The Singles File Vol. 33&1/3: The Final Chapter
as reviewed by Matt Jost

Know what, let's stop pretending you're getting anything close to an update on single releases with the irregular feature that we call The Singles File. Not only has the singles market become a convoluted affair in which the actual song often seems to simply be the raw material from which to build ringtones, remixes and videos, as a reviewer I was often left guessing if the few singles that are sent to us for coverage are actually commercially available. will soon install a new format for singles reviews, so consider this our goodbye to the traditional Singles File as I make a clean sweep of recent (and some not so recent) arrivals.

Announcing his upcoming "Illustrious" album, Big Noyd returns with "Things Done Changed" and "So Much Trouble" (KOCH). The QB vet discovers the appeal of sung hooks, enlisting the help of Kira on the former and Serani on the latter. "Things Done Changed" sticks to the back-in-the-days theme Biggie's masterpiece of the same name dealt with, and naturally fails in comparison. Rapper Noyd's nostalgic look back is akin to a quick exchange between two acquaintances meeting on a short train ride rather than to a fully fleshed out song. Fizzy Womack's beat, while relying on a soulful sample and a singer, lacks the programming finesse to come anywhere close to the standards set by the Hitmen or The RZA. As Noyd reminisces, "'Infamous' came out, but look, rap is wack now / the fans that used to bump to it, half of 'em doin' crack now," you can't help but think that this song too would have sounded a lot better in 1995. He opens "So Much Trouble" with a BIG reference, and then proceeds to doing what he does best: "I don't Harlem Shake or Chicken Noodle Soup / but you can catch me Uptown with a pigeon in the coop." The street talk is implemented by producers Prince & Machavelli who prompt forceful waves of intimidating sounds. B-side wins again.

Not surprisingly, we're already heading down south. We're expected by "Tennessee spokesperson" Mr. Mack boasting, "My album ain't dropped, but on the charts I'm number one." Let me guess, with "So Fly" (Universal Republic) Mack has been on the local grind for some time, and now hopes to break out nationally with this DJ Doink-produced ditty that reintroduces chanting children to rap. It's catchy alright, but really, if you turn your song into a singalong for kids, you might as well watch your tongue a little bit. Apart from that the self-described "old school dude with a young nigga flow" has a charming, charismatic presence that balances the bleepy beat. We make a quick detour stopping in Dallas, where TVT Records provides Countri Boi with the starpower thought necessary to make the new signee official. Guests Slim Thug and Rick Ross detract from the supposed main attraction, but without them "I'm a Boss!" would even be less remarkable. If you like the idea of three testosterone-drenched voices dealing hyperrealism over stuttering percussion and dark key assortments you'll also be enchanted by DJ Khaled's "I'm so Hood" (KOCH), where we re-encounter Ross, alongside Plies and Trick Daddy. Hate him or love him, T-Pain adds an anthemic dimension to the robotic Runners beat. Just to prove that you can never cram too much alpha males on a rap track, the remix boasts Jeezy, Luda, Busta, Big Boi, Weezy, Joey Crack and - again - Ricky Ross.

Still in Florida, we find Miami's Pitbull underachieving with "Secret Admirer (TVT), tearing pages from the L.L. Cool J book of romantic rapping over a syrupy Play N Skillz track. On "I'm Not Locked Down" (Universal Republic) Orlando's Treal initially sound like they're also playing innocent with sentimental crooning over a radically simplistic beat. But apparently being 'locked down' means being in a relationship, and Treal make it known that they're available with self-accusations like "I'm horrible, I'm what you call a man whore." Sadly, virtually everything about this song is horrible. It comes across like an x-rated rap version of Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls." (That's meant as an offense, by the way.) Which brings us to DeMarco and his anti-violence message "Fallen Soldiers" (KOCH). Jamaicans have pretty much carte blanche when it comes to studio tricks since they've invented dub, still it pains to hear his voice being put through the same Auto-Tune processing that proved a successful crutch to Rihanna, T-Pain and Sean Kingston in 2007.

I don't wanna put too much pressure on these guys, but right now Michigan's Smokehouse Junkiez are my last hope to reconcile me with my trip into singles land. Whether their LongRange-distributed CD is meant to have any charting potential escapes me, what I do know is that airplay is not what they're going for. "Murder" and "Clap fa Me" (Roach) will rest safely in the horrorcore department of your music collection, but even there it will basically just take up space. Restrained, gruff vocals over inadequate, supposedly dark keyboard soundscapes exposing an alleged "murderistic mindstate" is simply not something I can recommend, sorry.

Originally posted: January 22, 2008