Rap and the persona.
LATE NIGHT BLOG POST COMIN’ AT-YA WITH A CHAINSAW AND A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF HIP HOP! IF YOU AIN’T DOWN WITH THAT?! THEN YOU AIN’T DOWN WITH BLOGGING!
So there’s that. Basically, I have 70 minutes to crank out a filler article tonight, but I think it’ll at least be on something interesting I hope? My friend Big Dave (to differentiate from Little Dave who is the Dave I’ve been mentioning so far) was talking to me about Die Antwoord (yes, them again). He expressed some vague notion that Ninja is “fake” or Die Antwoord is “fake”. My personal standard on Die Antwoord is cut-and-dry. Ninja has “wat kyk jy?” tattooed on his dick. Big Dave is an S&M lovin’ type of dude, so he sees that as–well, not ordinary, but not as notable as I do. Cos when it comes to me? Anything a guy with a tattoo on his dick says, I will believe. As he is apparently serious enough to have it tattooed onto his penis. However, this raised some important questions in my mind. Specifically:
Isn’t all hip hop, at some level, fakery? It’s all bravado, braggadocio and machismo that turns into so much miasma. Specifically, I wondered when we had someone 100% real on the hip hop scene. I know all you big, manly, strong, runnin’ thangs hip hop types are gonna be mad at me, but it’s time to fess up: when you guys got big, realness got gone. And I’ll tell you exactly where it went: Nerdcore. Is this a bad thing? Let’s see.
Let’s start back at the golden age of hip hop with guys like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys. LL Cool J, for his first record at least, was refreshingly honest. All of his bragging was actually rather humble in retrospect. You look at a Kanye and you think “You’d never offer a girl doughnuts, milk and a 45 in your living room. That would humiliate you.” But Cool J’s first record was a decidedly humble affair. All of his raps were strictly relatable to the hip hop scene in ’84. If you listened to Cool J, you knew the guys he was talking about. Sure, his flow was a bit simple compared to the stuff we’re getting up to today, but it was delivered with such raw passion that it didn’t matter. Public Enemy kept things similarly low-key, rapping about cars that weren’t that good and using your brain to overcome challenges in your life.
But the Beastie Boys, funnily enough, were the first big act to separate their raps from their reality. Maybe not the first, sure, but these guys were upper-lower to middle class Jewish boys rapping about being hardened criminals. What they may have been making up for in originality, they made up for with scale. And, funnily enough, it’s from the Beasties that the rest of rap took their cues through the form of proto-gangsta rap group, NWA. NWA started out freestyling over Beastie Boys beats, escalating their lyrical themes of violence and crime to a believable level–especially as these were definitely not middle class Jewish boys. Dr. Dre started off his career as a disco rapper, so it’d take a lot of convincing for you to sell me on his hardness. Has he hired people to kill someone who dissed him? Then he ain’t harder than MC Hammer.
And it’s from there that we get our Wu-Tangs and our modern day rap scene: about as divorced from reality as a genre of music can possibly be. Yes, I’m aware that you have forty cars and that your [people] move in silence like the g in lasagna, but pardon me, Weezy–didn’t you say you’d rather be dead than in prison? What happened to that? Realized that you ain’t hard enough to kill yourself to keep out of the pen? Thus, Ninja’s zef horrorcore raps are really no different from what we have here in North America. What makes Ninja refreshing is that Stateside, we never question a rapper’s legitimacy. Even Donald “Spiderman” Glover can drop n-bombs willy-nilly and we’re all headnodding like it’s cool. It’s not cool. You’re a comedian. Rap like one, cos we all know that you ain’t that hard.
Here’s where nerdcore comes in: we all know they aren’t that hard. And none of them front like they are, either. MC Lars raps about the trappings of the modern age, lost love, sleazy record company practices, writer’s block, college roommates and science fiction. In short, MC Lars is out there every day rapping about his life. And what, for some reason, we dismiss him? MC Lars takes time out to develop skill and flow to be perfectly honest with us and rap about the digital revolution in music distribution–what part of that is less respectable than a guy who yells about living in a “one room shack” who never missed a meal in his life?
mc chris, MC Front-a-lot–these are guys rapping about the stuff they think about day in, day out. I can respect that. There is no persona between them and the audience. There’s a stage name, yes, but there’s no fakery. Eminem has Slim Shady. Ninja has his Superman costume that he’s not gonna take off–granted, that analogy is TOTALLY backwards. Ninja, at least, in the era of the persona, has kept true to himself in his fakery. I said in paragraph one, I do not doubt a man with dick tattoos. I do not doubt that Ninja is serious about Die Antwoord, and I can tell. His raps stay true to South Africa and true to his friends and most importantly true to himself. He’s not rapping as someone he wants to be–he’s rapping as himself. It’s himself skewed violent and hardcore, certainly, but all of the lyrics he comes up with for Die Antwoord are stuff he would say in a court of law. Which, you know, cos it’s Ninja, might imply that he’s either telling the truth, what he believes to be the truth, or is kinda crazy.
That answer your question, Dave?