We’ve been here before. Well…technically we haven’t. In my 32 years of living, my earliest memories of music were Micheal Jackson… the semi-Black one. My earliest memories of Rock music date back to the 90’s grunge era. Green Day’s Dookie made the white kids go crazy, Kurt Cobain’s death broke their hearts, and for some reason, they loved Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Jazz was Kenny G and nobody I knew listened to that shit. I’ve spent most of my life a proud resident of Long Beach, California. When Snoop shot the “What’s My Name” video on top of the VIP, I was there. Before that, Mister Grimm’s “Indo Smoke” played out the trunks of cars all through the city. When I was introduced to A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan, it was over! Still, while I grew up among what’s viewed as Hip-Hop’s greatest era, I would eventually learn Rock ‘n’ Roll music wasn’t always long haired white guys in dirty jeans from Seattle and Jazz music wasn’t always Kenny G. How exactly Jazz and Rock music went from looking like me to looking like Catholicism’s image of Jesus was never really clear to me. Talent is talent, right? While the masses may prefer someone who looks like them to shine in the spotlight after rising to stardom, you can’t just deny talent, right? Sure you’ll have your Elvis, but how is it possible for a whole genre to change in the way Rock ‘n’ Roll and Jazz have? Now, as I sit and watch what’s being done to my culture, Hip-Hop, it’s become very clear to me. It’s your fault.
A couple of weeks ago my Facebook timeline was flooded with praise for Lil Dicky. Once I read “Lil Dicky” I subconsciously tuned out. My introduction to Lil Dicky was a song in which he spent half the track harping over how large the penis of his girl’s ex-boyfriend was. The video included a hand drawn penis with arms rhyming along to Dicky’s lyrics, so excuse me for viewing him as new age Weird Al Yankovic. When I turned to Twitter and saw him trending with articles proclaiming he shot a video with a “$0 budget” I gave in and checked the video out. What I saw was highly upsetting.
The video begins with “Dave” as he refers to himself in his suburban voice, going door-to-door, in what I was later told is Beverly Hills, asking people if he can borrower their house to shoot “the most epic rap video for no money.” According to “Dave,” an epic rap video requires nice cars and nice houses. Now, I’m sure The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, and Missy would disagree on those things being what makes an epic rap video an epic rap video, but this is “Dave’s” definition of what makes an “epic rap video.” The rest of the video features Dav….um…Lil Dicky code switching from his suburban voice he uses to capitalize on his white privilege, (which allows him to go door-to-door in Beverly Hills asking to borrow houses for his rap video without the police being called, borrow a boat, and borrow Lamborghini, allegedly, without paying any money) and his rapper voice he uses to rap, while doing cartoonish dances which I can only assume he believes are required to make this video “Hip-Hop”, and groping half-naked women. Atlanta emcee Rich Homie Quan is featured on the track with a quick verse which is interrupted by Dicky because Quan isn’t rapping about saving money. I’m unsure what would be worse, if Quan was told to write a verse ignoring the subject mater so he could be interrupted or if he just did it and was chosen because it was known he would do it. The video is far too long and features other celebrities like Fetty Wap (also on the song), T-Pain (who allows Dicky to shoot his video during his video to get club footage), Kevin Durant (why?), Hannibel Burress (why?), Mark Cuban, and Sarah Silverman among others.
Essentially, Lil Dicky’s video for “$ave Dat Money” (“Dat” not “that”) was a minstrel show, sans black face, visually celebrating excess because that’s what makes an “epic rap video” according to Dicky, brought to you supposedly for $0 courtesy of white privilege. I find it hard to believe Rich Homie Quan, or anyone like him, could go door-to-door in Beverly Hills looking to borrow houses for a rap video free of charge and police harassment, or acquire any of Dicky’s other “epic rap video” essentials without payment. Yet and still, up and down my timeline I repeatedly saw how great it was someone “made a statement.” Therein lies a major problem. Hip-Hop fans’ inability to think critically about what’s being presented to them by the media essentially makes what the media says and promotes, golden. Did no one notice Rich Homie Quan was basically used as a prop to symbolize black artists’ inability to provide substance? I mean, if Lil Dicky wanted to do a song about saving money, he could have probably gotten a feature from Vic Mensa, head of Chicago’s SaveMoney crew instead of going with “Rich Homie” Quan. He probably could have hit up P.O.S., a member of the Minneapolis collective, Doomtree, who has consistently taken stances against consumerism. Rich Homie Quan’s presence and purpose was as alarming as Dickey’s explanation of what makes a great rap video. Yet it seemed at least in my eyes there was very little questioning of either. Every outlet from the usual suspects like Complex, to sites not so familiar with Hip-Hop, like PerezHilton.com, rushed to promote the white savior, saving Hip-Hop from it’s lack of substance and fans from lack of “epic rap videos.”
