January 15th, 2009

Drop (It Like It’s Yours)

Rich Boy’s “Drop” — particularly the instrumental — struck me immediately, for a few reasons, as an obvious but original nod to Bangladesh’s juggernaut beat for “A Milli,” which is, as SFJ memorably describes it —

both heavy and barely there, built from a sub-bass kick, a thin snare, and synthetic handclaps, none of which play at the same time.

Not only does Polow’s beat for Rich Boy feature the alternating drum patterns to which Sasha alludes (in particular, a “3+1″/”turnaround” arrangement), it’s most prominent feature is the repeatedly triggered vocal fragment that sounds as if — along with the clicky claptrap that takes the place of “A Milli”‘s crunk-y-clave snare — it were sampled from Zap Mama or something. It’s some out-there, crunk’d-up ethnotechno that recalls another Rich Boy track, the Timbaland-producedGet To Poppin.”

My first and lingering impression is that it’s the best post-milli beat to date BY FAR, just as “A Milli” was the best post-“Drop It Like it’s Hot” track — at least wrt that 3+1/ON-off/turnaround pattern I’m hearing. Of course, Bangladesh added to Pharrell’s template the rhythmically triggered vocal samples, which caught on as a textural gesture in its own right, beyond the songs in question here — though it builds of course, in its whimsical way, on a longstanding trend toward incorporating vocal samples in hip-hop “instrumentals” (dating back at least to early RZA).

There are other contenders, pale in comparison. Take this bit of opportunist, orientalist weaksauce from Ludacris, which — pretty audibly to my ears — features the same sort of drum pattern, substituting Diwali-esque handclaps for the turnaround in place of thin snares. (The Diwali, incidentally, is another example of an instrumental whose distinctive groove was quickly and widely adopted as a dominant, if fleeting, template for an entire genre.)

Another clearly post-milli beat to recently rear its head is “Diva” by Beyonce. That one also sounds a little too crassly derivative to me — maybe moreso — though it’s definitely amusing to hear Beezy get all Weezy on the track. Props for that. But I just can’t co-sign on such a carbon-copy production. It sounds as if they grabbed the “A Milli” instrumental and put some bad violin & chipmunk’d vox on top. What is this, Girl Talk?

The difference, as I hear it, is that “Drop” takes the idea of “A Milli,” says “that’s dope,” and runs with it. It nods to the original but makes your neck snap in its own way. Polow’s tweaks to the form, rather than trendy, sound downright timely — and I mean that in the best possible way.


  • 1. Canyon Cody  |  January 15th, 2009 at 4:56 am

    i think more interesting than the copyright/left discussion (or neo-con/lib), are the more subtle copygood/copybad issues. The difference between “crassly derivative” and “that’s dope – he ran with it” gets to the heart of how we make culture, and also how we make judgments of the relative quality of different cultural productions. It kinda seems like we actually build by copying, and yet we score by originality.

    Of course, this would all be a lot different if the copyright laws were reversed. As I [not a lawyer] understand it, you can copyright (eg, claim exclusive ownership of, for like, a century] a melody — a certain progression of musical notes — but you CANNOT copyright a rhythm, a time-organized series of sounds. Is this correct? Of couse, sampling is almost always illegal [hrmph], even if its just rhythm, because the recording of the breakbeat is owned by someone. But we can replay the exact same drum pattern at home and use that, but this is not true for melodies?

    From the Phillip Taggs videos you posted, it seems pretty clear that certain basic harmonic progressions are beyond the reach of copyrightability, but at some *magical moment, a melody departs from the stock of public domain and then you’ve invented something. But until that point, if you copy/use/borrow too much of another song, its illegal. Past that point, you might be in the clear for litigation, but the general public [or at least the musicblog pistachio gallery] will still consider it crassly derivative, or “not dope”. There ‘s some sort of unputyourfingeronable but self-evident [like obsenity] rupture point between copybad or copygood.

    It’s like deforestation without planting new trees.

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  January 15th, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Mechanical rights aside (since, yes, they stipulate that any sample of a recording — whether of a rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, or timbral nature, etc. — requires permission), the distinction between the copyrightability of melodic figures (which are also “a time-organized series of sounds,” for the record) and rhythmic figures is a holdover from Eurocentric ideas about musical value and originality. Then again, most of us hip-hop heads should welcome the freedom to riff rhythmically. Imagine if certain breakbeats — not as recordings but as figures — were off-limits? It’s a nonsensical counterfactual b/c it goes against the way music/culture works.

