Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #84. “Got Enough Work to Feed the Whole Town”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 3, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

DJ Khaled was a unique presence in 00s pop music, and really maybe  the first of his kind for about as long as I can remember. Occasionally in hip-hop, a producer has had enough cred and name recognition to be designated as the primary artist on his songs, even if another singer or rapper was actually the song’s principal performer. But not only did DJ Khaled not sing or rap on his own songs, he often didn’t even produce them–his contributions were not so much musical, but rather organizational. He was a curator, or a producer in the truer sense of the word, if you will, simply assembling the rappers and producers to be on his tracks. It was confusing to us underground hip-hop amateurs at the time, but apparently he’d been doing this long enough and well enough that he was allowed to just drop a “LISSSSTENNNN!!!” or a “WE DA BEESSST!!!!!” on songs he procured to get the main credit on them.

He’d certainly proven his mettle when it came to putting together all-star lineups to rap over red-hot beats the year before, with a pair of semi-hits off his absurdly titled Listennn: The Album–“Holla at Me,” a Bambaataa-sampling electro-rap number with Lil’ Wayne, Paul Wall, Fat Joe, Rick Ross & Pitbull working over a Cool and Dre beat, and down a completely separate path, “Grammy Family,” a soulful Chicago-based jam with Kanye West, Consequence and John Legend fronting one of Kanye’s better collaborations with Jon Brion. Both were great, but were quickly exposed as mere appetizers when Khaled presented the main course the following year: “We Takin’ Over,” a blazing posse cut that returned Weezy, Rick Ross and Fat Joe from “Holla,” but also added Birdman, T.I. and Akon singing the hook over one of Danja’s finest productions yet. Khaled stopped by, of course, to drop his two cloying signatures over the intro, and then got out of the way while the boys went to work.

The really great things about these productions–and about the posse format in general in hip-hop, which sadly was used on very few decent mainstream hits in the 00s–is that they mostly tended to combine rappers whose schticks would get boring over the course of a whole song, and instead just give them 8-16 bars to get in and get out, not even giving them a chance to possibly overstay their welcome. As Rick Ross has proven time and time again, he just doesn’t have the stuff to carry an entire hit on his own–not talented enough, not charismatic enough, whatever–but give him just a verse, and he can add a pinch of his mafia don swagger without getting boring. Fat Joe has the talent and charisma, but can be a little tricky to take seriously for an entire song–so put him in a supporting role, and he’s nothing but delightful. Even T.I. can get a little preachy and overbearing over the course of three verses, so just cut his microphone after one, and we’ve got no problem. Weezy’s the main exception, as he’s proven he can churn out classics on his own, but hey, save him for your song’s secret weapon in the very last verse, and you’ve really got something there, don’t you?

Now, a posse cut only really works if the beat is strong enough to make even its weakest rapper sound like a five-mic MC, and Danja’s scorcher here could probably make Fabolous sound like Rakim. It’s got the speed and excitement to keep the song moving at a rapid-fire clip throughout the song’s near-five minutes, with the primary sharp, piercing synth hook and thumping drums making the song one of the decade’s purest pulse-racers. But more importantly, perhaps, it’s got the drama, with the cavernous synth-bass lines raising the stakes whenever the chorus rolls around, and reaching an almost operatic fever-pitch in the song’s climactic final verse. And the chorus in general is a straight killer–crooned, of course, by the honey-throated Midas of late-00s hip-hop, Akon–one that makes explicit the musical imperialism implied throughout the song with its matter of fact hook: “We takin’ over / one city at a time.”

Points as well must go to Khaled and company for not wasting a fantastic opportunity to display some truly ostentatious largesse by going all out–or close enough to it, I suppose–with the music video, directed by southern rap vet Gil Green. Mixing parts of LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1,” Puff Daddy’s “Victory,” and most of all, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” the vid hits all the high points of the high-octane coastal rap music video–cash heists, backwards high-speed highway chases, motorboat getaways, girls in bikinis, cameos from other contemporary hip-hop figures, and most importantly, brief scenes of doubt and/or repentance in dark, empty churches. None too original across the board, naturally, but when you have a song like this, sometimes it’s just better to write what you know, and it’s just about impossible to imagine “We Takin’ Over’ with any other type of video than this.

DJ Khaled aseembled some other pretty good cutting crews on smaller hits throughout the rest of the decade–“I’m So Hood,” “Brown Paper Bag,” “Out Here Grindin’,” all with too many rappers to bother listing here. But “We Takin’ Over” will undoubtedly go down as his finest creation, a song that packed almost an entire subgenre’s worth of quality and star power into one of the more badass hits of the 00s.

The List So Far:

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin'”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”

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