Five Very Hot Takes on Mike Will Made It & Rihanna’s “Nothing Is Promised,” the Actual Song of Summer
Mere days ago, I was gonna publish a screed about how songs of summer are ostensibly BS: how they gloss over summer’s dark heart by sounding like its Instagrams; how a street-level mixtape released three days ago is more woke to what warmer weather can mean for neighborhoods across this country than, say, that new Fifth Harmony, for example. How it would be really nice if a song or record would hit the airwaves this season that was steely-eyed and star-gazing; hot yet cold; Gotham and its Narrows.
What a difference a few days can make.
Because as of forty eight hours ago, we have the above banger by Mike Will Made It and Rihanna and it is — by both my music professional and personal metrics — the track that I was wishing for. More than that: it is the song of this summer.
Crack your knuckles, folks— it’s time for some hot takes:
1) It’s the Song of the Summer Because RiRi’s On Her Young Thug
This year’s “songs of summer” find many artists on their [blank]: “Controlla” is Drake on his dancehall; “Can’t Stop The Feeling” is Timberlake on his Daft Punk on their Pharrell. It’s exciting!…in a really benign way. It’s like hearing wolves in sheep’s clothing decide to sing like sheep. Drake is much more fun (and effective) when he’s snarling and biting a bit. Ditto Justin Timberlake. Click here or here if you disagree.
On “Nothing Is Promised,” Rihanna does not sound like a wolf in sheep’s clothing so much as a wolf in the guise of a much crazier wolf. She is channeling the hell out of Atlanta’s Young Thug throughout the song and that is awesome because Young Thug is kind of the Tom Waits of trap music (mad, brilliant and frequently unintelligible). Given that: check the way Rihanna’s half slurring / half smirking her way through lines like “I keep a duffel bag on me like Titi Boy or Dola;” observe her frequent, cascading breathless. Note that she’s almost rapping about god-damn Titi Boy and Dola when she references them. Hey — Rihanna’s almost rapping. You know how freaking awesome that is? Here. I’ll show you:
“Nothing Is Promised” finds Rihanna stretching herself as an artist and performer and if Thugger ever covered it, it would surely sound the same. Exactly. The same.
1 a) It’s Sort of Like “Digits”
Which is a great Young Thug song concerning money, death and time’s revenges. As you can hear, it still swaggers…but there’s a hitch in its step — an audible moment where its glassy stare gives way to clarity and the high it has cultivated fades.
“Nothing Is Promised” is that moment stretched to song length: there’s a fatalism to Mike Will’s beat — in the minor key it traffics in, the ghostly voices that lurk in its corners — and also to RiRi’s lyrics. Here’s the chorus:
Ain’t none of this shit promised / Ain’t none of it promsed / Ain’t none of this shit promised / Ain’t none of it.
3) And She’s Right
Let’s talk 2016 for a second. Prince and Bowie are dead (Also Ali) and Trump is the Republican frontrunner and Boosie Badazz got cancer in January and Rogue One is getting re-shot and a Staten Island teen died because a group of men chased after him, they chased him to death two damn days ago.
This is a fraction of the world we live in at this moment — June 4th, 2016.
Ain’t none of this shit promised.
4) That Being True…
This song is still a banger; sobering as all get-out and, still, such a body mover. Maybe it’s leftover good will from ANTI, but RiRi’s presence alone gets my body shifting involuntarily. Though the instrumental she flows over is uneasy, it’s a widescreen affair: calibrated to reach rafters, it makes one want to roll the windows down and drive long distances. It inspires the carefree raising of arms. It’s a late-night-bonfire-party strain of eager and, given where we are as a country (plus the absolutely wack weather heretofore), that seems right in every way.
Because it feels so right, “Nothing Was Promised” actually does what all (supposedly) great summer songs are (supposedly) supposed to do: drag us from our doldrums. It takes us shopping in Paris, Kanye and Jay style. Later, it stashes cash in the mattress. It’s escapist. To call it anyone’s everyday life but Rihanna’s would be a misnomer but, because life can all go bottoms up at any moment, the song ends with Rihanna hugging her money in bed. It’s an indelible and startling image. You can’t take it with you.
5) That’s Worth Celebrating
Four days ago, I got diagnosed with “maybe testicular cancer.” I say “maybe” because come this week I will know for sure if I have it or not. Even if I’ve got it, I’m relatively lucky — it is the most curable of the Monsters-like attempted-murderer’s row that cancer often is (the Blanko, really) and, as it happened, “Nothing Is Promised” dropped that day I got the (maybe) bad news, so: obviously this song and its message are going to mean something to me. They will feel very heightened.
That being true: that very same day — June 2, 2016 — two teenage girls beat a 78-year-old woman on the face, head, and bodya at a Brooklyn subway station; an unidentified male body was found under a tree in Central Park at 1:45 pm (five minutes after I recieved my news); in my sweet home Chicago — reeling from its most violent May since 1995 — it was reported that three were dead and nine wounded from shootings across the city the night prior.
That evening, my partner and I had some of the best bowls of ramen on this planet with some really strong rye whiskey and if you’ve never combined the two before, I cannot advocate doing so enough. As a friend of mine frequently says, we were “just trying to live.”
“Nothing Is Promised” is a clarion call to live your life while keeping chaos firmly in your rearview. Summer, at its best, is a template in which to do so oh-so-fully. To swim in oceans, sharks be damned; to have that block party (no matter which block you live on). It is Gotham and its Narrows, both the radio-ready anthem we deserve and need right now.
If it is darkest before the dawn, it sincerely hopes the dawn is coming…
…And it wants you to bob your head, baby.
What could be more summer than that?