No need to be from the Carolinas to shout the hook from Petey Pablo‘s “Raise Up” at the top of your lungs: the N.C. MC’s 2001 debut single not only peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, but became an enduring hype anthem for those ready to take their shirts off and celebrate, regardless of location.
The slapping Timbaland production — which incorporates the sounds of the UNC Tar Heels’ marching band — provided the ideal sound bed for Pablo’s gritty chant, “This one’s for North Carolina! Come on and raise up/ Take your shirt off, twist it ’round your hand/ Spin it like a helicopter!” With “Raise Up” making Billboard‘s Best Choruses of the 21st Century list, Raleigh’s resident Mr. Freek-a-Leek hopped on the phone to discuss repping N.C. and how a (real) helicopter actually inspired the “Raise Up” hook.
How did the chorus of “Raise Up” come together?
I remember riding down the highway coming from New York to Washington, D.C. playing the instrumental over and over again. Then it seemed like a helicopter was following me all the way from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., and I just kept thinking, like, “North Carolina, come and raise up, take your shirt off, twist it ‘round your hand,” like this helicopter that kept flying over my head. It started as a joke that turned to, “Wait a minute, that actually sounds good.”
How long did it take you to write that part?
The whole song itself took me a minute, because at first, I was really uncomfortable with the song I had gotten from Timbaland. It didn’t sound like a Timbaland beat at the time. People that knew Timbaland knew him for his signature sound, and that was a sound I had never heard before from Tim. I was like, “Tim didn’t give me the normal Timbaland beat, so I guess he’s trying to see if I’m worthy of a Timbaland beat.” So it took me like a day or two to put the song together, but I did the hook in maybe a few hours, just riding down the highway.
The UNC Tar Heels marching band also played on the hook as well. Was that always a part of it?
No, I think Tim added that in later. When he gave it to me, it was just a simple loop. The way Tim used to do music is he’d give you a simple loop and be like, “All right, now rap on it.” Then you give it back to him, and he’d take it and do all this extra amazing stuff to it. I think that came in later.
You’re definitely repping your North Carolina roots, but what was going through your mind as you were creating this song?
That I just really wanted my hometown and my states to be proud of me. At the time, I had no idea the record would be as big as it was, and I just really wanted the recognition because my label [Jive Records], at first, didn’t want me to do that. They were like, “Petey, nobody knows where North Carolina is. You’re gonna have to do something else.” I was like, no, I’m telling y’all, ‘cause I’m actually doing music for my people to be happy that someone made it out. This is what I’m gonna give you. It was kind of crazy.
Do you feel like it was the best chorus you’ve ever written?
Yes, I have to say that, because it’s representing where I’m from. I love to do what I do, and that’s who I do it for. I do it for the people that come from where I come from. Even if I made a song that was bigger than that, this will forever be… this is like somebody with a child. [“Raise Up”] is my first-born. You’ll forever love your first-born because there’s something special about your first-born.
Do you remember a specific instance where you first heard “Raise Up” on the radio or in the club, and feeling a sense of pride?
We went to do a show in Germany and we were riding down the highway. We were talking and I said, “Turn the radio up,” and it came on. We were on a whole ‘nother side of the world and they are playing my song on the radio. Hearing it in another country was the greatest feeling of all, because it’s like I’m in another country but they’re screaming, yelling “North Carolina!” Like, wow, I did that.
When you think of other songs from the 21st century, what would your favorite chorus be?
Man, it’s so many. It’s hard to name one in particular. The one that just sticks out is Juvenile‘s “Back That Azz Up” [Ed. note: this came out in 1998] and Ying Yang Twins‘ “Salt Shaker.” It was a record to get the girls pumped up, but it was also such a energized record. When those records came on, it just changed the mood of whatever atmosphere you in. You play those songs and you’re guaranteed to get the party started.
Does hearing “Raise Up” today make you remember anything from your past specifically?
It makes me think of accomplishment. I made that song for a place that I came from. A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of the names I’m naming out are all different prisons that I have been to in the state of North Carolina. I knew that, even after I had been gone and even for years to come, that that song will forever be a song of enjoyment for people. It’s like “Born in the U.S.A.” for the Carolinas.
It’s a personal triumph for you as well.
It’s a giant personal triumph for me, because I came from a background of, “He’s never gonna be nothing. He’s gonna be dead before he turns 19. He’s a terrible kid, dropped out of school.” I was always an underdog. I was always one that people looked at almost shamefully, because they didn’t feel like I had done anything with my life. It was like I was wasting a life and I possessed great talent, I just didn’t know how to bring it out until music came along.
I always tell people I didn’t choose music, music chose me, because I probably would have been in the system or hadn’t been here anymore if it weren’t for music. Music changed my life tremendously, so this is a mighty triumph for me.
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