Sep 09

BLU CANTRELL – “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops)”

FT3 comments • 688 views

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.


  1. 1
    Tim F on 21 Sep 2009 #

    I wouldn’t be surprised that if a lot of the critical feting surrounding R&B in the early 00s publicly focused on the sonics while actually people were getting off on the high-drama materialist (in both senses) lyricism and bite of the songs themselves.

    This isn’t as strong as the great Kandi songs (esp. “Bills Bills Bills” and “Bugaboo” – hard to think of lyrics I like more than “So what, you bought a pair of shoes/What, now, I guess you think I owe you/You don’t have to call as much as you do /I’ll give ’em back to be through with you /And so what, my momma likes you /What, now I guess you think I will too/Even if the Pope said he likes you too/I don’t really care ’cause you’re a bug a boo”) in this regard, but you’re spot on about how Blu’s performance lifts it to almost that level.

  2. 2
    cis on 21 Sep 2009 #

    Tim, those are exactly the lyrics I would have chosen to demonstrate the moment I went starry-eyed over RnB girl materialism! “so what, you bought a pair of shoes / what, now, I guess you think I owe you?” was so new and vital and important a statement of a totally alien, utterly fascinating femininity.

  3. 3
    Gareth Parker on 22 Aug 2021 #

    Speaking of Blu Cantrell, I felt that Breathe was one of the better #1s in 2003 imho.

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