The “white savior” narrative is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been studied. A quick Google search of “white savior narrative” will bring you everything from a Wikipedia page, to scholarly articles, books, and blogs. The trope is extremely popular in TV and film, appearing in some of your favorites like Avatar, Hardball, and Django Unchained. Now it’s worked it’s way into Hip-Hop. Lil Dicky isn’t the first instance of it, and probably won’t be the last. Seeing the praise heaped upon Dicky, I couldn’t help but think of Macklemore’s appearance on Ellen, where she declared “No artist in Hip-Hop history have ever taken a stance defending marriage equality” the way Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have, even though Murs had already released “Animal Style,” and Kanye took a strong stance against homophobia in Hip-Hop like 7 years prior on MTV. But what does Ellen know about Hip-Hop? Probably not much more than what she’s told by mainstream outlets like New York Daily News. Unfortunately, while outsiders like Ellen and New York Daily News spread misinformation, supposed “insiders” aren’t doing much better.
If casual fans (which make up the majority) don’t know any better, the so-called “tastemakers” do. Yet and still, across several outlets I read how “refreshing” the “$ave Dat Money” song and video were, as if nobody anywhere else was doing rap with a message. Did P.O.S. need a more expensive car, boat, and mansion for his “Fuck Your Stuff” music video? Was his video for “Optimist” not creative enough to get the push for its positivity? What was the budget for that video? Sure, some of these “tastemakers” are naive, but others know exactly what they’re doing. It’s business. For them, it’s more financially rewarding to promote the gang-bang narrative of Nipsey Hussle, than his “All $ In” motto which (ding, ding, ding!) is about saving money. The gangster story fits the preconceived notion the masses have of someone like Nipsey Hussle, thus, would appear to be more profitable and at the end of the day, for most of these outlets, profits don’t just outweigh promotion of the culture in terms of importance, it’s all that matters. So if pushing the white savior narrative is more acceptable to the masses because of the belief that white people intrinsically do things right, then that’s what some of your go-to spots for Hip-Hop will promote.
If we are to assign any blame to the media for the promotion of the “white savior” narrative in Hip-Hop, then artists are guilty by association. While outlets are dependent on the support of the readers for views/mag sales, artists, who already have attention of the readers, bring instant attention to outlets. A rare interview with a Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake or Kendrick Lamar brings massive amounts of attention to outlets and instant credibility. That means artists collectively have the power to validate or invalidate any publication. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. How can we expect artists to take responsibility for shaping the media landscape of the culture when they won’t even take action against outlets that have slighted them personally? Flash back to late 2013, DC artist Wale took issue with his album The Gifted being absent on Complex annual “50 Best Albums of 2013” list. Wale called into Complex angrily, made threats, and claimed that his album’s absence was due to personal issues writers had with him. Now, making threats probably wasn’t the best method of action, but, considering Wale’s album deserved to be on the list based on some of the other albums that made the cut, boycotting Complex might have been the move. However, as soon as promotion came up for Wale’s next album, he and Complex were apparently cool again as evidenced by the image above. It’s not like an artist like Wale needs Complex. His social media presence dwarfs theirs. On Twitter alone Wale’s follower count is over four times as large. An interview with Complex is more to their benefit than Wale’s. What does Complex do with the increased visibility they get from doing interviews with artists like Wale? Run a million stories on Slim Jesus across their network of sites.
Hip-Hop culture is black youth culture. It’s easy for people to believe what they believe about Hip-Hop if they already believe it about black youth. If people believe black youth aren’t about anything of substance, it’s easy for them to believe Hip-Hop isn’t about anything of substance. On that same note, it’s easy to believe white rappers are naturally better in terms skills and morals if you already have those beliefs about white people as a whole. Lil Dicky’s “$ave Dat Money” song and video don’t just capitalize on these widely accepted preconceived notions, they promote them. If this cycle continues, there will be more Lil Dickys, more Macklemores, and a lot less of everyone else. If fans and artists alike take action, Hip-Hop just might be able to avoid going down the same path that Jazz and Rock-N-Roll have. Judging by the current state of affairs…action has to be taken soon.
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