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, 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.
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’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.