Today on Twitter, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, released the official video for his track “Ninety Nine Cent Dreams,” which he mentioned features Big Daddy Kane. When I saw his Tweet, the potential genre-blurring caught my attention. Reed is known for his soul influences. Big Daddy Kane has been representing the East Coast rap scene since the late 1980s. What would a collaboration from these two sound like?
Now certainly, this is not the first time soul and rap have crossed paths, but this song isn’t the typical slow jam, mid-album filler that Kanye West (with Twista and Jamie Foxx) parody on The College Dropout. Reed has written a perfect, nostalgic summertime tune. The video features kids taking a break from playing the original 8-bit Nintendo to gather coins for the ice cream truck (spoiler: Big Daddy Kane is the ice cream man).
This is a style where Reed finds himself more in his wheelhouse than Kane. A style more reminiscent of recent soul revivalists: Anderson East, Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones, or Charles Bradley. There are no 808s, samples, or DJs for Kane lock in his flow with. So in a sense, this track is more of a risk for Kane than Reed. So how does it work? Take a look:
This pairing on paper has some of the intrigue of past genre-crossing collaborations: Elton John and Eminem, Kanye West and Paul McCartney. But with far less suspect cash-in. Or even Reed’s own pairing with electronic producer Louis Futon on the track “If There Ever Comes a Day”, which was a very successful, non cash-in, almost trip-hop effort.
I suspect “Ninety Nine Cent Dreams” is simply two artists, known for very different styles, enjoying one another’s company. Not taking things too seriously, on a track that’s equally lighthearted. Something in me suspects that both guys personally identify with the subject matter that the song and video lay out plainly without embellishment–remember being young when life’s concerns were more simple? Or as Reed puts it:
This song is about the summers of my youth, when all that mattered was scrounging up enough change to buy an ice cream and running through the sprinkler to cool off… Or, as Kane put it to me “low budget ballin.”
A worthwhile message for today’s tense times. But one maybe even more perfect with a release in early summer, rather than early autumn.
The video itself is a shot-by-shot match for the imagery Reed creates with his lyrics. The kids score their soft serve from the (much fancier than in my neighborhood) ice cream truck, which Big Daddy seems to give out for free. Then the video shifts to a performance by Kane before Reed closes things out. The video limps a bit to its end, as Reed and Kane never appear completely comfortable together. Reed gives some head nods while Kane raps through the small hand out window of the ice cream truck (which limits his expressiveness to hand gestures. Then in front of a 99 cent store, while Reed brings the song to a conclusion, Kane shifts around like he’s purposefully trying not to put his hands in his pockets.
I’m not sure who will fall in love with this track. For many of the Americana radio format stations, having a rap verse toward the end, may be a bit risky and limit plays. The song and story, for me, doesn’t obviously call for Kane’s inclusion. Perhaps Reed felt the song would’ve been a bit basic without Kane. Nevertheless, for me, his verse doesn’t necessarily add much, but certainly seems to limit its potential audience–once you move past those, like me, who may give it a listen out of curiosity. Which in the end, may have been much of the motive–attention–and fun.