Top Ten Singles I Downloaded From Scour
attended college from 1998 and 2002, and like everyone else in the universe, I'm convinced the time frame in which I was a student was the most awesome one possible. This is true at least in the sense of internet development: two years earlier, I visited my brother's freshman dorm room and found out that the world wide web was pretty much good for guitar tablature, slow-loading pornography, and little else. I may have never got along with my roommate (I had to set a hard and fast rule on how many times per day he could play "Iris" when I was within earshot), but I at least owe him for dropping the bomb on an already budding music snob: you could literally get songs for free on the Internet. For most of that year, your reputation was relative to your Winamp playlist.
OK, there's the school of thought that posits these developments as ushering in the death of the record industry. But it wasn't instantaneous: back in the late '90s, it actually spurred completely irresponsible spending sprees at Plan 9 Music—the technology of the time could get you one or two songs to sample the goods, but no way you were finding the whole album. That's because before Napster and Limewire, we had Scour, which had a period of glory between 1997 and 1999 before a good portion of it got bought out by Michael Ovitz. Downloading felt more like work back then, and I'm pretty sure I was convinced that if I left my computer, I'd be stuck having to watch Rap City for hours if I wanted to hear Young Bleed's "How You Do Dat?" What a time to be 18. In no particular order, here are ten great singles that, at least for me, are inextricably tied with the primordial days of peer-to-peer file sharing.
01. Duncan Sheik - “Wishful Thinking"
I realize they look nothing alike, but have you ever seen Duncan Sheik and John Mayer in the same room? When Sheik became of no use, his handlers rejiggered his software and turned him into an Eric Clapton disciple who skipped straight to "Change the World." Who would've thought the version that went to Brown would be more palatable than the one that went to Berklee?
As it turns out, bouts of philosophy-major junk (he would later write songs with titles such as "Varying Degrees of Con Artistry") goes down easier than Blueshammer riff purgatory, and no Sheik song ended up being more teasing in its potential than this one-off from the Great Expectations soundtrack, which also featured Chris Cornell and Scott Weiland's stabs at singer-songwriter artifice. This is easily the best of them, AOR drama at its finest with production as lush and verdant as a golf course in a rainforest.
02. Noreaga - “Banned from TV"
When people get all nostalgic for that New York rap, part of it is clamoring for a consensus like Biggie. But it may just be that people really, really miss posse tracks. When have four rappers appeared on the same song as of late without it merely being a crew cut or these 20-deep mashups where quality control gets thrown out the window and it's not a matter of if Jim Jones will show up, but when? I sometimes wonder if we'll ever hear the likes of this again, particularly since Noreaga doesn't really seem that hungry anymore in every sense of the word.
"Banned from TV" remains one of the era's most untouchable artifacts: Cormega makes you care, Big Pun gets you teary-eyed, Cam'ron makes you realize what a veteran he truly is, and Jadakiss and Styles remind you that they're simply a superior version of Clipse. And then Noreaga does the Noreaga thing, and I totally thought he was saying "y'all funny n****s like Steve Garvey," which would've been the best line ever if he really wasn't saying Steve Harvey. I was thisclose to giving the nod to Fat Joe's "John Blaze," but in 1998, you had to acknowledge the most classic of Swizz's beatz.
03. Goo Goo Dolls - “Black Balloon"
Look, it's easy to use Johnny Rzeznick as a punchline because he somehow managed to arguably beat Paul Westerberg and Jon Bon Jovi at their own games. But anyone who was paying attention since A Boy Named Goo knew this: they rock some pretty groovy guitar tunings. "Black Balloon" has one of the coolest (you can occupy yourself for a long time with Db Ab Db Ab Db Db), and I'm calling bullshit on this being a guilty pleasure. I'm not killing a hobo for sexual pleasure. I miss guitar harmonics, is all. There's a difference.
04. B.G. - “Bling Bling" (radio edit)
Censoring a song for radio play is always a pain in the ass, but sometimes you're better off just bleeping out words instead of trying to change them. Ca$h Money should've done the former more often, as the video version of "Ha" is pretty much unlistenable and we've probably wiped from our collective memory Juvenile's requests to back that "thang" up.
