“I’m Real (Murder Remix)” – Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule

Released: 10.9.01

Peak: #1

Jennifer Lopez’s discography is one slowly unfolding ontological crisis. Jenny from the block, whose love didn’t cost a thing, danced forever one step ahead of the perverse pop Calvinism that beset upwardly mobile celebs–the superstardom that her abiding realness earned also threatened to undermine that same realness. Truth is, though, with everyday people having long since made their peace with consumer orgiastics, there was never any danger of J-Lo being hoist by her own bootstraps: If Elvis is the Oedipus Rex of this double-bind shit, J-Lo is the Lifetime Original Movie, complete with shopping montage and happy ending.

Lopez is a woman of many contradictions: a movie star who seems to prefer her music career, an independent gal whose public life can be divided neatly into discrete segments by boyfriend. Less contradictory was her status as an R&B chick who sounded most herself with a rapper beside her, a commonplace by 2001. With Ja Rule the Meth to her Mary, she fully revamped a tedious original that I don’t even remember hearing at the time with the best recycling of the Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” since “Around the Way Girl.”

“I’m Real” was a blithe coda to the golden age of rap fabulosity; the Club New York shootout, which caught J-Lo in the crossfire, served as its half-assed Altamont. And fittingly for the end of an era, the song has trouble maintaining its own easy-rolling vibe. J-Lo’s use of the “n” word (bleeped in polite circles) raised questions of just how real a Latina was allowed to be. And Ja’s pottymouth all but torpedoes the unrated version–it’s bad enough when Ja threatens to bring pain to “pretty women and fake thugs,” but “pussy niggaz and pussy hoes” is just ick.

And yet, “I’m Real” rises improbably above, helped somewhat by the following years of not-ready-for-red-carpet starlets who’d make J-Lo look like Grace Kelly. Time was, reality was like celebrity–if you had to tell people you were famous or genuine, chances were you weren’t. This decade that all changed.

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