Mainstream Rappers Ruin a Perfectly Good Song

So by now everyone must have had the surreal experience of turning on commercial pop or hip hop radio over the past couple of months, only to hear M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” casually playing in between various mind-numbingly bad Pussycat Dolls and Rihanna tracks, as if it were perfectly normal to hear a song with lyrics like this:

Pirate skulls and bones
Sticks and stones and weed and bongs
Running when we hit ‘em
Lethal poison through their system

No one on the corner has swagger like us
Hit me on my Burner prepaid wireless
We pack and deliver like UPS trucks
Already going hell just pumping that gas

“Paper planes” peaked this summer at #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which is truly remarkable for any piece of music that prominently features the phrase “third world democracy.”

We’ve had our debates about M.I.A. here over the years — including the most recent episode, with Cicatrix’s post on Delon Jayasingha’s remix, which tears apart M.I.A. for her appropriation of LTTE imagery, fairly or unfairly.

Whatever our thoughts on M.I.A. in general, I think we might all agree that the recent remixes of “Paper Planes” by mainstream rappers leave something to be desired. The one I’ve heard on hip hop radio in Philadelphia features Bun-B and Rich Boy:

Listening to this reminds me that, whatever her faults might be, I’d rather listen to M.I.A. than “Bun-B and Rich Boy,” any day. There’s also a Lil Wayne remix , which is so terrible to my ear that it makes the Bun-B and Rich Boy remix sound like a work of art. (What do people see in Lil Wayne, again?)

Not to be outdone, via Ultrabrown I learn that Jay-Z has gotten in on the remix game as well though not with “Paper Planes.” Rather, Jay-Z’s remix is of “Boys,” and someone has YouTubed it here. As usual with recent Jay-Z, it’s a cut above what his peers are doing. What do you think of it, or the various mainstream hip hop remixes of “Paper Planes”?

37 thoughts on “Mainstream Rappers Ruin a Perfectly Good Song

  1. as if it were perfectly normal to hear a song with lyrics like this:

    Music appreciation is sometimes just based on the beats and rthyms and not lyrics.

  2. Not to sound elitist, but MIA and Paper Planes was cooler before it was being pumped out of radios and iPods by teenagers and kewl-cultural-appropriators in mass-media and the suburbs.

    But good for her for making some paper.

  3. Post’s a bit late. A little while back MIA line “No one on the corner has swagger like us” was the chorus for a TI song Ft Jay-Z Lil Wayne and Kanye. It’s not bad. I like this version of the Paper Planes remix.

    Lil Wayne has a lot of childish sounding single out. But you should check out Tha Carter 3 or any of his previous albums before that. It’s pretty okay.

  4. Post’s a bit late.

    Hey, I’m 34 years old with a kid — I shouldn’t even know who T.I. is!

    Actually, I heard that song with the “No one on the corner has swagger like us” sample once in passing, but couldn’t place the rappers (hip hop radio stations almost never announce the songs). I figured it wasn’t a major song… Thanks for placing it for me.

  5. I love M.I.A., but Boyz makes me feel like I need electroshock therapy. The Jay Z version is 10x worse. Some songs don’t need to exist, let alone be remixed.

  6. I like the original…and I thought Bun B’s verse was outstanding…painting a picture of the inner city…and the lyrics..

    “one thing’s for certain 2 things for sure being poor is a disease gotta hustle up a cure.. start with ya head homey then use ya hands if you try it in reverse you dont even stand a chance”……

    cmon…that is what hiphop is missing these days…lyrics that hit hard and yet carry a message..

    and I agree…Lil Wayne is ass.

  7. It felt kind weird hearing it on radio stations, her stuff has been out of so long, it’s a bit dated now for me.

    If they start playing “Jimmy”, I’ll be…….

  8. There is also “Swagger Like Us” where the hook is a vocal sample from “Paper Planes”. For a song with so many hip-hop heavies (T.I., Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lil’ Wayne) it’s really not that good. Really really bad actually.

  9. “So by now everyone must have had the surreal experience of turning on commercial pop or hip hop radio over the past couple of months, only to hear M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” casually playing in between various mind-numbingly bad Pussycat Dolls and Rihanna tracks,”

    Not a safe assumption. I’d rather listen to the same old Luke Henriques baila recording on repeat than willingly subject myself to the minefield that is commercial radio programming. Yes, for some, the generation gap has already come and we are quite blissfully unaware of whatever pap that may be popular.

    Lil’ Wayne was popular among some critics because of his post-CMB mix-tapes–which were just lucid enough to contain some good one-liners but also filled with his own brand of baby-talk and sheer nonsense–were very different from what was being played on the radio at the time (when I could still tolerate it). It was not Camp-Lo level non-sequitirs but somewhat entertaining at the time.

