and an overarching concept.
Like Blue Scholars, Lupe proves that soft is officially the new hard. The turnaround began a couple years back with the ascendance of Kanye and Common. When Kanye comes hard with “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” from Graduation, he’s still wracked by God-fearing self doubt. Even the new Wu-Tang record relaxes into a stoned post-paranoiac acceptance; because Ghostface refuses to do so on Big Doe Rehab, his album sounds sadly dated (check out Sam Mickens’ think piece on that duality in this week’s ish). Sensitive, soulful white guys fit into the new rap game plan like a foot into a $400 sneaker.