TI ft. Justin Timberlake - 'Dead and Gone'
Whenever I write about US hip hop/rap, I always manage to tie myself into a knot trying to work out exactly what sort of a thing it is; I know TI is a Southern rapper but this has more of the Timbaland-esque Northern sound to it, and where the East/West coast divide comes into all this I have no idea. It's very hard to keep up as well as knowing what's going on in Spanish-language post-metal and remembering to walk the dog and things.
The handy thing with this song, though, is that half way through Justin clarifies his geographical position (metaphorical or otherwise) by, according to the lyrics, turning his head every direction except South. So hopefully, that's where he is and I can say with confidence that this is a triumph for Southern hip-hop, which was only recently still considered to be less emotionally engaged than its Northern counterparts but here showing a more powerful, serious side.
(Pesky video's got swearing in. Won't someone think of the CHILDREN??)
I mean, yes, OK, 'Life Your Life' actually had quite emotional lyrics but to be honest I think everyone in Europe at least was busy being deeply distracted by the fact it sampled 'Dragostea Din Tei' so its full effect probably wasn't as hard-hitting as it possibly could have been. This, on the other hand, is stunning. And quite reassuring, since Flo Rida sampling 'Blue' by Eiffel 65, left me beginning to suspect that all hip hop producers had, in some kind of resigned mental-breakdown-at-Timbaland's-apparently-unstoppable-success way, simply given up.
I actually assumed this was a Timbaland production, at first, since the first time TI and Justin collaborated was on 'My Love' and this is sonically not far from the Timbaland tree, with its massive synths and beatboxing. It's actually a collaboration between Justin and Rob Knox (who's worked with Britney and Chris Brown, amongst others) which explains the powerful pop aesthetic.
According to Mr Knox it's not intended to be a sad song, although it's a tribute to TI's friend's death but more of an uplifting song about leaving the past behind. If that was the intent, then I don't think they really succeeded, since although it's very beautiful and not totally depressing, to me the emotions wrapped up in it are all anger and sadness and loss.
Music-as-cartharsis has always been a popular way of talking about songwriting and has, without doubt, produced some uniquely powerful songs, which I definitely think this counts amongst. Whether it's just the overwhelming force of the cello (and I bloody LOVE cellos, I might add) as the chorus cuts in, that hits you like an actual physical force or whether it's the sheer scope of the production, which feels epic and well-orchestrated rather than melodramatic, it works incredibly well. It's not a ballad too wrapped up in itself; TI's rapping prevents it slowing down too much, or becoming self-indulgent, and the grand scale on which it appears gives it space, rather than making it too heavily weighted down with production.
It's emotional and powerful and redemptive and everything a tribute song for a dead friend should be, without being vengeful or particularly self-hating. It's a song about moving on, which I suppose is where the uplifting quality the producers wanted from it comes in. The only criticism I might level at it is that TI himself fades innapropriately into the background to some extent, getting confused in the beatboxing and to the casual listener, he's perhaps not high enough in the mix to catch. Especially in comparison to the powerful (Justin-sung) choruses.
It's hard to have much problem, though, with a song that has a chorus which is so close to 'I Got 5 On It' by Luniz (ask your box-fresh uncle), especially when the rest of it is as good as this is.
Download: Out now
CD Released: March 9th