Track of the Week: Jamie Foxx ft. Gucci Mane, "Speak French"

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 12 2009 1:43 PM

Track of the Week: Jamie Foxx ft. Gucci Mane, "Speak French"



Jonah Weiner : Hi, Jody. I'll start this week's chat with a confession. Or maybe it's a brag about my advanced teenage tastes. Sixteen-year-old Jonah loved him some Jamie Foxx Show , the WB sitcom that ran from 1996 to 2001. Before he was an Oscar winner and R & B superstar, after all, Foxx was a B-list comedian. Okay, my love was fleeting, because, thinking back, I can only remember one episode: He married an axe murderer or something, she ties him to a bed on their honeymoon, busts out her weapon, and says, "First I'm going to chop off your feet!" And Foxx goes: "But if you cut off my feet, how we gonna kick it?"

"Speak French," a tie-your-lover-to-the-bed-type slow jam, has a similar appeal to me: It's faintly menacing and totally ridiculous. One thing I love about the song is that it doesn't really have a center: just different, oblong parts that sort of fall into place next to each other. So many R&B singers promise to take you to a pleasure/comfort zone, but this song is severely off-balance. Foxx's singing is as restrained as it gets—the best thing he does might be his moaning when the girl is repeating the daffy, daffy refrain: "I don't speak French but I'll tongue ya down."

This song is also significant because it marks the mellow reappearance of Bangladesh, the guy who produced Lil Wayne's "A Milli." Bangladesh has had trouble replicating "A Milli"'s concrete-rumbling assault, but between this and Mario's " Break Up ," he's carving out a nice niche for himself as one of the weirdest R & B producers out there. And I haven't even gotten to the Gucci Mane verse!

Jody Rosen
: It's bad form to pick fights with bright-eyed boy-youths, but I'm not so sure about 16-year-old Jonah Weiner's taste. Foxx has never been my cuppa. He's a talented guy, sure, but modestly so; he seems to me totally unoriginal in all his pursuits. Plus, he's a real preener—so extravagantly pleased with himself out of all proportion to his merits. Now, being pleased with oneself isn't a problem in the R & B Casanova game. It's a prerequisite. But, sorry, Foxx is no R. Kelly. He's not even Jeremih .

That said, the guy's songs are getting better, and he's got good taste in collaborators. " Blame It " was fun in the way that all records with T-Pain on them are fun. And "Speak French" is terrific. Foxx merely has to competently execute, which he does, as you say, with admirable understatement. But the hero is Bangladesh, who stitches together three tasty musical bits—the portentous synthy bit, the rubbery bass bit, and (my favorite) the eerie piano bit—with a great feel for dynamics and drama. It's the latest example of the (very welcome) weirdification of baby-making music. The leader in the field, of course, is Kelly, who realized several years ago that the hoary girl-Imma-freak-you Love Man clichés had been abused to the point where they were no longer entertaining even as self-parody and pushed the genre completely into the realm of opéra bouffe , embracing outrageous sex farce and sonic oddity . "Speak French" is a song in this mode. Among other things, it has also almost no utilitarian value: the song's too strange, too lurching, to work as a booty-call soundtrack.

As for Gucci Mane: "I took a picture of my dick and sent it as a gift"! Chivalry's not dead, ladies!

J.W.: I'll save my "Why The Jamie Foxx Show Was the Better than The Sopranos " #slatepitch for another time. Maybe I'll rewatch it first. Perhaps it was terrible! But I clearly find Foxx more ingratiating than you, and I think he deserves a smidge more credit on this song than you're giving him. We agree he's a member of a supporting cast and that Bangladesh is the star, but I think he enhances the music's mood—the (tortured? ecstatic?) way he sings, "Take the elevator up to the 22nd level," turning it into a cryptic hook, is a slight touch, but it's marvelous.

That Gucci Mane line might be even better than you think. I hear it as: "I took a picture of my dick and sent it as a .gif!" That's right—he's rapping about file extensions! I'm still absorbing the mixtapes this Atlanta rapper has released at a Lil-Wayne-pace this year, but his immediate appeal involves his willingness to goof around. (He does something similar on "Break Up," too, which may be my favorite R & B song of the year.) He raps like Young Jeezy trying to land a Comedy Central special.

J.R.: I will say this for Foxx: the lyrics he sings, which I assume are of his creation, are really funny—intentionally, I think. Consider: "Parlez-vous français?/ That's not the language that I speak/ But your body got me sayin' some things/ That people in France don't speak." And: "Take the elevator up to the 22nd level/ That's when the violins play." And the priceless couplet: "Only red roses for you baby/ And only white roses for you baby." These are the words of a horndog trying to woo a girl with some Harlequin Romance-talk, a task that's just a bit beyond his powers as a linguist. He should take a tip from Gucci Mane. Chicks today, they don't need poems and flowers—all they want are .gifs!

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Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.

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