Day 30: "Down & Out" / "New Cash Money" feat. Brisco – The Dedication, 2005 / Da Drought 3, 2007
A few years ago MTV made a list of the hottest MCs, and Kanye West was not too thrilled with it—mostly because they underrated Big Sean, which, well, look, the point of this story is not whether or not Big Sean is good. Anyway, Kanye, in his frustration, called up Hot 97's DJ Enuff to complain about his and Sean's placement, and they had the following exchange:
DJ Enuff: I know you 'Ye, to me you're going to say you're the number one rapper in the world. So does number seven bother you?
Kanye: Yeah number seven bothers me because you know—well I think that Wayne is the number one rapper in the world.
DJ Enuff: Wait, you think Wayne is number one rapper in the world?
Kanye: Him and Jay and Em and certain people are just like the greatest rappers of all time.
Kanye has repeated versions of this opinion elsewhere, but his actual collaborations with Wayne have been few and also mostly titanic disappointments, such as "Barry Bonds" and "See You in My Nightmares." This disjunction is particularly bizarre because Wayne has always gravitated toward exactly the production sound that brought Kanye to fame: beats in that Jay Z, East Coast rap mold that lean on chipmunk soul samples for hooks. Fortunately, because mixtapes know no laws, we have some recourse for imagining what might happen had the two worked more together, in part because Wayne has rapped over one of Kanye's best beats not once but twice.
That beat is Cam'ron's "Down and Out," a beautiful soul number courtesy of Syleena Johnson that Cam astutely observes is ripe for "that 1970s heroin flow" and which Cam summarily dismantles with surgical precision. I've mentioned Wayne's predilection for East Coast lyrical formalism, and Cam is in many ways the apotheosis of that style, Wayne's northern counterpart in dizzying multisyllable rhymes and flat-out weirdness (it's probably not a coincidence that Wayne has worked so much with Cam's partner Juelz Santana). So even though it's hard to improve on Cam's handling of the beat, Wayne went for it twice, and both cases at the very least held his own.
On The Dedication, in the more thorough of the two versions, he's laconic and absurd and boastful, dancing around the beat while dropping riffs like "we just tryna see how many dicks she could bench press" and "great scott is he a thief? / it seems that he got a mouth full of gold teeth." He muses about retiring rap because "Mack Maine hit me with the trap game" and takes a few comic beats to consider the idea. Best of all he talks about the TVs in his car and concludes, "I'm watching the Passion / me." What a line! Since he's not as ostentatious about it as Kanye (topical parallel), it's possible to miss, but Wayne is no slouch in comparing himself to the divine. Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ dominated pop culture discussion when it came out in 2004 (easily a decade before Peak Thinkpiece, too!), so of course Wayne would have to bring it up eventually. And he imagines himself as the subject because, really, who else would it be? Not that Wayne is thinking too much about the afterlife or anything: "My bitch be asking why / I don't go suit and tie / because they put that on you when you die."
Another interesting thing about this song is the skit that follows it, in which Wayne talks about how he almost signed to Roc-a-Fella and how Jay Z was really determined to make it happen. "Down and Out" in some ways is a high water mark for Roc-a-Fella—Cam and 'Ye were two of the hottest new artists out, working together on a release for the label they were both signed to—and Wayne hopping on it before giving this complimentary talk about Jay Z is proof that he would have actually been a pretty ideal fit there. Who knows what would have happened if things had gone that way, but the track certainly takes on an added significance knowing Wayne's eventual Cash Money struggles and the speculation that would soon arise around him and Jay Z as rival Carters.
The second version of "Down and Out," which came two years later and is called "New Cash Money," serves mostly as an introduction to Cash Money's newest signee, Brisco, who still, somewhat improbably, identifies as Cash Money on Twitter although he is no longer listed on the label's website. Brisco went on to, well, who knows, but he did make an appearance on Tha Carter III. He handles himself capably here, pointing out that he's "into carats like Bugs Bunny," although a completely stress-free Wayne introduces him by accidentally washing him, "Reportin' live from the booth / I'm killing these bitches / young Wayne Carruth / untamed and loose, plus drank and juice / I don't complain to you / don't complain to me / everybody got beef and I just came to eat." The first part of that line is a reference to football player Rae Carruth, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder after hiring a hitman to kill a woman pregnant with his child. It's a grim story, but it's also a good example of Wayne's consistently voracious use of pop culture references, many of which have already become harder to parse but which nonetheless deserve commemoration. Anyway, back to the Cash Money thing: Does it mean something that this beat, used in the context of Wayne semi-addressing his own possible Roc-A-Fella signing in 2005, was then reused to address a Cash Money signing two years later? I don't know, but it's a cool parallel, and it works out well for us, since we get just a little bit more of Wayne rapping over one of the best beats ever.
Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.