Matthew asked me about the Lil Reese video from a few weeks back of him beating up a girl. And, I emailed him some quick scattered-brained thoughts about it. But, last night as I was reading about Obama’s reelection, one of the first songs I played as I sitting in my room was Lil Reese’s “Us”.
After the song ended and I posted it to Facebook—the few of you that are my Facebook friend got a live playlist of what I was listening to election night. And, once the song ended, I felt weird. Not sure if this was the appropriate thing to post at this time. I wrote something trying to justify why I would be playing Lil Reese as Obama was being reelected, but I deleted that post and went back to this email I sent Matthew. So, here is part of that email with a few slight edits, but with full of random capitalization and keyboard slams intact.
As, for Lil Reese…Okay, the video of him is pretty fucking terrible and reprehensible. But, I still like his music. Ugggg. I have no good way to say this, but I’ll still listen to his music, and probably just feel like an asshole for doing so, kind of how I LOVE “Deuces” despite being from Chris Brown. WWWragadgadfakd I don’t know how to say this well, as I mean I get being upset at this moment, but a shitty youtube video that is a couple years old is not something I would hold forever against the kid, because if it is a few years old then seriously a teen doing violent shit is not that surprising…….Uggggggg. I’m really torn about this. It’s bad. But, I like his music. He should be held responsible. But, he was probably 15, and that is pretty damn young. I haven’t mentioned the victim in this email…GOD DAMNIT I Don’t Know Dude. I mean Jay-Z fucking stabbed a guy at some point, well into his career and he is one of the most respected Black men in America, so you know MALE PRIVILEGE and all that jazz. :/
Rap lyrics, at least among mainstream pop music are some of the most explicit in term of language and in actual content. So when a fan wants to express a love of a rap song and sing-a-long, some might feel a certain amount of trepidation in how to approach the lyrics. This is an issue can be left up to individual listeners because rap music unlike other genres traditionally doesn’t feature many rappers exactly covering other rapper’s work.
That is the problem faced by the duo Karmin, who have made a name for themselves doing acoustic covers of pop songs, ranging from Train to LMFAO, but their most popular songs were rap covers. I was introduced to Karmin in the most dismissive terms (“Ha, This Song is Fucking Terrible”, so I just avoided their music. I continued to see their name pop up, never listened, until one day I was watching MTV and saw their music video for “Brokenhearted”; thought it wasn’t a half bad pop song and figured I’d actually check out more of their work. To my surprise I really enjoyed “Hello” and even found the very awkward rapping and questionable singing of “Crash Your Party” goofy fun. But, it wasn’t their pop work that got people to be dismissive of this young couple, it was their rap covers.
The first Karmin cover I sought out was “6 Foot 7 Foot”, and after a minute or so, it finally hit me. Not that Karmin were terrible people who shouldn’t be allowed 50ft of a camera connected to YouTube; it hit me that they found a way to cover raps songs that was most comfortable for them. Lil Wayne’s original version of “6 Foot 7 Foot” is a weird pop (and rap) song with no real hook entirely composed of non-sequiturs. I’d bet Lil Wayne even at his weed and syrup highest couldn’t make sense of it; but as a rap song it’s just some basic unrestrained shit talking and Karmin’s version just finds another way to express that feeling.
In their covers, Amy Heidermann raps with a certain try-hardness that usually bothers me in rap music, but that forced earnestness works with their attempts at rap chest thumping. She not only edits out the cursing (yet for some reason “nigga” is replaced with “jigga”, which I really don’t understand); she also changes whole phrases to create a unique version of Lil Wayne’s hit. In her edit, “Life is the witch”, instead of “bitch”; the “fucking family picture”, turns into an “awkward” one, and bizarrely “fuck segregation” turns into “forget”. The surrealistic quality of Wayne’s original isn’t lost in the cover, as much as it’s cleaned up, while still remaining as nonsensical.
Karmin’s original work has turned into this well-manicured shit talking pop-rap. “Crash Your Party” is less Ke$ha, Jessie J, or Nicki Minaj, than it is the continuation of these cover Karmin’s been doing the past couple years. One might take issue with rap being reduced as a way to address one’s “haters”, but once again this shit talking and the unneeded defiance isn’t limited to the rapping sections but runs throughout songs like “Hello” or “Brokenhearted”.
Karmin’s Hello EP is kind of a dismissive of not only desperate guys, their new girlfriends, and generally anyone who Karmin wouldn’t accept a friend request from. It’s kind of hilarious not that isn’t acceptable to make songs about not liking the dudes who are interested in you (“Too Many Fish”) or not getting over that particular dude (“Brokenhearted”), but contrasted with multiple deliveries (singing and rapping) and various musical styles (2010s Pop this varied is actually pretty refreshing) it’s all a bit overly theatrical. But in “Brokenhearted”, Heidermann says “Business in the front, party in back, maybe I was wrong, was that outfit really wack” and Heidermann ends verses saying “Cheerio” in a weak British accent, so obviously their having fun here.
They’re having fun. That is such a terrible thing isn’t it (well it must be if they need a “Hater’s Guide”). I can defend their actions of covering rap songs and acknowledge I can see why their covers of rap songs might annoy and bother some people. But beyond that, I think their music is silly fun, so “Cheerio”.
Waka Flocka Flame’s first hit single, “O Let’s Do It” was neo-crunk blast that slowly rose over month onto rap radio, peaking with an inspired Diddy and Rick Ross remix. But, its Waka second verse on the original song that foreshadows so much of his later work: “One shot man down, his brain go Ka-Pow, Ow, that shit hurts, so don’t fuck around, but here that happens often off in Riverdale, Georgia, you pay the life you live off in Riverdale, Georgia”. Despite the connection of violence and fighting attached to Waka Flocka’s early work, this first single was just the story of a low level drug dealer that knows their life is in constant danger not only by profession, but even more so where they just happen to lay their head at night.
Chief Keef is already going through the Waka Flocka hype cycle all over again starting with some very local hits and now slowly getting his feet inside the music industry (apparently a Keef/Kanye collaboration is the works)*. And addition to this hype cycle, Keef is getting the same criticism of Waka Flocka (and most rappers ever for that matter) of glorifying violence, and being a negative influence on rap music and kids—always the kids. This criticism has manifested itself in weird pieces that take this 16-year-old to task for perpetuating the violence of a million plus population city and seemingly not offering a solution to this problem. But, that is some backwards logic, as the videos which have made Chief Keef relatively famous are about as lo-fi as rap music gets, having been produced by mostly him and friends and until recently were entirely local to just Chicago. Speaking to people who actually talked to the Keef: the image that prevails is of a young kid living life—raising his daughter, smoking weed, and hanging out with his friends—in a tough environment rather than a gun-wielding maniac some people try to make him out to be.
Waka Flocka dealt with the same stereotypes, because a black man wearing braids saying lyrics filled with violent content is obviously someone to be feared and couldn’t possibly have anything intelligent to say. And, while I’ve grown up in circumstances far more fortunate than Waka or Keef, it’s easy to connect to these young African-Americans, who’ve receive a fair amount of criticism based solely upon their looks. That’s why the opening lines of Waka Flocka’s “Stereotype” can be so effecting: “Brother dead, daddy dead, auntie got HIV/Lord, can you please get this rage out of me?/Started popping pills cause of shit that I’ve seen/And the shit that I went through as a child”. Waka Flocka explains through his music the unfortunate circumstances, which have lead to his current life, and instead of people trying to better understand him and listen to the words he has to say, people continue to ignore them and stereotype.
*I just want to say this sentence/entire paragraph came from conversations with Chief Keef Scholar David Drake the last month. To give credit where it is due.