“Build Me Up” – Rhymefest f/ Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Words/music: Michael d'Abo/Tony Macaulay/Mark Ronson/Che Smith, available on Blue Collar, RCA 2006)
Somehow, it’s appropriate that the ODB’s final recording before passing would be a goofy hook based on a classic pop song. Dirt’s legacy lies in his absurdity, and it’s this inherent ridiculousness that makes something this goofy work so well. Even if he’s far more clever than this, “Build Me Up” more or less captures the ODB’s enduring legacy as a partly absurd, partly comedic presence. To laugh at Russell Jones is only to acknowledge the tip of the iceberg – although, to be fair, he doesn’t exactly do himself favors by seeking out opportunities to show off his skill for wordplay.
That being said, it’s Rhymefest’s premise that makes this track a winner. Our narrator has girl problems, so he writes a letter to the ODB – a decision of questionable logic that yields endless comedic results. It also affords Rhymefest, who tries his best to milk the “blue collar” work ethic off of Kanye West’s coattails, the opportunity to cut loose and be ridiculous. Sure, it yield’s some clunkers, but on a track where the hook is a pop song interpreted by a man who once asked to be called Big Baby Jesus, Rhymefest sounds downright clever. In any case, it offers ‘Fest the chance to make a reference to When Harry Met Sally and air out his lady problems in as many creative ways as possible, knowing that the ODB will be there to out-ridiculous him nearly a minute later. It’s a playful side that Rhymefest would later mute, outing himself as a proud homophobe on a later mixtape, but for one fleeting moment it felt like he was having fun at his own expense. Even if he went back to taking himself (too?) seriously, “Build Me Up” makes it impossible to stay stoic when the ODB starts in on the hook.