Bangladesh’s Popular Apocalypse

The internet is abuzz over Weezy’s latest, “6’7″” (which is awkward to properly write, thanks Wayne; it has also hit #1 on the iTunes singles chart at the time of this writing). Some fans/comment sections have greeted it with hysterical adulation, others have expressed a bit more weariness.

“6’7″” – Lil Wayne ft. Cory Gunz

At the risk of riding trends, I’m weighing in on the track, but my focus is more on its producer than its emcees (for the record, briefly: Wayne stylishly says a bunch of shit we’ve already heard him say in slightly different ways, Cory Gunz’ flow flows, and the duo works–even if it seems perhaps that they were working from different places and merely trying to capture the lightning in a bottle that was Wayne’s “A Milli” and Gunz’ rendition).

Bangladesh has carved himself a fine niche with tracks like “6’7″,” deep, repetitive trunk knockers that toe the line between sonically redundant insanity and world-beating anthems (and, really, who can be certain that two invented designations need be mutually exclusive?). At his finest–“Lemonade,” “I Got Bass,” and perhaps Nicki’s “Did It On Em” (we’re holding aside “A Milli” for a second, which is the equivalent Bangladesh’s Ride of the Valkyries)–he mixes synths, incessant melodies and earth shaking bass into a guttural alien mix of grimy post-Timbaland synths and southern bounce (and I’m not really sure there’s a particular part of the south Bangladesh’s production sounds like–it seems based more on a passing approximation of what “southern drums” sound like than a style that can be traced back to, say, New Orleans or Miami production, and Bangladesh was born in Iowa so…confusion ensues). At his worst–“Diva,” “Bossy,” “Video Phone,” basically anything he does that isn’t for a rapper (and I think that “Video Phone” actually could have been pretty great with rapping on it, such is the thinness of the line between Bangladesh’s quality productions and dregs, which is not entirely fair because it has more to do with performers than his production itself)–the synthesizers and incessancy overwhelm or push away (in the case of “Video Phone”) the ever present satisfaction of oppressive bass.

“Diva” in many ways is the horrible logical conclusion of what Bangladesh began on “A Milli,” which, precisely speaking, was a sonic apocalypse.

I remember the first time I heard “A Milli” I was at my man RUNE’s apartment. He hyped it up something fierce.

Pressed play.

“Bangladesh” and the now familiar (and ever-misleading) orchestral flourish stream from the speakers.

Then that fucking sample.

“A milli a milli a milli a mill a mill” and on and on into infinity.

So let’s hang out in the space before the bass drops for a second. When I first heard this repeated vocal I felt a visceral hatred.

“What the fuck is this?”

“Isn’t it dope?”

“I’m not so sure man.”

Well I was actually fairly certain that I hated it. It went against everything I knew and loved about music. Where was the melody? Where were the instruments? It was abrasive, running counter to what I understood to make a strong backing track for a rapper. It seemed as if the ad infinitum vocal sample was attempting at every turn to will itself up out of the beat and into any available space like a rap destroying gas. Wayne wrestled with it and won, but I certainly listened a few times without hearing a damn word Wayne was saying–the beat took over my comprehensive capacity.

And now onto that bass.

That BASS.

That bass that made Busta Rhymes go home and ask “was I fucking crazy?” for sitting on “I Got Bass” (the answer is that he wasn’t crazy, “I Got Bass” is dope, but “A Milli” it most certainly is not) (another momentary tangent, because this piece seems to be built mostly in parentheticals: listening to Busta Rhymes tell stories–hell listening to him speak, period–is as entertaining as listening to Busta’s music, more entertaining than most of his new stuff; it reminds you that, beneath recent thug posturing on record, there lies the alarmingly charismatic emcee whose early work sounds like nothing that preceded it or came after; I believe I’ve said before that Busta never had the “content” or storytelling ability of some of the so-called greatest rappers of all-time, but on pure style and flow–and Busta can flow–there are very few in rap’s history who have ever come close to Mr. Rhymes, 10 year old me believed that and 22 year old me believes that).

Where were we? Oh, the earth-rattling, intestine busting bass of “A Milli” that blew out my speakers earlier this year and that jumped through RUNE’s speakers almost 3 years ago. It was so heavy that I couldn’t comprehend it at first. Two days later, if memory serves, I was playing NBA Live with a few friends, enjoying a drink when it hit me. The bass was inescapable. We listened to the song some 40 to 50 times on repeat. That’s almost 3 hours of “A Milli,” which is about 37 million “a milli’s” (roughly). After that marathon session I understood that the beat was not so much an accompaniment as a parasite, an indomitable worm hellbent on digging its way into my brain. The bass was an addiction; I wanted to listen again and again just to hear that bottomless thump, perfectly accompanied by razor sharp snares and what revealed itself to be a surprisingly well-engineered sample. Though it bumps up against Wayne, the constant chorus of “a milli’s” is repetitive and open enough that it can be tuned out, or tuned in to the rest of the proceedings and taken (eventually) as a part of the mania rather than an eternally returning pothole. It is this openness coupled with an apparent challenge (because it is by no means an easy beat to rap over, let alone make one’s own) that drew rappers out of the woodworks in attempts to match Wayne’s magic. To my ear no one did it justice like Wayne in his first go round (even he couldn’t recapture his brilliance on the remix).

