This is a guest post I did for the Seidler Bros’ blog of awesomeness One A Day. It’s a blog that every day posts some sort of insightful song analysis, and I jumped in and did one for Brandy’s song ‘What About Us’. Here it is! With added Youtube.
This song has been stuck in my head for a few weeks now, ever since I discovered a genre called ‘aquacrunk’ (c/o my web-coder boyfriend who is ever on the hunt for new music to put him in a work-trance while he types magic numbers). Aquacrunk is a Glasgow-based genre pioneered by Glaswegian musician Rustie. It’s really not such a ridiculous name for this music once you hear it – Rustie’s tracks are like crunking underwater dubstep parties organised by seahorses on acid with an octopus doing synthesised beats. Or perhaps the ‘aqua’ part of the name comes from the way the music seems to be delayed in waves, whether in terms of the warping pitches or the uncontrollable bass lines that morph in and out like terrifying music from another planet – or the bottom of the ocean.
Err, enough about Rustie, though. Let’s just summarise that Glasgow is an underrated and incredible place for new music. The point here is that aquacrunk is actually a sub-genre of a broader classification called ‘wonky’, which is characterized by the ‘wonkiness’ of its music – where aquacrunk is (often) quite fast-paced and features a shitload of hectic vocoders and phasers, intense laser-powered beats and monstrous bass sounds, ‘wonky’ is a genre which also puts out feelers into grime, R&B, hip-hop and breakbeat/broken beat.
I was reminded of ‘wonky’ when I discovered Obaro Ewijime aka Ghostpoet’s music (himself quite influenced by grime, and once part of a grime collective). His flow is slow-mo wonky, like a British Drake in half time. He’s not out of time by any means, but the placement of his words is syncopated in a subtle, slightly unsettling way, and the sort of slightly-not-right simple single line of synthesiser melody in the background bears all of the hallmarks of wonky. But with Ghostpoet, the stable element of his music is the beat, which is as un-wonky as clockwork, and holds the whole thing together and stops those wonky elements from spinning off like wheels off a broken toy car.
This is where Brandy comes in. I always love learning about songs I listened to when I was too young to understand pop music properly but listened to it every morning on Video Hits. This Brandy track is one of them. The clip itself is what stuck in my memory – it features human pyramids made of men, floating tree islands, and basically a world that looks like something out the Playstation games I used to play. It’s strongly reminiscent of TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ and really characterises that ‘90s aesthetic, despite being produced in 2002.
(Upon second viewing Brandy is featured with a baseball bat bashing relics of her old relationship that fly towards her in a futuristic tunnel; she has men in chains in a creepy S&M style-scene and she stands on top of the man-pyramids – it’s a full-on girl-power video where Brandy is basically a futuristic dominatrix with a subtle cultural criticism laced through it all. For some reason I think I thought she had an identical twin, possibly because she looked slightly different in Moesha. Whatever.)
Anyway, Brandy comes in to our wonky equation with the ridiculously cool beat in this song, engineered by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins – you’ll know it’s him because you can hear him say ‘Darkchild’ at the start of every track he touches. Jerkins has worked with about a bazillion people including Mary J Blige, Toni Braxton, Jennifer Lopez (‘If You Had My Love’), Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson (‘You Rock My World’), Destiny’s Child (‘Say My Name’, ‘Cater 2 U’), Spice Girls (‘Holler’), TLC (‘Turntable’), Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Kanye West, Katy Perry, LMFAO, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga (‘Telephone’), Britney Spears (‘Overprotected’), Lionel Richie… I could go on… he’s good, OK?
Listen for it…
His touch on this Brandy track is unmistakable and at the time was also quite groundbreaking. Brandy is no master rapper; even though her R&B melodies are rhythmically-powered, she is straight up and down and the syncopation in the chorus is quite simple. What gives this track its flavour is the beat – it seems to never be able to make it to where it wants to go, and its ‘ta-dun, ta-dun’ sort of chug reminds me of a broken machine or a sense of driving momentum. It is severely, deeply wonky, slow enough to entrance you and probably pretty deserving of its unearthly video clip.
Think of this track as a very early precursor to dubstep before dubstep was even really technically possible. Despite being earwormingly catchy and memorable even from the depths of my childhood, its slightly unsettling off-kilter beat is like the long-lost ancestor of the genuinely disturbing wubwubwubs that dubstep casually drops all over the world today. And to think that 13 year-old me was casually digging it on Saturday morning – weird. And awesome.