Day 60: "Upgrade U" – Da Drought 3 , 2007
Kyle: These days, you mostly tend to hear about this song when people give a history of another major rap star because it's here that we find out Wayne "just signed a chick named Nicki Mi-naj." So yes it's a good vision of the future, but it's also a good portrait of Wayne at the time—"Young Money, Dipset we a team," he quips at one point—and writ large. Some of Wayne's most reliable tropes are on display here: his love of Anita Baker, his love of performing oral sex ("Let me just taste ya / We can fuck later"), his love of rapping that he's so high he could do XYZ thing in space (in this case eat a star). And of course it all comes from an era when Wayne attacked beats like he was strapped onto a pogo stick, bouncing along the beat with such ease that new dimensions of it seem to open up at his command.
The critical thing for a song like this is that Wayne isn't rapping over a Beyoncé hit because he thinks it will be a savvy crossover grab or something—in fact, without context, you'd have no reason to know this beat was anything other than a niche rap banger. Rather he understands the potential a beat like this presents, and he recognizes that it will be really fun to rap on. And boy is he having fun! I love Wayne lines like this one, at the end, where he raps, "Even deaf bitches say hi to me / she tell a blind bitch and she say 'I gotta see.'" It would be borderline offensive if it weren't delivered with such over-the-top confidence that it can't help but be lovable. Wayne is for the people! Lawrence, what made you choose this song today?
Lawrence: For me, the draw of a Wayne song like this is that he was one of the few rappers who could satisfy my appetite for wanting to hear my favorite artists on the most unsuspecting beats. "Upgrade U" was obviously an already great song by Beyoncé, but it wasn't until Wayne hopped on that I thought, "Well, yeah somebody should definitely be rapping on this for its entirety." It didn't feel like a true rap song at that time, and he spelled it out for us to plainly see. And like many of his "I'm about to go in" moments, he sets the scene here perfectly: "Riding drop top in the winter with the heat on… leg hanging out the window / yeen got these on." That's the here-we-go moment.
I also remember listening to his line about signing Nicki Minaj when this dropped and thinking that it was just some cool name he thought of to rhyme because I had no idea who she was at the time. The wordplay is particularly on point in this one too. "Bearing a ton like Levy" for the Barrington Levy reference. "Peel off like a Lamborghin / like a tangerine / Got the engine straight shaking like a tambourine," for the foreign car reference. Things are even sweeter as we look back because in the context of 2016, the biggest takeaway from this is that Wayne is rapping over now-global icon Beyoncé's earlier work. In 2007, it was just him picking an insanely hard beat that needed a rapper's proper take on it. He was always a few steps ahead.
Kyle: P.S. For anyone keeping track in the great Stevie Wonder vs. Ray Charles Wayne lyric faceoff, put one in the column for Stevie Wonder here with, "it is Lil Weezy / they cannot see me / they are like Stevie."
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