EARLY WORKS FOR ME
(First Steps, Starting Points, and Juvenilia)
K-Dot - “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
There’s something comforting about getting to see that a successful artist made awful stuff before they started making great stuff. It’s a reminder that art, like anything else, takes work. You can’t make A Song of Ice and Fire1 right out of the gate; you’ve gotta write a whole bunch of episodes of Beauty and the Beast (the live action soap) first.
But even though you may understand that fact, it’s still weird to revisit those first terrible steps that lead to the formation of a great artist. There’s something distinctly off-putting about hearing a sixteen-year-old Kendrick Lamar, he of the world-entrancing “Control” verse,2 spit not-so-hot fire over the beat to “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell on from his first mixtape, Y.N.I.C.3
"Drop It Like It’s Hot" is one of those hip-hop tracks that seems fairly innocuous at first blush. It’s the sort of thing your mom would put on her iPod to play at a pool party. But if you carefully parse through the lyrics, you’ll slowly realize that it’s as chock full of references to drugs, sex, and violence. Yet, due to the breezy beat, sharp hook, and (of course) radio edits, I doubt anyone would characterize this song as profane.
The reason that I point this out is that I suspect that young Kendrick (aka K-Dot) viewed the song the same way that your mom does: as a pleasant but slight pop hit. So, since he was a teenager and didn’t know better, he decided to rewrite it as a crime anthem. What a creative and original idea, right? I don’t know if there’s a clearer indicator for terrible mixtapes than the gangsta-fied pop song.
Luckily for Kendrick, the track that results is not as bad as it could have been. Even at this age he had a solid flow, and though he doesn’t throw out any particularly memorable lines, he also doesn’t say anything too cringe-worthy.4 Yet while the track isn’t an agonizing listen, it’s still definitely an odd one. Wait until you get to the second verse and you’ll know what I mean.
Yup, that’s Kendrick straight up jocking the flow that Pharrell uses in the song. But it’s not just his flow. It’s his stage-whisper delivery (which maybe, if you squint at it, could foreshadow Kendrick’s future love of widely varying his delivery) and even most of his lines. It’s like he’s doing a Weird Al parody, rewriting and redelivering the verse in a way that hews shockingly close to the original. I’m not accusing Kendrick of anything wrong here; it’s clear that we’re supposed to recognize this as a slightly altered form of Pharrell’s original. It’s a choice that I really can’t make any sense of, but I will admit that I don’t think I’ve heard anything quite like it.
That’s what makes this track the one from Y.N.I.C. that’s stuck most in my mind. In a competent but mostly uneventful mixtape, any weird decision becomes compelling, even if it isn’t particularly successful.
1. Since Kendrick Lamar’s real last name is “Duckworth,” I’ve always hoped that he would get really into ASOIAF and take up “Ser Rolly Duckfield" as a nickname, or use that as a title for a song or something.
2. “Jennifer Aniston Responds to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Control’ Verse!”
“The Spin Doctors Respond to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Control’ Verse!”
“Santa Responds to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Control’ Verse!”
3. My dad hates “Drop It Like It’s Hot” because he’s both tone-deaf and devoid of rhythm. He says it just sounds like stereo-panned static to him. (His genes are the reason that I can’t actually make music myself.)
4. This holds true for most of the mixtape. It’s not something I’ll probably ever choose to throw on for pleasure, but it isn’t painful to get through or anything.
"You and me? We were never like Snoop and Dre." 2 Chainz laughed as he walked away, shaking his head.
"You in first place," Kanye muttered quietly. "You in first place. Bad friend contest, you in first place.”