More Feminist Anthems from the Dirty South
From: Dylan Hicks
To: Julianne Shepherd
Subject: Ying Yang Twins, "Wait (The Whisper Song)"
Well, I've gotten myself into another bad relationship. This time it's with "Wait (The Whisper Song)," the Ying Yang Twins' fantastic, awful new single. It's an arresting record, no? I mean, there oughtta be a law. But before we get to the subject of why crunk so often turns sexual contact into a form of brutalization (and makes us like it), let's talk about the music. The song, produced by Beat-In-Azz (a.k.a. DJ Smurf), is delivered entirely in a stage whisper. More people should do that, especially the guy from the Killers. The backing track consists of almost nothing: a springy, heartbeat bass drum, handclaps (wait--snaps?) on the twos and fours, a sporadic howl (Smurf's trademark), an insidious hi-hat on the chorus, that's it.
The record, I suppose, isn't notably more austere than Snoop and Pharrell's "Drop It Like It's Hot" from last year, but "Drop It" involves Snoop and is not from the good years of the early '90s, so already I've nearly forgotten it. Gone. A better comparison might be Peggy Lee's version of "Fever," another hit exploration of the sensuality of hush. And simply as a collection of sounds, vocal and otherwise, "Wait" is a deeply sensual record and a great performance. Alas, it also has words.
The song, Ying Yang Twin Kaine told MTV, "comes from the perspective of talking to a lady in her ear while in the club." The use of the word "lady" to describe the object (key word) of his affection is disingenuous. About the most gentlemanly part of Kaine's come-on goes, in the uncensored version, "You got a sexy ass body and your ass look soft/Mind if I touch it and see if it's soft?" (Coupling "soft" with "soft," by the way, is a cry for a new rhyming dictionary, and an 11-word line shouldn't make room for two asses.)
Things get rougher and nastier on the way to the chorus, which starts with "Wait'll you see my dick" (that, I think, is kind of funny), proceeds to "Hey bitch" (where'd the lady go?), and concludes with a promise to "beat the pussy up," delivered like a mantra. This expression of intercourse-as-punishment, as it happens, started climbing the Top 40 in the same month that Andrea Dworkin died.
Before turning it over to you, let me add that I actually like how the sibilance of "pussy" blends with the aforementioned hi-hat. Pointless perhaps to say, but if the chorus hook were "treat the pussy right" the song might even function as couples' porn.
From: Julianne Shepherd
To: Dylan Hicks
Dearest Dylan Ying of the Yingy Yang Yang,
I love the dramatic first few seconds of "Wait," with that elastic, bonky bass and handclaps; they're muted and private like they were recorded in a bathroom stall. It's one of those great moments that approximates some intimacy between performer and listener. It's too spare to be normal crunk, isn't it? For a Down South track, its lack of synth melody is notable, and your conjuring of "Drop It Like It's Hot" is totally on point--they share the outer-space boom (though I think Pharrell has the copyright on the "Flubber" synth setting, so the bounce of "Wait" is slightly less sproingy).
Then there's the whispering--from a group whose vocal insignia has until this point been foghorn gravel-growls, hog-calls, and drill-sergeant barking--see "Sound Off" from Alley. Most of these demands, of course, have been directed toward women: GET ON THE FLOOR AND DO THE TWURKULATOR! SHAKE IT LIKE A SALT SHAKER! DROP LIKE THIS, BITCH!
But if the song's purpose is to turn on the ladies, I have to say, the Ying Yang Twins' game is busted. It's sultry in sound but not in content; if someone stepped to me like this, I'd laugh my ass off. But then, maybe that's their intent. They do have a sense of humor. The "dick" line is as ridiculous as when they sing "she got me hype/I wanna bite her right ni-yi-yi" on "Say I Yi Yi," a sentiment reprised in the terrific bass track "Georgia Dome."
It's funny, that is, until they get to the predatory and unnerving "I'm gonna beat that pussy up" line, connecting sex with domestic violence. "Wait" is solely about peacocking--a sort of blustery expression of masculinity: Look at how raw I can be. The ladies are vestigial--accessories to the assertion of control. And that is creepy.
AY YI YI
From: Dylan Hicks
To: Julianne Shepherd
With some other, shall we say, command performances from Atlanta, I've greatly preferred the expurgated radio versions. "Get Low," for instance, I couldn't stomach in its raw form, but I surrendered to the "clean" single. The "Wait" edit, though, with all its profanity-masking sound effects, sounds like an adult pinball machine.
I'm a great fan of smut and, to play off a line from 1984, perhaps only a feminist from the waist up. But I'm against "Georgia Dome," which makes "Wait" seem gentle. The remix with Jacki-O at least suggests a (male-driven) pornographic role-playing game, more than a worldview. The original ("I'll punch a bitch in the breast," "Bitch please...the only time you use your mouth is when you get on your knees") is ugly. One assumes (incorrectly?) that a comparably extreme articulation of racism on a widely popular record would engender a fair amount of criticism. But in the music press, mainstream and often the alternative, the prevailing attitude seems to be: Sexism in hip hop? That story's played! Of course, they're not complaining much about John Mayer's "Daughters" ("Boys will be strong and boys soldier on/But boys would be gone without warmth from a woman's good, good heart") or [insert hundreds of recent rock songs here], either.
Is there a version of "Wait" in French?
From: Julianne Shepherd
To: Dylan Hicks
En français, I think "wait'll you see my dick" is roughly "attendez-vous à mon cigare." Maybe they can get Jean-Paul Belmondo to do a guest verse.
To play on your play on 1984, I think everything but my ass is a feminist. To clarify: "Wait," "Get Low," and especially "Georgia Dome" are lyrically vile, violent, and inexcusable--but I still dance to them, and that's hard for me to reconcile, especially since I know the answer to the question "What Would Andrea Dworkin Do?" The Twins may imagine their lyrics proffer sex, but my body tells me that true visceral pleasure resides in the bass--and to paraphrase Cross Colours designer Karl Kani, bass sees no gender. Hip-hop professor/writer Tricia Rose called this friction "the manipulation of the funk": Does our threshold for abusive content shift right, when said content's riding a hot beat?
Maybe all those John Mayer-excusing critics don't snap on the sexist rock, either, because they're distracted by the frisson of wonky riffage. But there is a double standard for hip hop and rock--Mayer's neo-con song "Daughters" is a much subtler platform for patriarchy (not unlike Destiny's Child's "Cater 2 U"), but you can bet if Mayer sang the lyric "beat the pussy up" over polite acoustic strumming, crits would freak.
To complete that thought, if unquestioning, uncritical critics and fans see the Twins' videos and assume they're generally talking about women of color, it's not just sexism via laziness; it's quiet racism via complicity. (It's instructive that Wall Street Journal columnist Martha Bailey just called commercial rap "neominstrelsy.")
But ignorance is bliss! And tonight I wished XXL magazine came in a clean version, too. In the new issue, there's an interview with the Twins in their Atlanta studio, which includes lyrics from songs forthcoming off U.S.A.--lyrics that make "Wait" seem quaint, lyrics for something DJ Smurf gleefully calls "the date-rape song." (Related aside: Smurf reportedly wrote the beat for "Wait" immediately after hearing "Drop It Like It's Hot" in Pharrell's studio. The Flubber bounce is no coincidence.) There's no way I can buy this album in good faith after that.
Living in a Complex America Is Hard,
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