While twitter trends are unpredictable and oftentimes not a good reflection of what is actually happening in the world at that moment, there is one amorphous group that can be counted on to consistently be in the top ten: they are of course, the various pop fandom groups made up of preteens and teens (mostly) that back one singer, tv show or band and work hard to defend their identities. They go by cutesy names like “gleeks”, “directioners”, “twihards”, “beliebers”, etc. and they can be found all over twitter fighting the good fight.
Preteens and teens are especially good at doing this because they literally have all the time in the world. They have absolutely nothing better to do than to sit online and stoke virility. Their trends have become so common that seeing something like “#43millionbeliebersstilllovejustin” trending is par the course on twitter, something to be ignored and skipped over as more serious trends like “Cairo” or “#badbandnames” engage your attention.
Last night though, the preteens rose their little idol worship obsession into something more: the collective consciousness of the rest of us. Sometime on the night of August 16th, a hashtag began trending that was obscure enough to beg for the uninitiated to click it “#RIPlarryshippers”. Who was Larry Shippers? Did the world lose another celebrity struggling with substance abuse and paying for a life of excess? No.
— RIPLarry + Elounor3 (@ellie_chase7) August 16, 2013
Reading a few tweets exposed that Larry Shippers wasn’t a person but in fact 14 young, fresh faced One Direction fans who, like sunni and shiite muslims, had been recently engaged in a sectarian war with other One Direction fans over whether two bandmates (Louis and Harry) were romantically involved. It’s apparently a big deal if your version of a big deal is following the lives, rumors and Public Relations releases of pop bands. Unfortunately, it took tragedy to remind these preteens that even if Louis and Harry weren’t together, ALL Directioners were deserving of life. The tragedy was the alleged suicide of 14 (or 28 or 42 or 56?) “Larryshippers” (Larryshippers = people who were pro-louis and harry having sex) after a scathing documentary that was released on England’s Channel 4. So damaging was the documentary, so tasteless and unfair, that teens were driven to suicide over just watching it. It was like a more efficient “Ring” video.
Also it happened to be complete nonsense. It is, without a doubt, not true. Not one scrap of evidence supports that a single child killed themselves over the Channel 4 video. It simply did not happen. But that wasn’t going to stop the Directioners who were really gaining traction with this thing.
Manufactured outrage is nothing new. Fox News has built an entire network on the premise. People love to feel outrage. I suspect it has something to do with the simplicity of it. Channel 4 is a “hater” and because it hates One Direction (probably from jealousy), it made an unfair and untrue documentary that was so mean that it drove kids to suicide. Immediately after the outrage began, One Directioners started posting anti-bullying pictures and numbers to suicide hotlines. It’s well meaning, but completely misdirected. The message being lost when the same “anti-bullying” fans threaten to kill people working at Channel 4 for being mean. It also assumes that a documentary picking on One Direction fans is somehow driving people to suicide, which it wasn’t. These kids are at risk of bullying and do commit suicide sometimes, but for all the uninteresting reasons that most kids do.
The general sense of bafflement (as an outsider) continues as you watch other “fandoms” come to One Direction fans’ defense. Directioners started retweeting this picture, taken from a tweet of a belieber:
Which then led me to learn that until recently One Direction fans and Justin Bieber fans had been engaged in a twitter war (as a preteen there are lots of wars you need to keep track of, none of which have the names Syria or Egypt in them).
I would give almost anything to watch this night unfold from the perspective of the Channel 4 team that made the documentary. So many emotions were probably at play. I’m sure there was a mix of bafflement and surprise, but also perhaps a sense of powerlessness. Do they need to respond to something so silly? The public at large would probably mostly miss the fake, viral, twitter story but still… a bunch of preteens were going around saying that their tv show just killed 14 (or 28 or 56?) Larryshippers. I still would love to find out what they made of the situation. As far as addressing the outrage, Channel 4 wrote a piece about itself and calmly documented the oddity of the rumors.
It would be easy to believe that this type of event is unique to the unchecked speculation machine of the 21st century Age of Social Media, but I’m not so sure. The faces are probably younger (adults move on to more mature forms of gullibility such as Birther movements and Death Panels) but the premise of an unfounded claim whipping an ignorant group up into a frenzy is a common human experience: think Jews poisoning wells rumors common in the Middle Ages, or Salem Witch Trials.
As I wrote before, these events are probably extremely satisfying to those who allow themselves to become wrapped up in it. It’s so rare these days to be able to freely and openly lose yourself into a self-righteous, targeted outrage frenzy. The sense of community it builds – as proven by the uniting of even the bitterest of enemies: Beliebers and Directioners – has to feel great. It’s also rare to be able to feel like you are really having an impact and by seeing your group’s hashtag trending or retweeting a picture you are made to feel as if you, individually and in a group, have contributed to the success of something big. That’s gotta feel pretty satisfying.
As a whole, the experience of fandom is replacing religion. And here politicians and clergy were terrified that science would destroy people’s belief in God, when it has now been replaced by worship of another kind. It is only when looking at fandom as frantic as this that the Old Testament’s God’s commandment to not worship any god but Him is so reasonable. I guess, in his mysterious way, God knew that in 4000 years he would have to compete with Harry Styles and his smile.
A dangerous threat indeed.
