Weekly Billboard Theory — Mask Off
“Mask Off” rips. It’s an awesome song for a couple of reasons and if ya don’t like it, you’re probably a prude. Sorry. Nah, I’m just kidding. But if you don’t like it’s probably because of something with the lyrics and I don’t care about all that business. Really though, this song has a pretty hilarious history. It wasn’t even originally a single, but the Internet willed it to be one. I think this song has spawned one of my favorite memes of the year AND it didn’t get beaten to death (watch the first one from that compilation, trust me). It’s a miracle. Okay, enough of the intro. Let’s go.
Key: D Minor
Tempo: 150 BPM
I have to admit, the first dozen times I had heard this song I had only listened to the intro. My rationale for this is, of course, because of the memes. This caused me to think that the song was something very different than it actually was. I know that sounds kinda confusing but stay with me.
I had assumed that the sample was taken from a kung fu movie of some sort. I could not have been more wrong. But why did I think that in the first place? Was it because of how popular kung fu movies are in the hip hop community? A little bit. But why would I come to that conclusion in the first place? Why does it sound like something from a Bruce Lee film? Well, the flute is an instrument that is characteristic of that genre of cinema. Ya know what else is characteristic of that genre and is something that I’ve talked about a million times already? The pentatonic scale.
As a matter of fact, there are even specific pentatonic scales from Japan. Does “Mask Off” use one of these? Nah. But still, the flute that’s playing only pentatonic notes from an older sound sample? I think I’m a little bit justified in my incorrect assumption. So what is the sample from? People have already written about this a ton, but it’s “Prison Song” from Selma. You’re probably a little bit surprised to find out the Future utilized source material that deals with civil rights in 2017 with the current political climate. I sure as heck am.
What else makes this song interesting? The chord progression isn’t anything obscure. It’s i-VI-v-i. Pretty easy chords, but when you compare these chords to most of the songs of the year, they’re pretty interesting. Sorry that I haven’t really been using notation to describe this stuff, being on tour makes doing this tough. ANYWAYS now that I’m thinking about it I think this might be one of the first songs that we’ve looked at that is very clearly in a minor key. Because of that, we’ve never seen a major chord based off of the sixth note of the scale, and I’m pretty positive that this is the first time we’ve seen a minor dominant chord. Minor dominants happen all the time in pop music, since we don’t really worry about cadences that much, but they are very rare in classical music because we’re so used to the V resolving to a tonic. So again, nothing particularly strange but in the context of the songs so far this year and in comparison to classical music, yeah this is very interesting.
Let’s go back to that flute sample. It sounds so good! But ya know what would make it sound not so good? If it played for the entirety of the song like some of the beats we’ve heard this year. Fortunately, we get small breaks in the form of the intro, about 1:43, and the outro of the song. We still have flute but it’s not the same melody. And oh yeah, at 1:43 it becomes pretty clear that this is not a sample from a kung fu movie. Whoops. Despite these small breaks, the song is pretty much the same throughout. “Wait, isn’t that what you’ve criticized other songs for? Are you making an exception because of a DANG MEME?!” Yeah, probably! But ya know what this song has going on that “I’m The One” and “Sign Of The Times” didn’t? About a minute and a half in length. That was a weird way to phrase that, but the brevity of “Mask Off” helps it out. If the song had another verse it would be a victim of the same crime the other songs I’ve written about are. Also, if you factor in the fact that a radio DJ will probably only play one verse and a couple of hooks, you’ll get even less of that flute action.
To sum “Mask Off” up, it’s a hard rap song based around a FLUTE! It’s 2017. We’re getting rid of gender norms and we can get rid of how we traditionally think of certain instruments. Flutes don’t have to be this lightweight pretty thing. They can be used to set the scene of one of Future’s biggest hits to date.
Alright, this was my last week on tour so I’ll be able to dedicate more focus on these write-ups in the coming weeks. To get it started, let’s look up what I’m writing about next week, shall we? Normally I list off all the stuff that’s on the top of the Billboard charts that I’ve already written about but there’s not much new in the top. We gotta go allllll the way down to number 8 with “XO TOUR Llif3” by Lil Uzi Vert. I’ll be honest, I’m going to assume this is a stinker before even listening to it. Find out if I’m wrong next week! See ya!