Intensities in Ten Suburbs

Just another WordPress.com weblog

10 Years, 100 Songs: #33. “Watch Out, We Run New York…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 30, 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.

With the possible exception of his wife, no one had a wire-to-wire lock on the 00s quite like Sean Carter. His omnipresence during the Naughty Oughties was as such that even during his supposed “retirement” years, Jigga’s imprint could still be felt throughout pop music, on his guest verses, hit singles by his proteges, or just hit singles by outsiders that sampled his voice (T.I.’s “Bring ‘Em Out” and Cassidy’s “I’m a Hustla” basically keeping Jay in the top 40 for another six months without him even having to lift a finger). The list of songs he could’ve had on this list is staggering–“Big Pimpin’,” “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “99 Problems,” even up to recent singles like “Roc Boys (…And the Winner Is)” and “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)”–there’d be decent arguments for all of them being the Jay-Z song on this list. It didn’t hit home just how many songs this guy had that had become inextricable parts of the last decade and a half of American music until I saw him this year at the All Points West festival, and towards he started plowing through his hits for just one verse before moving on to get as many of them in as possible–and still left a couple big ones out.

One of those, predictably, was the diss track “Takeover.” This might be a strange choice for the Jigga song on this list, considering that he had 13 top 40 hits this decade, and “Takeover” wasn’t even released as a single. What’s more, it’s become something of a relic now, Jay’s beef with Nas long since squashed, both artists supposedly having moved on to bigger and better things. But though “Big Pimpin'” was probably his best pop crossover, “99 Problems” his best street single, and “Girls, Girls, Girls” his best overall lyrical effort, I still think “Takeover” is the best example of what made Sean Carter such a force of nature this decade. It’s the purest example of Jay’s ownership of the mic–his ability to absolutely captivate, to elevate, to build and to destroy. When Jay is rapping on “Takeover,” no other rapper even exists, least of all the ones who he is lyrically dismantling. One listen to the song and you instantly understand how Jigga was able to go from being the dorky-looking guy hanging in the back of Foxy Brown’s “I’ll Be” video to the biggest rapper on the planet in less than a half-decade.

First, let’s get this out of the way–“Takeover” isn’t just the best diss released in the Jay-Z/Nas feud, it’s the best diss track in the history of hip-hop. I don’t say this lightly–it’s up against nearly three decades of brutal hip-hop feuds, including plenty of all-time classics–but I very firmly believe it to be true. No other battle track packs the ammo that Jigga does here, from the beat to the flow to the hook and to the disses themselves. It’s such a scorcher that it must have been hard to imagine anyone involved coming up with any kind of response, let alone one of equal firepower. In retrospect, it was impressive that Nas came as close as he did with “Ether,” but it still blows my mind that there are people out there that consider “Ether” to be the better song of the two–a sentiment which ranks up there with Futurama being better than The Simpsons and The Illusionist being better than The Prestige for statements which I’ll be too dumbfounded by to even come up with a coherent argument against. It’s a good song, a respectable diss and all, but…c’mon.

Right off the bat, Jigga gets an unspeakably huge boon from the song’s Kanye West-helmed beat. Lifted section-at-a-time from The Doors’ “Five to One” (and thankfully kept at the same death-crawl tempo) Kanye doesn’t really do that much with the song as he just shows what a pounding, invigorating, and just generally fucking badass song it was to begin with, all cranked-up bass, smoked-out guitar and lurching drums. Of course, it’s easier to tell that with Jay laying rappers to rest on top of it than it is with Jim Morrison drunkenly rambling about who knows what, but Kanye also smartly uses snippets of Morrison’s vocal throughout the song, deploying his “TAKING OVER, COME ON!!!” cry as a clarion call to set off the song’s intro and its chorus (and naming the song to boot), and using his “gonna win, yeah” moan to inject a little slithery creepiness to the verses. “Takeover” would probably be a great song over just about any beat, but over Kanye’s “Five to One” shredding, it’s the hip-hop equivalent of the Imperial March.

One of the things that always impressed me about Jay’s rapping in “Takeover” was the way he structured it–one verse introducing his intent to kill, one verse coming at Mobb Deep, one at Nas, and then an afterword against retaliation, all broken up with the “runnin’ this rap shit” chorus refrain and the KRS-One-sampled “WATCH OUT!! WE RUN NEW YORK!!” exclamation. He even bridges his two disses with a foreshadowing line about Nas at the end of the Mobb Deep verse, giving the song a much-needed sense of continuity. Jay was smart to isolate his attacks in this manner, allowing the center of each of his beefs to get the level of focus they deserved, keeping the vague parts of the song looser and then then really buckling down once he started getting into specifics. This wasn’t just some extended freestyle written in the heat of passion, this shit seems like it was labbed for months–although with Jay’s reputation for not writing his rhymes ahead of time, it probably actually was closer to the former in its conception, which makes its precision all the more frightening.

