Black Rob – “Whoa!”

Released: 2.15.00

Peak: #43

Sean “He’ll Always Be Puffy to Me” Combs is proof that, regardless of what self-help bootstrappers tell us, hard work (a.k.a. “hustling”) isn’t always a good thing. Think–if Puff had slept in just a few extra days last decade, we might now live in a world without a Danity Kane follow-up. Loaf, Sean! Squander! Chill! But Diddy understands that 90% of luck is about showing up to work in the morning, even if you know Young Joc’s waiting for you in the studio. True, his fin de siecle finds, from Dream to 112 to Carl Thomas, sounded pallid up against the day’s She’kspere-tricked beats. But like the powerful European dynasties of old, Bad Boy continued inbreeding its faults and clinging to power through sheer pointless determination.

However reliable a font of R&B he may be, though, Combs has always been an iffy hip-hop A&R man. A Biggie huffs into your life but once, and from the L.O.X. to Loon to Shyne, his replacements got no more success than they deserved. So it’s worth noting that of the two major exceptions to Bad Boy’s decline, one was a bona fide rap hit. (The other remains more than half a decade away.) Black Rob could hardly be said to possess either the lyrics to win heads or the charisma to win hearts. But he did have a catchphrase-hook that was fashionably Keanu in its blank taken-abackness, a woozy string loop that dramatized a decade of Wu-ridden claustrophobia, and a proto-crunk bellow more akin to the drill sergeant rap rumbling out of the south than the haunted tirades of DMX. Like I said, a rap hit–Bad Boy’s first of the ’00s, and last worth crowing about.

Much as I did “Whoa!” I can’t help but feel for Buckwild. Here’s a guy’s worked with the game’s ace lyricists, not just best-sellers like Jay and Biggie, but beloved icons like Kool G Rap and Big L, and yet what I imagine is his money-making-est production moment–and his finest–showcases rudimentary rhymes that point toward chart rap’s post-lyrical fate in the decade to come. Though, to be fair to Rob, ending each line with “Whoa!” will tend to limit one’s lyrical possibilities, as proven by the all-star remix with Beanie Sigel, Da Brat, G-Dep, Lil’ Cease, The Madd Rapper, Petey Pablo, Puff Daddy, John Negroponte (nah–just wanted to see if you were paying attention), Rah Digga, and Shyne. Not one of whom adds a syllable of depth to the track.

So Black Rob ain’t about depth–he just wants you to understand where he’s coming from. Why, he even begins his song by explaining what “whoa!” actually means, for the benefit of slower listeners (like, say, Ma$e). A true underground rapper would leave us to decipher the cryptographic significance of that phrase on our own. But that’s Black Rob for you–risking his cred so that others might know the truth. A hero, really.

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