Number One Song After Number One Song
August 30, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

 
The lead singer doesn't sound very sincere or passionate. It sounds forced. (I like the arrangement, though!)
posted by LSK at 8:48 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


previously
posted by Blasdelb at 8:50 PM on August 30, 2010


I thought she sang it exactly like Maeby Fünke.
posted by hermitosis at 8:51 PM on August 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


though this is awesome
posted by Blasdelb at 8:51 PM on August 30, 2010


This has been done before, I think.
posted by empath at 8:51 PM on August 30, 2010


As someone who actually cares about college a cappella, just doing a thing that Ben Folds did really shouldn't cut it, no matter how many tennis skirts you can scare together.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:52 PM on August 30, 2010 [17 favorites]


A cappella is music from the alternate world where the crowd stopped clapping for Tinkerbell.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:52 PM on August 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


But... but... but...

they themselves are women, and "bitch" is a derogatory term for a woman. Why would they...

IT.
JUST.
DOESN'T.
MAKE.
SENSE.

Unless... they were doing it for sheer novelty and attention-grabbing. But no, no group of serious musicians would do that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:56 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh I think I get it, it's supposed to be ironic, right?

I don't think my eyes could roll any farther back into my head.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:02 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


As someone who is a woman, I think this does a whole other thing than whatever Ben Folds was doing by covering this song. And the tennis skirts are awesome.
posted by sweetkid at 9:02 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whatsfunny is... I'll just stop right here.

Though I will note that combined there's probably a half a million dollars a year in tuition money crooning up there and that has a pretty sweet frisson<>.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:02 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't get it. A cappella music never fails to make me cry! My brain and my tear ducts are not communicating here.
posted by YouDontSmellBad at 9:04 PM on August 30, 2010


I believe the arrangement is based on the Ben Folds arrangement.
posted by mhum at 9:11 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Never heard that song before but it was the music equivalent of tentacle rape anime. Here's hoping I never hear it again.
posted by dobbs at 9:11 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


If they want to do something unusual instead of recovering the same, tired ground they should cover something by Freddie "Pussyhole" Gibbs.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:20 PM on August 30, 2010


I made it 45 seconds.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:25 PM on August 30, 2010


It is based on Folds' version, but it is vastly superior to it, I should say.
posted by koeselitz at 9:27 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone who actually cares about college a cappella ...

Haha, hilarious. Oh wait, whut?

t doing a thing that Ben Folds did really shouldn't cut it, no matter how many tennis skirts you can scare together.

Hey, whiteboy, this is not a Ben Folds song. MINDBLOWN.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:27 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am sorry, that was harsh: what I meant to say was please tell these young women how they should interpret and/or appropriate this particular track. Thanks, The Man. You know, since a white dude beat them to the punch and all.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:29 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tennis skirts?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:29 PM on August 30, 2010


As someone who is a woman, I think this does a whole other thing than whatever Ben Folds was doing by covering this song. And the tennis skirts are awesome.

Exactly. Like when Tori Amos covered Eminem.*

*WARNING: Student film music video. But you can just listen to the music.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:30 PM on August 30, 2010


Meanwhile, I am unable to find any college a capella groups doing versions of "Straight Outta Compton" despite the existence of the Nina Gordon version.
posted by mhum at 9:36 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Aww man. I just remembered that The Chronic came out in 1992, the same year that many current college freshman were born. Straight Outta Compton came out in 1988, the same year that many current college seniors were born. Goddammit. If you'll excuse me, I'll be going gentle into that good night.
posted by mhum at 9:44 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


This has to be encouraged. "The ability to laugh at yourself" isn't exactly the term I'm looking for, but it's close. This is a much better way to stop the impact of harmful words rather than the bullshit PC prohibition method "harmful words are banned!"

I couldn't believe the self depreciating filth that was coming out of these ladies' mouths!

I'd love to see a police a capella group cover Fuck Tha Police.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:49 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


No discussion of college a cappella groups covering Ben Folds is complete without a link to the Sacramento State Jazz Singers' arrangement of Selfless, Cold and Composed.
posted by emelenjr at 9:49 PM on August 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


I just learnt a new acronym: SPEBSQSA
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:55 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:02 PM on August 30, 2010


Emelenjr - that's wild.
posted by MattD at 10:08 PM on August 30, 2010


l33tpolicywonk: “As someone who actually cares about college a cappella, just doing a thing that Ben Folds did really shouldn't cut it, no matter how many tennis skirts you can scare together.”

Normally I'd agree. Hell, I'd do you one better, and say that anybody who does anything Ben Folds does shouldn't get to lay any claim to having taste. But I like this, and I'll try to say why.

I didn't used to mind Ben Folds. He's not a bad dude, and I think he can write a good pop song every now and again. But when he covered "Bitches Ain't Shit," it was an affront to his humanity and the humanity of everybody that listened to it. Sincerely, that cover was one of the most offensive things I'd heard in decades, and when I first heard it on a friend of mine's mix CD, I pushed eject on his car stereo and threw the disk out the window it was so bad. It's just completely hideous for Ben Folds to cover that song.

Why? Because he's taking the one shred of legitimacy the song has – its honesty, its context – and tearing it off. I don't always love Dre, but I respect the guy deeply; he's always had a sacred mission to speak the truth, to be honest, and to honestly portray his life and the lives of many young black men. I don't forgive him this song, and if I ever meet him I'll have a few words for him about it; but at least I can begin to understand it. He was expressing bitterness, expressing his frustration at betrayal. That expression was utterly unconscionable, but at least it was honest.