And so the beat. Inescapable, occasionally indescribable (this is the first time I’ve ever really come close to explaining why I love it), and almost a-musical. It is a clanging mess held together by the sound that makes city blocks shake and people over the age of 40 shake their heads. It doesn’t reconsider past traditions or even acknowledge anything other than the fact that 808’s exist and Bangladesh likes to engineer them to be very fucking low and loud. It just destroys everything in its path, speakers, emcees, eardrums–everything.

And THAT is what “6’7″” was supposed to do. It was supposed to re-shake the world, knock everything off its axis once again and force realignment (or at least baited breath as we await The Carter 4).

Of course, it didn’t do that. But it is dope and it reiterates that Hip-Hop, though deeply indebted to the traditions from which it borrows, continues to be a fascinating and vital prism through which to view samples and modern music. I want to invoke my mother’s take on Hip-Hop production, for a moment, to provide further understanding. To the ears of my mother (a former Metropolitan Opera stage director of 30+ years who has Wagner’s canon committed to memory, for the sake of presenting the credentials of her ears), there is plenty of quality to be had in Hip-Hop production. She’s loved much of Kanye’s recent production and has even been a fan of the beats on works by artists as diverse as Wu Tang, Aesop Rock, Outkast, and Bone Thugs N Harmony (to name a totally random cross section). To my mother’s ear, Bangladesh’s production, then, isn’t even in the same category as these artists, dissimilar as they may be. Nor do Bangladesh’s beats just resemble the loud, bassy drone heard by the uninitiated. Bangladesh’s production represents an affront to music and everything musical. It threatens to be something other than music, an agglomeration of repetitive, irritating sounds laid over too-heavy bass and too-high snares. In other words, musical apocalypse, the sound of traditions melting down into a cesspool of “young’uns” too busy with their damn sub-woofers to care about melody.

And all that, of course, is what’s great about Bangladesh’s production at its highest level. That’s what’s great about the beat for “6’7″”. It doesn’t go completely into “A Milli” territory–its original source material provides it with a semblance of melody, that is, of course, heavily distorted from its original form–but it strays deeply enough into the abrasive that the first listen is a puzzling one. The second and third listens are puzzling. It clicked on the fourth and I’ve listened 10 times today. (It bears noting that Bangladesh is a known quantity at this point and that he was a complete unknown to me when “A Milli” came out, so this warming up period no longer surprises me). As in “A Milli,” “Lemonade” and Bangladesh’s other successes, the bass eventually takes center stage, utterly unavoidable and all-consuming in speakers of almost any make and size (it even sounds heavy through MacBook speakers).

I think Bangladesh is as vital to Hip-Hop as Kanye or Odd Future or any number of other bastions of the genre, mainstream or underground. He is as integral to Wayne’s success as Jim Jonsin and further proof that, though we are out of the age of the super-producer, the producer still runs the show in Hip-Hop (Eminem is certainly an argument for the cult of personality that surrounds certain emcees and sells records, but Nelly’s recent success provides a decent counter-example). The “popular” part of this popular apocalypse comes in Bangladesh’s ability to orchestrate simple productions that bore their way into listener’s brains and become unforgettable, occasionally to a fault. Like the rowdy, tattooed cousins of “Yeah!” and “Freek-a-Leek,” Bangladesh’s beats are occasionally incongruous and annoying, but ultimately beloved and (like family) largely inescapable. (I am generalizing, but the man has a large enough number of hits in his catalogue that we can start arguing for him as one of the super hit makers in Hip-Hop and popular music in general–did you know he produced “What’s Your Fantasy?,” because until five minutes ago I did not).

So Wayne won’t, but he probably should just fill an album or a mixtape or a Young Money Mondays series with Bangladesh laced bangers and keep the popular apocalypse coming.

I haven’t written this many words on this blog since I was writing about Rich Boy–and that article (which I’m not linking to, because it ludicrous and atrocious, find it your damn self) started with a discussion of Rich’s “Drop,” which takes major cues from “A Milli.” The cycle spins round and the universe folds back on itself.

(A strange corollary to all of this is that Bangladesh has gone on record saying that he doesn’t get down with Young Money any more due to their unwillingness to pay royalties. Baby must be paying now, because, unless I’m mistaken, this makes two songs–“Did it On ‘Em” and “6’7′”–that Bangladesh has produced for YM this year alone. Money owed morphing to money paid cures all, I suppose)

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