A Whisper in the Crowd

Hip-hop rediscovers minimalism, thanks to a sea of surprisingly great singles

"Hey, Mega, gimme some of that barefoot jungle shit," mumbles Busta Rhymes to his producer, Megahertz, at the beginning of "We Goin' to Do It to Ya." He's had bigger hits than this one, but none more musically shocking. It's an itsy stutter-step beat that plinks along while Busta, in his best breathy mumble, intones, "Get your big ass on the floor, you know we goin' to do it to ya!" Lyrically, the song's just dumb, built on lots of rhyming about--what else?--gettin' paid, gettin' laid. But this is rap radio, after all, where lyrical brilliance isn't in the handbook. "Do It to Ya" flows perfectly into the weirdest track in the new barefoot jungle, the Young Gunz's "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," produced by Digga, which sounds like a DJ Screw version of one of the first crossover synthesizer hits, Gershon Kingsley's "Popcorn" from 1972. "Can't Stop" is all hollow plonks with handclaps on the second and fourth beats, and it proceeds along innocently before a massive eruption of snare and a sample of a dude stuttering "guh guh guh guhguhguh guh."

Wha'? What is this stuff? Where did it come from? How did the massive power of the big beat transform itself into something so seemingly minuscule as to seem like a speck next to the big-ass booty shit that came before it? How can small seem so big? It's all in the contrast. With hip-hop radio, where testicle-grabbing lyrical bravado is mirrored by big, big sound, sometimes the only reasonable way to get heard is to whisper. A whisper in a crowded room always quiets the loudmouths.

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