Ben Folds isn't being honest at all. The moment his cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit" comes on, you know there are precisely two possible reasons why he would ever cover this song:

1. because he thinks it's really true – that it's just a rough way of saying that women are really, really harsh, and gosh, isn't Dre right? or

2. because he thinks its hilarious how earnest and 'hard' these silly black rappers are, and isn't it just the funniest thing when a white dude sings that stuff and plays the piano?

Neither of those are great possibilities. But as far as I can tell, they're the only reasons why he'd cover this song. Either it's a sexist cover, or it's a racist cover. Or, more likely, he did it to make money; in which case it's both for the price of one, he just doesn't care which.

Women singing it recaptures the song, and reclaims it. They really enjoy it, and they get into it; that's why I loved this so much when somebody posted it to my Facebook feed yesterday. Jewell tried to do this to some extent, I think – she's the woman who sings at the end on the original recording of this song – but broadening it, making it their own. I like that, because it starts to go a ways to taking away the sting of the tune. And I have a feeling even Dr Dre would get it, and smile a bit, if he saw this; I think he'd start to understand (if he doesn't already) that women deserve to have a voice on this, too, and that they can do so with some humor.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 PM on August 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


Hey, whiteboy, this is not a Ben Folds song. MINDBLOWN.

Yes, but they are using his arrangement.
posted by empath at 10:09 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "l33tpolicywonk: “As someone who actually cares about college a cappella, just doing a thing that Ben Folds did really shouldn't cut it, no matter how many tennis skirts you can scare together.”
there are precisely two possible reasons why he would ever cover this song:"


Or maybe he just liked the song? My crystal ball is broken, so I can't read his mind. Can I borrow yours?
posted by ShawnStruck at 10:22 PM on August 30, 2010


This makes me incredibly uncomfortable, deeply, deeply so. I can't quite exactly tell you why. The DeCadence version is merely blah to me, another example of college students being college students, but the Bacchantae take hits me like something out of a David Lynch movie. It's some combination of those women looking like children to me, and how a bunch of incredibly privileged youth taking lyrics that came out of a social environment of total deprivation and turning it into some kind of joke, a joke that I don't really get, honestly. It's all just so damn incongruous that I don't know which way to turn.

So I deal by turning it into a joke I get (partial credit and no blame to The Whelk).
posted by Kattullus at 10:28 PM on August 30, 2010 [24 favorites]


ShawnStruck: “Or maybe he just liked the song? My crystal ball is broken, so I can't read his mind. Can I borrow yours?”

Then you've got the same problem. Liked it why? Because he liked the sexism? That's the trouble – that's really all there is to the song. Sexism. So what is there to like? It wasn't the melody – he made up a new melody himself. So what could he 'like' about the song?

I don't think there's a good answer to this question. Honestly, I've tried, and I'm open to hearing one; but I don't think there's a good reason why somebody could like "Bitches Ain't Shit."
posted by koeselitz at 10:38 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I deal by turning it into a joke I get

This made my night.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Then you've got the same problem. Liked it why? Because he liked the sexism? That's the trouble – that's really all there is to the song. Sexism. So what is there to like? It wasn't the melody – he made up a new melody himself. So what could he 'like' about the song?

I don't think there's a good answer to this question. Honestly, I've tried, and I'm open to hearing one; but I don't think there's a good reason why somebody could like "Bitches Ain't Shit."


Well, here's one possible theory: by removing the veneer of credibility that Dre's version has, Ben Folds exposes the song for the ludicrous, sexist song that it is -- nothing more, nothing less. Consider the Alanis Morrisette cover of "My Humps" for another example of this approach. In the originals, you can make it through the whole song, and even sing along, without the core underlying message of the lyrics penetrating your brain. Take away the original artists, the strong beats and the hooky melodies, and all you have is the lyrics, laid bare and delivered with utmost sincerity -- forcing you to actually listen to the words and confront the utter vapidity of the lyrics at the heart of the songs.

Am I saying that's what he did? I'm just saying it's a possibility, and one that's more charitable than the possibilities you note.
posted by davejay at 10:46 PM on August 30, 2010 [29 favorites]


Also.

I am so, so sorry
posted by Kattullus at 10:54 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Another possibility, since I'm feeling charitable: both of the songs I note place the lyrics in the context of a heavily orchestrated, melodic and slow arrangement compared to the original. The disconnect is funny, on its own (and to be fair, that's probably the real reason these covers were done), but look past that: suppose that both of these musicians -- being musicians, and doing what musicians do -- recognized something inside these songs, in the structure, that suggested the lyrics could withstand more depth in the arrangement. In that way, you can consider it a sign of respect to the original artist.

So, um, there's two. Going to bed now.
posted by davejay at 10:57 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Um, what else do they do?

I liked it.
posted by captainsohler at 11:01 PM on August 30, 2010


This makes me incredibly uncomfortable, deeply, deeply so

Maybe that's the point?
posted by schwa at 11:05 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Kattullus: "It's some combination of those women looking like children to me, and how a bunch of incredibly privileged youth taking lyrics that came out of a social environment of total deprivation and turning it into some kind of joke, a joke that I don't really get, honestly."

