Saturday, March 16, 2013

Questionable Lyrics #1: Sweatin' Keith

Yeah, I'm startin' a new thing on this blog.  'Cause I think it'll be fun, and this blog could stand a little freshening up, I think. I'm not gonna explain it; I think you'll catch on as soon as we begin:

So, Monie Love's "Monie In the Middle" is a great, early pop rap record. Lyrically, it's like the female version of Young MC's "Principal's Office," a school-based narrative perfectly suited for mainstream, middle-class kids. Hell, acts like Souljah Boy and Lil Mama are still doing music videos just like it. But the production is incredible, some real hip-hop shit, and the concept is more universally relatable than Young's - the hallmark of a good pop song. Who can't relate to the dilemma of being caught in a romantic... straight line, where someone likes you but you don't like them because you're too busy liking someone else who doesn't like you. It's the story of everybody's life. And who can forget the memorable like where she disses the guy who likes her,

"My name's not Keith, so stop sweatin' me."

For all my millennial readers, Keith Sweat was an R&B superstar in the late 80s.

It's not really clever; it's just catchy. Quick, cute, immediately memorable and just begging to be repeated. Of course, if you were familiar with more hip-hop than the just the crossover stuff MTV carried over to your door, you probably also remember Big Daddy Kane's "Another Victory" from around that same time. Here, he's rhyming on a far more serious topic: racial profiling, before that even became a phrase. The second verse is a quick narrative about being pulled over by a cop because he's driving a nice car: "the first thing they ask me is, 'where'd you steal her?' And then they assume that I'm a drug dealer." With completely justified righteous indignation he says to the nation's police:

"My name ain't Keith, so could you please stop sweatin' me?"

This blew my mind as a kid. It's one thing to be able to point to two generic love songs that both have the line, "baby, I love you." But this decidedly cheesy pun on Keith Sweat's name was a unique and distinctive line. Well, distinctive... but not unique, because it was in two different songs by two different rappers. I mean, you hear rappers talking about biters all the time, but I didn't really expect two major label artists to be throwing the same punchlines on their internationally distributed releases.

Well, "Monie In the Middle" the single, and the Down To Earth album it was featured on, both dropped in 1990. And Big Daddy Kane released "Another Victory" on his 1989 album, It's a Big Daddy Thing. So Kane came first. And again in 1990, Scrap Lover recycled a variation of the line on BDK's third album, Taste of Chocolate, saying:

"Save the sweat for Keith and the beef for Charlie."

This was on the 1990 posse cut, "Down the Line," which also featured Scoob Lover, Mister Cee (on the mic!), Ant Live and Little Daddy Shane. It's not quite the same pun, but maybe having his dancer call that reference back was Kane's way of reclaiming the line from Monie. It was his first, and he was taking it back. I guess Monie's just a big ol' biter, huh? It seems pretty cut and dry... except for one thing. The following line appears in another song:

"Not rhymin' 'cause you're lettin' me, or that you threaten me... yo I'm not Keith Sweat, boy, stop sweatin' me!"

And that song came out in 1988! It's "We Don't Play" by Dev IV, a highly underrated crew who, despite being on Rap-A-Lot Records, were straight out of Brooklyn. Nice and Hard, their album which features this song, has incredible production and perfect deliveries. Sometimes their subject matter was a little wonky ("School Boy Crush," "Obsession"), but when they were on, they were on fire; and even when they were off, they were displaying talent out the ass. And, um... I guess Kane bit them?

I find that hard to believe, too; but there's no arguing the chronology. And you might say, yeah, but that's just a silly thing everybody was saying on the streets, in the schoolyards... Not a major thing, but something they all probably picked up individually. Well, maybe. I kinda remember that, but I also remember everyone I knew had picked it up from the records (mainly "Monie"), not the other way around.

I don't think there will be any earlier examples to find... Keith Sweat didn't really break until 1987, after all. If there are any more examples of this line floating around hip-hop, please post 'em in the comments. And what is it about this weird, little pop culture pun? Such a silly line, with a quirky appeal. Gucci Mane even brought it back it in 2010 on the song "You Know What It Is," saying:

"Smokin' weed in a leaf; bitches sweat me like I'm Keith."

A man after my own heart.  I always figured, if I were to record a rap song [don't worry, I never will], I'd have to bring that line back; so it's great to see that somebody's done it for me. By the way, I should clarify that Gucci actually has two songs named "You Know What It Is." One features Young Joc and is on his earlier The Movie: Gangsta Grillz mixtape from 2008. But the one with this line features Waka Flocka Flame and is off his subsequent Mr. Zone 6 mixtape. Except for having the same title, the two songs are totally different, with completely different verses, hooks and instrumentals. And only this one explicitly breaks down whether Gucci is in fact R&B legend Keith Sweat, and if he should therefore be sweated as such. So, say what you want about Gucci, but that's one of the realest, most authentic... cases of biting ever.

5 comments:

  1. Big L on the Stretch and Bobbito Freestyle with Jay-Z, January 1995.

    I got a rep that make police jet,
    known to get a priest wet
    I never beg for pussy like Keith Sweat

    ReplyDelete
  2. Andre 3000 on the Outkast song "Crumblin Erb"

    "But still Andre got action, they Sweat like Keith, all on my teeth"

    ReplyDelete
  3. CRAIG MAC "FLAVA IN YA EAR" REMIX
    "i step on stage,girls scream like i'm keith".

    ReplyDelete
  4. Tim Dog - I dont give a fuck
    "The bitch is upset
    She want a mutherfuckin L when she got a Keith Sweat"

    Asap Rocky - fuckin problems
    "All these motherfuckers wanna dress like me
    Put the chrome to your dome, make you sweat like Keith"

    ReplyDelete
  5. There was a connection between Monie and BDK and I'm guessing it was Kane's influence that spawned that rhyme. This interview gives more detail on their history - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCqNz3eANtg

    ReplyDelete