you just mad cuz your @$$ is old/first thing you do is just pick up the phone..
-Thugnificent, Flownominal and Macktastic, featuring Nate Dogg
I haven’t commented much on the Boondocks of late, but the re-run that ran on Cartoon Network this past Monday got me to thinking once again about how clever Aaron McGruder is. He might be the most effective critic we have of the constructions of “black” in America. While nothing he’s done since has made me quite as giddy as his reflections on Jar-Jar Binks, or the “What if MLK hadn’t died” episode, the “dis” rap about Grandad comes pretty close.
Let me give some quick context, just incase some of you don’t know the Boondocks. It started as (and still is) a newspaper comic strip featuring Huey Freeman (a young radical genius) his brother Riley (who longs to be a “gangsta”) and their Grandad (who at different times is actually “Grandad Freeman” and “Jebodiah Freeman,” and on one occasion “B!tches”). Grandad, in hopes of saving his two grandsons from the strain of urban life, moves them into a house in the stereotypically white suburb of Woodcrest. That’s a REALLY quick summary, but honestly, if you don’t know McGruder’s work, I’d much rather you picked up a trade paperback of his strips or checked your local listings for the cartoon on Cartoon Network– I don’t think my summation can do the comic/show justice.
In this particular episode “The Story of Thugnificent,”a rapper named Thugnificent and his crew “Lethal Interjection” move to Woodcrest, right next to the Freeman family. Thugnificent is a sterotypical “gangsta”rapper, voiced by Carl Jones and drawing visually from acts like Ludacris:
Image linked from Carl Jones' MySpace page. If you happen to see this on a back-ping,I LOVED the episode and loved your work. I hope I didn't get my read on the episode all wrong. :)
While I could go on all day about the things I find fascinating from this episode, which sends up “dis rap” and other aspects of rap culture, I want to focus here on one specific instance, the dis rap “Eff Grandad.”
In the cartoon, Thugnificent and his crew throw a party which gets too loud for Grandad’s taste, and Riley– without Grandad knowing– parks a number of the guests’ cars on the Freeman lawn (viewers find out later that Riley also gave Thugnificent a forged letter from Grandad giving him permission to throw the party). When Grandad calls the police and issues a complaint, Thugnificent and his crew write “the first ever dis rap against an old guy.”
Warning– it’s profane. But here’s a link: http://antfanfare.imeem.com/music/xpiPt8Bp/thugnificent_ft_macktasticflownominaland_nate_dogg_eff/
Grandad, not to be outdone, records his own dis response which he posts to YouTube. But the fallout of the Thugnificent track is that several older gentlemen who look roughly like Grandad are beaten all across the country, presumably due to the lyric “old folks should get their a$$ whipped for getting all crazy,” or any of a host of other taunts in the rap.
This is why I love Aaron McGruder as a social critic:
1. The song is actually good (I’m not as good as I once was with rap, but I can identify Snoop Dogg on the track, and I think one of the others is Xzibit who appears elsewhere in the episide as himself)
2. The fact that it “features” Nate Dogg skewers one aspect of the rap scene, making it highly ironic
3. It functions just like a “real” dis rap (this gets back to point #1). It’s not like someone tried to make a clearly insane example of dis rapping gone too far; it is over-the-top (particularly some aspects of the video) but it’s not surreal
4. It provides a worst-case of one of the greatest criticisms of rap music: as a result of the song, many fans of Lethal Interjection attack old men.
5. True to the idea of being a “comic” and a “cartoon,” it’s pretty funny (if one can step away from academia and take it as funny, anyway)
What does this tell us, then? Part of the reason that I wanted to write this reflection today, in this set of responses, is that I just posted about people writing about who and what they are. I feel a little exposed writing about African American culture, which in a way feels bizarre to me because I grew up in a “black” neighborhood and have been referred to the same way Grandad is here by my African American friends. But I’m NOT African American. As such, is my commentary here valid? Is it okay? Am I out of bounds? I’d like to think I can research and comment on this, just like I researched Baraka and Hughes as an undergrad or MLK and Malcolm X.
But more importantly… Aaron McGruder IS African American. And because of that, and because the Boondocks is well received and beloved by the same community he’s socially commenting on (famous rappers are in the episode), the message changes. I think this is both obvious and critically important to think about. I also love Seth McFarland. I adore Family Guy and always will. But if Peter Griffin and Cleveland Brown had written a dis rap about Quagmire, it wouldn’t carry the same impact that this piece does.
After the episode I found myself laughing at the idea that a rapper would ever record a studio track dissing his neighbor over a noise citation, or that the resulting rap would result in grandfathers across the country being attacked. It seems… less than likely. And that, I think, was McGruder’s whole point. Some of these things sound savage in rap (and are probably shameful on some level), but at the same time the thought that someone would carry out some of the outlandish narratives in these songs is a touch off-center in its own right.
I also found myself roaming around my apartment singing the rap, and giggling as I remembered the numerous ways Riley assured Thugnificent he wasn’t trying to “ride” him.
If entertainment can amuse and inform… and critique… it’s doing something special.
Honestly, this whole post is sort of a long version of me saying “please, everyone, watch The Boondocks. It’s the best cartoon I’ve ever seen.”