I get the joke, and I think you get the joke too. But it's a bitter joke.

As koeselitz said above, you can't separate the sexism from the song. Because the whole song is sexism. So these women are responding simply by laying bare the song's ridiculous sexism. They're saying, "You want a fight, well here's your fucking fight." And they're even coming to the fight wearing the cartoon uniforms of the worst stereotypes of their race. Like I said, it's a bitter joke, and it's a joke that's been built up over generations of sexism being defended as "cultural."

And if there must be sides, I am on Bacchantae's side. When white people singing "Bitches Ain't Shit" is cultural theft, then maybe there wasn't anything to steal there in the first place. Calling that song representative of black experience is even more racist than the song is sexist.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:14 PM on August 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


It freaked me out too. I wanted to like it. But they didn't quite play it brave-but-vulnerable and they didn't quite play it empowered and tough. I alternately felt protective of their innocence and angry at their dancing to sexism. I think either done full-tilt would have created a clearer relationship between themselves and the music (are they standing up to it? are they ironically stepping into it?) and made it more enjoyable for me.
posted by salvia at 11:15 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is non-racist humor and interest to be found in a melodic presentation of such a harsh lyric. Certainly the juxtaposition of such lyrics with the standard singer songwriter persona and contrast with that persona's standard lyrics towards women is a large portion of the point. I understand you have a visceral negative reaction to the appropriation (and I understand that appropriation has something very dangerous possibilities) but I don't think your sexist option makes any sense at all. Ben Folds is certainly not the first or last to do this. This Anya Marina cover of T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" is interesting. Dynamite Hack's cover of "Boyz in the Hood" was very popular in 2000, and is similarly problematic (it came out on a rock tribute album to rap) but again the highlighted part is how not hard the people who are performing are. Anyone have any cites of how the original rappers feel about these covers?
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:29 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can I add another possibilty to davejay's collection.

Uncle Tom - or rather the female specific version of that theory. I'm not aware if such a term exists, but I've met plenty of women who do it. Often it's just an act.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:37 PM on August 30, 2010


Then you've got the same problem. Liked it why? Because he liked the sexism? That's the trouble – that's really all there is to the song. Sexism. So what is there to like? It wasn't the melody – he made up a new melody himself. So what could he 'like' about the song?

Ben Folds likes to turn silly shit into music, and turning something ugly into something pretty is funny.

I've seen him in concert twice, and he always improvs random stuff that people yell out into songs.
posted by empath at 11:45 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


haveanicesummer: " Anyone have any cites of how the original rappers feel about these covers?"

A video of Snoop listening and singing along to a cover og Gin n Juice done by The Gourds.
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:49 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Ben Folds version wraps the ludicrously gangsta "be as offensive as we possibly can" lyrics in a ludicrously WASPy "be as inoffensive as we possibly can" easy-listening arrangement—in other words, an example of the "cover a song in a radically different musical style" trope, which has been around forever but which had a burst of popularity in the late-'90s. Other examples include Folds' similar cover of Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly", Lawrence Welk's naïvely-covered "One Toke Over the Line", Pat Boone's In A Metal Mood, DEVO's E-Z Listening tapes & CD, Wall of Voodoo's versions of "Ring of Fire" and (The Beach Boys') "Do It Again", Falco's version of (Steely Dan's) "Do It Again", Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz", Klaus Nomi's "The Twist" and "Lightnin' Strikes", and the entire musical careers of Big Daddy, Dread Zeppelin and William Shatner.

It's not a takedown of Dre or a signal of support for the original's misogyny. It's just a funny cover version.
posted by Lazlo at 11:53 PM on August 30, 2010 [16 favorites]


No discussion of college a cappella groups covering Ben Folds is complete without a link to the Sacramento State Jazz Singers' arrangement of Selfless, Cold and Composed.

I'll see your Sac State and raise you the U of Chicago covering "Magic"
posted by chrisamiller at 12:13 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


roll truck roll: I get the joke, and I think you get the joke too. But it's a bitter joke.

No, I don't, that's why I said I didn't. Part of it is that college a capella is one of those American cultural things that I just don't understand. It's a milieu that's opaque to me. I have no context for this video. All I see is a bunch of young women dressed in preppy clothing singing an incredibly sexist song completely straight-faced. I can't read what's going on at all (though that may partly be down to the low video quality).

As koeselitz said above, you can't separate the sexism from the song. Because the whole song is sexism. So these women are responding simply by laying bare the song's ridiculous sexism. They're saying, "You want a fight, well here's your fucking fight." And they're even coming to the fight wearing the cartoon uniforms of the worst stereotypes of their race. Like I said, it's a bitter joke, and it's a joke that's been built up over generations of sexism being defended as "cultural."

The thing is, I'm not sure where the fight is. The take reads completely straight to me. I understand that it is ironic, but the irony doesn't resolve for me into anything funny, it just makes me really, really uncomfortable. I don't see the fierceness, just the sexism. Again, that may be a function of my illiteracy when it comes to the tropes of college a capella.

And if there must be sides, I am on Bacchantae's side. When white people singing "Bitches Ain't Shit" is cultural theft, then maybe there wasn't anything to steal there in the first place. Calling that song representative of black experience is even more racist than the song is sexist.

