Listening to the top 5 popularly voted tracks at 5pm on Chicago hip-hop station WGCI a couple of days ago, I couldn’t help but notice that a vast majority of those songs were collaborative works. While the feature has always been an integral part of hip-hop in a way it has not been so essential to other genres like pop and house, it seems as though hip-hop is moving past the era of the feature and towards a time in which a song cannot be commercially successful unless it boasts verses from three or more of your favourite artists. The formation of hip-hop cliques plays into this obsession with having a rotating roster of rappers performing over the four- or five-minute length of a track and the advent of Maybach Music, YMCMB, G.O.O.D. Music, October’s Very Own and the Grand Hustle Gang (under the steerage of T.I.) has helped propel the popularity of songs that sound like they were recorded at one of the homes of the leaders of these cliques, with the microphone passed around and everyone asked politely to throw in their two cents over the beat.
The production on ‘Still In This Bitch’ – not actually a new song but from a B.o.B. mixtape, ‘Fuck Em We Ball’, released in November 2012 – is evidence of this trend. There is little explicable reason for why the song was released officially in January 2013, serviced to radio shortly thereafter and has since gone Gold in the States but for the fact that it fits well within the group-rap mentality gradually taking hold of the genre. Grand Hustle (which B.o.B. is signed to) has always done tracks like this well. Outside of the crooned chorus which occasionally acts as a bridge too, the song is devastatingly simple – a tinny drum machine and some hood calls provide a pretty clean platform onto which T.I., in the not-finishing-words style we’ve become accustomed to, and Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia can strut and pretty much do their thing. Still, no one is showing anyone else up and instead, each verse acts as something of a reiteration of the last, a demonstration of just how all the lads are on the same page. We wait for the B.o.B. chorus/hook eagerly because it brings with it T.I.’s awesomely carnal ‘yeahhh’ sound effect and the song chugs along in the meantime, never overwhelming but progressively building on strong foundations.
What perhaps most signifies the track’s place in the contemporary canon of group-rap tracks is the fact that, on hearing it, even a few times, it remains unclear which artist might actually have ownership of it. Surely, B.o.B. taking up chorus duties is a strong indicator Bobby Ray might have stewardship of the enterprise but realistically, they were never going to get T.I. to sing anything. Still further evidence comes in the fact that B.o.B. actually opens the track with his own verse but the circuitous nature of the song and its astounding radio coverage means that it’s easy to come in a third or two-thirds of the way through the track, miss B.o.B.’s verse entirely, hear the grandstanding antics of T.I. and assume that he might claim ownership of it. Part of determining the efficacy of such a rap-group track is the extent to which this question of ownership is eschewed. Ultimately, it’s going to appear on someone’s album or mixtape and someone will reap the majority of profits but those back-end concerns should be far from the mind of the consumer, immersed in the cohesiveness of the track. The key refrain, ‘We still in this bitch’, might not be as nuanced as it could be but the impression of longevity and stoicism it presents is fitting: this is strength in numbers.
B.o.B. – Still In This Bitch Ft. T.I. and Juicy J