When it comes to music, context can mean a lot. When it comes to the abrasive ‘Don’t Stop (Pop That)’, context is everything. I distinctly remember the first time I heard French Montana. After watching /Ciroc advertisement, I walked into Brother J’s room and told him he had to watch it. Hip-hop videos with ridiculous amounts of flesh in them are par for the course but this was the first time I’d felt like I’d really been violated simply by watching a music video. In the days before 2Chainz and Kanye put together the astounding ‘‘ (lyrics aside), this was at the top of the Flagrant Abuse Of Hip-Hop Celebrity Status For The Purposes Of Getting Girls Nekkid In Your Clip list and put me off the track entirely. When visuals are as emphatic, debasing and boldly aggressive as these are, the musical value of the piece becomes muddied, obscured. To be fair, hip-hop probably birthed the notion of ‘video girls’ and so the genre sports a long and storied historical tradition of excessive flesh. With ‘Don’t Stop’ though, the imagery wasn’t cut alongside Maybachs and Rolls Royces. Even the shots with the never-more-Jewish-looking Drake or the man mountain that is Rick Ross are invaded by bikinis. Low culture smut is all there is to it.
Which is why, when I heard this song again for only the first time since July last year without the accompanying visuals, I was vaguely curious. Hearing the song without the video not only helps disassociate it from the general demeaning of women (eventually the shouted ‘Fat Man Scoop, Crooklyn Clan!’-style chorus loses all definition to dissolve into an amorphous blob of hype man swagger) but also from the terribly unfortunate neo-Arab imagery that haunts French Montana. Montana, real name Karim Kharbouch and a Rabat, Morocco local by birth, appears keen to cash in on a construction of him as pimpest sheikh in hip-hop. Note the towel draped awkwardly over his head for the length of the clip and the hookah pipe cameo. Mixing it with The Fat One, The Jewfro One and The Dreaded One, stereotyping becomes a near-necessity in order to stand out. In reality though, Montana, an XXL Freshman for 2012, need not play up his heritage where the Maybach Music Group signing has Drake, Lil Wayne and label boss Ross on deck all vying for the spotlight on a beat this big. The aural and visual effects combined are overwhelming enough as it is.
But it’s context that changes everything. Stripped of the strippers and devoid of the unnecessary ethnic imagery, played back over an increasingly impressive car speaker system in Philadelphia, the kind of town for which the song has become a soundtrack for nightclubs and radio stations alike, ‘Don’t Stop (Pop That)’, crude and degrading, asinine and abrasive as it is, got me kind of excited yesterday. French Montana is just the right candidate to helm this track: an up-and-comer with no lyrical history to mar this choice and little in the way of cultural capital to forfeit if it flopped. The features are a different story. Ross feels right at home, musing on what is ostensibly his favourite past time after collecting luxury German marques but Wayne (who once had some lyrical agenda and now seems a two-bit feature hustler for better or worse) and Drake (generally more romantic, self-deprecating and serious than this track allows for) are interesting additions. The final product, easily slotting into a burgeoning category of hip-hop tracks whose most memorable feature is their foundational sample (think ‘‘ but with fewer Kanye-isms), is proof that these heavyweights can make even the most aggressive track palatable. It doesn’t work in the privacy of your own home, in the heat of the day, just after breakfast but ‘Don’t Stop (Pop That)’ has its time and place.
French Montana – Don’t Stop (Pop That) Ft. Drake, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross