Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the first-ever Hip Hop Hook Singer Final Four and Championship competition where we will feature four of the greatest Hip Hop Hook Singers of all time!
Our Final Four competition begins with #2 seed T.J. Swan from the Juice Crew by way of Brooklyn taking on #3 seed Detroit’s own Dwele. That will be followed by our #1 seed Nate Dogg of Death Row Records facing off against #4 seed Mo B. D*** of No Limit Records’ Beats by the Pound crew. In this competition, feel free to sing along if you know the hook!
TJ Swan vs. Dwele
There can be no Hip Hop Hook Singing competition without TJ Swan’s contributions to Biz Markie’s “Make Some Music with Your Mouth.” For those who missed out on the original release of the single, they may have been introduced to TJ Swan singing about going shopping near the end of the “Albee Square Mall” track on Biz Markie’s Goin’ Off album. If that melody caught you, then more fleshed-out vocals from Swan on “Nobody Beats the Biz” and “Make Some Music with Your Mouth, Biz” really satisfied your R&B tastes. While “Make Some …” focuses on Biz’s beatboxing, Swan’s vocals is what makes the song memorable and catchy. If Swan’s vocals are removed from the track, it falls flat.
One of Common’s biggest hits is “The People” featuring Dwele. It has been said that Kanye West produced this track as a tribute to J-Dilla and if that’s the case, he did a damn good job! This track is perfect for Common. Yet, Kanye’s Dilla-like flavoring is multiplied by Dwele’s vocals. He sort of slinks and slides with the groove. He doesn’t upstage Common as he is sort of an accompanying instrument. In my opinion, his vocal instrumentation drives the track. Common is on point lyrically; yet, Dwele’s vocals give the track the feeling of hopefulness that makes it both hummable and memorable.
With this match-up between “Make Some Music with Your Mouth, Biz” vs. “The People”- the smoothness of Dwele’s vocals edge out TJ Swan’s harmony.
Nate Dogg vs. Mo. B. D***
When it comes to Hip Hop Hook singing, Nate Dogg is a juggernaut. He is to Death Row what the Funk Brothers was to Motown. Wait, okay – that might be a little much but seriously, think of Death Row’s top ten tracks and I bet you Nate Dogg is on at least five of them. He was vital to their success and an important element to their sound. Like many of us, I was vibing to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic album and things were going cool but when I got to “Deez Nuts” and Snoop said:
It’s real easy to see
So you can check sounds from Nate D-O-double G
Then Nate evokes the memories of your uncle who lives in Grandma’s basement, with a drink in one hand and a Black & Mild tucked behind his ear, who squints with one eye nearly closed and the eyebrow on the other eye arched high and one shoulder edging upward when he sang:
IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII can’t be faded
I’m a ni*** from the motherf******streets
Tell the truth, you sang that hook right along with him.
I mentioned the Funk Brothers and Motown as a sound that was instrumental to a record label. Perhaps more than Bad Boy Record’s Hitmen, No Limit’s Beats by the Pound is the winning production team on the label’s biggest hits. One of the members of that production team was Mo B. D***, who in addition to making beats also sang on a number of tracks. I suppose he was introduced to a national (I use that term lightly) audience via Master P’s “Ice Cream Man.” On the track, Mo shares hook singing duties with Mia X; yet his eerily catchy way of crooning
Mr. Ice Cream Maaaaan, Mr. Ice Cream MaAAAaaan
is what evoked listeners’ heads nodding to the track.
However, if No Limit and Death Row are known for rugged gangsta rhymes, then Nate Dogg is the butter that smooths Death Rows’ ruggedness while Mo tends to keep things rugged with his vocals. Don’t let the smooth taste fool you, Nate Dogg for the win.
Both Nate Dogg and Dwele won their matchups with their versions of smoothness, but how will they fare in the championship?
“Regulate” vs. “Flashing Lights”
“Regulate” was possibly the biggest hit from the Above The Rim soundtrack. The interplay between Warren G and Nate Dogg is so seamless that you can tell they’ve been together for a long time. I’m pretty sure you or someone you know has sung/rhymed along to this track of … man, what? the most improbable chain of events in recording music history.
So aight, boom! Warren G is cruising in his ride, sees some cats he doesn’t know shooting dice, and jumps out of his car to join them. I’m not sure if you remember Charle Murphy telling the Rick James story on the Chappelle Show, but there is an instance where he emphatically states, “WRONG!” and that applies to Warren G. C’mon son, rolling up in some random cats’ dice game – that’s all wrong. Why, because those cats gonna roll on you – facts.
Now, let me be clear, I’ve never been to Long Beach. I understand that it is one of those smaller cities that make up the greater Los Angles metropolitan area. I say small because Nate Dogg is just cruising around looking for Warren, flirts with some ladies who are so impressed with him, they crash their car, and then he happens upon Warren getting jacked. Did all this occur on the same street? Well, how big is the east side of the LBC? I don’t know and although this is not the most common scenario, but here we are. So Nate gets out bustin’ (shooting his gun) and Warren is saved (I hope he retrieved his rings and Rolex). And then, I mean right at the moment that Nate releases his finger off the trigger – bam! – he immediately remembers the girls who had the accident. Like no “G, you good man? Are you okay?” – not at all. Nate shoots at cats and then remembers the ladies.
So did they leave Warren’s car or did Warren automatically know to follow Nate to the accident scene? We don’t know. But what we do know is “one them dames was sexy as hell” and from there they ended up at the Eastside Motel. They just left the crashed-up car on the curb. No tow truck, nothing – well, they “were in need of something else.”
Is it possible to top that? Let’s see, Above The Rim was third in line behind Death Row classics, The Chronic and Doggystyle. Depending on your allegiances, you may include Murder Was The Case but I consider it, like, maybe like an EP or something, sort of like Ice Cube’s Kill At Will. Nevertheless, if Above The Rim is third in a string of hit albums then Kanye’s Graduation is third in his teddy bear mascot classic trilogy which includes College Dropout and Late Registration. Kanye has put out a lot of music since then, but I don’t think I’m the only one who loves old Kanye’s music more than space-boot designing sneaker Kanye. I can’t say “Flashing Lights” was the biggest hit on Graduation but I will say it is my favorite track on an album where I was otherwise feeling Kanye was heading in a direction I didn’t want to follow.
Yet, this is about Dwele and again, he delivers. Kanye was in his usual things-ain’t-going-my-way position and Dwele just glides onto the track and makes a good song, great. Now it wasn’t on the level of how Syleena Johnson laid it down on “All Falls Down” – which would probably be the Women’s Hip Hop Hook singer champion – but as a signer, Dwele knows who he is. He doesn’t oversing – think K-Ci on Tupac’s “How Do You Want It?” Dwele is a part of the song, a part of the experience. He isn’t taking over the song trying to make it his. But he does stand out by being so cool yet so integral to the vibe.
In the championship match-up, we head into overtime with an idea of which one of these gentlemen could you stand listening to beyond a hook. Let’s say for a whole album? No doubt about it, Nate Dogg has an extensive hook catalog. And to be honest, I approached this piece thinking Dwele, who is the better singer and whose solo albums are much better experiences than Nate’s solo joint. But in a competition about the hooks of Hip Hop tracks?
We have the scorecards from the judges and the winner is, still the undisputed champion of Hip Hop hooks – Nate Dogg!!!!