Music

Rich Boy: Rich Boy

Gentry Boeckel

Southern rap is a curious musical beast, all about extravagance, dancing, and general wildin' out amongst a decrepit background.


Rich Boy

Rich Boy

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2007-03-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Alabama is a depressing place. Full of historical ghosts and ill will, my grandmother, who was born in Birmingham, lived for 20 years in Detroit, and moved back to Birmingham on doctor’s orders, has nothing good to say about the state. If asked about Detroit, you’d think it was paradise. Touring civil rights landmarks in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, is a sobering and guilt-inducing experience. Actually seeing and feeling the cracks in the side of the 16th Street Baptist Church where they repaired the structure after the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls exemplified for me the sort of melancholic resilience of the city, the state, the region.

With history in mind, Southern rap is a curious musical beast, all about extravagance, dancing, and general wildin' out amongst a decrepit background. There’s no irony in a rap artist with one record calling himself “Rich Boy”, and on his first single, already proclaiming his status as “young money”. It is all part of the culture of success through riches, pride in having something of your own, a classist slap in the face to the white folks on Secession Lane. There is something revolutionary in a young, black male making heaps of money and moving in to the house on the lake next to the white folks. As Pusha T says: “Make ‘em sick to their stomach how they s'posta be /... / Ocean in my backyard where its s'posta be / Funny how my neighbors don't think its where I'm s'posta be / They think I'm cuter in jail”.

Which is why the massively successful “Throw Some D’s” is such a perfect Southern anthem. Legal or illegal means of achieving it aside, it’s about success, and the bright, candy-colored, drop-top evidence of it. On the last track of Rich Boy’s self-titled debut, “Let’s Get This Paper”, which sounds like a typical get-money club banger, producer Polow the Don (Fergie’s “London Bridge”; Ciara’s “Promise”; Young Buck’s “Get Buck”) and Rich Boy get serious about getting paper. “Money my motivator / My mouth my moneymaker”, Rich Boy raps before Polow expands on the idea, stating that there is a certain responsibility a young, black man has to his family when he gets money: “Our whole family tore up / You gettin’ the money for the people in your family who ain’t got none”. It’s a serious thought with definite anthropological and historical roots that, at the end of an album preceded by less subtle ideas about the relationship of money and man, is overshadowed.

Largely, Rich Boy is, in typically Southern fashion, an album about coming up and making the most of it. In similarly Southern fashion, Rich Boy’s biggest weakness lies in its overabundance of style, lack of substance, and the fact that it isn’t nearly as fun an album as it should and could be. Rich Boy is no charismatic star. He doesn’t have the suave charm of T.I., or the playful swagger of Lil’ Wayne. His only distinction is his marble-mouthed delivery that Northerners find so exotic and so full of assumed poverty-legitimacy (which is another subject for another day).

But Polow is the real star here. From “Boy Looka Here”, with its pounding synths and flamenco guitar, to the Neptunes-indebted futuristic-minimalism of “Touch That Ass”, he further elaborates on his cinematic, Dirty South sound. Largely discovered by Polow, Rich Boy is little more than a literal mouthpiece for Polow’s increasingly brilliant productions. Rich Boy’s deep Southern drawl often works as a perfectly decadent foil to Polow’s future-thump. But what becomes painfully obvious when listening to Rich Boy is the divide between the two artists. As much as Polow wants to take Rich Boy under his wing as a protégé and creative partner, Polow’s style seems to be progressing beyond Rich Boy’s.

Where Timbaland succeeds in is his ability to squeeze out an artist's hidden strengths through his material, Polow unintentionally succeeds in squeezing out his own talents. His small verse on “Throw Some D’s” has become a small cultural phenomena, in large part to a certain reference to “every freak” having a picture of his male-specific appendage on their wall. While producers rapping is always a frightening thought, at the risk of jumping the gun based on a few small verses, Polow shows more charisma in that one verse than Rich Boy does on the entire album. Once Polow realizes that he can fill out his productions with as much melodic and lyrical finesse as others, it would come as no surprise if he branched out as an MC.

Surprisingly, newcomer producer Brian Kidd nearly steals Polow’s shine on his two contributions. “Get to Poppin”, which was strangely first attributed to Timbaland, is all heavy bongos and overwhelming Spanish vocal samples. “Hustla Balla Gangsta Mack” sounds like an outtake from Hell Hath No Fury, with staccato percussion, wavy chorus synths, and “Trill”-like dark undertones. But besides the singles and Kidd’s contributions, the record’s productions fail to help develop Rich Boy into an interesting or unique figure. This is all the more evident on the Andre 3000 and Pastor Troy-featuring “And I Love You”, where both utterly steal the track to the point that you can’t even remember Rich Boy rhyming on it.

Both as an artist and a persona, Rich Boy lives up to his name, with the best thing one can say about him is that he has a certain get-rich-quick innocence, a certain naive hunger to succeed. Too bad that success depends so much on his collaborators.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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