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“Billie Jeane” by Tae Wall

The elite level in popular music knows no genre – when you’re at the top, it’s about the lifestyle that comes with the game. Rapper Tae Wall has a legacy on his young mind in the new single “Billie Jeane,” and before you even ask, it’s not a cover of the famed Michael Jackson track. “Billie Jeane” sees Wall thinking out loud; contemplating, if you will, and the story of status and the value of self-motivation. It’s poetic and highly metaphorical, but truth be told, it’s one of the slicker new jams I’ve been spinning lately. 

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/iamtaewall/?hl=en

There’s definitely a Pop Smoke/Ski Mask the Slump God influence over Wall’s delivery in this single, but he’s careful to avoid flirting with darkness to the point of sounding self-indulgent. One of the more compelling additions to the hip-hop lexicon in the past six years has been the ominous, emo-style self-awareness that’s taken over the melodic trap movement, but I don’t know if this player is trying to emulate his contemporaries with the harmony-based structure of this track or simply flexing his melodic sensibilities for all they’re worth. Time will tell what his long game looks like, but I appreciate his willingness to attack the hook with more than just leering linguistics here. 

This slow-stepping beat maxes out the tension perfectly, and yet I’m again hesitant to call any component of the track excessive (or even liberally stylized). I get the impression that Tae Wall wants to exploit atmospheric tones and lyrical subtext just as much as he wants to get something out of the bottom-end that isn’t limited to textural support under the melodies, and by pushing the envelope with this groove, he’s making a nearly four-minute track sound like a ten-minute super jam in all the right ways. 

The bassline seemingly wants to swallow everything up behind the percussion, but this only adds to the urgency of the narrative Tae Wall is putting forth with his lyrics. He doesn’t have to insert a big galloping drumbeat to establish a feeling of insurgent angst; it’s already on the table with the sizable swell of the bass, specifically as it meets with his clandestine vocal delivery at the most intriguing of moments. “Billie Jeane” has a unique profile, and it’s one that I don’t want to describe as purely hip-hop in origin – what’s being cultivated here is an alternative to the streamlined songcraft becoming all too popular in the underground today. 

I hear a lot of potential in Tae Wall’s sound, and if you take a look at the music video for his new single this fall, I think you’re going to find his personality just the right fit for what the modern hip-hop circuit needs to remain fresh and urbane amidst a troubling amount of commercial and plasticized crossovers. I’m a fan of what he’s got to say about himself and his music in “Billie Jeane,” and while the success of this track likely won’t surpass that of its namesake, it’s the same kind of statement single it was for MJ some forty years ago. 

Mindy McCall



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