You Can't Cover Me

By now most of you probably guessed that I wasn't much into the John Legend/Roots rendition of "Wake Up." This springs from a few places. First and foremost, I don't have much interest in The Roots minus Black Thought. I am bias as Black Thought makes my Top Five, all-time, and without him, I feel like The Roots are really just a good band. I've also never been particularly moved by John Legend. He's got a pleasing voice, and I like "Save Room," but he's never quite hit me. So maybe I'm just too biased.


But leaving that aside, I'd be very interested in the logic that goes behind bands deciding to cover a song. The Roots/John Legend cover isn't the first one to go awry. Indeed, while I love Arcade Fire doing "Guns Of Brixton," I like their rendition of "Maps" considerably less. I've always wondered whether groups think, "Wow, I really like this son." or "Wow, I think I have a truly new way to express this song."


 

It's interesting because hip-hop, in many cases, is nothing more than genre of truly radical, chopped-up covers. In the best instances they can add edge to a song that was lacking one, or more often, uncover new edges, new ways of seeing. I think most covers that fail lack that quality of revelation. Which brings me to my favorite "cover" of all time. Below is Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s "Player's Anthem." I don't think the song has aged that well--though Big is nasty as ever. What has aged well is DJ Premier and Jeru The Damaja's meta-commentary or the whole on Junior Mafia and the whole player phenomenon. I can't say the same for the video.




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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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