What I meant by "incredibly privileged youth taking lyrics that came out of a social environment of total deprivation" wasn't that it was white kids appropriating black culture but that it was the wealthy taking a bit of working class culture and holding it up and shoving it forward. I feel like I'm looking at a grainy picture with a circle drawn around a tiny speck, I understand that something is being shown to me, but I can't figure out what it is. I didn't say that "Bitches Ain't Shit" was "representative of black experience," merely that it's a cultural artifact that came out of a particular social environment (the working class, African-American culture of early 90s Los Angeles). It's a product of its time, but that doesn't mean that it represents its time and place.
posted by Kattullus at 12:13 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Overthinking a plate of BITCHES AINT SHIT.
posted by iamck at 12:22 AM on August 31, 2010 [12 favorites]


Man, this reminds me of that one time I songsmithed Bitches Ain't Shit. As I can't sing terribly well, and SongSmith is, well, SongSmith... it's... interesting...
posted by disillusioned at 12:43 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I actually went to look up the lyrics to the song. It had this line:
I once had a bitch named Mandy May
Used to be up in them guts like everyday
"Up in your guts" is about the grossest description of sex I can imagine. A couple of years ago I saw a cheesy "fake reality show" style sitcom (Ala the office/Reno 911) with Zack Galifianakis. His character was writing a love song and he through that line in there. I thought the line was hilarious. But I had no idea that that wasn't something he just made up for the show.

It's undoubtedly a terrible song, but I think you people are way over thinking it. I doubt anyone is going to hear the ben folds cover and think "LOL, bitches really aren't shit"
posted by delmoi at 1:07 AM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The female choir at my high school covered beastie boys "girls" and nine inch nails "big man with a gun."
posted by beardlace at 1:09 AM on August 31, 2010


I'm with Lazlo... I don't mean to say it's not interesting to discuss the potential racist or sexist implications of covering a song like this, or we shouldn't wonder if maybe in some way it's not funny, but: it's commonplace to cover a song by making it as absurd as possible, and often enough that's all there is to it. People will convert rock or metal songs to ballads, or convert a ballad to reggae, or emo to rap, rap to country or vice versa, etc, merely because the genre is ill-suited and they just want to see if they can do it. So upthread it struck me as a bit odd to say that, for example, Ben Folds's only reasons for covering it must either be that he agrees with the sexism or else he's racist and wants to make fun of a black guy's honest expression. I would bet money that all that Ben Folds thought was, "Wow, I'm the whitest white that ever whited, it would be ridiculous and perhaps funny for me to cover a rap song... the more vulgar and misogynistic the better." Then he rifled around a bit and felt like he could do something with "Bitches Ain't Shit."

I dunno. Maybe I'm projecting. I'm a white girl that likes covering the same sort of thing, and when I do it for my friends I simultaneously disagree with a ton of the ideas expressed, genuinely like rap anyway and have some real sympathy for how those mindsets come about, and know people crack up to hear a white girl rapping, especially if it's actually good. For a long time now I've wanted to do a choral arrangement of "Smell Yo Dick" just because it's absurd and vaguely blasphemous to put that kind of song in that format.

"lol black ppl" doesn't enter into it, and if the song is ridiculous it's not ridiculous for racial reasons. I defy anyone of any race to write a good song about smelling someone's dick, for example. The concept just has an inherent WTF quality to it, and that quality remains no matter who it comes from -- the humor can morph slightly depending on the source, though, and that's partly why people cover things like that. Race doesn't have anything to do with the original idea being prone to parody, or at least not inherently.

I agree with the person upthread who said in a way it's more racist to say that "Bitches Ain't Shit" is some fundamental black male experience and thus to find aspects of it ridiculous is somehow racist; it's certainly not the experience of tons of black men, and it would not be difficult to find a black guy who laughs at how brash the lyrics are -- I can think of a couple off the top of my head who do know the song and laugh incredulously at it. I will concede that some people hear "Bitches Ain't Shit" and, because they are racist, do think "lol black ppl" because I've known people like that too. But what's ridiculous to non-racist people is the misogyny and over-the-top vulgarity, and misogyny doesn't become acceptable or any less ridiculous just because it's culturally ingrained in some places. For the record, I do appreciate the honesty of the original song in the same way I appreciate any expression of true feelings in art, and it helps to understand it -- but that doesn't make the sentiment immune to scrutiny. I can reflect on how complex the roots of misogyny are in Dre's particular corner of rap culture; I can appreciate how women aren't the only victims and the men involved aren't even conscious of a lot of the things they're perpetrating; I can feel no real animosity toward Dre, just like I tend not to feel animosity toward most people since we're all a product of how we're raised. But past that, the misogyny is still what it is, and there's often an urge to laugh at something that strikes us as over-the-top irrational. If a white guy wrote a song in which he used a ton of vulgarity to describe the dismissive and scornful way he uses women, then described how upset he was to be cheated on, it would be just as ridiculous and people would cover it in absurd ways, too. There's probably already an example of this out there.

