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Who Flipped It Better? Nas vs. MF DOOM

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

Whodini’s ‘Friends’ is a classic song with an everlasting message–watch who you befriend. Booming 808s and crisp claps mark ‘Friends’ as a trademark of early-to-mid 80′s hip-hop that would become dominated by RUN-DMC, but Whodini were some of the first pioneers to blend electronic elements of production with their rapping techniques. As far as we’ve come in technology and new sounds today, producers still pull from those thunderous kicks to give their current music some much-needed firepower.

Listen to Whodini’s ‘Friends’

‘It Was Written’ was Nas’s attempt to cull a wider mainstream audience from his buzz as New York’s next big thing. ‘Illmatic’ had made an impact in certain circles, but people thought that Nas was going to be bigger than just an extraordinary Queens MC – they wanted him to be a star. That’s where Steve Stoute stepped in, introducing Nas to production duo The Trackmasters as Stoute began to manage them both. It marked not only an aesthetic change in Nas’ music, but a landmark moment in his career at large.

No one song catapulted Nas into the stratosphere like ‘If I Ruled The World (Imagine That).’ Featuring Lauryn Hill, the song visualized black people uniting across the globe and returning to Africa, where Nas saw fit to have oppressed blacks seek refuge from the jail cells of Attica prison. For the very first time, Escobar’s breadth stretched beyond the projects and across seas to different continents, like rap’s Malcolm X connecting the plight of the African diaspora all over the world to speak of one, unified narrative. The single peaked at 53 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts while reaching 17 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart and 15 on the Hot Rap Tracks chart, but its influence spread beyond whatever numbers could express.

Listen to Nas’s ‘If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)’

Ever the sardonic outsider looking in, DOOM utilizes the Whodini sample for a commentary on the meaning of friends that’s much more dour than Nas’ brotherly vision might have hoped for. ‘Deep Fried Frenz’ sounds like DOOM has been burned by one too many fake friends as he outlines why he doesn’t pick up the phone much. “Jealousy the number one killer among black folk,” he laments as he advises that sometimes you just have to cut people off like a light switch. Considering the many money myths that swirl around DOOM’s legacy, it makes sense that he isn’t very trustworthy of anyone these days. Plus, he’s a villain, obviously he scorns the world at large.

Listen to DOOM’s ‘Deep Fried Frenz’

‘If I Ruled The World’ lifts the cataclysmic drums from ‘Friends’ in order to crater radio airwaves — you can’t miss those 808s when you hear them. In 1996, ‘It Was Written’ was seen as something of a sellout move by Nas, who suddenly donned the wealthy wardrobe of Escobar, and ‘If I Ruled The World’ was the cherry on top. Lauryn Hill was coming off enormous success with The Fugees and having her name attached automatically meant that more people would pay attention. Combined with the gaudy choice of subject matter, the pop-inflected production of the Trackmasters, and even tracks where Nas himself sung on the hooks, ’It Was Written’ was pure anathema to pure hip-hop heads. ‘If I Ruled The World’ encapsulated what The Commissioner and The Trackmasters attempted to do on the entire album – straddle Nas’ sound between the streets and the mainstream. By anchoring the track with pounding, mid-80′s percussion and sinister sound effects, Nas had one foot in hip-hop’s grounded tradition while he attempted to reach higher heights.

DOOM is attached to hip-hop’s history as well, but as an innovator, he makes sure to include the vocal hook from ‘Friends’ to layer the necessary sarcasm on top of what he’s talking about. Where Nas takes purely musical cues from Whodini, DOOM flips the entire song’s message into his own, and uses the chorus to amplify how ridiculous some supposed “friends” can be. Nas might have gotten his name on the charts with ‘If I Ruled The World,’ but ‘Deep Fried Frenz’ is an ingenius use of sampling that adds new meaning to an old classic.

WINNER: DOOM’S ‘Deep Fried Frenz’

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