But what is also remarkable is how much fandom borrows from religion: Unquestioningly loyalty, policing of group membership by self-appointed members, fanaticism, fantasy, and even group ritual.
One of the things that struck me about last nights twitter event was how many Directioners invented ways to show solidarity with their (not at all) dead comrades.
— xJUSTINxAUSTIN♡ (@xJETSKEEHx) August 16, 2013
GUYS IN 45 MINUTES pic.twitter.com/iKslENLjF4
— ☆ josine ☆ (@paynerhampton) August 16, 2013
— chloee (@Chloenicole1D) August 16, 2013
— #RIPLarryShippers (@wishyouhadme87) August 16, 2013
i have an idea!tomorrow write in your hand 1DFamily and send me an photo!rt if you will do that!please #RIPLarryShippers
— ♥RIPLarryShippers♥ (@Proud_Directio3) August 16, 2013
It’s enough to make a Directioner get dizzy. If I wanted this much group enforced shared ritual I would be Catholic!
Tonight, Russell Simmon’s made a terrible decision. He decided to promote a video (produced by his video company All Def Digital) made by Jason Horton a white guy (his tagline: “The World’s Only White Male Comedian” because that’s clever). The concept of the video? Take a hero of American history, Harriet Tubman, who was literally responsible for leading hundreds of slaves to freedom and risking her life to do so, and attempt to make a funny viral video from that premise. The execution? A joke about the rape that thousands of African slaves endured at the hands of their white masters, fat shaming, and an appalling lack of sensitivity to both a woman who deserves more than to be a punchline in a viral marketing campaign and towards a people whose descendants ARE NOT Jason Horton.
[UPDATE] The full video has been re-uploaded by someone on youtube so here it is
The actual video was immediately taken down after intense backlash but here is the preview video (which is bad enough). I’m assuming it too will eventually be taken down but I’ll try to find a new version of it when it does go down.
Fellas, you had to know this was in poor taste? Like, everyone in the room during filming had to have been thinking that maybe this crossed some line. Right? I mean I know it can sometimes be hard to find out where the edge is between edgy comedy and plain old offensiveness but this is well beyond the gray area.
There are funny ways to depict history, and even funny ways to deal with sensitive topics but this… this is shameful. What a disgrace.
If you’ve been on social media recently you will have noticed that the rap world is in Game of Thrones level turmoil. Headlines abound. Kendrick Lamar blasts other rappers. Kendrick Lamar scorches other rappers. Kendrick Lamar hostile verb other rappers. In his new freshly leaked song* (*meaning “released by Kendrick Lamar’s people at a pre-established time”), Kendrick Lamar spends a great deal of time “calling out” other big name rappers and declaring himself – in no uncertain terms – the King of both the East Coast and the West Coast (why it took so long for rappers to discover manifest destiny is beyond the scope of this article).
I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New niggas just new niggas, don’t get involved
I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ wit
But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive
Out the exit window of 5 G5’s with 5 grand
With your granddad as the pilot he drunk as fuck tryna land
With the hand full of arthritis and popping prosthetic leg
Bumpin Pac in the cockpit so the shit that pops in his head
Is an option of violence, someone heard the stewardess said
That your parachute is a latex condom hooked to a dread
Rap fans ate it up.
That was the point.
You know what else was exactly the point? What happened next. What happened next was this: The rappers who were (and weren’t) named spent the day responding to Kendrick Lamar in kind. More headlines came in, more page views were achieved, more hashtags were made trending.
Obviously the rappers eviscerated in the song played their part (they knew the role well) and responded with come backs, drama and vows to get lyrical on his ass. Secretly, they were probably giddy. The only thing that can make someone swallow their ego is the prospect of making big money to do so. That’s what this latest spat of drama means. Dollars all around. Stoke the fires of manufactured drama and the public will pay for the privilege of being along for the ride, such is our addiction to intrigue.
Big K.R.I.T. (one of the rappers named) said it best:
“This is Gladiator Shit”…Gotta give the people what they want .”
— BIG KRIT (@BIG_KRIT) August 13, 2013
Gladiator shit not in its combative sense, but in its sense of spectacle. Rap has always walked a very different path then that of other genres of music. Calling people out, creating drama and sadly, even actual violence, are all part of its legacy. It’s like a less regulated pro wrestling saga, where age old feuds and convoluted backstories (complete with betrayals, sacrifices and shaky alliances) play out in the public eye and raise the stakes of the music. Tupac and Biggie engineered such a masterful publicity feud that it still plays out daily for their legions of fans who have not forgotten (it also ended, sadly, with both promising rappers dead).
This is all so reality TV. Real Housewives of Compton called by any other name would seem as shamelessly self indulgent. This is no different than what Keeping up with the Kardashians does so well, and like a reality producer who knows when the drama is in need of a boost, Kendrick Lamar recognized that the rap game needed someone to rake the coals.
What this means in terms of money can only be positive. Loyal fans in both camps will feel it is their duty to vote with their wallets. It’s the only way, aside from ineffectually dissing one another on Youtube videos, that they can support “their guys”. Us vs Them is a helluva drug and one that leads to a vested interest in winning something. The feud is amplified further by social media algorithms that act as a feedback loop as more and more people see trending topics about Kendrick Lamar and chime in, making the topics trend even stronger.