I think it's helpful to have a discussion about whether it's something that shouldn't be done for privilege reasons, but I think it's silly to ask things like "what were they trying to accomplish" or to imply covers like this are motivated by racism or to question whether they were empowered enough when it was in all likelihood something absurd they did for fun not a big serious social statement. I like over-thinking things as much as the next MeFite, and even some of the comments in that vein in this thread have been interesting, but... come on. And for that matter, it strikes me as similarly ridiculous to say they should have been more original and not done the Ben Folds version. It was for fun. They probably didn't want to spend a ton of time writing an original score, they just wanted to sing a cover they'd heard and it was already going to take some time to throw together an arrangement. Who cares that it wasn't the most original thing they could have done? If you're bored, "lets throw on some tennis skirts and sing the Ben Folds version of 'Bitches Ain't Shit'" is something you can do pretty fast. Maybe recording something still has the lingering connotation of seriousness to some people, but you can record anything easily nowadays. If you want to do something spontaneous and silly with your friends, it's about one minute's extra work to record it and put it on YouTube -- and now that it's that easy, well, why wouldn't you want to record that sort of thing? How many personal things like that have you wished you had on camera in the past?

I don't even want to get into the comments that are, essentially, about production value -- recording quality, costumes, whatever. I get that we're all spoiled but I'd like to think we could appreciate small creative acts for what they are instead of deriding them for not being Serious Business. I hope that when you get an urge to sing or act with your friends that you don't freeze up for fear of its not being perfect -- but I also know (and have seen in myself) that nowadays that's actually rather common, and kind of sad. It shouldn't be a big deal to sing a song when you feel like it, or to put together a quick amateur video with your friends. Lately, though, it seems like people think they can't be creative unless they're absolute masters, and they shouldn't show anything to anyone before that point. I've purposely quit picking amateur things apart so much just because that's not the kind of world I want to live in; I hope others reconsider that sort of thing too. It may save us some minutes of watching underwhelming videos, but ultimately it discourages people from being creative because they don't think they can put in enough time to be amazing at it. Deep down they might not want to be amazing; they just enjoy being creative, but they keep getting told that skill is the only point. That leads to a lot of unhappy people.

For the record, I liked this cover. I also liked the Ben Folds cover long before I heard this one, and The Gourds cover of "Gin and Juice."
posted by Nattie at 2:05 AM on August 31, 2010 [13 favorites]


Those girls with the tennis rackets kill me. They just kill me!
posted by Hollow at 2:39 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I defy anyone of any race to write a good song about smelling someone's dick, for example.

But I love me some Riskay.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:27 AM on August 31, 2010


These bitches own this song now.
posted by telstar at 4:28 AM on August 31, 2010


Creep by Scala and the Kolacny Brothers.

(Just posting because it's female a cappella and I like the cover.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:39 AM on August 31, 2010




koeselitz: My read on Ben Folds's cover was always that he was partly mocking himself -- the words that Dre and Snoop Dogg can sell with their personas and gangsta delivery sound ludicrous when delivered by a sensitive nerdy white man-child. And partly I think the point was also what others have said, to expose, by forcing you to hear it, just how absurd the words are in the first place.

I guess I can see your two alternate reads, but to say those are the only two possibilities (either it's racist or it's sexist) seems almost willfully uncharitable to Folds.
posted by rusty at 5:07 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder why everyone always thinks Ben Folds was being ironic when he sang it, but takes Dre at face value.

Also, I think "up in her guts" is delightfully anglo-saxon and wouldn't be out of place in beowulf. (Not that I'd use it myself).
posted by empath at 5:15 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


That one girl can beatbox, though.
posted by oneironaut at 5:33 AM on August 31, 2010


As a white person who belongs to an all-white tennis club and smokes cigars at an all-male lounge, I am offended that these hippie college lesbos would appropriate our dress style (in a completely phony way) and then steal a white cover of a black song (which clearly belongs to US.)

Also that cover of Creep by Scala and Kolackny is used in the trailer for the new Facebook movie. Glad I could ruin it for you.
posted by fungible at 5:37 AM on August 31, 2010


Looking at the Sac State link, I found a video of Corey Vidal singing a multitracked a cappella medley of John Williams songs narrating Star Wars but not actually using any music from Star Wars, which led me to this mefi thread and to this medley of Lady Gaga (whose music I can't stand, but I found this performance very engaging and entertaining).

Oh the Barnard/Columbia thing? Yeah, ok - one joke. Irony should only last so long. But hey, thanks for leading me to Corey Vidal!
posted by plinth at 5:43 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


When Folds did it I appreciated the irony. A lot. But then I love irony like I love strangling puppies.

This version seems... not to add anything to the irony level. In fact, it seems to kinda miss the point. Or maybe I do. One can never quite be certain. Which, of course, is one of the most enjoyable facets of irony.
posted by Decani at 5:45 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Things like this clearly mark the dividing line between Things I Get and Things Everyone Else Gets.
posted by tommasz at 5:47 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm deeply "meh" on college a cappella -- it's this weird tradition I never connected with in college and find even odder now. But I'm all for people reclaiming noxious words and phrases, whether they do it seriously or with a wink and a nod. (At the risk of dating myself, I can vividly remember the arguments about the word "queer" in the name Queer Nation, for example.) So I think cute college girls in tiny skirts singing a song with sexist lyrics is great, even if the joke has so much recursivity that I'm not sure who is being laughed at or by whom.

And you can also put me in the pro camp on "up in her guts." You have to admit there's something pretty weird about penetrative sex. One person has part of their body inside another person. I don't know if you've ever seen how the organs and muscles fit together in there, but there's no empty space -- when you add something new (big dinner, penis, alien baby, etc) things expand and rearrange. We go through our lives giving great respect to other people's personal space (to the point of tens or hundreds of posts arguing about queue order and bags on subway seats) and yet with penetrative sex all of a sudden the bag isn't on the seat anymore.

