Day 103: "John" feat. Rick Ross – Tha Carter IV , 2011
"Load up the choppers like it's December 31st."
And lo, these words became prophecy to be repeated all across the land on the Eve of the New Year, spake from the mouths of those on high. Rick Ross first rapped the line in a song called "I'm Not a Star," the opening track to his album Teflon Don, and it later was repurposed by Lil Wayne on "John." There, it enshrined itself as a catchphrase in a way it hadn't before. Happy New Year's indeed. Load up the choppers for the occasion.
Teflon Don is an unrecognized classic, full of front-to-back bangers that represent perhaps the finest collection of big-budget mafioso trap ever made. The twin maximalist threads of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League's pop rap and Lex Luger's sinister trap found their meeting points, clearing the slate for both trends and laying the path for the ensuing years of music to come. Rozay was ascendant. Wayne, meanwhile, in prison, was looking for his footing. When he got out, he was under tremendous pressure to get right back to making hits; at the same time he had been basically unplugged from pop culture for a year. Tasked with that pressure, much of what Wayne tacked toward was the familiar: His first song out, "6 Foot 7 Foot," was basically "A Milli" Part Two, down to the optional Cory Gunz verse. And then there was "John," which extremely blatantly bit its hook from "I'm Not a Star."
For years, I wrote this song off as an unnecessary retread of the Rick Ross song, proof that Wayne's influence was on the decline. It may well have been that, but revisiting it today I also found this interview snippet in XXL from 2011. In it Wayne explains the resemblance, which is in fact a byproduct of Ross's dominance at the time:
"We heard the beat, and I was fresh out [of jail], you know, so I ain't really know new music—no new music," Wayne told XXL. "I ain't really know about nothing, so, we heard the beat, and when it came on, Mack [Maine]—it just made Mack say that [Rick Ross line]. Mack just said that 'I'm not a star, somebody lied, I got a chopper in the car.' He's like, 'that beat sounds just like that.' And I was like 'does it sound so much like it to where I shouldn't do it?' And he was like 'nah, 'cause that bitch still hard as fuck.' So, I did it and I was like 'I need a hook.'"
Wayne called up Ross and asked for his approval, telling him he could record a new hook for the song if he preferred. But Ross approved the use of the lyrics and even came through to deliver verses that are arguably better than Wayne's. This was, after all, Ross at his peak, which means evocative lines like "The bigger the bullet the more that bitch gon' bang / red on the wall, Basquiat when I paint." Ross then compares himself to a drug-dealing Santa Claus, which is seasonally appropriate. Another highlight is that in the video, set for some reason in an Area 51-like warehouse full of tires and malfunctioning TVs, he inexplicably spends a good chunk of time sitting in a wheelchair with spinning rims:
Wayne gets in a few punchlines of his own, whether he's bragging about getting paid for killing time ("dead clocks") or quipping that AK-47 is his address. He talks about "that banana clip, let Chiquita speak." There's a brazenness I'd never thought about before in making a song about assault rifles right after getting out of prison on a gun charge. May that brazenness carry us all into the year ahead.
"John," as it turned out, was the return Wayne needed. It went on to be a far bigger hit than Ross's original, reaching number 22 on the Hot 100 and garnering tons of radio play. It's not quite in the upper echelon of Wayne hits—and honestly it's not a good enough song to deserve it—but it immediately threw him right back into a conversation that had been missing his presence. It might not have been a strong enough impression to last for the years to come, but it was an effective re-entry, and it set the stage for Tha Carter IV, an uneven but extremely successful album, the last one Wayne would release to such acclaim. Not every moment in a great career can be marked with brilliance; often the gestures that make the most difference in the long run are ones of perseverance. And so, as we load the choppers up for yet another year, let that be our lesson. The year behind us sucked. The one ahead probably will too. But who cares. Blast this right now and draw on its strength. Happy New Year, from Noisey and Lil Wayne.
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