Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #14. “And We Got it On Tonight…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 7, 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.

The Diplomats were one of the more enjoyable musical and cultural sub-plots to follow in the Naughty Oughties. None of the collective’s biggest names (Cam’Ron, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones) could ever really be ranked as among the decade’s biggest stars–they were generally too grounded in the underground to max out on their crossover potential–but they were still a consistent presence in the mainstream, whether it was Juelz getting a verse on Chris Brown’s breakout #1 hit “Run It!,” Jones getting his one-word moment in the sun co-opted by everyone from Giants defenseive end Michael Strahan to WWE wrestler MVP, or Cam getting interviewed by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes about the specific tenets of the Stop Snitchin’ philosophy. They even managed to indulge us with one true moment of pop bliss, too, when Cam and Juelz swapped late-night stories on 2002’s top-five hit “Hey Ma.”

Some hit songs were destined to sound better in retrospect. This is my general theory with “Hey Ma,” a song which, though immensely popular in its time, and (to my ears at least) bearing all the trademarks of a song that should be acknowledged as a stone classic, has yet to really emerge as one of the definitive, universally beloved pop songs of the 00s. Not to say that it’s slipped into obscurity necessarily, but for instance, take a look at its Wikipedia entry. Then look at the Chart Performance section alone of the page for Gwen Stefani’s “Cool.” Doesn’t seem right, does it? But give it time. Give it another decade or so, when 00s nights start becoming vogue in hip clubs and weekend radio marathons and people hear it for the first time in years. The turnaround will be fast and furious.

Part of this is because I think “Hey Ma” is rooted in a feel of perfect nostalgia, thus making it all the more likely to evoke fond memories itself in a couple decades. A fair bit of that has to do with the choice of sample–The Commodores’ “Easy,” a soul classic from a quarter-century earlier that conjures up such natural good vibes that it almost feels like cheating to use it in such a manner. There aren’t many songs that could deploy those fantastic piano rolls and not come out feeling easy like Sunday morning.  Combine that with the fact that the stories are told under the hazy glow of the morning after–parts of it are even explicitly accounted as post-game analysis in bragging phone calls to friends–and the song starts to take on a kind of idealized feel to it, a hook-up remembered fondly well down the road, told with a wink and a smile.

Speaking of smiles, though the song technically belongs to Cam’Ron, “Hey Ma” is far more the province of Harlem heartthrob Juelz Santana. Juelz gets the admitted advantage of batting first, and knocks the thing out of the park. His verse is filled with the kind of off-kilter charisma and gleeful ridiculousness that made Juelz such a compelling figure throughout the decade, whether he’s making sincere and somewhat bizarre boasts (“I’m 18 and lead a crazy life / Plus I’ll show you what the 80s like”) macking in an almost sickeningly cutesy manner (“She laughed at me like ‘boy, your game is tight’ / I’m laughing back like ‘sure you right”), or cutting through the frivolities with unexpected tone shifts (“Let’s discuss something / Either we lovin’ or I’ll see you tomorrow”). Cam can’t compete–he seems like kind of a grump by comparison–though he gets the song’s true highlight, when he calls up Juelz after his conquest and relates the story in haiku-brevity: “Yo L / (What up?) / I hit / (What else?) / Plus dome / (Say word) / And we got it on toniiiighhht!

But the real star of “Hey Ma,” the real reason its on the list, is the chorus. “Hey Ma” certainly wasn’t the only hit of the 00s to lean heavily on male-female interplay, and it’s probably one of the least even-handed–female contributor Toya rarely gets credited on the song, let alone an entire verse to tell her side of the story. But you just can’t argue with the dynamics of the thing. The chorus is structured as flirtation whittled down to its skeleton, the two parties trading short barbs, until it sounds more like a terse negotiation than an actual come on: “Hey ma / (What’s up?) / Let’s slide / (All right)  / All right.”  But lest things get too business like, both sides end up agreeing on the most important part, in glorious unison: “And we gon’ get it on tonii-iiggght.” Then, repeat the process: “You smoke? /(I smoke) / I drink / (Me too) / Well good / Coz we gon’ get it high toniii-iighhht.” It’s an old-fashionedly coy way to go about the song, sounding almost like a somewhat more explicit update of an old Ray Charles single where he bantered with his back-up singers. But like no other song of this decade, it just made the whole process of hooking up, from the pursuance to the agreement to the consummation, sound and feel like so much fun, for all parties involved. What more can you ask for out of pop music?

Cam and Juelz notched another top five hit in 2002 with the similarly irresistible “Oh Boy” (solidifying producer Just Blaze as one of the decade’s greats in the process) but separated, their commercial fortunes never really reached the same heights as together (though Santana did notch another crossover hit with the predictably stupid and predictablier infectious “There It Go (The Whistle Song)”). They still show up every now and again, though, Cam recently releasing Crime Pays and working on a sequel to supposed rapsploitation classic Killa Season and Juelz showing up on Jim Jones’s underrated “Pop Champagne” and working on a forever-delayed collaboration album with the similarly eternally youthful Lil’ Wayne. I hope they both stick around throughout the 2010s, too–hip-hop’s a much more interesting place with them popping up on unexpected singles, serving as cultural ambassadors for middle America, dancing around in videos wearing throwback NBA jerseys, and occasionally stumbling across pop goldmines.

(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‘”
14. Cam’Ron f/ Juelz Santana & Freekey Zeke – “Hey Ma”

3 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #14. “And We Got it On Tonight…””

  1. I was listening to it in a different tab on YouTube, and totally forgot the one-legged hop breakdown after the first chorus. That is quintessentially Naughty Oughties.

  2. Doug said

    I agree with this. Come Home With Me is vastly under-rated in my opinion.

  3. MBI said

    Unexpected, but yeah, “Hey Ma” is a great fucking song.

    Not as good as “Cool,” though.

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