Tag Archives: nas

Amy Winehouse: music fan

What does it mean when a pop star sings about other artists a lot? Once in a while and it’s a nice shout-out, an acknowledgement of influences. But when your work is as strewn with references as Amy Winehouse’s was, it becomes something else.

I’ve been immersing myself in Amy’s albums again since she died, and it’s one of the things that’s jumped out at me afresh. Time after time she namechecks the people who’ve made the music she loves. I hate it when artists are interviewed and they say ‘Oh I haven’t really been listening to any other music, just concentrating on my own stuff.’ BLAH BLAH BLAH. Amy was the opposite. Open up her debut album and you’ll see a picture of piles and piles of CDs along with a list of thank-yous in which musicians she’d never met outnumber family members by 29 to 2. And we hear stories of her going down the pub, putting the jukebox on, just standing in front of it, drinking in the music. She’s a proper music fan alright, like us. Let’s look at who she loved.

It starts just a couple of tracks into Frank, on You Sent Me Flying: Amy’s got a crush on a guy in a Beastie Boys tee and she lends him some Outsidaz and (new!) Erykah Badu. She understands how sharing music with someone you fancy makes things personal, and about how carefully you choose what to share, knowing it’ll inform what they think about you and how you hope it’ll forge a link.

Moody’s Mood For Love, as a James Moody cover, is a reference by default, but Amy’s delivery of the line ‘Would you come on hit me,
you can blow now if you want to, I’m through,’ brings an unmistakeable brassy innuendo into the equation. She understands that music can be sex.

In the aching break-up swoon of Take The Box, angrily returning gifts to her man, Amy sings ‘Frank’s in there and I don’t care’. Of course she does care, as her beautiful, conflicted delivery makes clear. We know that the name Frank refers to Frank Sinatra — we’re always hearing about Amy listening to his records with her dad. And we can assume that calling the album Frank is a reference to him as well as to the raw emotional honesty in her songwriting. Although you could also point out it’s the name of the government’s high-profile drug awareness campaign which was launched earlier the same year. Or that it’s also the name of Amy’s little doggie who features in the cover art. Anyway — she understands how music becomes a part of you and how giving it up is a powerful token.

October Song, now, and a rare chance to hear a popstar singing about a dead pet. Amy imagines her late canary ‘reborn like Sarah Vaughan’ while interpolating the melody of Lullaby of Birdland. You can see what she’s done there. She understands how music can be a eulogy but be as light and happy as the life you’re celebrating too. Adele paraphrased a line from this song to pay tribute to Amy on her death. Make of that what you will.

In Rehab, Amy famously tells the world that she’d rather stay at home listening to Ray Charles than change her waysand that there’s nothing anyone can teach her that she can’t learn from Donny Hathaway. She understands how music is something you can lose yourself in, and how you can use it to self-medicate a broken heart.

And finally the big one: Me and Mr Jones is about how much Amy’s looking forward to seeing Nas at a gig in Brixton (she never uses his first name, but references his surname in the title, along with their shared birthday ‘9 and 14’ and his daughter Destiny in the lyrics). Amy and Nas are already linked behind the scenes by producer Salaam Remi, to the extent that the same Incredible Bongo Band-sampling beat underpins Nas’s Made You Look and Amy’s In My Bed. But this song is all about Amy the fan. No man’s going to stand between her and the music she loves, not like when she missed Slick Rick. And along the way she compares Nas to Sammy Davis Junior, too.

Amy’s proud of the music she loves. She understands how it defines you, how it arouses you and becomes part of you and pays tribute to you and heals you and compels you. And the music she made herself did all those things too. You can’t ask for any more from a music fan.

Tied up with string: June

AN album:

There’s a big LOL to be had when you get to track 8 of Beyoncé’s latest album “4” and she suddenly declares “Bring the beat in!” This, after 27 minutes of ballads and mid-tempo strolls. What, NOW? Are you sure? You were doing so well!

And with all the bouncy bangers confined to the last few tracks, we’re left with an album that’s going out of its way to come across as stately and polished. Some find Beyoncé’s vocal (and physical) perfection cold and distancing, but I only feel the sort of cold distance I might about, say, a 40ft golden statue of Athena. Why worry that you’re never going to get close to it, when you can stand and enjoy the beauty?

It’s not as though there isn’t anything thats messily heartfelt either.  Listen to ‘I Miss You’, a squelchy slice of organic heartbreak that peters sadly away before the 3 minute mark, or ‘Love On Top’, with its multiple orgasm of concatenated key changes the likes of which we haven’t heard since Eternal hooked up with Bebe Winans.


