Song 172: The-Dream, “Yamaha” (2010)

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I try to steer clear of backhanded praise on this blog, and I don’t always succeed. What I probably haven’t emphasized is that “dumb” songs are often better than ones that try, and fail, to reach lofty conceptual heights. Should there be bonus points for artists who attempt something new and creative, whatever the result? Sure. But there should also be bonus points for the artists who know what they’re doing, even if what they’re doing is low-concept. Sometimes songs just work because they work.

Take, for instance, “Yamaha” by The-Dream. It’s the very definition of low-concept—this dude’s girl is like a motorcycle because he likes to ride her; cue the wince-inducing engine metaphors already perfected by Springsteen and R. Kelly—but Terius Nash pushes it so far that it becomes almost absurd in its commitment. “Clutch, brake, get this motherfucker running,” he sings, backed by the humming synths out of an ‘80s movie’s end credits. You can picture the sunset.

Nash is a prominent songwriter: he had a major hand in the immortal Rihanna hit “Umbrella,” Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Accordingly, “Yamaha” is (like yesterday’s post) a Prince hit that never was. Its relationship to “Little Red Corvette” is implied, but not to the point of distraction. After all, not even Prince would try a line like “police hate us ‘cause they’ve never seen a girl with an ass so fat.” R. Kelly, on the other hand…

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