September 12, 2011 1 comment
All it took to successfully assassinate radio rap was a white Australian comedian in blackface.
Chris Lilley, comedic genius, master of genre and writer/creator of Australian mockumentary series We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, did more with 12 episodes of Angry Boys than any blogger or critic has done with an entire of canon of hip-hop (or rap, if we’re going to play the differentiation game) criticism.
And he did it in chocolate-colored makeup.
Somehow, in the spirit of parody — Robert Downey Jr. would nod his head in acknowledgment — Lilley actually made blackface cool and funny. But this isn’t about race or cultural faux paus so much as it is about Lilly’s ability to embody everything that is wrong with radio rap, and offer it up to viewing audiences in the form of bubblegum beats so obvious, you’re liable to hate yourself a little more for every single frat house hit that ever made it onto your playlist.
Purposely bastardized pop culture never sounded so good. And courtesy Lilley and one-hit sensation S.Mouse!, acts like Soulja Boy and Black Eyed Peas never sounded so bad.
More on pedophiles, grandmother fetishists, crocodiles, cancer survivors and Kanye West after the jump.
In the series Angry Boys, Lilley takes on a multitude of characters whose paths ultimately cross in the series finale. The talented Aussie comedian stars as twin 17-year-old boys, a disapproving Japanese mother, an elderly juvenile detention center guard, a testicle-less surfer and, most famously, Shwayne Junior, AKA S.mouse AKA S.mouse! depending on which lawyer is asking.
S.mouse is an LA-based rapper who made it big off “Slap My Elbow”, the music video displayed at the top of the post, which of course is a not-so-subtle shot at Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”. Lyrically-empty but flashy in spite of itself, “Slap My Elbow” is the embodiment of every radio rap song that has people swaying in spite of their better judgment.
My personal favorite S.mouse track, “Animal Zoo”, takes it a step further:
Via S.mouse, Lilley absolute annihilates Soulja Boy one-hit wonders for their inability to add anything to the music scene. But he does it so well that we’re almost forced to ask: at what point is it impossible to differentiate parody from inspiration?
I don’t know that Lilley’s point is necessarily to encourage any great reflection on Soulja Boy or the state of American radio rap, but in mocking the man, he definitely gets the conversation started. How does adopting blatantly manufactured product as music culture reflect upon us? By listening, dancing, downloading, etc. are we actually embracing embarrassment?
Again, I don’t know that Lilley is necessarily asking these questions, but watching his parodies really makes you stop and think shit…is this the kind of stuff we’re actually listening to?
Not to focus all his efforts on Soulja Boy, though, Lilley/S.mouse go after the Black Eyed Peas and any similar act that is 99 percent constructed on a computer:
To quote Shwayne himself: “what the fuck is that shit?!”
Lilley has a way of making these parodies culturally-confrontational and asks some pretty pertinent questions, albeit mostly in the form of three-legged dogs, pedophiles, mastectomy patients and big black balls, about artistic image control. Can an artist perform under a record label and have any semblance of control over his own image, or does he have to go independent? How does an artist seize control over his own image? If he does go independent, is his obligation to the audience or himself? If his allegiance is only to self, does he risk alienating the audience? How does an artist truly make himself unique and significant when cultural tastes are constantly in flux?
S.mouse would have you believe the answer is to go independent and intentionally reverse public perception by going to war with your own cultural projection:
I mean, given how (intentionally) stupid these songs are, it almost seems ridiculously to be lending them any credence in terms of significant artistic discussion, but that’s the point of parody, isn’t it? To highlight the obvious flaws with something we blindly place on a pedestal and interrogate how it ever rose so high off from the subterranean labyrinth of shit-smothered sewers that birthed it?
I like to think of this question as relevant to someone like my man Justin Bieber. Dude is gonna have to ditch the whole innocent pretty-boy act at some stage, right? He’s going to have to start shaving and thinking twice before he invites 15-year-olds onto his tour bus. How the hell is he going to reverse that image, actively take control back from the labels and the bubblegum-manufacturing machines to establish himself as Bieber post-Bieber?
(It probably won’t be much more difficult than just admitting who he probably already is: a smart ass dude who completely manipulated underage, autotuned America into snorting coke lines off his boner and begging him for baby Biebers.)
S.mouse’s best effort, though, might be in the form of his Weezy/Drake/Kanye West auto-tune stage, the metaphorical metamorphosis out of his candy-rap cocoon. I’m not saying this means that Lilley necessarily paints Kanye as the arrival of radio rap, but rather that this is just the natural evolution of it. If it’s less about the S.mouse persona — he dumps it for Shwayne Jr. here — then it’s more about where the generic artist tends to end up, the level he has to ultimately adapt to in order to enjoy any long-term commercial success.
(Cue the Kanye fans pointing out that lumping Kanye with Drake and Weezy is a crime against hip-hop. And cue me clearing my throat and drumming my fingers the copy of 808s and Heartbreaks I never bought.)
Shwayne has an epiphany, not to spoil too much of the series, and dedicates the culmination of his independent efforts — “Squashed Nigga — to an Aboriginal boy who was allegedly run over by a truck that came barreling through his house while he was asleep. The story makes more sense in the series, of course, and has greater comedic effect there, but this self-aware, auto-tuned of his artistic progression reeks of Kanye, especially in his acknowledgment and consequential condemnation of critics:
Track is fueled by obvious Kanye, Drake and Weezy inspiration, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Lilley targets those three right now as the critically-beloved but overly-manufactured modern day standard of American radio rap.
It’s interesting that Lilley, on the other side of the world from the record companies and related artists he’s targeting, has managed to produce the most honest parody/criticism of American radio rap, whereas the best we’ve seen on the homefront is probably Jamie Kennedy. Are we so indoctrinated, so used to breathing in bubblegum beats on a daily basis, that we’ve just started treating it like the pants-shitter on the B bus and written it out of our everyday acknowledgment? Are we content to let shit saturate the airwaves because radios have become a losing culture, and making any stand against the mainstream is just a futile endeavor when millions of other assholes are perfectly content to nod their heads to the beat? Or slap their elbows, in S.mouse’s world?
Some heady questions, I guess. Not saying I have the answers. Just think it’s interesting that it took an Aussie in blackface to really prompt me to ask them in the first place.