As for the disses themselves, they’re practically immolating. You could write a how-to guide based on the variety of styles uses to demean opponents on the Mobb Deep verse alone, from attacks personal (“You was a ballerina / I got the pictures, I seen ya”) to commercial (“I sold what your first album sold in your first week”) to personal and commercial (“You little fuck, I got money stacks bigger than you”). He turns the group’s name against them (“I don’t care if you Mobb Deep /I hold triggers to crews”) and deflates their biggest claim to fame (“Then you dropped ‘Shook Ones,’ switched your demeanor / Well, we don’t believe you / You need more people”). Then, as he threatens to dispatch them (“I’ll detatch you / Mind from body, soul from spirit”), he offers up a little chuckle as he says “Trust me on this one”–like the idea of Mobb Deep stepping to Jigga was a totally laughable one, a premise put forth fairly uniformly throughout the verse, and one which (in 2001 at least) probably had a decent amount of credence to it.

Still, Jay saved the big guns for Nas, his one-time colleague who he had since feuded with over, among other things, the unofficial title of the best rapper on the East Coast after the death of the previous holder, the Notorious B.I.G. Jay mostly keeps the focus on Nas’s fade from glory–indeed, by 2001, Nas had lost most of the golden child luster he garnered with Illmatic, after a couple mediocre albums and a series of ill-conceived collaborations and crossover attempts–claiming “you had a spark when you started / but now you’re just garbage” and even using some fuzzy math to underscore his lackluster post-Illmatic run (“that’s a one-hot-album-every-ten-year average”). He kills Nas’s gangsta cred (“You ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folks’ pad / You scribbled in your notepad and created your life”) and in the proud “Hit ‘Em Up” tradition, boasts an affair (albeit slightly vaguer–“you-know-who / did you-know-what / with you-know-who”) with Nas’s woman, thought to be girlfriend Carmen Bryan. Perhaps most importantly, he pre-empts Nas’s best revenge weapon by admitting to have sampled his “The World is Yours” on Reasonable Doubt‘s “Dead Presidents,” but twists it to his advantage with the classic “You made it a hot line / I made it a hot song” rejoinder. With taunts inspired from David Bowie’s “Fame” echoing in the background, the verse is just a slaughterfest, Jigga unleashing dagger three-pointer after three-pointer on Nas and then giving him a Jordan-inspired look, what do you want me to say? shrug.

“Takeover” showed how when Jay at his peak set his mind to something, there was basically no stopping him–there’s no point left unconsidered in the song, no angle uncovered. Unfortunately, while “Takeover” showed how Jay had greater command of the mic than any other MC of his time, it also foreshadowed how obsessed he would become in the later stages of his career with shaping the public perception of him. Like Jordan once again (hey, the guy only made the comparison about a million times himself), Jay was ultimately unwilling to go gently into that good night once the prime of his career appeared to be over, so fixated on setting himself above the rappers of today and insisting that he didn’t care what people thought of him, that it eventually became pretty clear that he was pretty insecure about his current standing and still cared very much about what people thought of him. It’s understandable, I guess–when you have a period of dominance like the one that birthed “Takeover,” it must seem only right that you should be able to control your own artistic and commercial fates forever. But while Jigga still has his moments of brilliance (and despite its obnoxiousness, I think “Death of Autotune” is actually fairly underrated as a song), his best days are clearly behind him–or at least, they will be, as long as he continues to chase after them. (Interestingly, Nas chose the opposite approach to his later career, forgoing any attempts at modern-day relevance to be the grumpy old man shaking his cane at the hip-hop young’ns–I’m not sure which one is better, really).

Oh, and since “Takeover” has one of the best closing lines in pop music history, I’ll let it close this blog entry as well–“And all you other cats throwin’ shots at Jigga / You only get half a bar / FUCK Y’ALL NIGGAS!

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

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
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover”

2 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #33. “Watch Out, We Run New York…””

  1. Dan said

    There is actually no way to overstate the greatness of this song. Great pick

  2. Sam Skeen said

    I’ll have to agree with Dan here. SO many classic lines…such perfect samples. This song gets me so amped.

    Never understood what Morrison was saying before, so thanks for that Andrew.

    It’s the ROC!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: