Key! “Perfect” A Review of a Rap Song
Key! “Perfect” 2014
In space, there’s no noise. For sound to travel, there needs to be molecules that it can pass through. On earth, there are air particles, in space, there is nothing.
This impossible space noise are the flittering first sounds from “Perfect.” There’s two distinct noises at play, the first is a common horror soundtrack jittering, like a tin ping-pong ball being batted back and forth. The other is best described as a crawl, it’s a spinning electronic wind chime that is winding down. At first, it’s slow and deep, but then it kicks up speed before the bass crashing in.
Dear God. That bass. It hits you in these two or three second bursts, but not jarring or destroying your speakers, it doesn’t copy the typical rap bass that lulls you into a head-nodding rhythm. No. It’s dark without being sinister or menacing, the noise before the bass was space, this is confirmation, “Yes, you are no longer in a comfortable place.”
Helping to shed that fear is Key!’s intro. It’s a warning but one with a playful tone, he’s not rapping, but he’s also having two overlapping conversations: don’t be afraid and you can be greater than me. He’s starting from a self-effacing location to ease the tension of noises and bass.
The first verse, well, wait, no, it’s the chorus.
Our brains enjoy repetition. Perhaps not exact repetition but when we recognize something, we can put it in a safe category of, “Oh, great, here’s what I expect from this situation.” Any song over six minutes might cause a red flag because the majority of music we consume is three to five minutes. And in those minutes, especially in rap, it’s a few seconds of music, repeating itself over and over again with a few mild wrinkles throughout the song.
To start with a chorus, and with a chorus the relies heavily on repetition, is to give the listener a chance to think, “Yeah, hmm, this sounds like something I recognize as a rap song.”
“How the hell you doin’ (x5)
Im doin’ great I’m good I’m perfect hey (x3)
How the hell you doin’ (x2)”
Key! gets more aggressive with each “How the hell you doin’” but it doesn’t feel directed to the listener, it sounds like an internal monologue, a wake-up call to himself. When he finally responds, it’s turned down, a sarcastic response, “Im doin’ great I’m good I’m perfect hey.” Finally, the question turns more outward, no longer concerned with himself, he speaks to the audience. After the question, he offers some thoughts.
“Fuck everybody word to Beezy Latta
I need cash money and that Weezy guala
They want that hip hop but I can’t hip hop
I need more guap I need more guap”
Before this first stanza, Key!’s pitch change, but nothing urgent, a typical ebb from conversational to rapping. Here, within four lines, he drops any pretense of normalcy, he stretches “latta” and “guala” to uncomfortable lengths, there’s no semblance of emotions or even breath between the words “theywantthathiphopbuticanthiphop” and his voice begins to break on the last “I need more guap.” For Key!, it’s about money. Money is what has him stressed, not the sanctity of hip-hop, which he claims to not do properly, but he needs more money.
Money is not presented in the song as a means for a display of ego, but simply, “I need it. I need more of it.”
The rest of the verse is about him catching up to friends in terms of success in rap, but the stand out section, is when the music loops back to the beginning. No more deafening bass, no shuffling symbols, just those goddamn early space noises and Key!
“I got kids and I got God all on my side
Plus I got a shooter sittin’ in my ride
I got white but boy I need yo fuckin’ white
I got gas but you know that its fuckin’ loud”
He’s not where he’s at, but where’s he at, he needs more of the same but it’s the “God” part that jumps out. Drug and violence references are standard rap fodder, but Key! starts with people and God. “Kids” could be literal, he has children or just people in his crew, but he also has God on his side. God is not something wielded around with ease, he’s not apologetic about it. There’s no bass or drums overwhelming the moment, just some noise, kids, God, and Key!
We kick back into the chorus and then into the second and final verse. He starts talking about crew affiliations, potential success, and realness. The second half becomes more abstract.
“Neptunes, Im outta here
Ok they clonin’ they really want me
Im outta here
I can’t stick around
Can’t get this swag for free”
When he says “Neptunes” he makes a laser sounds, denoting The Neptunes producing style (Pew Pew Lasers isn’t the worst way to describe their music) along with a name-check of their “Clones” album. The lyrics themselves are more abstract, while it’s possible Pharrell would want to clone Key!, it’s more likely he’s fearful of losing himself with big name people and responsibilities it comes with. He’d rather run, but maybe if the price is right, he’ll talk.
The verse ends with some terse words for a friend and then rolls back into the chorus. The beat trails on for another minute as a reminder of where we’ve just been.
Ed. Note: I am trying to learn more about music so I apologize if I incorrectly identify a music instrument. Please let me know if I do.