Whether or not Kendrick Lamar is lyrically King of the rap game is of little consequence, he’s certainly the King of playing the rap game.
This week’s Over-analyzing rap lyrics comes courtesy of the always great Wu-Tang Clan. But as I was researching, writing, studying, and singing in the shower (my normal over-analyzing process) I made a startling conclusion:
Wu-Tang Clan wrote a Taylor Swift song before Taylor Swift was even Taylor Swift. And it’s called “Ex-girlfriend” and Taylor Swift is probably kicking herself (yes she can!*) for not having thought of it sooner.
“Ex-girlfriend”, primarily rapped by Method Man, is a song about a crazy ex who continues to plague the singer’s life even after they stop being romantically involved. Even though it has more references to guns and “boning” it can still be considered a prototypical break up song, the likes of which Taylor Swift has made famous. For example, at one point Method Man admits that he knew she was trouble when she walked in:
Shoulda listened when my momma told me, soon as I
turn my back you try to fuck my homies, that was then
this is now I got a new friend, ever since
I cut them loose ends you wanna bone me
Yeah, Method, you should have listened to your momma, but you couldn’t help yourself and got entangled with a person you knew was bad for you. Tsk Tsk.
Luckily for Method, he realized what a “mean” person she was and so cut off the relationship, and wants this song to announce to his ex, “We are never ever getting back together”:
And used up, pull your shoes up, all you need’s affection
but you’re headed in the wrong direction
Tryin to make this nigga jealous, with other fellas
All up in my face actin overzealous
Like you want somethin from Meth, I hope it ain’t love girl
Cause I ain’t got none left for you, plus you miserable
Misery Love Company, shit I’m livin comfortably, don’t need no
nigga huntin me down for fuckin round, with his kitty
Talk to him, before my brother put a spark through him
Won’t be pretty, the situation got my whole attitude shitty
And got you actin high saditty with your slut committee
And because Method Man knows that happiness is the sweetest revenge for a lover scorned, he doesn’t hesitate to point out how happy he is with his – heavily armed – new girlfriend:
Let me find out that you fuckin with Boo, and y’all gon’ feel it
Waitin for the day that you front, and catch a lump
from my black butterfly, that don’t pack a lullaby
Sleep on her, she said you bitches tried to creep on her
in the mall and didn’t know she had the reach on her
Pearl-handled twenty-two, my Boo
She go ahead and walk her dogs, and represent Wu
to the fullest, you and hon can shoot the fair one
I’ll bring the bullets, knowhatI’msayin? Stop playin
It’s kind of like he’s saying his new girlfriend made a rebel out of a careless man’s careful rapper, and boy does it feel great. Also, he’s apparently really confident in her dueling ability, so sure in fact, that he even offers to provide the bullets. (Also, I think he’s suggesting she walks her dogs in the mall, which is probably not allowed.)
It goes to show that if you peel back the crude and vulgar veneer of a rap song, even one by Wu-Tang Clan, it exposes a commonality with simple human desires that anyone would wish for: to love, to live happily, and to be left alone by a crusty ass crew. Amen, Method Man. Amen.
Taylor Swift never seemed like a hardcore rapper but if she ever gets tired of winning 18 awards per Country Music Award show, she should consider trying her hand at the BET awards. I see a “Best New Rapper” award in her future, and even Kanye can’t argue with that.
[Author’s Note: I’m no stranger to intense research and exhaustively getting to the bottom of a topic that I plan on writing about, but the sheer volume of Taylor Swift’s body of work is stunning. I had no idea she was so prolific, not just in writing songs but also in making music videos for them. Having only picked up a rudimentary working knowledge of TSwift (kids call her “TSwift”) by simply being alive during the 21st century, I knew I had to do a closer examination if I ever hoped to write this article. That led me to her wikipedia page which… is probably one of the largest wikipedia pages I’ve ever seen. This thing is MASSIVE. Taylor Swift has apparently done more than the entirety of World War II. Her page is at least four times longer than U2’s Bono and about as long as The Rolling Stones’ entry. Next time you see that little “donation” bar at the top of the Wikipedia home page, just realize that 90% of donations MUST go to the massive, and constant, upkeeping and updating of Taylor Swift’s entry. Whether that causes you to donate MORE to wikipedia or LESS, that’s up to you.]
*If you get this reference you are A) nearly as pathetic as me and B) worthy of a prize. Name the song and singer in the comment section and I’ll be impressed and possibly give you a prize. Hint: the reference isn’t that hard, you’re just really unhip.
Another week, another outrageous act of racism (or two). This week, we were treated to the unveiling of a ridiculous song that is audibly awful as well as racially offensive. “Asian Girlz” by something called Day Above Ground (a band that looks as if Creed were headlined by Mark McGrath and then re-imagined as a boy band… Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) is by any rubric a truly racist song. What’s really criminal about it though is just how mind numbingly dumb it is. But here is the thing: dumb racist things are all over the place. On Twitter, on Facebook, on Youtube, and everywhere you look you can find videos and comments that are really insensitive, that isn’t surprising (people are awful). What is surprising is how a professionally produced video for a band was able to go so wrong. How many eyes have laid eyes on this abomination and thought, “Yeah, this is fine.”?
I famously wrote about another racist song as the inaugural post for Jamesonstarship.com but “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J pales in comparison. That song was, at least, accidentally racist. “Asian Girlz” revels in it.