So if Beyoncé sampled Diplo for her big album launch track, but Nicola Roberts actually got him to co-write and produce hers, that makes Nicola the bigger global superstar, with the most clout, right? RIGHT? The logic of pop has spoken.

Nas is back on form! Nas is sounding real again! That’s what they’re saying. Well fuck them, they’re silly. Nas has been on form right through his last few albums, and the idea of realness bores me. This is just a great, great track, that makes me do a funny little dance.

And this is also very much on the brilliance/funny little dance axis:


It is the dogs. The dogs who fight crime in this glorious video. I wish they were my friends.

If popstars… ran the world

Beyoncé’s the latest star to sing about global rule. And it’s been a popular topic down the years. How does her plan match up to the greats of the genre?

Wee Papa Girl Rappers – Wee Rule

WHAT’S THEIR MANIFESTOIn a brand new fashion, in a dance hall style, we rule! Wee Papa rule the world…

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT The twin sisters rule the world as despots (“Don’t bother even moving, stay right in your seat“), cruelly disposing of anyone who challenges their rule (“Why do you try to run that?… We’re gonna take you from here to hell“) while enjoying the life of luxury that world domination affords (“Drive around in a taxi, every place that I go“). Although by their own admission they still use ball point pens. Personally I’d have at least a gel ink rollerball on the go if I were in charge.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME I don’t think so. The girls are interested in the volume of the bass drum, not the global transportation network. At one point they refer to someone sleeping on a bench at the station — a poor indication of the state of their administration.

Nas (featuring Lauryn Hill) – If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)

WHAT’S HIS MANIFESTO It’s a good one. Nas is going to end black victimisation and do away with jealousy, and we’ll all be able to smoke weed in the streets. Sounds great!

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT This came out just before Nas started depicting himself as a Pharaoh or as Christ , so I’m going to have to call theocracy, with Nas ruling as god-king and Lauryn as his lovely if somewhat snappish handmaiden.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME Yes I think they probably do.

Missy Elliott – We Run This

WHAT’S HER MANIFESTOIf you a pimp let me see you party hard, hell yeah! Strippers take your clothes off, hell yeah! Y’all superstars, you don’t need no bodyguards!” Missy enforces a hedonistic rule based on drinking, fucking and partying. It is, in short, a utopia.

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT Very much a benevolent dictator, Missy encourages individuality (“My style can’t be duplicated or recycled”), equality (“It don’t matter where you from it’s where you at”) and personal pride (“Represent your coast and act like you know”). All she demands in return is that each and every member of the population take the time to service her sexually (“We can do it all night – take a flashlight, you’ll see up my windpipe”).

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME You know how it would be, waiting on the platform with Missy. The train would pull in slowly, and there’d be freaky dancers grinding and jerking around all over the roof. Missy would swing around on a girder before turning into a sex robot or something, then the world would turn upside down or whatever to make it more fun for the dancers. You’d have a lovely morning and the music would be fantastic, but you’d never make it to that meeting in Letchworth.

Take That – Rule the World

WHAT’S THEIR MANIFESTO There’s nothing. Nothing! The skies are lit up with “stars so bright“, and souls are saved if lovers stay together. That’s it.

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT I wouldn’t call it government at all. The Take That boys form their little oligarchy and then spend their time faffing around on starbeams with girls, leaving the rest of us mortals to just get on with it. They’re more like the idle, sex-crazed Gods of Olympus than anything else.


Beyoncé – Run The World (Girls)

WHAT’S HER MANIFESTOSome of them men think they freak this like we do – but no they don’t! Make your cheques come at they neck, disrespect us they won’t!” Beyoncé’s claiming the world for the girls who make their own money. Again!

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS ITMy persuasion can build a nation!” But Beyoncé’s too much of a self-empowerment fan to be a tyrant. We’re left with a sort of glossy meritocratic matriarchy — “I’m repping for the girls who taking over the world, have me raise a glass for the college grads.”  NB: from the video teasers released so far, a college degree’s not quite enough on its own, you’re also going to need to be able to hold your own in skimpy shorts on a typical America’s Next Top Model shoot.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIMEAnyone rolling I’ll let you know what time it is“. I suspect the trains are as fiercely controlled, with as much attention to detail, as everything else in Beyoncé’s domain.