Dem Franchize Boyz"Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It"
The latest craze to wobble out of Atlanta's hip-hop (and strip) clubs onto the upper reaches of the charts is "snap music"—a kind of toned-down crunk in which the solid thwack of the snare drum is replaced with ghostly finger snaps. It's a neat production gimmick, and a utilitarian one: As the scene's leaders like to point out, you can dance to snap music without spilling your drink. It's also given rise to some of the more annoying hip-hop hits in recent memory. In January, Atlanta rappers D4L landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Laffy Taffy," a putrid mix of snap beats, doggerel, and misogyny. Now there's "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," by Dem Franchize Boyz, which boasts a crisper beat—a few lurching synth lines, some high-hats, and that little snap—and even more idiotic raps: lots of shouting about strippers, "stiff dicks," and breaking the backs (and faces, and spleens) of uncooperative women. Who'd have thought Atlanta could produce a hip-hop variant so monumentally witless as to make the city's erstwhile party mascot, bellowing crunk king Lil Jon, seem like a regular Noel Coward?
T-Pain featuring Mike Jones"I'm N Luv (Wit A Stripper)"
From the debut album by Tallahassee's T-Pain—an MC and, after a fashion, vocalist (thus his album's title, Rappa Ternt Sanga)—comes proof that erotic dancers can inspire more than leers. "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)" is a good old-fashioned romantic plaint, complete with breathless purple passages ("Got the body of a goddess/ Got eyes butter pecan brown"). The record sounds great, a neat mix of earthy and glossy, with twanging acoustic guitar bumping up against computerized beats and some digitally enhanced vocal gasps. But the best part is the subtly self-mocking lyric, which sends up a strip-club patron's drunken fantasy that he's about to take the girl home: "She lookin' at me/ Right in my eyes … I need to get her over to my crib."
How can you tell when a gal has spent a too much time in Hollywood? When she starts singing protest songs about Paris Hilton running rampant in Fred Segal. Pink has made some appealing records in her time, and there's no denying the catchiness of this first single from the forthcoming I'm Not Dead, or the nasty appeal of the video, which pokes fun at Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, and other very easy targets. But is a song that smugly proclaims, "I don't wanna be a stupid girl"—and comes complete with a bulimia-satirizing vomit interlude—really the feminist anthem the world needs? "Outcasts and girls with ambition/ That's what I want to see," Pink barks. There are plenty of them out there, hon—they're just not on the E! Channel.
Willie Nelson"Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)"
Twenty-odd years ago, songwriter Ned Sublette composed a wry country tune about forbidden love on the high plains. Now that song has been recorded by the man Sublette had in mind when he composed it: Willie Nelson, America's greatest living balladeer and most genial provocateur, who at age 72 still knows how to seize the zeitgeist and get a rise out of Nashville. Given the wrong treatment, "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly" could be a dopey novelty number, but Nelson sings it nice and deadpan, wringing every bit of humor and truth out of Sublette's lyrics. ("Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other/ What did you think those saddles and boots was about?/ There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way that he feels towards his brother/ Inside every cowboy there's a lady who'd love to slip out.") It's Brokeback Mountain, with 10 times more cheek and no ponderous long shots of mist-swaddled hill country.
The biggest and most nimble voice on hit radio today belongs to Keyshia Cole, a 22-year-old R & B songstress from Oakland, Calif., whose debut album, The Way It Is, was one of the unsung treasures of 2005. Like most of the songs on that album, her current single is a heart-tugger; Cole has studied her Mary J. Blige and learned to make great musical melodrama out of bad relationships and ne'er-do-well men. It helps to have an instrument as powerful as Cole's—note for note, she can sing Blige and even Beyoncé under the table—and the stately "Love" keeps the instrumentation to a bare minimum, showcasing her swoops, growls, and supple legato lines. Then there's the song's big hook, the amazing hiccupping phrases she blasts out in the chorus ("I fou-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-nd you"): soul singing that's closer to a muezzin's ululations than a typical R & B melisma. Top that, Mariah.