While riding in an Uber through the city where my parents live last night, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the local pop radio station was playing one of my favorite Lil Wayne songs, an 11-year-old track that hadn’t been released on an official album, much less as a single. The song was “Ride for My N*ggas,” a surreally triumphant highlight from 2007’s Da Drought 3, and one of the best illustrations of the virtuosic level Wayne was working at during his fabled mixtape period, spinning out a new free-associative epiphany with every bar.
Except it wasn’t that song at all. It was “High Hopes,” this year’s smash single that provided a bona fide second act for 2000s emo-popsters Panic! at the Disco, who had their first commercial prime just as Wayne was gearing up to hit his creative peak. I’d never heard “High Hopes” before, and I was stunned by how much it reminded me of “Ride for My N*ggas,” especially given how vastly different the two artists are on paper. To me, it felt like Panic frontman Brandon Urie and his co-writers were giving a conscious tribute to Wayne, though there’s been no mention of that in press coverage of “High Hopes” that I can find.
Listen to the chorus of “High Hopes,” which first comes in right at the beginning of the song:
And now listen to the chorus of “Ride for My N*ggas,” which first comes in around 1:20:
The rhyme scheme, the way the syllables fall across the beat, the type of fanfare-ish production that makes you want to run a few sets on the Rocky stairs, the lyrics about having faith in yourself and celebrating victory in the face of struggle—both songs have all of these things in common. The “High Hopes” chorus doesn’t have any of the same lyrics as the “Ride for My N*ggas” chorus, but you’d have to listen closely to notice, so similar is the way Urie delivers words like “living” and “vision” to Wayne’s “limit” and “trigger.” And the opening lines of the “High Hopes” chorus:
Had to have high, high hopes for a living
Shooting for the stars when I couldn’t make a killing
Are nearly the same as these lines from Wayne’s first verse, down to their different uses of the same word, “high”:
They tell me don’t get high and I should try to make a living
I tell ’em I’m a hustler and I’d rather make a killing
The two songs are very similar in tempo, though not quite exactly the same, with the Wayne song coming in at 80 beats per minute and the Panic! at the Disco song right around 82. Here’s a quickly hacked-together audio file of the two choruses looping simultaneously, with Wayne’s tempo nudged up ever so slightly to match Panic’s. “Ride for My N*ggas” plays in the right stereo channel and “High Hopes” in the left.
“High Hopes” has nine different credited songwriters, so it’s tough to know whether Urie is the secret Tunechi fan or someone else (or, of course, whether it’s just a complete coincidence). And for what it’s worth, like much of the era’s mixtape rap, “Ride for My N*ggas” could itself be considered a derivative work, borrowing its stomping beat from Mike Jones’s (inferior) 2007 single “Mr. Jones.”
In any case, intentionally or not, one of the year’s biggest rock singles bears a pretty striking resemblance to a rap song that didn’t even come near to cracking the charts when it was released over a decade ago. Only one of the two songs has its lead vocalist comparing himself to an armadillo, however, or divulging out of nowhere that his favorite movie as a five-year-old was Gremlins. That ain’t got shit to do with this, but we just thought that we should mention.