So last week, Three Six Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" won the 2005 Oscar for Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song), and predictably, many are outraged.
Some are furious over the stereotypical images of blacks the song conveys. "It was another example of how they pick the worst aspects of black life and reward that," musician Juaquin Jessup told The Washington Post. "There are more important things in our culture that need focus more than the hardships of a pimp."
Well, yeah, but at least the protagonist of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" has a few more aspirations than Uncle Remus, the happy slave with the bluebird on his shoulder who loved to whistle "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" in the 1947 Disney flick Song of the South.
Others, presumably white others, are gnashing their teeth about the fact that the song won, just because, you know, it's a rap song about pimps. The day after Oscar night, my inbox was polluted with one of those ubiquitous, anonymous "Moral Outrage" spams, this one titled "The Wisdom of the Academy." The author griped that the Oscar for Original Song has gone to "a long list of great songs that define American music," and then smugly cut and pasted in the lyrics to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" with no further comment, as if the fact that they didn't define American music was self-explanatory.
First off, these lyrics are tame compared to most Southern rap and almost milquetoast by Three Six's lofty standards. (Sample songs off their new album include "Pussy Got Me Dizzy," "Let's Plan a Robbery" and "Half on a Sack," one of the only rap tunes I've ever heard that condones cocaine use as opposed to dealing. But hey, it's powder, not crack.) But as the title implies, this song is a burned-out pimp's lament, not a contented pimp's boast. And the movie it came from is about a guy who wants to leave pimping behind, not a guy who wants to get in the game or stay in it.
At any rate, the spam's author thoughtfully provided a list of songs that are allegedly so much superior to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" that their very names glitter in comparison. And here's where the wheels truly fly off what was a weak argument to begin with. While I'll be the first to admit that this wasn't Three Six's finest work, is it really more insipid than drecky Oscar-winning schmaltz like "You Light Up My Life," "Take My Breath Away," "Up Where We Belong," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "Say You, Say Me," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "My Heart Will Go On"?
If that list "defines American music," America is an overweight fiftysomething housewife plastered on box Chablis in her Katy tract home. And why exactly does she get to define America any more than a burned-out pimp in the North Memphis streets? -- John Nova Lomax
All hail Boogie Down Productions! Their 1987 track "The Bridge Is Over" cemented the diss record and rap feuds as legitimate branches of the art form. From 3rd Bass to Kool Moe Dee to 50 Cent, a rapper's best work as often as not comes in the form of a well-thrown bitch-slap. But nothing in the music world is sadder than a li'l artist dissing a big one just to get some attention. Cam'ron, by taking swings at hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, you have put yourself in the same camp as Benzino, Roxanne Shante, Sporty Thieves and those guys who put out the lame West Coast response to "Lazy Sunday." For shame, Cam'ron!
We know we are hereby providing you with exactly what you want: publicity you do not deserve. But the Gods of Music demand that we present you with our own diss track: It is said that your sexual stamina may not be fully adequate to satisfy your partner! You have problems digesting milk properly! You occasionally forget to apply underarm deodorant, thereby producing an unpleasant odor!
Bah, this is not our way. Let us state it plainly: You are a sniveling coattail-grabber, no more than a child rubbing his own feces into his hair so that Daddy will pay attention. Attend to the mote in your eye, and leave Jay-Z alone. Maybe he and Nas will fight again, and each song produced will bring more pleasure than your entire career. It is written. -- The Ayatollah of Rock
The Beatles, God love 'em, everyone's favorite group. That guy you know, smokes a lot of sherm, not good about paying bills on time? He loves them. That random black guy you talked to in a bar? Him too. Your parents? Them too. Your grandparents have even come around. Never in the history of the whole entire Uniworld has there ever been a band that comprised four so musically adept super-geniuses, possessed of so much soul and wit, sensitivity and creativity. Drug phase, bubblegum phase, doesn't matter. Nothing anyone will ever do in his or her musical life will even begin to approach the Beatles' stellar catalog of irreproachable perfection. But that's not all. If McCartney laid a fart in '72, chances are, it's better than you, too. Not to mention U2. No one has a bad word to say about them. That is, of course, save for me.
To be fair, a little background. I have always had a built-in hype chip. This chip makes me impervious to most things that ever reach frenzied and ballyhooed 'it' status at least for a little while. For instance: Still haven't heard Arctic Monkeys, have never watched the British version of The Office, have never read anything by Dave Eggers, and wouldn't dare put on a pair of Diesel or Seven jeans. The chip has its downfalls. I know this. It's bitten me in the ass a couple of times. I never got around to listening to Radiohead until well after Kid A was a smash, for example. I readily admit the chip probably keeps me from beautiful things.
That said, has there ever been a band with more smoke blown up its ass than the Beatles? You understand my dilemma. The chip wouldn't even let me spin a Beatles record in my youth, and now that I'm old and 30, the chip still gives me a painful jolt anytime I think of listening to the copies of Revolver and Abbey Road I finally got around to downloading off someone else's hard drive. When I do decide to ignore the chip, press on and listen anyway, I still come out the other side scratching my head a bit. What, pray tell, is all the hubbub about? 'Mr. Mean Mustard'? 'Rocky Raccoon'? Some of it even seems like an elaborate hoax.
Also, no matter how hard the chip may have tried, I've heard all these songs before. You know where? Commercials. Baseball games. Elevators. Hotel lobbies. Restaurants. Doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms. Banks. In short, the Beatles aren't the Beatles anymore. They've been co-opted.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, I have listened to the albums after smoking the right kind of weed, and no, that didn't work either. Even the sweetest hydro grown in the closet of a Colombian smack smuggler couldn't get me past the fact that I associate 'Tax Man' not with great guitar tone, clever lyrics and a head- bobbin' back beat but with H&R Block commercials (even though it may have never been used in one). 'Yellow Submarine' isn't an aloof ode to cutesy in my book; it's something I've seen a shitty cover band attempt. And attempt. And attempt.
There are some who feel that if you don't like the Beatles then you don't like music. Most reasonable people would agree that this is bullshit. Some chefs feel the same way about truffles, but if I had to guess, I'd say some pretty knowledgeable eaters still think they smell like a spent baby diaper. Who knows? Maybe one day, when I'm older and thirty-er, I'll come around. There's no denying 'Yer Blues' rips the roof off, or that, before the acid set in anyway, there's never been a slicker-lookin' outfit. The chip might soon be out of voltage. When it is, I'll finally be able to 'get' the Beatles. Oh, and to finally watch this SNL 'Chronicles of Narnia' rap everyone keeps telling me about. - Brian McManus
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