Perhaps even more surprising than hearing a rap artist sampling an electronic classic way back in 2006 when such actions weren’t yet in vogue is the fact that Swizz Beatz (aka Mr Alicia Keys, aka the guy I last posted about making vroom-vroom car noises on a Lloyd Banks track) produced ‘Touch It’. Swizz, besides being married to one of the finest, most talented ladies in hip-hop (newbie aside), has never really had much to recommend him as a producer. He has assisted Kanye, T.I. and Drake among others on tracks but you always got the sense that his hugely successful friends were indulging him on their records, tucking an over-produced track deep in the back of their albums for a pal. More startling evidence comes in the empirical truth that on those aforementioned three tracks, Swizz is always the first voice to be heard. Self-promotion is legitimate when you’re a struggling up-and-coming producer. Once you’re mixing it with Kanye and Drake, the notion of self-gratifying production becomes slightly absurd. You bow to the bigger egos in the room or aren’t asked back for the next album.
Apparently Swizz didn’t get the memo. On ‘Touch It’, pushed to the margins by the super-ego that is Bussa Bus, Swizz has to console himself with being the first proper noun mentioned on the track. Even so, we’re pretty clear from the get go that Busta might be addressing the world about his sexual profligacy, proclivities and the general female response to them but he’s doing it on Swizz’s watch. As opposed to the majority of Swizz’s (real name Kasseem Dean) output and much like the only other time in living memory when Swizz has been successfully humbled by a co-star (Beyonce’s alternative Pink Panther theme tune ‘Check On It‘), ‘Touch It’ is actually unassuming as a beat. When Swizz decides to take a back seat to Busta’s ridiculous on-record energy, the outcome is so much more impressive for the fact that his production buttresses rather than overpowers Rhymes’ rhymes. In its most distilled form, Swizz’s production is almost negligible except in those parts where it is obviously required. When Busta is in the booth, all you need is a tune that tracks his intensity in this way to succeed.
The appropriation of the French duo’s ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ on Kanye’s ‘Stronger‘ was far more holistic than the sparse, slowed-down female robotic sounds courtesy of Daft Punk that we get on ‘Touch It’. The result is that Swizz has had to work harder (better? faster?) still to maintain interest around these infrequent bursts of French inspiration. Instead of overthinking it (and adding his almost inevitable two cents to the joint), Swizz has crafted a beat that fits its star: flipping between a low, muffled bass and handclap vibe and one that thrusts that bass at you for all its worth, matching Busta’s mix of preposterous whispering flow and out and out shouting that just never gets old because Busta actually means what he shouts. The truth about Busta is that he is such a personality that a metronomic beat and not much else would suffice for his purposes. ‘Touch It’, lewd, crude and as much of an affront to more refined French House sensibilities as it is, soars in its near a capella quality. Swizz delivers in astoundingly understated fashion, Busta is his usual rambunctious/third-person-referring self and the whole thing seemingly explodes like a firecracker. In a good way.
Busta Rhymes – Touch It