Also spelling “girls” with a “z” is dumb.
The song is nothing more than a list of asian stereotypes thrown together in a string of lines devoid of logic or larger meaning. The video is a master class in sexual objectification. You can’t help but feel pity for the young woman whose sole contribution was dancing provocatively and faking an orgasm in a bathtub (She has since expressed regret for her role in the video).
I sincerely apologize to all who feels that I set Asian women back 50 yrs. I know I lost respect from a lot of ppl. It wasn’t my intention
— Levy Tran (@MissLevy) July 31, 2013
I’m sure the band thought that this was just a fun and lighthearted attempt at being “funny”. The song certainly tries to be funny, but it doesn’t even achieve that. What’s left is just stereotypes aimlessly thrown about and nothing redeeming. There are also curious lines such as:
17 or 23, it doesn’t matter to me.
Or: Come and sit on my lap or we’ll send you back
Awesome sentiment fellas.
But again, if this were simply a self made youtube video it could just as simply be dismissed as a poor decision by a band of idiots. Instead, many people saw this before it was released and either didn’t realize it could be construed as racist or didn’t want to speak up. This seems to happen a lot more than it should.
Something is systematically wrong here.
Clearly, there is disconnect between how things are conceptualized and how things play out, even by people whose job it is to avoid these very kinds of situations. I, of course, can’t be sure, but my instinct tells me that Day Above Ground wouldn’t consider themselves as racist. They are quick to point out that one of their members from Indonesia. While that isn’t a compelling defense of what is unmistakably a racist song and video, it does suggest they have no intention of being overtly racist. Instead, they are just ignorant. So they are just like most of us. We need to look at this because it will help us better ourselves.
This is why diversity is important. This is why things like Affirmative Action and workplace non-discrimination laws are monumentally important. It’s not that people are not well meaning, most people are. But their perspective is so narrow – mostly white, mostly male, mostly heteronormative – that they begin to forget that other perspectives exist. When only one perspective is being shared, and in a lot of industries that means the perspective of the “Boy’s Club” but also the perspective of white culture, it’s hard to identify places where problems are for people you can’t empathize with. And from that white perspective, “Asian Girlz” seems silly and harmless. After all, can’t we poke fun at stereotypes? Like on the blog “Things White People Like”? Unfortunately no. From the perspective of minorities, it can be demeaning and derogatory.
The sad fact is, it probably took Day Above Ground all of 30 minutes to come up with the stereotypes they used throughout the song. Those stereotypes reduce an entire continent of people to a simplistic group of “proto-asians” who, you know, eat white rice and throw ninja stars and are good at math! That level of insensitivity should be unacceptable. It would also be obvious if the band, its producers, managers and film crew, took some time to shift their perspectives.
One of the biggest differences between white Americans and American minorities is privilege. That eye rolling, groan inducing term that makes internet commenters cry “reverse racism” and become defensive to the point of catatonia. Despite its threatening nature, it applies here. White people have the privilege of being beyond hurtful stereotypes. We are able to laugh at our own expense in a way that other groups cannot without feeling the slight tinge of doubt that comes with asymmetrical abuse. As usual, Louis CK explains this best and hilariously:
This article wasn’t intended to turn into a “give me a break, white people” thing (although I love writing those and lately it seems like all I do is roll my eyes and say “give me a break, white people” when I go on Facebook), but it’s a problem and one that this case – and recent others – illuminate. It seems that the answer to “How was ‘Asian Girlz’ possibly made?” is “By not adopting a perspective that seems unimaginable to most people in places of privelege: that stereotypes can hurt.”
This week, I was planning on doing a Will Smith song. Specifically, I hoped to do something off of Willennium, the 2nd studio album by Will Smith and the one where he boldly predicts that the 21st century would go down in history as the Willennium. He also sings about Y2K because in 1999 that was a fresh and popular reference. Although there are tons of great songs on Willennium, including “Wild Wild West” which was based off the movie Wild Wild West, something still bothered me. There was something I was missing. Then I remembered this:
That’s the music video for “Men in Black” based off the movie Men in Black. It’s also insane. It’s also a lot of fun. It also has really poorly CGI’d aliens dancing some sort of variation of the electric slide.
As many people might remember, a variation of this music video played at the end of Men in Black. So the movie ends, the credits start, and this…thing… happens. As a kid, watching Men in Black in the theaters, I swooned. Now, I scratch my head at its audacity. If R.I.P.D. ended with Ryan Reynolds doing an extended dance number with a demon or ghost or whatever I would roll my eyes, laugh condescendingly at this pitiful attempt at “fun”, and probably write a scathing tweet making fun of it. But, for whatever reason, with Will Smith and Men in Black, it was fitting.
It does bring up the unanswered question of how exactly we are supposed to contextualize this video in the larger make up of the movie. For example, is this Will Smith – beloved Hollywood icon and rapper – singing, or is it Agent J – wise cracking, world saving, agent working for the MiB?
The video offers some clues.
One thing is that clearly the Will Smith in the video is supposed to be playing Agent J, and he certainly has enough inside information about MiB to make the case that he is, in fact, the agent himself.
