DJ Khaled's "We Takin' Over": A Scientific Assessment
This guy again
Last week, the video for the DJ Khaled all-star posse cut "We Takin' Over" leaked to the internet and got a whole bunch of people all excited, mostly because it's awesome. The instant internet buzz for "We Takin' Over" was pretty surprising, though, when you consider that it's the second awesome all-star DJ Khaled posse cut in a year and that the last one, "Holla At Me," never got anything like this level of notice even though it was one of my favorite songs of the year and I wrote an entry about it and everything. I was talking to a few friends about it last week, and they all attributed this phenomenon to the videos; "Holla At Me" was a no-budget piece of shit, and "We Takin' Over" is the sort of virtuosically glossy blast of blockbuster nonsense that gets people excited about the song even if they didn't like it that much to start with. That explanation makes sense, but it doesn't make "Holla At Me" any less unappreciated. It's a slow day, so I figured I'd use infallibly accurate scientific techniques to figure out which song is better. That's actually a pretty easy proposition, considering that both of them follow pretty much the exact same blueprint: propulsive, synthed-out electro bangers with five rappers (three of whom appear on both songs) and no real point beyond the general celebration of those rappers' collective hegemony. It should also be noted that DJ Khaled himself apparently has little to do with the quality of either of these songs; he didn't produce either one, and his participation seems to be limited to annoying hypeman shouts on both, though I guess we should give him credit for convincing so many rappers to show up on the same tracks together. Khaled remains a shitty mixtape DJ, fairly good producer, and constant remix-video presence who somehow managed to put together a pretty good official album on Koch last year and who seems to be on track to put out another one this year. Let's not talk about him anymore.
The videos: R. Malcolm Jones vs. Gil Green. This category actually matters, since these are both basically event-songs and event-songs need to have splashy videos to make maximum impact. As previously noted, "We Takin' Over" wins this category in a walk. R. Malcolm Jones' "Holla At Me" video is murky quick-cut camcorder videography, DMX cameos, and Fat Joe debuting his new ass-ugly grill with the Puerto Rican flag made out of colored diamonds. Gil Green's "We Takin' Over," in contrast, has a plot and a budget and a backwards car-chase and a gloriously fake newscaster intro. Insanely bombastic statements like this one are the reason God invented rap videos, and I have no idea how Koch was able to justify paying so much for it. Winner: "We Takin' Over." ("HAM": 0, "WTO": 1)
The beats: Cool & Dre vs. Danjahandz. Danja's beat for "We Takin' Over" might be the best thing he's done yet without Timbaland: swollen choral organs, decaying synth-bleeps, simplistic drum-rattles. It keeps the track moving along at a brisk pace, and it gets better-than-usual performances out of ponderous slugs like Rick Ross and Fat Joe. But it doesn't have quite the same impact as Cool & Dre's track for "Holla At Me," which swipes the humming, oscillating beeps of Afrika Bambaataa's "Looking for the Perfect Beat," making it one of those tracks that's pretty much guaranteed to give me an instant rush of joy whenever I hear it. The tracks slows those beeps down a little, but it doesn't really tamper with them much, and it's always fun to hear producers grabbing something from rap's distant past and conclusively proving that it hasn't aged at all. Winner: "Holla At Me." ("HAM": 1, "WTO": 1)
The hooks: Paul Wall vs. Akon. Not much of a contest, unfortunately. Paul Wall just mumbles some shit on "Holla At Me"; it's serviceable enough, but it's not exactly genius. On "We Takin' Over," Akon turns in one of those airy, autotuned earworms that triumphantly refuses to leave my head. There's a reason why this guy's dominating pretty much every radio format in existence. Winner: "We Takin' Over." ("HAM": 1, "WTO": 2)
