The signature sounds of the 00s pop boom – all those staccatos, pizzicatos, clicks and bubbles – fix this track in its era even as the central, taunting string figure calls further back to long-ago good times, now soured. “Hit Em Up Style”‘s vicious storyline of economic revenge reminds me that at the time it wasn’t just the sonics that won modern R&B its attention: the music’s themes were given serious consideration too. Well, if being attacked as “man-hating” counts.
This concern – that R&B had turned into some kind of stilettoed carnival of male humiliation – seems bizarrely oversensitive now. “Bills, Bills, Bills”; “No Scrubs”; “Don’t Think I’m Not”; “Independent Women Part 1″: all about empowerment, sometimes in the messy and non-abstract sense of getting paid. Criticise the frame of reference – unfettered boom-time materialism – if you like, but the songs themselves are more gleeful than spiteful.
“Hit ‘Em Up Style” is the real deal, though (video here). The lyrics are clunky ‘social commentary’ from Dallas Austin, who also wrote “Unpretty” and the Sugababes’ “Ugly”. But what makes it is Cantrell’s shrill, cruel delight in her looting of a former lover. She doesn’t have the world’s most nuanced voice but here her jabs and shrieks are thoroughly appropriate, linking with the rickety music (a bad-dream cousin of “Your Woman”) to deliver a convincing sense of hating a particular man, at least.