Watching my Twitter timeline Sunday night as the BET Awards drew to a close, the anticipation was building for what was to be an epic performance. Rapper 2 Chainz was coming to the stage. Everyone was excited. And in the hype of the Twitter buildup, I have to admit I got a little wound up myself. Then the performance happened and I remember something: 2 Chainz is terrible.
The underwhelming show was nothing new. He’s been doing this sort of bumbling kitsch fashion show routine where he only raps half of his already simplistic lyrics for years. With that in mind, I sent out a tweet to no one in particular, “Why do you people like 2 Chainz again?”
No one answered, but after about a week of thinking about it, I was able to at least come up with a hypothesis.
People like 2 Chainz and his ilk for the same reason people like Michele Bachmann and hers: because he’s just like them. LBachmann is a fanatically religious woman whose pious passion is rivaled only by her intellectual simplicity. She says simple things about divisive issues that simple people can understand and relate to.
On vaccinations: “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”
On abortion: “My position is in line with the Catholic Church. That’s been my position for 40 years, it hasn’t changed.”
On the 2008 TARP bailouts: “I knew there was no way I could vote for it, because I couldn’t find authority for it in the Constitution. I simply couldn’t support it. So I voted no. That’s where I stood, and that’s where I stand, As a constitutional conservative, I put principle over party.” [sic]
On homosexuality: “We need to have profound compassion for the people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life, and sexual identity disorders. This is a very real issue. It’s not funny, it’s sad…It’s part of Satan, I think, to say this is gay. It’s anything but gay.”
It goes on like that about subjects that run the gamut from crime to corporations, and drugs to education.
Bachmann’s secret to three terms and six years of Congressional success is that her constituents have decided that rather than someone more intellectually rich than themselves, they want a woman who thinks what they think, believes what they believe and articulates those beliefs in exactly the same way that they would.
That distaste for complexity and intellectual elitism has become the hallmark of the Tea Party. Initially draped in a cloak of opposition to taxation, government spending and corporate bailouts, the Tea Party came to fruition as a movement opposed to Washington snobs, eggheads and Ivy League liberals. In other words, smart people.
Support for 2 Chainz falls along much the same lines. He’s an unaffected simpleton who makes songs about things that other simpletons can relate to. It’s Jay-Z’s mantra of money, cash, h**s taken to stupefying extremes.
On “K.O.” he raps:
White coupe, with the white rims
I like to crank the top and let the light in
You know she dark skin her friend light skin
Put us together, and it’s Ice cream
Sandwiches she can’t manage it
I know her man Is sick, she can’t handle it
On “Birthday Song”:
She got a big booty so I call her Big Booty
Scrr Scrr, Wrists moving, cookin’ to it
I’m in the kitchen, yams everywhere
Just made a jugg I got bands everywhere
In his verse on “Mercy”:
100 bands, cut your girl, now your girl need a Band-Aid
There’s no masked symbolism or depth hidden in the lyrics that may be escaping the hip hop uninitiated. His lyrics mean what they mean.
What’s changed in hip hop is the same as what’s changed in politics. The inmates have taken over the hospital. Rather than a deference to those who may be more qualified or talented or capable than themselves, the tea party and hip hop crowds have decided that they want people just like themselves to speak for them.
In its golden age, hip hop was an art form that spoke life to the unheralded and underrepresented citizens of the inner city. It may have been vulgar and misogynistic at times, but it was at least interesting. Artists like Jay-Z, 2pac, Outkast, Goodie Mob, Nas and a host of others rapped about simple things like family, their neighborhoods, crime, corruption and the everyday struggle. Not everyone could do it, but that was the beauty in it – these men and women (let us not forget the brilliance of Lauryn Hill) were technicians, skilled craftsmen who could do things with words, beats and rhymes that the layman could not.
Today everyone wants to be a rapper, because everyone can be a rapper. The gatekeepers of good taste and talent have long ceased to be.
Typical criticisms have lampooned rap music in general, but the genre is far from entirely bankrupt. Artists like J Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Freddie Gibbs, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Jon Connor and many others continue to tradition of hip hop’s emotional and intellectual gravitas. What’s changed between now and then is that some of the most popular artists in the genre have abandoned the pursuit of art and of brilliance.
And truth be told, their supporters couldn’t care less. The more simple and free from the influence of intelligence and substance the raps are, the better.
2 Chainz is far from the only culprit, but like Bachmann and her tea party caucus he embodies the spirit, he carries the mantle.