From the deepest of the darkest of night
On the horizon, bright light enters sight tight
Cameras zoom, on the impending doom
But then like BOOM black suits fill the room up
With the quickness talk with the witnesses
Vivid memories turn to fantasies
Ain’t no M.I.B.’s, can I please
Do what we say that’s the way we kick it
In this verse for example, Will Smith makes passing references to many of the agency’s highly guarded secrets. I doubt he had clearance for that. Then again, Agent J never did like playing by the rules.
The movie never hints at Agent J being any good at rapping though. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Agent J was good at rapping, he had a way of carrying himself that suggested a casual, hip hip-ness, but no where in the movie did he express any interest in saving the galaxy through verse. The only connection between the Agent J in the film and the Agent J in the music video is the general arrogance and swagger that both seem to possess and need to remind us of at every turn.
Another perplexing thing about the video is the location. Much of the song seems to take place in the MiB building itself. When was it filmed? How was it filmed? Despite it being a top secret government agency, I’m sure it has some form of governmental oversight that might view dancing around singing about being galaxy defenders with dozens of staff, agents, and one potentially dangerous alien, as a bit of a waste of tax dollars. Perhaps it was classified as an instructional video for the benefit of new recruits, although the teachability of that is questionable.
Instead, it appears the whole thing was done, without permission, by Agent J himself. He obviously didn’t get into too much trouble because he returned for two more adventures in Men in Black 2 and 3. It still must have been frowned upon. How else to explain the fact that NO ONE in any subsequent movie makes any mention of the time Agent J made a preposterous rap song and video using the MiB facility and staff? Whether that is out of respect for a great field agent who has saved the planet many times over or because bringing up the music video is simply too embarrassing for everybody involved, we’ll never know.
As far as I’m concerned, Nas is one of the greatest rappers alive or dead (like Schrodinger’s cat, Nas remains in a perpetual state of quantum uncertainty until we observe him). His “flows” are very flowy and his rhymes all rhyme. He even raps with a message, especially when he titles his song “The Message”. Now, I’ll admit, even though I’m considered hip hop’s “Giver”, bravely remembering the rap songs and lyrics that society has chosen to forget about, I still struggle understanding all of Nas’ references. So dense is Nas’ lyrics that I’ve often heard him referred to as the J.R.R. Tolkien of hip hop (usually in or around comic book shops).
Nas’ song, “The Message” is especially tough. It was written as both a “call out” to many of the rappers of the day (Biggie, Tupac, Jay Z, Vanilla Ice probably, etc.), but also a warning to any scrappy up and comers who may have it in their mind that they could take what Nas thought was rightfully his. Throughout the song, he litters the verses with references, inside jokes, and subtle jabs that can leave many listeners going “huh?” Well, no more! I took all night and, piece by piece, dissected every line until I felt that I had a firm grasp on the entire song.
Fake thug, no love, you get the slug, CB4 Gusto
Your luck low, I didn’t know til I was drunk though
You freak niggaz played out, get fucked and ate out
Prostitute turned bitch, I got the gauge out
These first few lines are a shot over the bow of Tupac and his west coast crew. Nas is saying “Listen, Tupac, you…FAKE! You are a fake thug! and fake thugs get no love. Not only that, they also get the slug (meaning “bullet”)” Discerning readers will pick up immediately on CB4 which, if you’ve read the Star Wars expanded universe novels, you would recognize as C3P0’s brother. He’s basically saying Tupac is a cowardly machine.
96 ways I made out, Montana way
The Good-F-E-L-L-A, verbal AK spray
Dipped attache, jumped out the Range, empty out the ashtray
A glass of ‘ze make a man Cassius Clay
96 is the number of songs on Nas’ “Illmatic” album, so he’s basically saying “Neener Neener, I made 96 songs and they’re all awesome and girls made out with me after listening to them”, it’s childish but it gets the point across. Montana is, of course, Scarface. Tony Montana has become popular with hip hop artists who relate to a man who comes from nothing and makes millions illegally and apparently not one rapper has bothered to watch the ending of Scarface.
A glass of ‘ze makes a man Cassius Clay because “‘ze” is a dark, heady Merlot and Muslim’s can’t drink alcohol, so he’s saying Muhammad Ali would revert back to Cassius Clay if he imbibed the ‘ze. There is no proof that Muhammad Ali ever did, though.
Red dot plots, murder schemes, thirty-two shotguns
Regulate wit my Dunn’s, 17 rocks gleam from one ring
Yo let me let y’all niggaz know one thing
There’s one life, one love, so there can only be one King
Legally, every rapper is required to report what firearms they own in every rap song they sing. This is not just for the public safety but also for their own as it gives the ATF agents a loose head count of potential murder weapons. Nas reports that he has thirty-two shotguns, a Dunn (also known as the Dunn 6 shot), and 17 rock(ets). This is about average, nothing really surprising here.
The final line is a slap in the face of Biggie Smalls, who was under the impression that he, not Nas was King of the East Coast rap game. This is Nas saying, “nope, I am the King” and Biggie felt pretty stupid after that and had to throw away all of his business cards.
