My friends and I make fun of this song a lot. How couldn’t you? I mean, Jadakiss outruns two grown men in the video.
And beyond the physically impossible (and beyond Jadakiss dressed as a newscaster), there’s a lot of absurdity in the song itself: following a serious discussion of racism in Hollywood with “why they ain’t make the CL6 with a clutch?”; asking “why my buzz in LA ain’t like it is in New York?" two bars before "why the whole world love my voice?”; yearning for a “pecan Jag” (1). After verses wrestling with AIDS, the prison system, 9/11, and drug addiction, the raspier half of The Lox tops it off with “and you know why they made the new twenties/cause I got all the old ones”. This wasn’t a song on a Clue tape that would have those bars run back four times, this was Jadakiss’s best chance at finally crossing over into the mainstream. It’s like he just couldn’t help himself.
Basically, the song’s a mess—but that’s precisely why it works. No matter how cynical I try to be and how ridiculous parts of the song seem (and really are), “Why?” is ridiculous and beautiful and fun and sad and exciting and somber all at the same time, and we may never get anything like it again.
Most major labels still seem to lack real, meaningful understanding of rap or any sense of where it’s at and where it’s going, but they’re also not stupid. At this point, there are enough would-be B.o.B.’s out there that they don’t have to waste time convincing Lupe to fill in the verses on their pop songs(2)—much less a glorified mixtape rapper like Jadakiss, who’s infinitely less marketable than Lupe. In addition to that, labels are (hopefully) coming around to the notion that artists who build a buzz organically are most profitable when they capitalize on that image, not when they make bizarre departures into pop rap world (3). Consequently, we don’t get things like “Why?” anymore (4). A major label isn’t demanding an artist like Jadakiss make a song about social issues with an R&B chorus in hopes of going gold. (In fact, a 2013 Jadakiss doesn’t want or need a major deal at all, but that’s another story.)
But when the Jadakisss (Jadakai?) of the world do make “Why?” it’s filling an important void. I know what the Black Eyed Peas think is wrong with the world, but I want to hear the thoughts of someone who usually isn’t asked—someone who wishes all the men around him were “thugs by choice” but wishes they didn’t “stop letting brothers get degrees in jail”. Even if it’s messy.
(1) I always thought this line was hilarious, because I thought I was mishearing it—he wasn’t really describing the color of his Jaguar as “pecan”, was he? So I hopped over to Rap Genius, the most insufferably overrun site man’s managed to create. Indeed, Jadakiss is describing the color of his car, and the RG ‘scholar’ even provides a picture for clarity, complete with the apologetic “the car below is actually more of a rich walnut”. Most beautifully, on a site where white kids compete to ‘explain’ the most mundane, obvious ‘slang’, the famous “why is Jadakiss as hard as it gets?” remains untouched.
(2) Lupe was given “Nothin’ On You”, which he refused to record and eventually became a massive hit for
(3) This is half wishful thinking on my part, but it’s starting to come true. Oftentimes labels are taking rappers and pushing them into cartoonish versions of their original personae, but they’re no longer pretending it’s the ’90s by having vastly different rappers vying for the same radio placements.
(4) Not only would we not get a Jadakiss making a “Why?” in 2013, but we also wouldn’t have a Jadakiss getting an album budget that covers: a Kanye West beat and feature; an Eminem beat and feature; a Neptunes beat complete with Pharrell appearance; a Mariah Carey feature; and two Scott Storch beats when Scott Storch was still Scott Storch.
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