    Beyond these legal issues (which I’m less and less interested in — except for their abolition), the question of originality vs. hackery (or copygood vs. copybad — nice way to put it) is indeed an interesting one, and the line between the two is frequently quite blurry/subjective (“unputyourfingeronable”).

    What a musical world it would be if we had complete freedom to riff on melodies and sample recordings with the only constraining force being whether people (the audience/market) judge your derivative work (ALL WORKS ARE DERIVATIVE WORKS) to be sufficiently original to be interesting, engaging, worth spending the time listening/dancing to.

  • 3. wayneandwax  |  January 15th, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Stumbled onto this this morning (via) — seems quite germane. Here’s Jean-Luc Godard:

    “It’s not where you take things from–it’s where you take them to.”

  • 4. rupture  |  January 15th, 2009 at 11:53 am

    I like the “What Them Girls Like” from Luda! that song is great.

    And, i would argue, neither more opportunistic than any other song nor ‘orientalist’ nor ‘weaksauce’. For one, its decidedly less minimal than A Milli or Drop (which is jaw-droppingly good) — there’s a whole little riff/melody going on! especially as an instrumental — played along in the club, the Ludacris instru would keep people bouncing, but Drop instru would confuse a dancefloor. that right there reverses the weaksaurce allegations in my mind.

    i was talking to a editor the other day, and he was like ‘orientalist’ has turned into a kind of nonspecific shorthand for ‘stuff we don’t like’. How do you define or hear the orientalism in Luda’s tune? Is it the melody line? the conga/darbouka fill?

  • 5. wayneandwax  |  January 15th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Orientalism is so vague, I know.

    I really strive not to be facile (though I did find it hard to resist putting “opportunist” next to “orientalist” b/c of assonance and rhyme; precision is sometimes sacrificed for style).

    The term shouldn’t be so bandied about, troo, but I don’t think it’s such an inaccurate descriptor in this case. Yep, it’s the melody that screams it at me mainly — that quasi-Arab flute (a Triton preset?) which recalls lots of similarly middleeasty motifs in pop/rap/dancehall songs in the last decade. (“Big Pimpin” was 10 years ago!)

    I’m not saying I “don’t like” it actually. The beat anyway, at a visceral level. I’m saying I find it cheap, unimaginative (ironically). And given the still rather exotic representation of people of Middle Eastern descent here in the US mediascape — an ongoing othering that can dehumanize and thereby justify some pretty awful foreign/domestic policies/practices (sympathy for Palestinians, anyone?) — I think it’s in questionable judgment to so facilely, if you will, lace a beat with such stuff. Something about our difference in opinion here perhaps resonates with all the talk around “Arab Money,” which serves as a reminder that there’s a multitude of receptive registers out there. I bet “What Them Girls Like” is big in Bahrain.

    && I’m persuaded by your point that the Luda instro would prolly keep a dancefloor full whereas the Rich Boy could seem stultifyingly immovable. But add the vocals and Rich Boy wins (as does Weezy — heard “A Milli” at a club? of course you have).

    Then again, I should admit that I rarely like Luda songs. He can really irritate me. Great voice, outsize character, but tin ear for suave rhymes IMO. Best burn evar?

  • 6. wayneandwax  |  January 15th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    re:imagination & TWOT, see e.g. (only b/c i just happened to be rereading it today), arjun appadurai, “disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy,” p. 50.

  • 7. Canyon Cody  |  January 15th, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    TWOT = total waste of time?

    For the record, are melodic figures really also “a time-organized series of sounds”? I have two issues with that, which is why I made the distinction. First, melodies require musical notes (?), not just sounds/noise. You can make a rhythm out of splashing water, but I dont think you could copyright (or even write) a melody that doesnt correspond to the notes on some sort of musical scale. The second is “time-organized”. If I take a well-known jazz riff and replay it myself, but change its timing (extend certain notes, shorten the pauses, slow it down, speed it up, etc…), it’s still the same melodic figure (ie I could still get sued). But if I take the Amen Willie break and replay it, but double the pause here and halve the pause there, well, it ceases to be Amen Willie altogether, no?

    my good friends have learned to tolerate certain levels of silliness comin out my mouth because, as you say, “precision is sometimes sacrificed for style.” Or as Simon Reynold put it, “Listen to the way they chew and twist language, not for any decipherable expressive reason, but for the gratuitous voluptuousness of utterance itself.”

    you’ve now expressed your dislike for both 2pac and Luda on this here blog. HRMPH to you my friend.

    the Jim Jarmusch quote continues, “Don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it.” Well, I do feel like it, but I’m afraid of lawyers. How we reconcile the responsibility to give credit where credit’s due with a practical covering-own-assedness. If the laws were different, I’d prefer to cite every sample and explain its history, I love the originals with all me soul — thats why I chose em — but some day that dude’s gonna ego-google himself and find my webpage. Should I be inviting that? If its just a podcast or something for sure, but on an album that we spend 6 months making, if theres a sample flipped to unrecognizablility, I hesitate to type out their name.