Perhaps cultural overuse may render this song as useless to you as "Bootylicious" or "Gettin' Jiggy With It," but it's the rare case when the radio edit is actually better than the original track. The Big Tymers are forced to get a little creative and B.G. actually rides the beat more adroitly. And it gave them a reason to make an awesome video.
05. Semisonic - “Singing In My Sleep"
Green Day did Semisonic a lot of favors in 1998; if it wasn't for "Time of Your Life," "Closing Time" would've been included in even more senior year retrospectives and pretty much rule out us ever remembering them fondly. We'll always have its far-less mawkish follow-up, a delicious bit of power-pop that was probably the first and last good song ever written about making mixtapes.
06. Montell Jordan - “Let's Ride"
It's hard to imagine this'll ever change: R&B loverman gets leading rapper of the moment to get on his track regardless of how little sex appeal he really has. Hip-hop was on some really grimy shit in 1998, and Montell Jordan had to follow suit despite being a Pepperdine grad that filmed videos on golf courses.
"Let's Ride" finds him romancing a female who "liked Master P and Montell occasionally" while P and Silkk the Shocker put some camoflauge on them sheets. In an odd way, Montell found his answer to come up with a "you can spell 'absurdity' without 'R&B'" anthem that was on par with "Pony" and "You Remind Me of Something"; it's endearingly funny to think that he believed people would actually want to have sex to this song.
07. Cool Breeze - “Cre-A-Tine"
Most southern rappers who try to make a claim of legitimacy say they were greatly influenced by OutKast and Goodie Mob despite sounding nothing at all like them. More likely, it's a Cool Breeze thing, where confidence greatly exceeds lyrical skills but with a caveat: they realize they need the help.
On "Watch for the Hook" (really too seminal to make an obscurant list like this), Cool Breeze was allowed to bat cleanup for what might be the greatest Dixie posse cut ever made and for "Cre-A-Tine," he got Organized Noise's most bizarre, zooted beat which sounds like little else to this day. East Point's Greatest Hit was never considered a classic, but as long as it sports those tracks, it's worth revisiting just to determine it for yourself.
08. Nicole - “Make It Hot"
Timbaland absolutely owned this era; I often found myself trolling in the darkest regions of the internet for even that bullshit stuff he did with Playa and Memphis Bleek. But perhaps the best R&B creation he's ever been a part of was his least busy, an absolutely sweltering ode to being wronged by your no-good man. I'm to understand there's Nicole Wray and Nicole Ray; one of them ended up doing hooks on DipSet albums and the other got the far better end of the deal despite disappearing almost immediately.
09. Three 6 Mafia - “Tear Da Club Up"
Three 6 Mafia's Academy Award sends the wrong message: that the thoroughly mediocre "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp" was superior to anything that made the soundtrack to Choices: The Movie. As a response, I viewed it as a lifetime achievement award, since these guys have been around forever.
Although When the Smoke Clears will always be their one album that's solid from beginning to end (Gangsta Boo was their best asset as an MC and everyone knew it), it will always suffer from not having their most essential track. You have to understand club owners banning this; combined with its grainy and very weird video, few tracks do a better job of presenting imminent and catastrophic violence.
10. The Flys - “Got You Where I Want You"
It's always great when a one-hit wonder comes along and seems like a self-contained trend. This bewilderingly named foursome certainly had an image, but it's difficult to think of anyone being able to imitate it. They were led by a couple of California steakheads born to an atomic scientist—one of them sang through a self-invented microphone contraption that mostly made him sound like Ozzy, while the other did this quasi-toasting rap thing.
Here we have the highlight of the surprisingly not-bad Holiday Man and the likely highlight of the Holmes/Marsden teen angst-er "Disturbing Behavior." As a fellow Stylus writer put it: "truly epic stuff" and quite possibly the most cuddly freshman heart-melter ever written by extreme sports enthusiasts.