July 10, 2010

Special Report: The Cowboy Motif in R. Kelly & T-Pain

It hit me like a ton of bricks that two of my favorite R&B singles of the past twelve months both have distinct cowboy motifs. What could be further from Hank Williams than 21st century pop R&B? (Altho, many space aliens, like in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, would argue that T-Pain's auto-tuned voice could be as equally detrimental to their brain's viscosity as Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call".)

All year, I've been in awe of R. Kelly's yodeling in his song "Echo", which was released in 2009, with this video finally appearing in April 2010:

Let's discuss the nature of the yodel at the climax of the song. It's not specifically cowboyish. It's testament to Mr Kelly's ever expanding imaginative ingenuity in the genre of sexology. An amazing (if possibly illiterate) lyricist, he's never too deep with his metaphors (Watch Trapped in the Closet for a crash course in his symbolism.) So, when he says, at the "mountain peak" of the song, that his love-making will make you echo, followed by the titular echoing yodel, there are no cross-references to early country music. In the verses there is only the narration of the day-long sex marathon. The chorus is the narrator making the recipient girl of his prowess echo in ecstasy. Only in the strange bridge (what are those chords?) do we get any literary development of the yodeling theme:

Even though we're in this room, just you and me,
I got you sounding like you're screaming from a mountain peak,
And you don't wanna come down (noo),
And I dont want you to come down (noo-ooohh),
So, girl let's keep coming, and we gon' go to heaven from this room,
And the gates will open up when they see it's me 'n you,
Ooh, so run like a doll come back in,
Girl, I got my second wind.

Fascinating poetry. So, like I was about to say, Mr Kelly's yodel is more Swiss Alps than early Nashville. His alpine scarf in the video confirms that hunch. I'll stick to my thesis tho, that the use of it in this song is descendant from the popularity yodeling once had in Anglo-American music & what caused Tim Burton's aliens such chagrin.

A brief sidenote to give props to R. Kelly's pipes. Even if you can't stand his music or his Woody Allen-esque sexual deviance, you must admit that he is, by merit alone, an incredible artist who can back up his strange story-telling songs with a golden voice.

I also want to mention that in R. Kelly's other recent single, "Number One", he also compares his sexual genius to music making.

Now, onto my favorite eccentric who tops the pop charts, Tallahassee Pain himself (born Faheem Rasheed Najm, and a practicing muslim). The great Mad Hatter of the Vocoder generation has left the boat for the rodeo. Much more conventionally interested in developing a literary theme then R. Kelly, T-Pain has taken the notion of a "reverse cowgirl", and tries out the effects of all manner of cowboyisms into his auto-tune. In his last song "Take Your Shirt Off", he responds to his critics by asking, "Now tell me now, is Auto-Tune really dead?" In this follow-up single, he adds meat to his argument, pudding proof, with yet more excellent robotic virtuoso. I'll rephrase his question: How can a pop-music gimic be exhausted when we're still making such great music with it? Even if the fad has passed, T-Pain still has legs.

As for his thoroughly developed cowboy theme, he disappoints no one. At important moments in the song he uses the words "giddyap" & "yee-haw." The video for "Reverse Cowgirl" was also released in March 2010, the simultaneous flowering & wilting of the genre of R&B cowboyism.

1 comment:

tomorrowjenny said...

dude, you are hilarious and i really miss you. can't wait until i have some real internet time and can really consider your wit. hey--why don't you come visit me soon in samoa?? island vacation??