And yet, the polite language of sex hides that fundamental intrusiveness and weirdness. "Making love"? Puh-leeze. Whereas colloquialisms like "nailing" and "rooting" and "up in her guts" lack all kinds of sweetness, but do reflect what is actually, physically happening, and the uniqueness of that moment. Every so often I encounter a writer who tries to create a female-centered version of that kind of language (eg "enveloping"), but that attempt is often more noticeable for its failures than for its power.
posted by Forktine at 5:58 AM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


If there is any musical genre more unappealing than privileged youth singing rap a cappella, I have yet to discover it. The only thing that comes to mind would be if the Bacchantae were to sing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" or "Strange Fruit" in their little tennis skirts.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:07 AM on August 31, 2010


A cappella musicians can do hip hop really well. A cappella musicians can do parody music really well. A cappella musicians can do original arrangements of songs really well.

But an a cappella group doing a hip hop arrangement written by someone else as parody? That's not new, or particularly genuine. That's a trope, which plays off privilege.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:21 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


If a white guy wrote a song in which he used a ton of vulgarity to describe the dismissive and scornful way he uses women, then described how upset he was to be cheated on, it would be just as ridiculous and people would cover it in absurd ways, too. There's probably already an example of this out there.

Isn't that pretty much Eminem's shtick? The guy does have a genius way of putting together words but basically he's a really good imitator of a certain "urban" and "ethnic" vernacular who's managed to mark off his own lucrative corner of a genre started and still largely dominated by Black males. I don't find these coeds any more ironic than him and I don't consider it "cultural theft".

Howver, I couldn't listen to whole thing...is any variation of the "n-word" used in the lyrics? Because if so, then it's on.

up in her guts

Oh, please, isn't that phrase just a thinly veiled reference to the particular stereotype about penis size? Guts are many feet in length, so it would take something rather long to get "up in" them. I'm falling on the "gross" side; it's almost like comparing having sex to having a colonoscopy.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:32 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoah, whoah, whoah.

Falco's covered Steely Dan?? This I have to hear.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:39 AM on August 31, 2010


Then you've got the same problem. Liked it why? Because he liked the sexism? That's the trouble – that's really all there is to the song. Sexism.

The chorus is obviously sexist, but really there is more to the song than sexism. Dre's verse is not even about women, it's about Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, and it uses female sexual imagery as a homophobic way to diss his former friend. If you know the whole story around the feud and Eazy-E's death, there is a lot of anger and sadness in that verse. And Snoop's verse is more about betrayal and violence than sexism, he is in love with a girl (which totally goes against the sentiment expressed in the chorus), she cheats on him with his cousin while he's in jail, and he freaks out. I don't know Ben Fold's intentions in covering it, but if he just wanted to do a song about sexism he could have just chosen The Thong Song or something.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:55 AM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm deeply "meh" on college a cappella -- it's this weird tradition I never connected with in college and find even odder now.

I might be in front of you in that line, Forktine.
College a cappella gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies - even when I've been exposed to it under optimum conditions (a "free" posh banquet in NY city and an a cappella serenade from beautiful male students carrying candles). Every time, it makes me want to expire with furious embarrassment.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:57 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


The guy does have a genius way of putting together words but basically he's a really good imitator of a certain "urban" and "ethnic" vernacular who's managed to mark off his own lucrative corner of a genre started and still largely dominated by Black males.

Um, you do realize that he was born poor as dirt and lived much of his youth in shitty urban areas in and around Detroit, right? I mean, yes, hip hop is still primarily performed by black males (although probably purchased more by white males), but it's not like Eminem is some privileged "Malibu's Most Wanted" poser. Not saying anything about his music (which I happen to like, despite its misogyny), but the guy isn't really an "imitator."
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:13 AM on August 31, 2010


burnmp3s: “The chorus is obviously sexist, but really there is more to the song than sexism... I don't know Ben Fold's intentions in covering it, but if he just wanted to do a song about sexism he could have just chosen The Thong Song or something.”

I have to say, regardless of how I feel about Ben (and I really don't dislike him that much, he's an interesting guy and a good songwriter) and his covering that tune, the a capella version revealed something interesting about his melody; I think it's really, really effective at capturing the heart of the song. It's tragic, painfully sad. The melody Ben Folds added to it really fits. That's interesting, anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 7:19 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Some reference points:

Columbia/Barnard rendition

The UC Berkeley rendition

Ben Folds "original" cover from 2005

Dr. Dre's 1992 original from "The Chronic"

I get that the "original" Ben Folds cover is supposed to be ironic, and it certainly isn't the first time a soft-spoken white singer ironically covered gansta rap. But that mode--the ironic appropriation/capture of hardcore and black music by upper middle class whites--is at this point totally exhausted. You merely need to suggest the ironic combination to elicit the effect.

But it is important to understand the war-crime level cultural atrocity being perpetrated here.

Look at those videos carefully. Everyone in the Ben Folds audience is white. And there are no black members of either the Columbia group or in the UC Berkely group. Furthermore, they aren't covering Dr. Dre, they are covering Ben Folds. They aren't re-arranging the original, or even re-arranging a different original. It's a copy of a copy, and each copy is lossy.

