At some point, every good movement must die. Hippies eventually became less worried about the abuses of government in Vietnam, and more concerned with their retirement accounts. Horrified punks, emo kids and goths were forced to watch their carefully crafted identities become branded, packaged, and sold as Hot Topics sprang up in shopping malls around the country. Hip hop may be reaching its critical mass as we speak, as one-hit-wonder club rap is about the only marketable thing remaining in mainstream music. But with the advent of the internet, and in particular YouTube, new voices are given a chance to be heard, ultimately providing a platform to subvert, appropriate and innovate in whatever way they please. In the crossroads of hip hop and the shape of what’s to come, a number of YouTube emcees have added their voices to the mix. Alternately parodying and lionizing hip hop, these artists exalt the virtues, while lamenting the decline of the genre.
One of these YouTube sensations is Kreayshawn, whose infectious “Gucci Gucci” drew nearly 3,000,000 views in its first 3 weeks, and landed her a deal with Columbia records. Although the song is undeniably catchy, its success can’t be divorced from the video, in which a shockingly diminutive white girl parades around Oakland in Minnie Mouse ears doing hoodrat things with her hoodrat friends. The video is representative of a trend I like to call the “Zooey Deschanel-ization” of rap, a movement in which hipster girls adopt hip hop mannerisms to results equal parts cute, ironic, and rebellious. Responses to Kreayshawn have divided her viewers into two camps. The first is the feminist camp, or those who think appropriation of hip hop can be seen as a path toward individual expression and empowerment, especially in regards to a genre with distinct misogynistic undertones. The second is a racist view, in which such pandering towards hip hop culture can be seen as insensitivity to the complexities of racial identity. Ironically, both views seem to be simultaneously promoted by Jezebel (“A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism“ vs.”Learn Valuable Life Lessons About Ladyhood in Gucci Gucci by Kreayshawn“).
Then there’s Kitty Pryde, whose listless teenage puppy love jam “Okay Cupid” takes the unlikely rapper mold to the next level. While listening to a high school girl innocently rapping about doing lines of cocaine in what appears to be her childhood bedroom is strange enough, even more shocking is the codeine-hazed beat, provided by Beautiful Lou (A$AP Rocky, Lil B). Though initially surprising, the collaboration seems to reflect ambivalence toward an alternately innovative and stubborn genre. Despite their vitality, forward-thinking producers are often stuck with low talent, high ego emcees (see Clams Casino remix of XV’s “Swervin” and Lil B’s “I’m God”). The result is a sort of rap caricature, in which uniquely affecting and musical beats are pulled down by tired rhymes and uninspired participants, highlighting the genre’s limitations. In a way, a song like “Okay Cupid” is unintended parody, emphasizing the absurdity of the relationship between innovative beats and their undeserving and potentially disingenuous vocalists.
An even more intriguing parody is the career of Krispy Kreme, most famous for “The Baddest”. On the surface, Krispy Kreme is just a kid making stupid rap songs. Subsequent listens uncover a nuanced stupidity, adding an over the top childish innocence, boasting about his toughness (he will beat you up “even if you have a thousand knives”), stacks of cash (he has “400 houses and 400 mouses”), and his way with women (he has made out with every girl in the world), all while pointing cap guns at the camera. Somewhat purposefully, Krispy Kreme is a suburban Don Quixote, convinced of his status as the baddest rapper alive, despite his visibly running nose. The irony speaks on two levels: as commentary on the absurdity of hip hop boasting, and as commentary on the suburban youth who naïvely seek to emulate it. But is it quality?
What attracts me to these videos is their inherent ambiguity. It’s hard to claim that this work is intended to be ironic, an honest piece art or somewhere in between. The millennial generation has embraced irony to the point that it is becoming completely indistinguishable from sincerity, almost two sides of the same coin. In this way, hip hop has become a target, oft dumbed down to the point of stupidity, and yet equally as attractive for the same reasons. Despite the artists’ intentions, YouTube stars are logical, viral responses to the increasingly stale world of Top 40 rap.