Lórenzo J’s Mid-Aughts Music Review, Week 2
"Dey Know" x Shawty Lo + "What Up, What's Haapnin'" x T.I.
First things first, rest in peace, Shawty Lo. For real.
If you want a testament to the power of Atlanta hip-hop last decade, we’d probably find no greater example of an overachiever, a guy who almost certainly wouldn’t have found a national audience had he been from literally anywhere else. Shawty Lo’s rise to prominence came as the (maybe?) second wheel of D4L, an Atlanta rap quartet you may remember for such classics as “Stuntman,” “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me,” and the eternally ridiculous “Laffy Taffy.” D4L was always characterized by the energy of Fabo, the group’s clear leader and the guy destined for future success should the group thing prove unsuccessful; I give Shawty Lo the nod as the group’s second cog only because he also managed to find success post-D4L, and there’s an argument that his solo career was infinitely more successful than Fabo’s (Fabo wailing on “Tattoo” nonwithstanding.) I remember plotting on the OG iPhone my sophomore year in high school, and the phone’s release coincided with our intro to L-O as a solo artist, “Dey Know,” three minutes and fifteen seconds of incoherent rapping over the greatest instrumental I’d ever heard. Shawty Lo might’ve lacked Fabo’s silliness, but he more than matched his charisma. (Related: I guarantee you start jogging in place wherever you are once you hear this beat.)
You started jogging in place, I know. I really wanted “Dey Know” to be my first ringtone on my new iPhone, the tone ending once the beat falls out and Shawty rocks it acapello. In the years since, the song’s remix has become everyone’s preference — and for obvious, indisputable reasons — but I really really enjoy the original, Shawty Lo’s coolness a clear contrast to the (very) loud rappers he calls on for Part Two. As much as the remix is a showcase for the various talents of the featured artists — and despite no change in the instrumental — the original is uniquely Shawty Lo’s, the horns loud enough that Shawty Lo doesn’t have to announce his presence. You hear it once, and you get the appeal.
At this exact same time, Shawty Lo entered a very public spat with fellow Atlanta rapper T.I., which has always perplexed me for a variety of reasons. Early in his career, Tip proclaimed himself King of the South and by 2008, he’d earned the moniker; his 2006 album King and the accompanying feature film ATL made him a superduperstar, and in the midst of legal issues slowing his momentum, he released his sixth album Paper Trail in September 2008 as one of the more recognizable rap stars maybe ever. Paper Trail has features from Rihanna, Usher and Justin Timberlake, with the thirteenth track “Swagga Like Us” hosting JAY-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne (!) as opening acts for T.I.’s loquacious final verse. Last decade was very good to Tip, and by repeatedly releasing some legitimately quality music, he’d ensured his plaque in the mythical Hip-Hop hall-of-fame. The “Swagga Like Us” moment didn’t seem too big for T.I., and truth be told, he didn’t feel out of place either.
Still, Tip felt compelled to record “What Up, What’s Haapnin’?” for Paper Trail, an aggressive missive meant essentially to call Shawty Lo’s bluff. Although he never calls him out by name, the song’s video clears all confusion; in the first scene, T.I. parks a lawn chair in front of Shawty’s Lo neighborhood, and he spends the rest of the video openly mocking him in front of folks who are supposed to be Shawty Lo’s neighbors. I really like the song and I find the video hilarious, but I always found their feud very unnecessary and little weird, considering T.I. was overqualified to have rap beef with a guy from that group that made “Laffy Taffy.” (In Tip’s defense, Shawty Lo did start it, but whatever.) In the years since, the two reconciled (because, honestly, why would they still have issues?) and upon Shawty Lo’s tragic death in 2016, Tip spoke glowingly of him, confessing their tiff was much more related to competition than any personal issues. Ironically — or maybe not — their beef came at the apex of each rappers’ career: Paper Trail is T.I.’s last #1 album on the Billboard Hot 100, and Shawty Lo never saw that kind of mainstream attention on his music again. I might’ve found Tip’s responses petty, but he probably saw a guy he knew and respected and, most importantly, wanted his spot; this guy from down the block might’ve never held T.I.’s universal appeal, but he could threaten his neighborhood status, and that was enough to merit comebacks that were, frankly, mean. It never got violent, and everything ended well enough, but it was a juicy rap storyline in 2008 for sure.
The moral of this story is none of these rap beefs are real, and I don’t even know if there could be a respectful non-subliminal feud in 2018. I mean, all these guys talk shit about each other in their raps anyways, and I get that’s supposed to be in the spirit of competition, but Kendrick tried to pick a fight with literally anybody’d who’d accept a few years ago and the hip-hop community clutched its pearls in unison. Kudos to these two men for keeping it clean even under the illusion that things could get real.