First, I don't think people realize that in the first verse, The verse beginning "I used to know a bitch named Eric Wright"--the bitch being discussed is actually a man, specifically Easy E, who sold out NWA and drove everyone to Death Row. The things that "she does n that verse, are things that Easy E did. So the song is sexist insofar as it uses the female pronoun in a derogatory way, but it is not sexist in that it expresses hostility towards women, because, in that verse, there is no woman being discussed.

In this context, the song makes no sense as a cover, because that first verse is about a very personal beef Dre had with Easy E in real life, and it makes no sense for anyone else to sing it (unless they change the reference to "Eric Wright" to someone in their own life, but then it wouldn't be ironic, it would be hostile).

Furthermore, when rap songs are performed live, it's customary to skip the verses sung by the other people on the track who aren't there. For example, when Ice Cube performs "Straight Outta Compton" live on his solo tours, the song ends after his first verse (which happens to be first). No one covers Easy E's, Dre's or MC Ren's respective lines. Likewise, when Dre and Snoop perform "California Love" on tour, the song stops at the second verse, which was sung by Tupac.

In hip hop, the music is sampled and the words are spoken (not sung), so the only original content is the lyrics, and as such, they are extremely protected. The tradition in hip hop is that you don't cover someone else's lyrics unless you change them. (See The Game's cover of "Straight Outta Compton.") This is not specific to rap either. In rock, it's bad form to cover a song by performing the guitar solos identically, note-for-note. Doing that makes it a rip-off, not a cover.

This gets me to the next point. Dr. Dre pioneered the minimal use of sampled content in rap songs to just a particular bass riff or piano line, rather than the excessively heavy overlapping of beats, lines and lines in earlier hip hop. Compare something like "Fear of a Black Planet" to "The Chronic". The former sounds like a collision of two record stores. The list of sampled sources in early rap is like a bibliography of 70's R&B and soul.

By contrast, Dre uses only one or two samples that he knows would be very well known to a black audience (especially a West Coast audience), such as Parliament-Funkadelic, Issac Hayes, etc. So in a very important way, he's tapping the history of black pop music and placing himself within it. This is extremely common in music. Van Halen's first few albums were heavy with covers of the Kinks and Roy Orbison. Metallica's "Mater of Puppets" includes covers of Diamond Head and Blitzkrieg. You acknowledge the music that came before by playing it how you (and your generation) would rather hear it, and in doing so, you aren't displacing it or rejecting it, but actually preserving it.

The use of the sample in hip hop effectively says "We all know this music, but here's the context in which we listen to it today" (the context of "The Chronic" is the life of a teenager in South Central LA at the height of the 80's drug wars, navigating hustlers, cops, gangs, teen pregnancy, etc.) But the important thing about a hip hop record is really about you listening to the rapper listen to the record from which the sample was taken.

But these covers not only don't acknowledge the sampled sources Dre chose or their importance to the song, they completely obliterate them. The covers erase the historical context of black music from the song. Ben Folds actually substitutes his own distinctly "white" arrangement on top of it. He is saying in his arrangement, "I'm taking this song and I'm going to make it indisputably white, and in doing so, it will be funny."

What you get is an ironic rendition for sure, but one that is also mocking and dismissive. "Aren't these lyrics so stupid?" Yes, arranged as a piano ballad by a white guy and performed in front of an almost entirely white-from-suburbia college audience, they are stupid. But sung by a guy (Dr. Dre) who has lived to see his two brothers and countless friends killed? Maybe not quite as silly.

I'm not holding up the song as some great high point in the history of music. And I understand that gansta rap popularity was due in large measure to suburban white kids. But that wasn't an accident. Dre deliberately marketed it there. He made every effort to make sure that white suburban kids heard it. But he was selling it to them as music of authentic rebellion there. Dre knew enough about music consumers to know that whites wanted something authentic, and that they believed authentic meant lower middle class and it often also meant black.

It was also the first rap music that was not deliberately silly (Beastie Boys, Digital Underground, etc.), not exclusively political or overtly racial (Public Enemy, KRS-One, etc), or juvenile (LL Cool J, the Fresh Prince, Biz Markie, etc).

Gangsta rap was basically the story of the 1980's war on drugs told from the standpoint of the war's enemies "enemies" and the victims of the war's collateral damage. For a suburban white kid, it was as "other" as you could get at the time, and considering it lauded black drug dealers shooting cops, it was also as anti-establishment as you could get.

And it was the outcry against gansta rap that created the other kind of rap that dominates today, the rap song as the consumer anthem. Corporate America took over rap and repackaged it, and what we got was the NYC rap of the late 90's from Puff Daddy and Jay-Z. I'm not criticizing whether these rappers or their songs are "good" or not, just making an observation about what they are. These songs are almost all about materialism, consumerism, etc. Money as the end, not the means to an end. Not about getting out of the ghetto, but about the consumerist dream of being rich.

