Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #8. “Now Usually I Don’t Do This, But, Uh…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 18, 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.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can pay to R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” is simply including it on this list over all the other R. Kelly contributions to Naughty Oughties pop culture that would’ve easily come to define the career of a lesser artist. I mean, come on–who else this decade had half as many indelible moments as Kells? Be they sublime (“Step in the Name of Love,” “I’m a Flirt,” “Feelin’ on Your Booty”), ridiculous (“Same Girl,” “Real Talk,” “U Saved Me”) or sublimely ridiculous (“Supaman High,” “World’s Greatest,” “In the Kitchen,” and of course, the entire “Trapped in the Closet” saga), it’s hard to think of another artist who left a more singular thumbprint on the 00s than R. Kelly–a feat made all the more impressive due to it being the second straight decade that such a claim could (arguably) be made for The R. Yet all of it–every single second of inexplicably great and inexplicably inexplicable music–is still brought to its knees by “Ignition (Remix).”

The thing that still strikes me about “Ignition (Remix),” and what struck me at the time, is just how much it sounds like a basic 00s R&B song. A facile observation to be sure, but one worth making when considering just how much critical acclaim from such unlikely sources has been heaped upon the song upon its release in 2003. Usually when an artist does the reverse-crossover act from pop to the underground, there’s something distinctly different about the song that makes it stand out from the Top 40 crowd, whether it be futuristic-sounding production (the Missy/Timbaland collabs), an enigmatic songwriting style (“Hey Ya!”), or just a slight overlap in musical language with the alternative music of the era (“Since U Been Gone”). But there were no such easy entries into “Ignition (Remix)”–its production couldn’t have sounded more of the radio of the time, it didn’t sample, reference or evoke any music from different or past eras, and…well, maybe it was a little enigmatic, but certainly no one was yelling out “Lend me some sugar, I AM YOUR NEIGHBOR!!!” Even its video was a by-the-book Drinking in the Club montage, notable only for the presence of someone wearing a Los Angeles Clippers jsersey–as far as I can tell, the first and last time that the Clips a stake of any size whatsoever in hip-hop culture.

Rather, “Ignition (Remix)” built its reputation on merely being an exceptional (and occasionally exceptionally goofy) pop song. There’s something about its rubbery groove that cuts to the very heart of pop music’s appeal, that sort of pre-musical Tower of Babel (and don’t ask me what the music history equivalent to that is; such a question might actually cause me to have to think a little bit) language that every music fan speaks, even the most merciless noise rock, 20th century classical or Insane Clown Posse listeners out there. Few cliches are as overused in music writing than the “If you can listen to [x] without smiling, then you’re [not a good person]” type of claims, and I’ve probably used them in a half-dozen entries thusfar out of laziness, so I’ll avoid using them here. I’ll just say that when I heard “Ignition (Remix)” for the first time (In my high school afterschool music club, of all places), it put a bounce in my step the rest of the day. Seriously–I felt at least like 75% more buoyant than normal walking around the quad and whatnot. (It’s not a coincidence that there’s an actual section of the song where R. commands the audience to “Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce,” although by that point in the song, such instructions are hopelessly redundant.)

Of course, I mention the goofiness, and it would be somewhat remiss of me to pretend that a good deal of the appeal of “Ignition (Remix)” isn’t due to general bemusement caused by some of R. Kelly’s wackier moments in the song. There aren’t many hit remixes that would start off by teasing their audiences “Now usually I don’t do this, but, uh… / Gonna go and break ’em off with a little preview of the remix.” It made some sense coming as the outro to the original version–which was never even close to a hit in its own right–but as intro to the remix itself, it’s just a little off (as is proudly declaring “It’s the remix to Ignition!” in the chorus, once again seemingly presuming a far greater fanbase for the original song than likely ever existed). Thrown in certain lines of varying degrees of silliness and nonsense (“It’s like ‘Murder, She Wrote’ / Once I get you out them clothes,” “You must be a football coach / The way you got me playin’ the field”) and the central lyrical euphemism of “tak[ing] my key / and stick[ing] it in the ignition” (partial credit at best, Kells), and you’ve got a song that at the very least, no one has to take seriously enough to judge with any kind of harshness.

The real key to the song, though, is that it never seems to really run out of chorus. I made this point more recently with Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me,” another hit where there seemed to be about six different choruses that kept feeding into each other like a mobius strip, creating a one-song party that (theoretically) never had to end. “Ignition (Remix)” might be an even purer example, with no noticeable break between verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge and outro, as Robert jabs and weaves through lyrical hooks with jaw-dropping dexterity. The actual chorus–or what I think is the actual chorus, anyway, probably just because it has the title in it–remains the song’s true highlight, primarily because it contains what could make a very solid case for being the lyric of the decade: “Sippin’ on coke and rum / I’m like so what I’m drunk.” We’re simply not likely to hear a better encapsulation of the id-quenching (and speech-slurring) bravado of getting hammered on the freakin’ weekend better than that one at any point in our lifetime. If you polled the (presumably existant) Songwriters Association of America and asked which line from a hit song of the past ten years they wish they’d written, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that that’d be the runaway favorite. (Well, that or “You make me cum / You make me complete / You make me completely miserable.”)

More than almost any other song on this list, I am curious about the way time will treat “Ignition (Remix).” A classic by pretty much any standard, I still can’t help but wonder if it’s one of those songs you kind of had to live through to understand its greatness–assuming R. Kelly’s Pied Piper of R&B reign fails to stretch into a third decade, I could see it maybe coming off as alien to future audiences as “The Sign” or “Two Princes” would sound to listeners of today who missed out on the 90s. But then again, there’s still that groove, that molasses-sticky goodness that sounded both definitively of its time and completely timeless upon first listen and is just as imminently (and repeatedly) consumbale today. Whatever the turnout moving forward, we are all most fortunate to have had R. Kelly at the forefront of our lives for the better part of the last few decades, and especially lucky that he decided to go against his better judgement and break us off with a little preview of the Remix. Once the full thing gets here, it might end up being the Second Coming.

(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
13. LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge
12. Soulja Boy – “Crank Dat Soulja Boy
11. StainD f/ Fred Dusrt – “Outside
10. Rihanna f/ Jay-Z – “Umbrella
9. Sum 41- “Fat Lip
8. R. Kelly – “Ignition (Remix)”

One Response to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #8. “Now Usually I Don’t Do This, But, Uh…””

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