    I’m not trying to render anyone anonymous but I don’t wanna get served. Do I get a get-out-of-citation free card cuz im not selling all that many records? Is Sublime Frequency’s sin hinged on its market success?

  • 8. rupture  |  January 15th, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    great Appadurai excerpt! just a note to say: my ears didn’t hear the Luda song melody in even a quasi-Arab/middle eastern context. Big Pimpin, yes, Candy Shop, yes, but this one didnt register as such. that’s why i clicked the YT link — i was like, “I missed some orientalist hiphop!?”

    but yeah, the song would be better w/o him on it… and yeah, there are some thought-provoking implications to the Appadurai quote above, Baudrillian in its way. will have a look for the rest of the essay

  • 9. wayneandwax  |  January 15th, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Read the rest of the essay (a globalization classic!) here. Baudrillard makes it in there, no surprise.

    Canyon, I owe you a longer reply. For now, in case you weren’t just asking snarkily, TWOT = the War on Terror®.

  • 10. Bunch O’ Stuff for &hellip  |  January 16th, 2009 at 10:06 am

    […] his always wonderful blog Wayne And Wax with several really well-written and thoughtful posts about Post-”A Milli” Beats and Stevie Wonder’s CHOICE to use autotune. If you’re not checking his blog on a daily […]

  • 11. wayneandwax  |  January 16th, 2009 at 10:41 am

    To come back to your comment, Canyon, first I think we need to distinguish between what sample-based producers, especially those without MAJOR clearance budgets, are doing when they fail to credit their sources (for fear of litigation) and what record labels like SF are doing when they fail to credit theirs (for fear of what? demystification? fair compensation?). If we’re talking about indy/undie producers, plenty of people come up with ways to justify what they’re doing, and I’ve been vvv sympathetic to producers (like Primo or Dilla) who, despite some success, still would find their art prohibitively expensive if they “came clean” (to allude to a classic Preem joint). I’ve also been inconsistent around my own ID of sample sources in the music I make, usually depending on whether I feel it’s sufficiently under the radar or not. (Though as you note, in an age of ego-googling, there may no longer be an under-the-radar position.)

    As far as the melody thing, I was simply using “sound” as a more general classification, under which sounds with precise/audible pitch content (or “notes,” as you call them) would fall. (Analogous, e.g., to the relationship between quadrilaterals and squares.) I just wanted to note that a melody is simply a series of pitched sounds in time. Water is a funny example, since there are some amazing frequencies produced by splashing. I suppose if you took the time to map splashing water onto a scale, you could make a case for a copyrightable melody, but often with percussive sounds the frequencies don’t add up to anything with definable pitch content.

    Finally, what is “Amen Willie”? You mean, “Amen, Brother“?

  • 12. wayneandwax  |  January 21st, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    further thoughts on post-“Milli” beats here (and in the comments):

    for the record, noz calls “Drop” “too derivative”!

    to each, his own (ears).

  • 13. Birdseed  |  January 21st, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Yeah, I thought the connections made at CBRAP were kind of interesting.

    One connection that just now popped into my head is the similarity to a lot of baile funk in terms of rhythmification of short vocal snippets. Listen to this track which was resting on my computer, unheard since 2004, especially the minimal section from about 1:14:


  • 14. homoludo » (post)Mo&hellip  |  February 8th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    […] Wayneandwax with the boys getting into theory in the comments and also here with Birdseed taking apart a […]

  • 15. melonhands  |  February 18th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    not exactly in-depth but i bodged a bit of a beyonce-diva re-edit with the original milli bass – it is identical!

    here’s the track

  • 16. Zashkaser  |  August 5th, 2009 at 11:42 am

    You think everything sounds like existentialism.

  • 17. wayneandwax.com » N&hellip  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    […] — to help stage Lil Wayne’s big comeback, producer Bangladesh contributed another a-milli-esque banger, in this case opting to deliciously substitute (ripe banana!) Harry Belafonte’s […]


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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