  10. the paper planes remix getting the most airplay, or at least the one i hear every time i set foot in the borough of brooklyn, is the DFA remix. which, admittedly, i love.

  11. Fa shizzle. The original over any rap remix any day. M.I.A.’s music is so enjoyable, cause it’s so different – there doesn’t seem to be much in terms of following a metronome and paying homage to music theory – but it’s a long awaited change of pace. Her last album was very heavy on crazy, whimsical rhythms and beats – she got a lot of flack from ‘haters’ insisting that she bit the style of music called ‘Funk Carioca’ — popular amongst the urban youth throughout Brazil and even more so Brazil’s ghetto ‘favelas’ — regardless…there will always be haters…as to her political views, they’ve been a lot more prevalent in previous albums, perhaps singing about LTTE is not favorable to her image or LTTE’s image.

  12. “perhaps singing about LTTE is not favorable to her image or LTTE’s image.”

    I don’t think it is favourable to her, actually I think it has worked against her as she was denied entry into the US several times where the LTTE is a banned organisation. She is also getting married to an influential and rich guy and I think she does not want her in-laws to find out or be embarassed about her connection to the LTTE and or her political views about them. As to the music above, I agree with Amardeep…sometimes songs should be left alone.

  13. The remixes may not be as good as the original. But, how does it matter? these remixes and sampling from the track are common practice in hip hop – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. i for one, am just happy that M.I.A. is getting the attention she deserves.

  14. everytime we get in the car my 5-year-old yells “I want to hear Shoot Spit Out the Window!” We’re stuck on Sunshowers for now – not sure we’ll be getting to Paper Planes. May not go over well at school with the whole ..all I wanna do is doosh doosh doosh doosh (ka-ching) and take your mo’nay. Love the whole vibe of that song though. It’s holding it’s own in spite of Bun B and co, they’ve yet to remix it into oblivion.

  15. 18 · bess said

    everytime we get in the car my 5-year-old yells “I want to hear Shoot Spit Out the Window!” We’re stuck on Sunshowers for now – not sure we’ll be getting to Paper Planes. May not go over well at school with the whole ..all I wanna do is doosh doosh doosh doosh (ka-ching) and take your mo’nay. Love the whole vibe of that song though. It’s holding it’s own in spite of Bun B and co, they’ve yet to remix it into oblivion.

    would just like to point out that Bun B, misogyny-laden lyrics aside, is one of the few old-school Houstonian rappers (i.e. who palled around with DJ Screw before his untimely end) who is still alive and not completely broke. He set the template for what people now recognize as the third-coast delivery (chopped into shorter lines to fit the beat, metronomic and sweet)

  16. Most mix tape stuff sucks to be honest. I like the paper planes song but to be honest M.I.A is just an average rapper at best and the beats are her only saving grace.

  17. He set the template for what people now recognize as the third-coast delivery (chopped into shorter lines to fit the beat, metronomic and sweet)

    Nayagan, you feel I haven’t given any lovin’ to Bun B with my comment?

  18. 6 · Anil said

    I thought Bun B’s verse was outstanding

    Agreed and I liked TI’s verse on the swagger like us remix. I’m waiting for someone to get an MIA collaboration right because I think it could be brilliant.

  19. pfffthahahaha you give far too much significance to… this song’s significance. oooh she said ‘third world democracy’. radio listeners don’t give a crap, that’s why they’re listening to the radio. and it’s catchy.

    and yes, bad mainstream rap is bad, great insight.

    ps: terrorism is cool guys, as long as it’s not in the name of islam. tamil tigers 4eva

  20. pfffthahahaha you give far too much significance to… this song’s significance. oooh she said ‘third world democracy’. radio listeners don’t give a crap, that’s why they’re listening to the radio. and it’s catchy.

    I know all that. I’m not saying the song changes anything — commercial radio will always suck — it’s just interesting to hear it in that context, especially after listening to M.I.A. as a semi-underground artist for a few years.

    This is the first time I can remember a song (and the accompanying music video, which has been viewed 19,000,000 times) about working-class immigrant lives — making sandwiches, running gas stations, driving cabs — on commercial radio.

    It’s at least worth noting and recognizing it. The Panjabi MC/Jay-Z crossover that happened five+ years ago wasn’t the same, because only a few desi listeners could translate the Punjabi lyrics (and Jay-Z somehow turned a teasing, flirtatious Punjabi song about boys and girls into an anti-Iraq anthem). While many listeners probably aren’t hearing, or getting, M.I.A.’s content, even now, the potential at least is there. I definitely think there’s something subversive about the chorus, with the suppressed gunshots (interestingly, the version of the song on the radio is different from the first version on “Kala,” which had louder gunshot noises), and cash register. I don’t think it’s possible to hear it and just think she’s another rapper talking about cars, women, and dealing drugs.

