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10 Years, 100 Songs: #15. “The World is About to Feel…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 1, 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.

It’s pretty well established that it usually takes a little while for a decade to really start to find its identity musically. Often it takes something like two or three years of clearing away the leftovers from the previous decade, straining out all but a few true keepers to make room for the new. In the first couple years of the Naughty Oughties, hip-hop was finding its way, but still struggling a little under the burden of the late-90s, where Puff Daddy and Master P’s reign on top brought the genre’s mainstream to disturbing new extremes. Nelly, Ludacris, Missy, OutKast, Jay-Z and others were already doing their best to help establish the culture of 00s hip-hop, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the turnover was really complete. That was when The Clipse first hooked up with The Neptunes to make the world feel something that they never felt before.

The Neptunes were already well on their way to pop dominance, with or without  “Grindin’.” They’d gotten started in the late 90s with Noreaga’s “Superstar,” ODB’s “Got Ya Money” and Kelis’s “Caught Out There,” and continued their hot streak into the 00s with Jay-Z’s “Give it 2 Me,” Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass,” Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call,” and nearly countless others. But “Grindin” was still the one that threw down the gauntlet, the one which took their game to an entirely new level, and one which presaged not only the direction in which they would be taking their production over the next few years, but the move for practically all of hip-hop in the 00s. At virtually the same time that Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” ensured that The Neptunes were going to be one of the most bankable production acts of the decade, “Grindin'” also guaranteed that they’d be one of the most credible–legitimate sonic innovators as well as handsomely paid hitmakers.

You could probably argue that The Neptunes didn’t do anything new with the “Grindin'” beat, that the very roots of hip-hop were based in minimalism and simplicity and that early singles by Run-DMC or Boogie Down Productions hit just as hard. Maybe you’d be right, too. But based on my initial reactions to it, and based on the kind of songs that started becoming popular after it hit, you’d have to think that there was something new, something different and special about this beat. Even though you could count the number of popular rap songs I deemed acceptable listening at the time on one hand, I always made room for “Grindin’,” wading through blocks of videos I didn’t care about on MTV2 in the hopes that it would come up. The beat–that combination of bass drum, stomping, handclaps, snaps, and of course, the ghostly keyboard hook on the chorus–was just that unbelievable, an immediate attention-grabber that hit on such an instinctive rhythmic level that I’d hear it once and find myself unthinkingly banging it out on desks and tabletops for the rest of the week.

It’s hard to imagine just how audacious the minimalism and austerity of the “Grindin'” beat sounded at the time. Coming off a decade where music on both coasts tended to be built on lush soul and thick funk samples, the beats on hip-hop radio had maybe started to get a little leaner with the southern rap gradually increasing in visibility, and with Timbaland’s impressively experimental beats for Missy’s hit singles–but nothing nearly as raw as this. The skeletal little keyboard-echo part on the chorus (which always reminded me a little of the line to Hot Butter’s “Popcorn“) is the only element of the beat that isn’t strictly percussive–no bass, no synths, certainly no samples. But not only was it a hard-hitting, it was ridiculously catchy–especially with that sparingly-used keyboard hook, whose unexpected arrival in such a melodically barren landscape (set off with Pusha T’s impossibly classic lead-in, “While Pharrell keeps talkin’ this music shit”)  makes it sound all the more eerie and transfixing.

Of course, it would be unfair to ignore the contributions of the Clipse themselves to all this. The beat’s the main draw, but its effectiveness is largely due to how perfectly it fits the street-level vibe of the Clipse’s trap muzik. Pusha T and Malice were about as real as it got in the top 40 in the 00s, rapping from ghetto to ghetto and backyard to yard with no real chance of a true crossover–despite the pair of hits off Lord Willin’ (the by-comparison-underrated “When the Last Time” being the other) and the appearance on JT’s “Like I Love You,” they always looked, acted and rhymed just like a pair of ex-pushers from Virginia, and never seemed to have aspirations beyond simply repping to the fullest. (Check T in the Dr. J throwback, from his ABA days with the Virginia Squires, in the video. Yeah.) Their personality demanded a beat visceral and frill-less for their true breakout, and with the “Grindin'” track, they certainly got more than they could have ever asked for.

They were no slouches as rappers, either. “Grindin’,” like a great number of their better songs, was about the titular drug trade (although I always thought it should be co-opted by the skating community as well, which might explain the existence of The Pack’s semi-soundalike “Vans” a few years later), but Pusha and Malice kept their lyrics fresh and lithe enough that even a near-decade of boring, overbearing coke rap later, several lines still stand out. “From days I wasn’t able, there was always ‘caine.” “I’m the neighborhood pusher / Call me subwoofer / ‘Coz I pump base like that, Jack.” “Legend in two games like I’m Pee Wee Kirkland.” “I move ‘caine like a cripple / balance niggas throughout the hood / Kids call me Mr. Sniffles.” Pusha and Malice trade off verses like a comedy routine, never breaking flow and occasionally even overlapping on lines, keeping everything moving with Stringer-and-Avon-like efficiency.

And it all leads back to that perfect keyboard hook, piercing through out of nowhere like an alien radio transmission, and to the song’s eventual chorus, which it takes half the song to get to. “Grindin’ / You know what I keep in the lining / Niggas better stay in line when / You see a nigga like me shinin’ / Grindin!” It’s delivered in a surprisingly sing-songy, almost mocking chorus, but its musicality is certainly hard-earned, and offers a neat little oasis to the relentlessness of the rest of the song. Plus, Pharrell’s falsetto’d exclamation of “Grin-din!!” at the end of the chorus (back in the days when you only had to give Skateboard P a word or two to shout in the background to get him to do your beat) is probably the song’s single-most indelible moment, strange and almost a bit creepy, but brilliantly matched to the starkness of the song at large. Combined with the stubbornly unglamorous imagery of the video–pizza parlors, parking lots, apartment kitchens–the whole of “Grindin'” takes on the feel of a true anthem, more a rallying cry than a lamentation.

The Clipse never matched the commercial success of Lord Willin’ again, but they remained underground heroes–their true fate from the beginning, really–with the release of the universally-acclaimed Hell Hath No Fury in 2006, with a much-anticipated follow-up supposedly shortly forthcoming. Meanwhile, The Neptunes continued to move in weirder, starker directions while talkin’ their music shit, culminating in warped beats like Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” and Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” which were not only two of their most minimal and fucked-up concoctions (Tubas! Cheerleading! Backwards tape hiss! Cheek-popping!), but also two of their most absurdly popular. The rest of hip-hop started taking it even further, with regional musical movements like hyphy and snap music whose artists almost seemed to be challenging each other to see how sparse and cheap-sounding they could make their singles and still come out with mega-hits. (The answer: Very sparse, and almost insultingly inexpensive, but more on that in further entries).

It may or may not all be traceable back to “Grindin’,” but this was certainly the song that set the hip-hop standard of doing the most with the least–which at the very least, was highly instrumental in forever killing the primary M.O. of hip-hop in the late 90s, that of doing the least with the most. It might’ve taken a couple years longer than expected, but with the release of “Grindin'” in 2002, the Naughty Oughties were officially underway.

(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
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)
18. Interpol – “PDA
17. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body
16. Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles
15. The Clipse – “Grindin'”

One Response to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #15. “The World is About to Feel…””

  1. Yes.

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