hip hop music

March 13, 2006

About Those SNL Raps

Do we need another newspaper article for every skit these guys do?

'Thug' Natalie rocks hip-hop world

...The shock value of the lyrics, which Portman co-wrote, is fueling the buzz over her "Gangsta Rap," which has become an internet sensation - just in time for next week’s opening of her new movie, “V for Vendetta..."

"...They’re basically saying, 'I'm a white girl doing this and that’s funny, even though if I was a black male it wouldn’t be’,” said Cambridge rapper Elemental Zazen. As repugnant as some hip-hop artists find the comedy world’s attempt to co-opt rap music, Zazen says the phenomenon makes a larger point. "Lyrically, it’s (expletive)," he said. "But rap is so lame these days that you could package Natalie Portman like that and she would probably sell records."

A couple of points:

1. Poplicks pegged my reaction to the short itself: pretty funny, but compared to to "Lazy Sunday" it comes off, for lack of a better word, lazy. "Sunday" had lots of other cleverness packed inside it beyond the basic premise, while this one basically runs on the one joke, and borrows lines wholesale to fill space. I hope the Lonely Island kids realize this well has run dry, and figure out some new tricks.

2. Gotta disagree with Elemental Zazen's suggestion that this rap wouldn't be funny if Black people were delivering it, because all the original tracks this skit references were also totally funny. The lines Portman cribs directly from Eazy E and Sir Mixalot, for example, were funny in the original songs just as they are here. Not for all the same reasons, but funny nonetheless, and intentionally so. To assume there was no wit or self-awareness in their gangsta (and no appreciation of this in their audience) is a major mistake.

But this does raise other questions: contrary to Zazen's quote you really couldn't put Natalie's rap on the market now, because it doesn't sounds like current hip-hop at all. Instead draws entirely from the styles of 15-20 years ago, and it's intriguing to consider why that choice might be necessary.. how differently it might come across if they really did ape the style of current gun/snow/street/trap raps. Would it fall flat because today's versions lack that sort of self-awareness?

I mean of course the 50s and Jeezys have their own sort of wit going on, but the basic posture they assume is meant to be taken seriously and at face value in a different way than the old stuff. Their gun-toting or hustling isn't really about shock value.. what might once be delivered as knowingly outlandish and over-the-top (if only just that tiny bit) is now offered as a straightforward, almost mundane/perfunctory verification of their authenticity in the role.. they don't expect us to be shocked by it, they just want us to buy into it.

Maybe that's what makes some of us uncomfortable about these skits, that they bring home how today's rappers have lost track of the joke?

Posted by jsmooth995 at March 13, 2006 12:57 PM

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