“Ayo Technology” & “I Get Money” were the last rap songs I ever loved.
Ten years later and everything about them are still timely and perfect.
In April 2007 I decided I wanted to be a blogger. I didn’t actually become a blogger until April 2008, but by April 2007, I pretty solidly felt that I was the only mainstream rap superfan with two legs deep enough in indie pop, pre-EDM, and hipster rap to uniquely make a difference. And then, back-to-back, I heard 50 Cent’s Audio Two “Top Billin’”-sampling brag rap “I Get Money,” as well as Timbaland’s Justin Timberlake-aided, twinkling Daft Punk by way of Pharrell techno-rap digi-sex ode “Ayo Technology.” I think, long before I ever took a party drug or knew anything about where music was headed, was the moment that, for me, the modern world (as comparable to Venus emerging from the half-shell) was birthed and took shape.
In 2007, 50 Cent was unequivocally, in a commercial sense, the greatest rapper to ever rap, and the most popular rapper in all time in the history of music. In just under five years, he sold nearly 30 million albums and had almost 20 global top ten singles. As well, he’d starred in a film and video game adaptation of his life story, written his memoirs, released Reebok sneakers, and became an investor and pitchman for the Glaceau enhanced water company, even having a Formula 50 drink named in his honor. When Coca-Cola purchased Glacéau for $4.1 billion in 2007, minority shareholder 50 Cent earned $100 million from the deal after taxes. Thus, this man releasing a song called “I Get Money” was incredibly logical.
If that wasn’t enough, 50 then released a REMIX to “I Get Money” that featured him, Jay Z, and Diddy, as the three were the top money earners on Forbes’ then-nascent “Hip-Hop Cash Kings” list. In 2007, Jay Z was in at #1 with $34 million, with 50 at Jay’s heels with $32 million, and Diddy coming in at #3 with 28 million. Impressively, since 2007, Jay and Diddy’s worth have increased roughly 2300% and 3000% to 810 and 820 million respectively, whereas 50 Cent has stalled at a “mere” 390% growth to an estimated $157 million. Three men from the cradle of rap who in 2007 were as much as much as Drake, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne’s label boss Bryan “Birdman” Williams is in 2017 rapping over one of rap’s first iconic breaks about flipping companies like kilos of cocaine, vacationing in the south of France and driving expensive cars is incredible. It’s the perfect coda to end an era that started with Biggie’s “Juicy” laundry list of opulent purchases of three chauffeur-driven luxury automobiles, entirely brand new living room furniture, two video game consoles, an exorbitant cellular telephone bill, and an accountant on retainer to manage it all.
To wit, the biggest-selling pure rap song of 2007? The Atlanta tandem of T-Pain and Yung Joc’s “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’).” “I Get Money,” though infinitely more culturally relevant to what hip-hop culture once was, isn’t even on the Top 100 list of Billboard songs for the year.
Similarly not on the list, and as well also arguably entirely best representative of where rap was, and as well where it was headed, was the 50 Cent, Timbaland, and Justin Timberlake collaboration “Ayo Technology.”
There’s an argument that the best Daft Punk inspired rap song of 2007 is Kanye West’s crossover breakout hit single “Stronger,” the song that literally samples Daft Punk’s 2001 hit “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” What’s intriguing is that these two songs were likely produced simultaneously, and with each camp likely unaware that each artist was producing a similarly inspired production. To wit, “Stronger” was released on July 31, while “Ayo Technology” arrived exactly one month later.
These singles were the lead-in to the album release battle between the two artists on September 11, 2007. What’s funny is that though pundits like Complex’s Noah Callahan-Bever feel that this battle was more beta-male versus gangsta rap, I always found that, given how much I loved “Ayo Technology” and was awed by “Stronger” that this battle was more hearkening the awakening of the great indie electro/EDM beast monster. Given where rap is right now, with the last vestiges of big room house and trap-as-EDM stomping rap’s OG roots into the ground like Godzilla assaulting Tokyo, I feel vindicated in my opinion.
The best thing about “Ayo Technology” is that it feels like the “briefly single John Lennon gone on a boozy and coked out pussy hunting expedition to Los Angeles in 1973” addendum to Justin Timberlake’s 2002 and 2006 grand slam Britney Spears breakup odes “Cry Me A River” and “What Goes Around Comes Back Around.” The idea that Tim, 50, and JT would’ve met up in some sort of virtual reality enhanced Upper East Side strip club parlor, gotten bored, then cruised the seediest sections of Times Square for the real-life action makes sense and is ultimately the crux of the creative influence of the song.
Aiding this single is Timbaland at his progressive “I invented dubstep” best. There’s moments in Tim Mosley’s production career wherein he pushed the envelope just a step too far, discovering sonic frequencies that mellifluously, yet not-so-pop chart successfully redefined urban music (like say, Aaliyah’s 2001 single “We Need A Resolution”). In fact, the Wikipedia entry for “Ayo Technology” notes that “[t]he intro and lead synth were created using an emulated version of the MOS SID Synthesizer microchip used in the Commodore 64 8-bit Home Computer, on the Open Labs Neko Digital Audio Workstation that Timbaland was famous for using around this period. Because of this, it is remarkably similar-sounding to the electronic music duo Crystal Castles’ “Courtship Dating” from their self-titled album, released the following year although performed live since December 2006.”
Thus, for as much as writers like the aforementioned Bever were casting 2007’s biggest issue in rap music as being alpha vs beta male creativity, the bigger issue is that two of the overall best songs on the two albums competing against each other bore the obvious influence of French touch and electropunk on hip-hop culture.
It’s ten years later, and when I listen to both “I Get Money” and “Ayo Technology,” I’m not transported back to an era that is long forgotten. Rather, in hearing hip-hop at its opulent best and rap at its progressive edge, I’m stuck at exactly where rap is at this precise moment. 2017’s biggest mainstream rap song to date is Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” which feels like the miscreant son-gone-wrong of “I Get Money.” As well, Future’s “Mask Off?” In being a swirling flute-rap jam that is an ode to the notion of chasing money over women while in the midst of using painkillers and recreational party drugs doesn’t sound too far gone from 50, Timbaland and JT’s techno sex anthem.
50 Cent’s back-to-back lead-in heaters prior to the release to his 2007 album Curtis represent the last time I ever truly adored rap songs. Listening to the best of the genre’s mainstream sounds 10 years later, and I feel really wonderful about that decision. As far as whether that’s good or bad, well, that’s a whole other article, right?