Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name”

Released: 2.29.00

Peak: #1

Peep through Rodney Jerkins c.v. sometime–you know it’s been awhile–and marvel at just how depressingly, consistently, unrelentingly adequate the man’s work has been. From Whitney’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s OK” to Toni’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” to Michael’s “Rock My World,” dude has cultivated a terrain of pleasingly undaunting plateaus, just the sonic tonic for the overtaxed superstar. His is a career made for old-time Top 40 radio, when journeymen pieced together tunes just enticing enough to keep your hand off that dial while you waited for your favorite. That makes him seem out of place in the age of the trackmaster and the megahit, the truncated Clear Channel playlist and the immediacy of the skip button.

By my count, Jerkins was great exactly twice in his career. The epic Brandy-Monica face-off “The Boy Is Mine” moves along nicely (especially sweet electronic harp-eggios), but the catty charisma of its starlets obviously carries the day. And again, with “Say My Name,” given the inevitability of Beyonce’s stardom, the temptation is to credit the gem rather than its setting. (Indeed, it’s somewhat amazing how newly versatile and adult her voice sounds–that falsetto flip on “time two,” mmm–in contrast to the contemporaneous girl-group sass of “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bugaboo.”)

But as a production, “Say My Name” belongs in a class with those other masterpieces that spotlight the paranoia at the heart of black American pop–“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” or “Billie Jean” or “Backstabbers.” Tricks and traps riddle the track; That fantastic wah-wah, those string punctuations, the electronic percussion that actually flutters. And deep below it all, that bass, loping inexorably forward with a sense of tragic inevitability, repeatedly tangles with a taut, Tim-worthy snare-stutter.

The music helps explain why Beyonce is so worked up to begin with. She certainly doesn’t have the same reasons for suspicion that motivate the era’s minor classics of R&B jealousy. Unlike Before Dark, obsessing over the other woman’s name of the other woman on “Monica,” Beyonce has no concrete evidence (“six strands of her hair”!!!) Nor does she have a historical background to motivate her fear, as with Mya monitoring her man’s questionable play-dates on “Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do).” What she has, though, is something deeper–centuries of mistrust communicated through carefully calibrated rhythms.

Jerkins re-emerged much later in the Destiny’s Child saga, for the one-dimensional martial arabesque “Lose My Breath” and the reprehensible geisha chic of “Cater 2 U.” That “reunion” moment that was little more than a splashy detour from Beyonce’s solo career, and as such could be entrusted to the services of a workaday hitmaker.

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  • Craig B  On January 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Two things: 1) Would it possibly be possible for you to number the position of each song on the countdown? You probably have a reason for not, but I’m worried I’ve missed some reviews and I can’t find an easy way to keep track.

    2) You said “Jerkins”, he, he . . .

  • usefulnoise  On January 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I don’t want to number the entries because it would make it seem like these are ranked. I might put up a sidebar that lists past entries, though.

  • Craig B  On January 13, 2010 at 5:13 am

    There ya go. Actually, just posting my first comment got me on your e-mail alerts list. I complain before I fully explore computer fixes all the time. Thanks for being so proactive re your readers concerns anyway.

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