Meta-music

Last year Jay-Z released his latest album “The Blueprint 3”. Whilst most of the album was a particularly pop-sounding affair, he kicked off proceedings with one of his most hard-hitting singles ever, “D.O.A (Death of Autotune)” The title gave the impression that the track was going to be a violent denouncing of the ubiquitous Autotune software that has infected popular music lately. But its not. The song is about how good the song is. The song you are listening to. In its lyrics, Jigga catalogues how great the song you are currently listening to is.

This is anti autotune, death of the ringtone,
This ain’t for iTunes, this ain’t for sing alongs

This sets off the tone for the song. He then opines:

My raps don’t have melodies

Which would explain Rhianna’s appearance on the album. I digress.

He also humbly predicts less than stellar success. For the song you are listening to.

This ain’t a number one record

And so the song continues, continuously self-referencing itself. Which led me to consider the genre of the meta-song, songs that in their own lyrics refer to them selves, a kind of sonic Mobius Strip.

So, what other songs can we include as musical snakes eating their own tails? Take Public Image Limited’s “This is not a Love Song”, whose chorus simply repeats this edict over and over. This. Is. Not. A. Love. Song. This is a particularly curious example. The song is about not being about something else. Its a surprise you can hear anything at all.

Then we have Elton John’s “Your Song”. This tear-jerking ballad is about that very same tear-jerking ballad. Elton very nearly tears a hole in the time space continuum with this one.

My gift is my song and this one’s for you

In fact, the recipient of this song would not be out of place feeling a little bit short changed. You have the special honor of being gifted a song by two of the worlds greatest love song writers, and they spend half of it telling you they have written a song for you. Cheers lads. They even suggest:

And you can tell everybody this is your song

“Hey everyone, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote me a song!” “Sweet, what’s it about” “well, erm, its about how they wrote me a song” “Oh”

The final exhibit of meta-music I want to talk about is Carly Simon’s 1972 classic “You’re So Vain”. The song has enjoyed legendary status due to the debate over who the song is directed to. I think the most interesting thing about this song is that in referring to itself in such a manner it outs itself as the biggest lie in musical history. Carly sings herself into a paradox. By scornfully berating the mystery ex-lover for thinking the song is about him, Simon makes the song about him. Thus, the phantom target’s vanity should not be in question, Carly’s Ouroborous has swallowed itself. The result is a song that is about someone but that person shouldn’t think the song is about them.

I would like to see more appreciation for the post-modern marvel that is the meta-song. Any more examples?

How I Got Over

The new album from The Roots “How I Got Over” is out, and its very good. A noticeable shift in mood from their previous two sees the crew at least sonically soften things up. “Game Theory” and “Rising Down” were hard albums, recorded during the Bush era, and “How I Got Over” reflects the bands feelings post-Obama. Which isn’t too say its all happy-clappy, there is still a distinct feeling of melancholy running through the 12 tracks, but theres definitely a feeling of hope expressed in songs like “The Day”, “Right On” and “The Fire”. The despair of the Bush-era is gone (almost), and this is also reflected in the production which harks back to their earlier jazzier roots, and less of the Public Enemy-like sounds of their previous two efforts. That said, one of the strongest cuts is the raw futuristic rhymefest that is “Web 20/20”.

Here are two songs from it, the first is probably my (current) favourite on the album, the John Legend featuring “The Fire”

And the title track (with video) “How I Got Over”

Definitely worth checking out.

Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal

Keith “Guru” Elam, rapper with seminal hip-hop group Gangstarr passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer.

Along with his partner-in-crime DJ Premier he made some of the best music I have ever heard. Whilst Premier probably gets more praise for his contribution to hip-hop, Guru was always a great lyricist/vocalist, who always strove to create meaningful, conscious lyrics, but always with an authentic East Coast edge.

I saw Gangstarr live back in 2002/03 and it was a great show, Guru knew how to rock a crowd. Rest in Peace.