On March 24, 2002, Rivers Cuomo issued a “Fair Warning” to his fans on a certain Weezer message board, the contents of which simply read: “rock/rap.” It was a threat, and in the midst of 2002 it was one that resonated deeply — at the time the combination meant Rage Against the Machine at best, and garbage like Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park at worst (dire straits, either way). Unsurprisingly, the assembly of die-hards panicked as though Cuomo’s post were a telegram announcing tomorrow’s scheduled end of the world. His only offer of clarification or self-explanation read, “i am so not joking. i should have seen this coming. it’s the next break.”
Of course, the rap/rock album never transpired, but both before and since that “warning” Cuomo has incorporated many a shade of rap influence into Weezer’s music. And for the most part, whether or not that’s been successful has been a point of debate: the rapped verses and focused beat repetition/musical simplicity of “Beverly Hills” has never been a fan favorite, but won the band massive success as one of the biggest singles released in 2005 by anyone. “Mo’ Beats,” written in early ’02 (probably moments before or after Cuomo posted the aforementioned message board thread), is either one of the band’s worst songs or some kind of so-bad-it’s-brilliant transcendence. The Red Album‘s “Troublemaker” and “Everybody Get Dangerous” each employ hallmarks of hip-hop in both structure and vocal delivery, which Cuomo accredits to Eminem’s influence (despite neither sounding anything at all like Detroit’s finest). And the palpitations those fans first felt upon Cuomo’s horrible promise in 2002 finally became full-blown heart attacks last year, when it was confirmed that the list of outside collaborators for the Raditude album would include rap industry giants Polow da Don, Jermaine Dupri, and none other than Lil Wayne himself.
That said, there are at least two Weezer songs that incorporate hip-hop influences to brilliant effect. There’s Pinkerton‘s “El Scorcho,” the verses of which are the adorable, geeky white protagonist’s idea of rhyming (including a Public Enemy reference) — and then there’s “Run Over By A Truck,” written in 2007, recorded by Jackknife Lee at the tail end of 2008, and released as a Deluxe Edition bonus track for Raditude the following year.
It’s unclear as to what Cuomo’s ’07 home demo might have sounded like, but on the studio version the rap influence is quite clear. The verses sound like vintage Beastie Boys to these ears, and are — from a hip-hop perspective — certainly the best rhymes this white boy’s ever laid to tape. Cuomo dances about a boogie woogie piano shuffle, adequately on the first verse but really quite impressively on the second. True, there isn’t much to the A-B-C rhymes of “park”/”dark,” “club”/”love,” and “come”/”everyone,” but the pattern around the meter starts to get pretty cerebral in the second couplet (the identical rhyme of “foot”), especially as the interplay between the foreground and background vocals starts to escalate. It’s no Eminem, but it sure is a shock to hear coming from the “Beverly Hills” guy (and it definitely is better than some of the stuff on Relapse — sorry, Em).
That said, the rapped verses are just one of the many styles and influences Cuomo skillfully interweaves here — “Run Over By A Truck” is one of the best genre-blenders he’s mustered in ages (right up there with the likes of the ’93 demo of “Hot Tub,” for me). I already mentioned the 1930s throwback style of the piano (the second line of the song even references “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” a song from a 1946 Disney movie), but there’s a laundry list of other stuff swirling into the mix here: the first chorus has got a seriously fuzzed-to-fuckall guitar that I can’t even find a decent analog for (sounds great though), and the second chorus vocals have a production and harmony to them that reminds me of big glossy pop along the lines of Britney Spears (at which point Pat Wilson’s drums shift into a nice swing groove). Then comes the left-turn bridge, which is a composite of syncopated doo-wop backups, a scorching guitar lick that Brian Bell self-describes as “butterfly-picking,” and a lead from Cuomo that reminds me more than just a little bit — in both style and lyrical content — of Jellyfish, or a great Self b-side (PSA: if you don’t know Self, you need to do that).
Somehow it all works, and damn well. The lyrics are excellent as well: the “zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-day,” the lines that pointedly confuse languages (“I used to like to learn how to speak in Chinese / ‘O-Kudasai’ means ‘baby, would you please?'” — the latter being what Cuomo’s actually learned, Japanese) and sports (in the second verse, Cuomo claims to be playing basketball but winds up describing soccer moves), and his I’ll-take-anything approach to “the girls out in the club” at first sound like dashed-off throwaways. But then it sinks in that he’s evoking the feeling that the song is all about: feeling like you’ve been “run over by a truck,” in a total funk, devastated by something and unable to do anything. And as the bridge reveals, it’s a song meant to capture how Cuomo felt in the wake of his grandmother’s death. The age of the woman for whom the song is a requiem might explain all the delectable old-school genre references (and the way in which they’re tastefully intermixed with the more recent influences of big-dollar pop and golden age hip-hop), though I’m not sure whether or not Cuomo’s g-ma really did pass from this earth by way of a plane crash “on the way to see the Cleveland Browns.”
Regardless! This one’s a winner for sure, as far as I care one of the best songs Weezer recorded last decade or any other. And it’s a nice reminder that despite the occasional clinker, Cuolmes can do the rap thing just fine when he feels like it.
Now let’s just hope and pray that that ’02 Fred Durst collaboration never leaks…