If you have spent more than five minutes online in the past week, know some gang members, or (oddly) have a Google alert set for “Keyshia Cole” then you have been made privy to the song and video, “Never Knew,” by Long Beach, Calif., rapper and Crip-extraordinaire, O.T. Genasis.
You may remember him from such hits as “Coco”—he’s in love with it—and “Cut It”—which, if your prices are too high, you need to do. Genasis recreated/covered Keyshia Cole’s 2005 song “Love” and turned into a Crip anthem called “Never Knew,” (hilariously replacing the word “love” with “CUHHHHHHHH”) using the same music and largely repurposing her own lyrics, making minor edits to ensure that Crips far and wide were able to have a wedding song to sing to wives (and even each other, really), kind of how members of black Greek-letter organizations do when they all circle up and serenade new spouses. This song really serves many purposes. “Never Knew” manages to be both a parody and an anthem and that’s not easy to do.
As it turns out, Keyshia Cole isn’t a fan of the remake. As soon as Genasis’ song dropped and was spread low and wide across Al Gore’s Internet, folks remarked how they could never listen to Cole’s song the same way again (in my book this is a win for humanity, honestly), which, as one might imagine, initially annoyed her. She responded to various folks on Twitter in a manner that is decidedly nonplussed. She further “clarified” her comments via Instagram and said that while it’s funny, it confuses her. If I may read between the lines, let’s just go on and say that while “Never Knew” has resurfaced “Love” (I have listened to the latter more in the past few days than any one man should do, gotdamn it’s a struggle-vocal anthem), Cole—who likely got no heads up—doesn’t like the shit.
Well since I’ve been listening to them both, and for different reasons (we’ll get to this later) the black scientist in me has done the only natural thing I could do: I’ve started comparing the two and then came up with a very important research question: Which version is better? They’re damn near the same song if we’re keeping it funky. They almost sound the same vocally; I cannot stress hard enough how this is not a good thing. Also, is two colons in one sentence a thing? I think I just made it a thing. Moving on, I will make the case for both songs because while the rest of you are out voting, saving the climate and changing the world, this is how I choose to spend my time.
Keyshia Cole’s “Love” vs. O.T. Genasis’ “Never Knew”
The Case for Keyshia Cole’s “Love”
Well for starters, she hit it first. You always have to respect the original. Is O.T. Genasis out here singing “CUHHHH” in the same offkey cadence as Cole if he doesn’t have source material? I think not. She definitely gets points for being the inspiration. Let’s see, what else? The video is definitely super 2005 featuring Tyrese in the role of the vague-on-the-crime but criminally enterprising boyfriend who keeps her laced but has to make shady runs that sometimes require the police to question her about the whereabouts of her man, but both her celebrity and ride-or-dieness holds him down. This only specifically wins her points because her facial expressions tend to match the non-existent notes she continues to reach for in the hook.
I can’t lie; I never liked this song. I won’t even say its a bad song though the vocal arrangement on the hook leaves much to be desired. It was, however, a hit for her, having hit both the Billboard pop charts as a Top 20 single and being a Top 5 R&B chart hit. Apparently some of you niggas loved this song, which I suppose is a pun, but I couldn’t stand it then, in my mid-20s and its even worse now, 14 years later, as a 40-year-old.
I didn’t mean to tip my hand here, but I think you can see where I’m going with this.
The Case for O.T. Genasis’ “Never Knew”
Nigga, I fucking love this song. For one, it came out of nowhere, during the Christmas season, almost like a gift I never knew I wanted but can’t believe I’ve lived my life without it. Oddly, Genasis, using Cole’s words (for the most part) damn near sounds like her at times, which adds to both the quality AND hilarity. I imagine that Genasis was truly making a Crip-anthem, but because of the performance, he knew the rest of us would get a kick out of it. While I wouldn’t recommend it in the streets, especially in the western part of the United States or anywhere that black folks congregate that doesn’t cost a lot of money (skating rinks, bowling alleys, soda pop shops, etc.), you cannot listen to this song and not want to yell “CUHHHHHHHHHHHH,” (a shorthand for “cuz” which is another term for Crips). Just do it at home if you must. And you will feel compelled to must. Trust me.
And can we talk about this video? Let’s talk about this video. This song AND video are akin to a sketch that builds up to the ultimate pay-off which is why this shit went viral. When the video starts out you literally have no clue what is about to happen. It’s even called “Never Knew” on what I can only imagine is on purpose to not tip his hand. All of us who lived through the 2000s without our parents controlling the music recognized the music immediately. So we have O.T. Genasis and this Keyshia Cole instrumental and its shot in ballad form, with slow-moving shots at first. He starts singing taking both the lyrics and melody of the original and is changing words, and then we see more blue rags, and diamonds and the homie sitting next to him bobbing along, and then he’s talking about shooting ops from a distance and he’s actually shooting and then by the time he gets to the hook where he gloriously screams, yells and sings “CUHHH” at the same time, the comedy is fully paid off and my life is now different. It’s like “Dick In a Box,” all over again.
Honestly, I don’t even need the final two-minutes for this song to have leapfrogged the original. Half the comedy is watching Genasis’ homie truly feeling the music next to him; the homie is invested, cuh. And you know what? I am too.
It’s almost not a fair fight. “Love” isn’t great but is serious. “Never Knew” might be serious but is hilarious and isn’t taking itself too seriously. You have a gang-member singing with his whole heart while a homie is oddly along for the ride in the most adorable of fashions. Admittedly, the video for “Never Knew” makes the song. The random still shots of nothing important, the blue Chuck shots, the blue rags, etc. It’s pure foolywang. And for me, I’d never listen to that Keyshia Cole song again, video or not. I am highly likely to not mind watching the “Never Knew” video again. I think I have my verdict:
“Never Knew” by O.T. Genasis wins by a landslide, cuh.