There is a certain level of microphone proficiency, braggadocio, and block appeal that one must achieve before stepping to the likes of “Who Shot Ya;” it is nebulous and difficult to define but irrevocable, this talent floor upon which an artist must be standing firmly lest they not only shiver and die in the cold shadows of those who have approached the track before them, but be exsanguinated or ruthlessly killed, freshly fitted for a Colombian necktie and left by the side of the road by the beat itself as a warning to others who dare ask its titular question.
Like most oft chosen freestyle selections, “Who Shot Ya?” is relatively simple in construction, driven by a spartan twinkling, like shattered glass hitting a sidewalk, over and over again, to a slow, steady beat. It is precisely this skeletal construction that, when coupled with the piece’s legendary status and high recognition factor, lures so many rappers to their untimely deaths; with no place to hide (such as one finds in the driving pound of “What We Do” or the baroque flourishes of a vintage Dipset beat, most of which are terrifying and fantastic and should be freestyled upon if one really wants to show who is bad) those who fall short of the talent the cut demands fall aside, not in solitude, but in pauper’s graves among monuments to legends.
Raekwon adds his name to the legion who have offered freestyles to “Who Shot Ya?,” and does so ably, his molasses and blood flow easily playing over a sound he and his fellow Shaolin have owned since before “Who Shot Ya?” was a B-side. Rae is of the school of rappers whose most striking feature, aside from their ability to channel the myriad of grays the skies, streets, buildings and harsh, pale sunlight form out of a December in New York City by voice, is their gift for lacing bars with beautiful vignettes composed of rococo lyrics and seemingly ludicrous details. Raekwon brings one into a reality of his own design, like an author, a world filled with navy blue uzis, black weed, and Concorde jets to the Congo.
It is a style whose influence can be heard prominently today in rappers such as Action Bronson, Riff Raff, and Meyhem Lauren, and, like other timeless styles, it not only lays low one of rap’s truly great beats, but it does so in such a way as to make clear that it could and would in any time, setting, and emotional place.
“Who Shot Ya Freestyle” receives a PARL
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