Spit out that bubblegum and suck on some candy

By Matt Won

People say bubblegum like it’s a bad thing. Thing is, they’re right.
Bubblegum tastes good for a few fleeting moments. But before you know it, its saccharine goodness is gone like that mind-blowing hooker you met on the strip in the heat of the night.

Most pop songs are of the bubblegum variety. My pursuit is finding that candy pop, because them Skittles are something else entirely.

You sneak it in private, gorging on its delights away from your friends and a disapproving public (unless you’re a skinny MF like me and eat it in flagrantly graphic fashion in front of fat chicks).

You know it’s not good for you, but you desire it so, and that desire is undeniably instinctual, just like porn. And like porn, it hits the spot, in an entirely pleasurable manner.
This summer had a few radio gems, and believe you me, I know how to pick ‘em. The first time I heard Cassie’s “Me & U” I was hooked. It begins with a deceptively dumbed-down circular nursery rhyme jingle. That voice comes in, weaving a dusky spell of hypnotic seduuuction. Then that earth-shattering synth tone hits in the chorus, and you know somebody is behind the boards.
It’s self-serious sensuality executed flawlessly, something the Top 40 hasn’t seen in a long time. Case in point: I think the only twisting going on to “Promiscuous” is your little sister and your mom in the kitchen. People are definitely getting it on to “Me & U.”

But that was summer. This is now. Cassie’s self-titled debut is the latest and greatest Bad Boy bid for a return to their mid-‘90’s dominance. But fear not: there are no Diddy cameos to watch for here. The man behind this woman is burgeoning producer Ryan Leslie.

R-Les (“as he is ‘affectionately’ called” according to his personal website) is one of those guys who thinks he’s reinvented the wheel every time he takes a piss, with a “first ever” music industry video blog and a slick website to globally promote his NextSelection “brand.” But he graduated Harvard at 19 with Poli Sci and Macroeconomics majors, so I guess he’s allowed.

Even more than his business savvy, R-Les is learned in the lost art of editing. It’s a pity that so many albums so closely resemble high school essays. Not here. For better or worse, this album clocks out after 35:26, with 11 tracks and little filler.

I’m really over this whole snobby “well, she can’t really sing” criticism. Look at the flipside. I like the idea of a Christina Aguilera much more than its incarnation. “Well, she can really sing.” So why can’t I ever get through any of her albums? Pop music is mostly about the way that it makes you feel. So what if multi-tracking and reverb are what’s behind the way that that song gives you goosebumps? I’m not about to let rap’s noxious authenticity battles invade the space of my beloved R & B.

It’s best not to ponder overlong the ramifications of the producer role behind performer of the opposite sex, like when R-Les writes call-and-response sections between him and his boo, and he also writes her responses.
The whole dude-writing-for-chicks thing is either kind of sketchy and weird, or a fascinating study of gender dynamics and intertextuality, especially considering that their symbiotic producer-performer relationship has been consummated in reality. I’m inclined to lean on the latter.

The beat for closer “Miss Your Touch” is like a mashup of Feist’s “Inside Out” and FurTimbo’s “Promiscuous” as hard drum kicks back retro-70’s keyboards and disco synths. “Long Way 2 Go” is Victoria’s Secret body mist sprayed through a keyboard and made sound.

Music criticism sites like Pitchfork seem really douchey when they do things like rate Britney Spears’s “Toxic” as the #3 song of the year. But arrogant as this element of hipsterdom may seem, this may honestly be the hipster’s greatest contribution. They have effectively and eloquently articulated a viable paradigm for the appreciation of popular music. People have always and will forever love popular music, but atrocious “alternative” music and youth trends have all but forced legitimate enjoyment of this music underground.

Make no mistake: we’re smack dab in the middle of the greatest era of hip-hop/R & B production since The Chronic: the lyricists may be gone, but we’re in a golden era of production right now. One need look no farther than Amerie’s Touch, Chris Brown’s self-titled, or even the Pussycat Dolls (The man behind “Don’t Cha? Cee-Lo. Yeah, you heard me) for evidence of this excellence.

Side note: Cassie is black/Filipina, Amerie is also a Filipina, and Amerie is black/Korean. Some new Orientalist R & B sexy trend, or just better exposure for Asian-American artists? Food for thought, or fantasy…