The highlights of livin, Vegas style roll dice in linen
Antera spinnin on Milleniums, twenty G bets I’m winnin them
Threats I’m sendin them, Lex with TV sets the minimum
Ill sex adrenaline
Nas here is contrasting the life he once led (poor and disadvantaged) to the life he now leads (cushy and full of linens). “Twenty G” refers to the amount of force ( 1 G = Earth’s normal gravity) one can experience before the average person passes out. He’s betting that he’ll pass out because he’s so humbled by the weight of his success. Brilliant line. Literally not one human being knows what “Ill sex adrenaline” means. Some have speculated that perhaps that is – as the Bible alluded to – the true name of God (where the Hebrews abbreviated it to “Yahweh”). But that would be crazy…right?
Wet any clique, with the semi-tech who want it
Diamonds I flaunt it, chickenheads flock I lace em
Fried broiled with basil, taste em, crack the legs
way out of formation, it’s horizontal how I have em
fuckin me in the Benz wagon
Can it be Vanity from Last Dragon
Grab your gun it’s on though
Shit is grimy, real niggaz buck in broad daylight
with the broke Mac it won’t spray right
Don’t give a fuck who they hit, as long as the drama’s lit
Yo, overnight thugs, bug cause they ain’t promised shit
Hungry-ass hooligans stay on that piranha shit
I peeped you frontin, I was in the Jeep
Sunk in the seat, tinted with heat, beats bumpin
Across the streat you was wildin
Talkin bout how you ran the Island in eighty-nine
In the second verse, Nas paints a picture of a typical day in the life of Nas. He see’s a guy “frontin” while he hung out in a jeep, probably catching the end of a fascinating episode of NPR’s This American Life because that always happens to me. Across the street he see’s YOU wildin* (*wildin is defined as a colloquialism for “dancing” or “showboating”). YOU apparently were bragging about how you ran “the Island” in ’89. The Island, of course, being Rhode Island.
Rhode Island is America’s weirdest state because it doesn’t elect officials, anyone can “run” Rhode Island, assuming they have a large enough army of child soldiers and malcontents to impose their will. In this case, Nas has foreshadowed the rise of #Kony, the crazed warlord who took the framework for Rhode Island’s military dictatorship and said, “If it’s good enough for Rhode Island, It’s good enough for Africa”. Nas has nothing but contempt for, what he considers, the illegitimate rulers of Rhode Island, especially blowhards such as YOU.
Layin up, playin the yard with crazy shine
I cocked a baby 9 that nigga gravy mine, clanked him
What was he thinkin on my corner when it’s pay me time
Dug em you owe me cousin somethin told me plug him
A baby 9 is, of course, not a real baby. That would be insane. No, a “baby 9” is a 9 year old. In this case, Nas wanted (“cocked”) a 9 year old to rob a stranger across the street. But the kid refused, citing a moral objection to theft and murder, so Nas went himself.
He “dug em”, meaning he shoved him playfully. Then he said “you owe me, cousin” because, oh yeah, this was literally his cousin (skeeter).
But something in the back of his head kept saying “plug him”, meaning murder him because Nas is basically the Son of Sam and his cousin Skeeter is the barking dog.
So dumb, felt my leg burn, then it got numb
Spun around and shot one, heard shots and dropped son
Caught a hot one, somebody take this biscuit ‘fore the cops come
Then they came askin me my name, what the fuck
Nas gets shot. He feels pretty foolish about it, but not for long. He quickly spins around and shoots indiscriminately, probably killing that 9 year old because only the good die young. He “caught” a “hot” “one”, meaning he got shot which is something he already said but sometimes in rap you have to repeat yourself to make things stick.
He tells his “crew” to take his biscuit. This part is actually often misrepresented. The correct lyric is “take THESE biscuits” because Nas has both a gun – which he refers to as a biscuit because its “hot”, and he also has a real, actual biscuit because breakfast is absolutely the most important meal of the day and the science backs me up on this.
Then the cops ask Nas his name, which he is surprised by even though that seems like a pretty obvious question to ask when you find a person lying in a pool of their own blood ranting about biscuits. I’m actually pretty sure that this is what the Police call “standard operating procedure”.
I got stitched up and went through
Left the hospital that same night, what
Got my gat back, time to backtrack
I had to drop so how the fuck I get clapped
While he is being rescued by the brave men and women who go to battle daily in this nation’s Emergency Rooms and ask nothing in return except massive amounts of insurance money, Nas wonders how he got shot. He had the drop on this guy, he should have been the one murdering somebody that day NOT almost getting murdered. It really wasn’t fair.
Black was in the Jeep watchin all these scenes speed by
It was a brown Datsun, and yo nobody in my hood got one
That clown nigga’s through, blazin at his crew daily
The ‘Bridge touched me up severely hear me?
Now, Black could either refer to a friend of Nas’ or Lewis Black, outspoken comedian and political lightning rod. Let’s assume it was Nas’ friend. Black mentions to Nas that a brown Datsun fled the scene and nobody in his hood had one of those (they are taboo). Also, apparently, the man driving it was a clown or in clown make up or had clownish features, the lyrics here are intentionally vague. We, as the audience, are meant to imagine OUR OWN clown, enabling us to relate more deeply. Nas swears that guy is a goner. He also blazes at his crew daily which is not very nice.
The “Bridge” refers to Queensbridge, the neighborhood that Nas grew up in. He’s saying, “my neighborhood has severely touched me and I will DIE protecting its honor, and also I hope I make enough money to never have to go back there”.