    In short, I’m a bit curious to know what average people (who are neither hipsters nor desis) are getting out of the song.

  21. about working-class immigrant lives — making sandwiches, running gas stations, driving cabs — on commercial radio

    what?! this song is about drug dealers/getting high right – how can u possibly get any other meaning out of it

  22. SenaX,

    It’s funny, I hadn’t been reading that way on account of the video and the lines “pumping that gas” and “third world democracy” at the end.

    I was hearing “visas in my name” as a reference to her earlier trouble getting a U.S. visa — and maybe also as a way of thumbing her nose at government in general (the plural, visas it sounds like they’re fake visas). I had been thinking of the “hustler” and the “pack and deliver like UPS trucks” as a kind of pride in busting your ass and working hard. I was visualizing a hard working immigrant bragging in language that is like a drug dealer’s bragging. Even the gunshots were for me a way of cursing out the customer, not a literal suggestion of violence (she doesn’t want to kill you, she just wants you to f*** off after she takes your money).

    After reading your comment, I listened to it again just now, and you’re right — it’s pretty hard to escape the drug dealing references. If that’s how people are hearing it, then it’s not as subversive as I was suggesting. It actually fits into mainstream hip hop pretty well. (Cancel my earlier comment.)

    Oh well.

  23. i used to tell ppl that M.I.A. was the ONE non mainstream artist i listened to. and since this song came out i was listening to it like CRAZY. then one month i go to india and come back and all of a sudden everybody knows M.I.A. i was like woww. and it wasnt THAT surprising cuz most songs that i like eventually end up on the US top 40(watch for Electric Guitar by ChrisBrown/Rihanna) . but i never thought id see a fellow brown person on the charts. and then i learned that the publicity came from the pineapple express trailor.

  24. “Swagger Like Us” is a seriously dope track! An excellent use of the ‘Paper Planes’ sample. Hov, what!

  25. Oh, but it gets much worse: two radio disk jockeys in the heart of Oklahoma have corrupted Paper Planes into this year’s OU vs. UT anthem.

    Given my alumni affiliation, and since OU plays UT today, I take this opportunity to say BOOMER SOONER!

  26. Bun B is a Southern legend. Rich Boy is not the greatest MC but even he has some skills. That remix was pretty dope actually, don’t know what’s the reason for the hate. Swagga Like Us on TI’s album is fire too. Hard to hate on rappers for remixing that song when it is based entirely off a riff from a rock song anyway.

  27. 30 · Maitri said

    M.I.A. ruins a perfectly good song by the Clash (“Straight To Hell” – give it a listen some time).

    I’m not a fan of M.I.A. but I actually applaud her choice to sample The Clash. That’s the only aspect of Paper Planes I find appealing.

  28. this is what M.I.A says [about paper planes]:

    ” I was going to get patties at my local and just thinking that really the worst thing that anyone can say [to someone these days] is some shit like: ”What I wanna do is come and get your money.” People don’t really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way. That they’re just leeches that suck from whatever. So in the song I say All I wanna do is [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money. I did it in sound effects. It’s up to you how you want to interpret. America is so obsessed with money, I’m sure they’ll get it. “

  29. amardeep, No one cares about your subjective musical tastes or this narrow minded critique. You don’t hear me bashing the ever so played out coordinated thuds you call ‘bhangra’ or whatever the hell it is you listen to. I like this song and you shouldn’t hate on it just because you don’t have the SWAGGER to get down with it like the rest of the boys on the corner. I shudder at the thought of it.

  30. I wonder how many of you criticizing how bad the hip hop remixes to her song are actually grew up listening to hip hop and being part of the culture. Or did you just listen to your top 40 radio stations and occasionally buy yourself a not so mainstream rap album to feel authentic somehow. I just noticed that most of the Desis who post here weren’t really raised around peers who not only listened to hip hop, but created it. Of course you are not going to like some of the remixes if you don’t even like hip hop.

    Yes, mainstream hip hop has been down the tubes for a while, but if you go to most hip hop forums, even the ones that are extremely harsh on mainstream hip hop, most of them agree that a lot of the remixes were good, yes, even Jay-Z’s version.

    And yes, you are very late on this, perhaps some more updated M.I.A. info is about how she is pregnant, and perhaps with Pharrell’s (Neptunes/NERD) baby. There are pics of them and her belly all over the internet. Is that not sepiamutiny worthy? Well, neither is feedback about hip hop music from a middle aged person who doesn’t really ever listen to hip hop music.