Friday, August 05, 2016

A couple days ago Will Smith was on Steven Colbert's late night show, and as these shows tend to do three or four times a night, they went to commercial. Will and Colbert were having a regular off-camera conversation and the band broke into an instrumental version of Will's 1991 hit, "Summertime". Will talked to Colbert a little while longer, and then he mosied over to the band, picked up the mic like an MC is wont to do, and this happened:

Will is corny, he's an actor, he's a husband, he's a father, he's insanely rich, but we came to know and love (some hate him too) him as an MC, and I found myself smiling at the relative ease with which he slipped right back into that mode. Even more gratifying than Will's actions were the crowd's reaction to him spitting the first few verses. They clapped, the rapped along, they stood up, and they were basically in the palm of Will's hand---a good MC wouldn't have it any other way.

Whoopty damn doo for Will, but that's not why I'm writing about this.

For years there have been rumors that Rakim ghostwrote that song for Will and for years Jazzy Jeff has vehemently shot those rumors right down. Eric B(Rakim's longtime partner in rap) said that he originally made the beat for Rakim, but he ended up giving it to Will. Since Will knew the song was originally for Rakim, the story goes that he decided to write his rhymes and recite them with Rakim's speed and cadence. I'm not saying that Will didn't write the first and third verses of the song, but the second verse...that's Rakim all day long.

Look at some of the first and third verses and notice that words Will tends to rhyme are at the end of the sentence:

Here it is the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm

It's late in the day and I ain't been on the court yet
Hustle to the mall to get me a short set

Break to ya crib change your clothes once more
Cause you're invited to a barbeque that's starting at 4

Fresh from the barber shop or fly from the beauty salon
Every moment frontin and maxin
Chillin in the car they spent all day waxin
Leanin to the side but you can't spead through

I'm not knocking Will's flow and cadence because I've been a fan of his from the start. He's one of the few rappers who doesn't take himself too seriously while managing to mix in a message, some fun and a little lyrical dexterity to boot. But Rakim--who in my opinion is still the greatest of all time--is held in such high regard because of his complex rhyme schemes. He may rhyme a word at the end of the sentence, but he also rhymes within the sentence as well. Just look at the difference in the rhyme scheme for this second verse:

School is out and it's a sort of a buzz
A back then I didn't really know what it was
But now I see what have of this
The way that people respond to summer madness
The weather is hot and girls are dressing less
And checking out the fellas to tell 'em who's best
Riding around in your jeep or your benzos
Or in your Nissan sitting on lorenzos
Back in Philly we'd be out in the park
A place called the plateau is where everybody goes
Guys out hunting and girls doing likewise
Honking at the honey in front of you with the light eyes
She turns around to see what you beeping at
It's like the summers a natural aphrodisiac
And with a pen and pad I compose this rhyme
To hit you and get you equipped for the summer time

Either Will studied Rakim's style to a T and decided that imitation was the highest form of flattery, or he had Rakim write that verse for him hoping no one would know the difference. My vote is for the latter. Even the sentence, "The weather is hot and girls and dressing less" sounds like something Rakim would say..that's how he gets down. And yes, I have wasted an entire blog entry on this topic, because I feel that strongly that Rakim ghostwrote that. It doesn't detract from the greatness of the song, and if Rakim was paid to keep quiet about that, we'll never know. But I know...

And now he's a song by Will that I know he wrote all of, and I love it:

1 comment:

Jazzbrew said...

Damn - you are on to something here. Totally Rakim's style of rhyming and never noticed it until now. And you are right -- Rakim is the GOAT.