So when I rhyme it’s sincerely yours
Be lightin L’s sippin Coors, on all floors in project halls
Contemplatin war niggaz I was cool with before
We used to score together, Uptown coppin the raw
But uhh, a thug changes, and love changes
and best friends become strangers, word up
Shameless Coors plug that netted Nas 10 million dollars in sponsorship money. He also mentions, although briefly, his plans to enlist in the military, perhaps as a way of straightening his life out. He contemplates going to war and decides he was “cool” even before being a soldier so he doesn’t need that to be cool. He also reflects on how life changes people, even ones you thought were close friends.
The song ends, not with a bang, but with a “word up” because, yeah, word up…
- Over-analyzing Rap Lyrics: “Hypnotize” – Notorious B.I.G. (jamesonstarship.com)
This week’s Over-analyzing Rap Lyrics is the lyrical smackdown that is “Forgot about Dre”. As a reminder to rappers, and the white suburban kids who buy their music, that Dr. Dre was indeed still alive and rapping, Dre and Eminem released “Forgot about Dre” to set the record straight. While Dre’s two verses are stinging, fun, and genius, the portion I want to focus on is the insane, threat laden non sequitur that is Eminem’s verse.
Let’s have a listen (Eminem starts at 1:25):
“Forgot about Dre” came out in 2000 to critical and popular success. It was also during Eminem’s “controversial period” that last from roughly the time he sold his first record to about 2008 (with the release of his middling “Relapse” album, that was not as controversial for the simple reason that mom’s in Nebraska probably didn’t even realize it was out). Way back in 2000, though, “Slim Shady” was ruining America.
Slim Shady, or Eminem, or Marshall Mathers, or Rabbit, or that guy who is ruining America, was knee deep in a cultural backlash for his violent, profanity laden rap style that shocked parents and delighted their kids. It was an image he was both aware and cultivator of. Much later, perhaps as his daughter grew up, he became more reflective, mature and… actually still pretty vulgar. In 2000, he worked on a song with friend and mentor, Dr. Dre, but I’m completely blanking on the name (and yes, I’ve been waiting to use that joke for 13 years).
So what do you say to somebody you hate
Or anybody tryna bring trouble your way
Wanna resolve things in a bloodier way
Just study your tape of NWA.
One day I was walking by
With a Walkman on
When I caught a guy giving me an awkward eye
And strangled him off in the parking lot with his Karl Kani
I don’t give a fuck if it’s dark or not
I’m harder than me tryna park a Dodge
But I’m drunk as fuck
Right next to a humongous truck in a two car garage
Hopping out with two broken legs tryna walk it off
Fuck you too bitch call the cops
I’ma kill you and them loud ass motherfucking barking dogs
And when the cops came through
Me and Dre stood next to a burnt down house
With a can full of gas and a hand full of matches
And still weren’t found out
From here on out it’s the Chronic 2
Starting today and tomorrow’s the new
And I’m still loco enough
To choke you to death with a Charleston chew
Slim shady hotter than a set of twin babies
In a Mercedes Benz with the windows up
And the temp goes up to the mid 80’s
Calling men ladies
Sorry Doc but I been crazy
There is no way that you can save me
It’s OK go with him Hailie
I have a theory about what happened:
Eminem wrote this verse without having seen Dr. Dre’s song. Probably, Dre told him he wanted him to contribute to a song that was a “screw you” to the haters but that he didn’t have it written yet, and so, out on tour somewhere or perhaps in court divorcing his estranged wife for the 15th time, Eminem wrote his verse. If that isn’t the case then the verse makes absolutely no sense in the context of the song. It doesn’t even have the same vibe. Where Dre confines himself to bragging about his success and gently reminding that he is a legend in the rap game, Eminem departs from that theme to explore an altogether trashier hypothetical. It’s a narrative about himself as he paints the town red with unprovoked violence, drunk driving and attempted pet murder. If anything, it shows a level of immaturity that kinda makes me want to forget about Dre and Eminem. Biggie and Tupac dying in a silly, “west coast vs. east coast” pissing contest was tragic, but Eminem and Dre going to jail for life because they burned down a house and killed a barking dog is pathetic. Although Slim thinks that they “still weren’t found out”, I imagine it wouldn’t take much for a young, scrapping, enterprising prosecutor to connect the dots.
“And do you admit that it was you, Marshall Mathers III, who was seen by SEVERAL witnesses holding a can full of gas and a handful of matches the night of the fire? And might I remind you that you are under oath, sir!”
Eminem has made a career out of being a braggart. Even before he had anything to brag about, even on his first album, he spent the entire set list acting like he was entitled to more credit than he was being given. For a while, that credit went underserved, even as he sold a trillion records (citation needed). He eventually earns the credit he always felt he was due, but this song is a rather odd deviation. I don’t know, maybe he had just awoken from a night of drinking, driving, and arson and he remembered the old adage, “Write what you know.”
I love picking on Will.i.am. Unlike other goofballs, it never feels sad or pathetic to pick on him. Partly that is because his music is pretty annoying. Partly it’s because he steals music and then doesn’t apologize for it. But mostly, it’s because I have a sneaking suspicion that he is actually incredibly smart, caring and acts as a positive force in the world.
