Whenever a new and underwhelming song from or featuring Dr. Dre appears and it hurts to hear, just close your eyes, drown out his goofy-ass ghostwritten grunts, and imagine an alternate rap history for the once legendary, now totally coasting producer. One where the G-funk visionary got rid of his ego, didn’t spend the past two years or so contriving a big, fancy Detox comeback that’ll never happen, and instead, stared down that mound of money he’s got because of those stupid headphones, saw it as a nice nest egg, linked up with those Black Hippy fellas for real, and knocked out a Kendrick and company-filled follow-up to Chronic 2001, on some low-stakes, high quality Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 type shit. Screw it, give it away for free, even!
But no, we get a clunky verse on a new Rick Ross track that’s trying very, very hard to be an event. Though, Rap Genius did call it “An epic, Jake One-produced anthem, featuring two of hip-hop’s historic kings, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, along with Ross, an upcoming king in rap history.” The highlight because it’s a low light is probably when Dre plugs his headphones and then does it again, a move almost as egregious as Bawse pimping God Forgives, I Don’t at the end of his clueless verse on Nas’ “Accident Murderers” (speaking of an aging guy doing it right, Life Is Good‘s uses of the idyllic past to deal with the bittersweet present is inspired).
Ross babbles plenty of nonsense, as usual, though he sells his ability to appropriate someone else’s reality pretty well. He paints with a broad, struggle rap brush (“The homie whipping’ chickens in his momma’s kitchen / On the mission, said he get it for his son’s tuition”), does a cute “nudge nudge wink wink” label shout-out and call back to the mighty D.R.E.’s shilling (“We should listen to this track in my Maybach”), and ends with an icky request that’ll make you want to turn the song off: “Come and suck a dick for a millionaire.” Oh, boy.
That leaves it all up to Jay-Z to save this non-starter, and he puts in quite the effort. He raps twice as long as his fellow, far too comfortable “kings,” lets the beat breathe at the beginning, in part buying time, but also exposing Jake One’s production as both a stalwart soul-beat wailer and a lumpy, stoner synth wanderer, and keeps on going, even after the beat has stopped. It’s almost like he heard the other verses and knew he had to throw out every skill he’s got to rescue this thing. The real trick here though, is that unlike Dre and Ross, who do their best to come off untouchable, Jay weaves in a few boasts about his daughter and buying drapes that ground this thing in something like reality, which is preferable to Dre toiling in nostalgia, and Ross’ Sosa-from-Scarface cosplay.
Jay’s verse is off-the-dome and it shows. Mid-verse, he even says, “You ain’t gotta keep this Khaled, it’s just a freestyle,” which kind of lets the cat out of the bag when it comes to the dearth of quality control going on in big-name rap right now, doesn’t it? However, this freestyle has a tentative quality that injects this feeble, wannabe regal turd of a single with a little bit of humanity. Towards the end, when there’s no longer a beat to guide him, you can hear Jay stumbling, in a charming, flawed way, lobbing out a memory, “Used to shop at TJ Maxx back in ’83,” then adding, with some hesitation, “I don’t even know if it was open then,” and finally, “I ain’t know Oprah then.” He also makes some zany car noises. It isn’t good, but it’s evidence of a living breathing person — not a guarded caricature — behind those groaners.