The first verse: Lil Wayne vs. T.I. This should be a more exciting battle, considering that it's the only part of both songs that allows me to put two A-list rappers head-to-head. But Wayne so completely sleeps through his "Holla At Me" opening verse that he effectively keeps the contest from getting too interesting. His one half-memorable punchline involves calling his girl "Miss Stevie Wonder" because she ain't looking at y'all, and his delivery is lazy and indolent enough that someone probably told him Paul Wall was coming after him and he probably didn't need to work that hard to upstage anyone. Considering how many great verses Wayne recorded for throwaway mixtape tracks last year, it's tough to see why he'd fall asleep so completely on an actual single, albeit one that wasn't his. T.I. doesn't exactly bring his A-game either, but he's all crisp efficiency, rattling off the names of regions and staying in the beat's pockets with effortless calm. Wayne is consistently a better rapper than T.I., but he doesn't quite have T.I.'s natural charisma, and he can't get away with punching the clock the same way T.I. can. Winner: "We Takin' Over." ("HAM": 1, "WTO": 3)
The second verse: Paul Wall vs. Rick Ross. Paul's "Holla At Me" verse is total Southern-rap boilerplate, notable mostly for a weird line where he talks about the I.N.S. chasing him. He manages not to compare himself to a mailbox for once, but he erases that goodwill with one real disgusting line: "leave a bitch back all nutted like Almond Joy," not an image I need to have this guy putting in my head. Paul is generally a better rapper than Ross, but Ross always does better than usual on fast, buoyant beats, since he doesn't get the time to narcotically repeat the same words over and over; Trina's "Told Y'all" is probably still his finest moment. He sounds OK on "We Takin' Over," and I like that he says "black flag on the left" even though he's talking about gang shit instead of seminal hardcore bands, so he wins a tight race between generically middling rappers. Winner: "We Takin' Over." ("HAM": 1, "WTO": 4)
The third verse: Fat Joe vs. Fat Joe. I can't believe I'm about to compare a fucking Fat Joe verse to another fucking Fat Joe verse, but Khaled has some vague connection to Terror Squad, so Joe is going to keep showing up on these tracks even though he's definitely the worst thing about both songs. On "Holla At Me," he barely manages to stay on top of the beat, and he has one unintentionally funny line about "she a motherfucking sex machine." He's a little more animated on "We Takin' Over," and he doesn't have any lines quite as laughably dumb. He says nothing both times, but he's just slightly more assured on "We Takin' Over," so that verse wins and locks up the victory for its song. Winner: "We Takin' Over." ("HAM": 1, "WTO": 5)
The fourth verse: Rick Ross vs. Baby. Ross's "Holla At Me" verse is fast and tolerable in the exact same ways that his "We Takin' Over" verse is; when this guy keeps his profile low and just stays on top of the beat, he's a lot easier to take. The worst thing about the otherwise-great new trend of all-star remixes is that Baby apparently needs to show up on every single one of them despite the fact that he can't rap and never could. At the very least, "We Takin' Over" limits Baby's involvement to a couple of bars and turns his verse into an intro to Lil Wayne's scene-stealer. Still, improbably enough, Ross wins on both of his verses. Winner: "Holla At Me." ("HAM": 2, "WTO": 4)
The fifth verse: Pitbull vs. Lil Wayne. This is actually closer than you'd think. Pitbull's nowhere near Wayne as a rapper, but he still turns in a great cleanup verse, probably the best moment on "Holla At Me." He shouts out Luther Campbell and does that there where he gets all excited and yells his last couple of lines in Spanish, which I totally love. But he's not quite up to the challenge of defeating Wayne's monumental closing verse, the best one on "We Takin' Over." Listening to "We Takin' Over" after "Holla At Me," it's amazing how much better Wayne's gotten in the past year; even his bullshit guest-verses feel like events. Here, he skips all over the beat, pulling out his dandyish Slick Rick talking-to-kids delivery and rhyming "Visa speak" with "Easter pink." It really shouldn't sound so easy. Final winner: "We Takin' Over." ("HAM": 2, "WTO": 6) Wow, that wasn't even close. "Holla At Me" came first, and it's still my sentimental favorite, but I can't argue with those results.