For some reason, maybe based on that same sneaking suspicion, the Wall Street Journal brought him on a video segment they call “Tip of the Week” and which we should all call “what is that? I’ve never heard of it.” If you had heard of it, you would know that it is a business show meant to help emerging start ups with various hurdles they may have as they try to find their feet in a crowded market. It has the potential to be a thoughtful and useful series for people hungry for tips from people who have “made it”. Instead, it’s a shallow, contrived mess that seems like it could have been produced by the Onion to satirize the very show that it is.
In another segment I watched, a professor explains why communicating with your customers is a good idea. Don’t bother taking notes the first time, just let that truth bomb sink in first and then move to processing it.
Now here is Will.i.am taking a crack at it (or possibly on crack):
Will.i.am, for his part, does seem to try to say something interesting. For about half of the two minute video, he is explaining the benefits of having a versatile logo which is probably a good idea, albeit one that is, I’m assuming, something one learns on DAY ONE of business or design school. Then, perhaps sensing that he needs to spice things up a bit, he randomly veers off course into a discussion on how India is going to be super freaking important in the future because “we saw what Silicon Valley did, we know what China does, but what India is going to do for the world is…” and then he loses me. Something about English, a different alphabet, and symbolic language. I think. Will.i.am seems pretty sure though, so let’s just assume he’s right. He’s got a feelin’ wooohoooo, that India’s gonna play a big part, that India’s gonna play a big part, that India’s gonna play a big part.
With his advice firmly in mind, I think I’m ready to finally launch my very own start up!
I’m starting a new weekly segment called “Over-analyzing Rap Lyrics” where I over-analyze rap lyrics, picking one song by one rapper to over-analyze.
This week, we’ve got “Hypnotize” by No! No! Notorious! B.I.G.!
Now, there are many segments of this song that I could choose from: He throws a lot of references out at us – only half of them I understand – and I could spend an entire day over-analyzing the criminal way Puff Daddy (as he was probably referred to at that point, although maybe it was “Puffy”) tries to steal the lime light in literally every single scene he’s in during the music video, but the verse I want to focus on comes about half way through the song. Let’s take a look (skip to 2:40):
Pretty intense, huh? But in case you were too caught up in the rhymes or distracted by Puff Daddy doing everything he could to get attention, here’s the lyrics:
I put hoes in NY onto DKNY (uh-huh)
Miami, D.C. prefer Versace (that’s right)
All Philly hoes, dough and Moschino (c’mon)
Every cutie wit a booty bought a Coogi (haaaaah!)
Now who’s the real dookie, meaning who’s really the shit
Them niggas ride dicks, Frank White push the sticks
on the Lexus, LX, four and a half
Bulletproof glass tints if I want some ass
Gonna blast squeeze first ask questions last
That’s how most of these so-called gangsters pass
At last, a nigga rappin bout blunts and broads
Tits and bras, ménage à trois, sex in expensive cars
I still leave you on the pavement
Condo paid for, no car payment
At my arraignment, note for the plaintiff
Your daughter’s tied up in a Brooklyn basement (shh)
Face it, not guilty, that’s how I stay filthy (not guilty)
Richer than Richie, till you niggas come and get me
Now, obviously putting hoes in DKNY and Versace isn’t a crime, nor is rapping about blunts and broads, tits and bras, menage a trois, OR EVEN sex in expensive cars but whatever it was, Biggie ends on the revelations that he has clearly been arrested for something. That’s terrible. How are you going to get out of this one Biggie? Especially since you don’t even deny having done whatever crime it was that they charged you with.
Well, Biggie goes on to explain that you needn’t be worried because at his arraignment, he or one of his crew hand a note to the plantiff that explains that his or her daughter is tied up in a Brooklyn basement. The Plantiff, fearing for his daughters life, makes the sensible decision to drop the charges and allow Biggie Smalls to remain richer than Richie. Hurray!
But hold up a second, big guy. Your plan is literally insane and certain to fail. You just sowed the oats of your own future conviction.
Let’s think about this:
The Plaintiff arrives at the trial of a Brooklyn gang member, presumably with fairly solid evidence against him (or why else would Biggie take such extreme measures). At the arraignment, the defendant hands him a note that says “I have your daughter tied up somewhere in Brooklyn”, the Plaintiff panics, dropping all charges…
… and then what?
Notorious B.I.G. has to let the girl go. If he doesn’t, then the Plaintiff will not only go to the police (under the ghetto code of “you kidnap and murder my daughter, I have you arrested and put in prison for life”), but will have fairly strong circumstantial evidence supporting the idea that Biggie Smalls was at the very least an accessory to kidnapping and murder. But let’s say Biggie isn’t stupid and let’s the girl go. She stumbles out of that Brooklyn basement and into her mother and father’s embrace and after a long few minutes where they let the relief wash over them…
… the plaintiff can again go immediately back to the judge and explain the situation, thereby ensuring that Biggie Smalls is NOT ONLY re-charged with his original crimes but now gets to go through the whole process with “kidnapping”, “wrongful imprisonment”, and “extortion”, tacked on.
Not to mention, Biggie’s mom would probably be so disappointed in him.
My verdict is that Notorious B.I.G. would NOT want to do this if he wanted to stay richer than Richie. Instead, he should hire a great defense attorney with the money he got from his hit record (or sell his yacht) and perhaps get into the kind of robbery that’s legal: say, investing in Wells Fargo.