I would play ghetto games, name my kids ghetto names: Little Mookie, Big Al, Lorraine…

October 30, 2009



Skee-Lo – I Wish
From: I Wish

Kids today won’t remember (kids today… don’t get me started), but there was a time when it was OK to release a rap single that didn’t need editing to flub over a curse word, ethnic slur or questionable description of a sexual act. While it’s true that most of these singles were released by Will Smith, not all of them were.

Skee-Lo probably had the last great rap single that required no on-the-fly edits, with 1995’s “I Wish,” one of the catchiest laments to height impairment ever to hit MTV and popular radio. The uniqueness of the song and the easy hook guaranteed a popular single, but it also (perhaps unfortunately) pushed the single and artist into novelty territory. Go ahead, name me another Skee-Lo song. The only other one I can remember is a rap version of that old “Schoolhouse Rock” song, “Mr. Morton is the Subject of the Sentence.”

The tragedy of it is that in the 1990s, the height of celebrating irony and “anti-” everything, Skee-Lo actually delivered the most pristine anti-rap rap song of a generation. You think about every other massively popular rap song of the era, and you think of necessary radio edits and over-the-top boasts about genital size (or, in the case of your Lil’ Kims and Foxy Browns, how fabulously skanky you were) or how incredibly awesome your hometown is compared to your rival’s hometown… despite the fact that the subject in question likely had never even met the aforementioned rival.

“I Wish” is all about how much the reality of it all sucks. Sure, Ice Cube did that a bit more poignantly with “It Was a Good Day,” but Skee-Lo made you get out on the dancefloor and celebrate the fact that life sucked, no one was going to pick you for the pick up basketball game and no way in hell were you gonna get the girl you wanted.

What’s more, Skee-Lo did it hilariously. Everybody knows the chorus to the song, but listen to the verses — there’s some observational humor at its finest within the rhymes. It’s hard to pick one particular favorite, but if pressed, I’d have to go with:

‘Cause when it comes to playin’ basketball, I’m always last to be picked and in some cases, never picked at all. So I just lean up on the wall or sit up in the bleachers with the rest of the girls who came to watch their man ball. Dag, y’all, I never understood, black, why the docs get the fly girls and me, I get the hoodrats. I tell ’em, “Scat, skiddle, skabobble,” got hit with a bottle and was in the hospital for talkin’ that mess.

Now tell me, what other chart-topping rap song of the day contained a boast about being laid up in a hospital for talking sh*t? What other rap song employed the word “overcometh”? If you listen to this, it’s actually quite intelligent as opposed to just the brainless boasts about sex, money and booze.

Of course NWA at the start of the 1990s and the surging popularity of West Coast gangsta rap shortly thereafter soon quickly defined the genre as a place for MCs to speak to the size of their weapons, egos, girlfriends’ breasts, junk (of course) and the importance of respecting them and their hometowns for it. Was all of it brainless? No, of course not — anyone who dismisses the genre as a whole is categorically ignorant, but the popularity of “thug life” meant that “I Wish” was the death rattle for the kind of rap that had flourished in the late 1980s — somewhat tongue in cheek and still rather clean.

Not that music should be judged by the inclusion of a “parental advisory” warning on the album artwork, but right around the time “I Wish” was dominating MTV airwaves (thanks to a Forrest Gump-referencing video), people seemed to stop taking rap seriously unless it did have that sticker attached.

And honestly, maybe that’s because it was the suburban white boys like me that thought “I Wish” was so funny. I imagine seasoned rap fans would probably view my reaction to “I Wish” the same way I would some popular teenage girl’s admission to liking the Jam because “That one song in ‘Billy Elliot’ is sooooo good!” I shudder to think.

But with a heavy-enough-to-be-credible backing track and a killer hook, “I Wish” still will get a lot of people jumping around if you put it on at a party in or a club now. And for better or worse, a lot of them will be whites that can’t dance.

Ah well, perhaps it’s just part of the song’s in-built irony.

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