This year Missy Elliott joins the ranks of rappers being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following legends like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5, who became the first rap group to be inducted in 2007, and more recently Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Eminem. However, Elliott breaks open another door, becoming the first female hip hop artist to be inducted.
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
The tagline of Punchline’s website reads: “Punchline is a band from Pittsburgh, PA. For fans of Jimmy Eat World, hope, and cats.” As a native Pennsylvanian who is a fan of two of the three of those things, I am immediately sold. (For those of you who think I could ever not be a fan of Jimmy Eat World, I will just leave you with this.)
And then as part of my Wikipedia deep dive on the band and its members, I found this gem on lead singer Steve Soboslai’s page:
In 2011 Soboslai began doing solo performances as “Blue of Colors.” In his first performance he opened for Parachute and Plain White T’s at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania student union.
I was 100% at that show. I was of course wearing a plain white t-shirt–ironically, probably, but maybe not. During this trip down memory lane I didn’t immediately remember the opening, opening act, so I went to listen to the most popular songs on Spotify from the album released closest to that time to try to jog a memory. It’s possible I’m just in the “no way” of it all, but “Goodbye Stranger” sounded fairly familiar. Maybe a mirage. Maybe a memory. “Untie the knot, and I’ll untangle you.”
Just like I can’t conjure a specific memory of that 2011 performance, I can’t pinpoint the first time Punchline surfaced from under the radar for me, but with recent, relatable singles titles like “I Don’t Wanna Leave Yet,” “Can I Get A Break,” and “Find Yourself,” it was a fortuitous find. Since the moment of discovery I have played their Songs from ’94 cover EP many, many times. You will soon understand why.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
With the new Barbie movie coming out this weekend, it is the perfect time to revisit Aqua’s classic number one hit that reached that top spot in multiple countries across the globe. Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice have even contributed a version of the song for the soundtrack. It’s not so much a cover as a rap over “Barbie Girl” played in the background, but it’s still a great throwback with a new twist.
The new movie has brought up some capital-D discourse about Barbie. Is it feminist? Is it anti-feminist? Does Greta Gerwig at the helm make us more or less nervous about the outcome? Either way, as the trailer advertises: “If you love Barbie. If you hate Barbie. This movie is for you.” The movie has a star-studded cast, with Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken at the helm (since this is a music blog after all, Dua Lipa plays Mermaid Barbie).
As I was getting my head into Barbie World, compiling covers of this song, I realized that I was definitely listening to a clean version as a kid. I was used to hearing “I’m a blonde, single girl,” not “I’m a blonde, bimbo girl.” Maybe my Barbie memories have more of a girl power tinge than Aqua’s. I guess this version means that Ken hasn’t yet fully convinced Barbie of his charms. Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer, actually sued Aqua because of this “bimbo”-induced disrespect of their trademark. The court ruled in favor of the band with potentially the best closing statement of a ruling ever: “The parties are advised to chill.” I can’t make this up. Just think, without this ruling we might not have this song to rediscover in this moment.
No matter what your Barbie vibe is, there is a cover of “Barbie Girl” for you.
Whether you are an auto-tune fan or not, I think we can agree that T-Pain is not afraid to innovate. He popularized the use of auto-tune in songs like “Buy You a Drank” and “Bartender,” mixed singing and rapping into one flow (“Hard&B”), and was a fan-favorite featuring artist on a variety of other work such as Flo Rida’s “Low” and Lil Wayne’s “Got Money.” However, in the Netflix series This Is Pop, T-Pain gets real about his struggles during the backlash of auto-tune, recounting a conversation with Usher that kicked off depression. A turning point in the conversation of the love-hate relationship between musicians, audiences, and auto-tune was T-Pain’s acoustic Tiny Desk performance in 2014, where he showed off that he does not need auto-tune to sound good. Indeed, he has a strong voice all on his own.
Still, there was a sense that T-Pain had something to prove, perhaps motivating him to join the first cast of The Masked Singer in 2019, a television show where celebrities hide their identities behind costumes and sing, only revealing who they are when they are eliminated or when they win. T-Pain ended up revealing himself at the very end, by winning, and surprising the judges. One of his star performances during the season was of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” and that song actually makes another appearance on his new cover album On Top of the Covers.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song. In this post we present one cover for each of Eminem’s five diamond singles.
In Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop he provides some background on why covers by and of rappers are so hard to come by:
“The likely explanation for the dearth of covers in rap is that rap’s audience and rappers themselves wish to propagate the belief– and sometimes the illusion– that a rapper is delivering his or her own words, that we are hearing directly from the mind behind the voice. This is a fundamental tenet of rap authenticity, partly the product of acculturated belief and partly the product of the fact that rapping, as a means of vocalization that’s close to speech, carries with it the same presumption as speech: that speakers speak for themselves.”
Despite this, we have talked about Eminem on this blog before, from banjo to mashup cover, from an old-school T-Swift interpretation to a take on the controversial “Kim”, and many more. Perhaps this is because he inspires others to speak period, if not for themselves per se. In this same book that interprets rap lyrics as literature, Bradley gives some context about what makes Eminem’s approach to rap so novel:
“It’s easy to spot rap’s true lyrical innovators because not only will they likely be rapping about different things from everyone else, they’ll be using different words to do it. Eminem, for instance, had to conceive a bunch of new rhyming words to describe the experiences of a working-class white kid from a trailer park in Detroit who rises to superstardom. Who else would think to rhyme “public housing systems” with “victim of Munchausen syndrome”?
Rappers have slowly made their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (if rappers are poets, why not also be rockers). Jay-Z’s turn came last year, and The Notorious B.I.G.’s turn came the year before. This year Eminem takes his place among legends. This time around we try to find covers that haven’t previously been showcased on this blog, and in honor of Eminem’s induction, we find covers of each of his five diamond-level singles.
That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
When Rascal Flatts announced its plan to part ways after a farewell tour, it was the end of an era. An era when I awaited each spring album drop to bring me the next soundtrack to my summer. An era when my car actually had a CD drive, and it was only a question of which Rascal Flatts album was playing during each sunny drive (but let’s be real, it was probably Feels Like Today). An era when I was the girl in the front row singing (well, not quite front) and when my dad provided the wheels to bring me to the Still Feels Good concert (thanks, Dad!). The times of cellphones in the air and the crowds out there; no worries of germs in sight. I was jealous of my brother, who had tickets to the farewell tour, but then felt no relief when the tour was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. Out, not with an encore, but with silence – the complete opposite of the feeling you might have felt listening to Rascal Flatts team up with Journey to sing “Don’t Stop Believing”.
Even with all of my experience fan-girling over Rascal Flatts (and being someone pretty invested in the world of cover songs), I did not know that two of the band’s mega-hits were covers in a long line of covers before them. How could I not know that every time “Bless the Broken Road” was played at a wedding, I was hearing a reimagining of the song, and that every time I belted out “What Hurts the Most” in times of angst that those were not the original words of Jay, Joe, and Gary?