Consider Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize":

"I put hoes in NY onto DKNY (uh-huh)
Miami, D.C. prefer Versace (that's right)
All Philly hoes, dough and Moschino (c'mon)
Every cutie wit a booty bought a Coogi (haaaaah!)"

or Puff Daddy's "All About the Benjamins":

"Wanna be ballers? Shot-callers?
Brawlers -- who be dippin in the Benz wit the spoilers
On the low from the Jake in the Taurus
Tryin to get my hands on some Grants like Horace
Yeah livin the raw deal, three course meals
Spaghetti, fettucini, and veal
But still, everything's real in the field
And what you can't have now, leave in your will
But don't knock me for tryin to bury
Seven zeros, over in Rio Dijanery"

Contrast those with Dre from 2001 ("Still DRE"):

"Dr. Dre be the name still running the game
Still, got it wrapped like a mummy
Still ain't tripping, love to see young blacks get money
Spend time out the hood, take they moms out the hood
Hit my boys off with jobs, no more living hard
Barbeques every day, driving fancy cars
Still gon' get mine regardless"

The emphasis in Dre's song is on something very real in a very serious context--getting out of the very real hard life in Compton--not an absurd narcissistic upper middle class fantasy life that not even billionaires live. What is truly ironic is that Jay-Z wrote the lyrics to Still DRE with Dr. Dre. In other words, Dr. Dre is sending a very specific message that the people who help write the message don't send as clearly on their own albums.

There are no songs on The Chronic about Bentleys, Kristal, Armani, or any other name brands. What are specifically mentioned by name on the Chronic are Locs (sunglasses worn by gang members in LA), vintage cars, White Sox hats, etc. The references are solely to establish the songs and their characters in the cultural and gang context of south central LA in the late 1980's.

(There are exceptions on both sides of this. The Wu-Tang clan is decidedly less materialistic than most East Coast rappers, but they're career path was also more "straight from the underground" than Biggie's or certainly Jay Z's. And I also appreciate that Jay-Z has turned away from these kinds of materialist songs in his later career.)

So the history as recounted in rap is that the ghetto is ignored by popular culture in the late 70's and 80's, the ghetto lashes out through gansta rap, the outrage of the ghetto is, like every other political reaction in the US, sublimated into mainstream consumerism. So where we start with stories about drive-bys, car jacking and the like, we end up with songs about Lexuses and Bentleys, and designer clothes.

But by the early 2000s,the mainstream, predominantly white culture has a problem. The problems in the 'hood described in gansta rap like the Chronic are still there (Dre in 2001: "Still got love for the streets, repping 213/Still the beat bangs, still doing my thang/Since I left, ain't too much changed"). But now we all know about those problems. Words like Carjacking and gangbanger are part of the american vocabulary.

But the predominant culture has chosen to do nothing about those problems. So the cognitive dissonance has to be resolved in a way that rationalizes the choice to do nothing even after hearing the "appeal" from the problem areas. And the way it is resolved is to turn it into something ridiculous that is then safe for white culture to mock.

And that's what Ben Folds and his copycats are doing, and that's the real irony. The black guy from the hood tells upper middle class whites exactly how bad it is in the 'hood, the drugs, the guns, the crime, the misogyny, etc., and upper middle class whites think it's funny. So they don't take it seriously. Irony is the cop out. Instead of listening to the content of the message coming out of South Central (and elsewhere), the focus is turned instead is placed the form of the message so that dealing with the content is avoided.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:22 AM on August 31, 2010 [142 favorites]


I just learnt a new acronym: SPEBSQSA

I was a member for a while and competed at several international conventions (and, regrettably, it now goes by the much less satisfying moniker 'The Barbershop Harmony Society'). For whatever reason, songs about WWI and people's mothers are very popular. although I did hear some pretty impressive arrangements of some more risque fare. A friend and I started writing a barbershop arrangement of 'Dr. Feelgood', but eventually got bored and gave up.
posted by norm at 7:32 AM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is exactly the conversation I hardly dared hope might arise from this post. I love you all.

(NOT GUTS-IST)
posted by hermitosis at 7:39 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can't I just enjoy this? Jesus.
posted by asockpuppet at 7:39 AM on August 31, 2010


Nattie: "I defy anyone of any race to write a good song about smelling someone's dick"

Metafilter music challenge!
posted by roll truck roll at 7:44 AM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pastabagel, that was extraordinarily well said. I'm going to dust off some old tracks tonight that I haven't listened to in a long time.

I don't know if you take requests, but drop some of that knowledge in a FPP.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:45 AM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was also the first rap music that was not deliberately silly (Beastie Boys, Digital Underground, etc.), not exclusively political or overtly racial (Public Enemy, KRS-One, etc), or juvenile (LL Cool J, the Fresh Prince, Biz Markie, etc).

This is where you officially lost me, although I wasn't buying what you were selling to begin with.* Rap music didn't "start out" as silly, political, racial, or juvenile. It started out as party music and evolved from there. Growing up on the streets is not a license to be misogynistic, and if a group of women want to stick their flag in the ground to give a big middle finger to that kind of rhetoric I say GO FOR IT.



*This line didn't help either: "But it is important to understand the war-crime level cultural atrocity being perpetrated here." Please. Cultural atrocity? Try Elvis getting rich while all the black artists he was ripping off stayed poor and unknown. Dr. Dre's wallet remains fat, sassy, and appears daily in Dr. Pepper and H/P commercials.
posted by norm at 7:47 AM on August 31, 2010 [11 favorites]


Actually, I am not sure if I do remember Dre's wallet making appearance in any of those commercials, but I think you get the idea I was attempting to convey.
posted by norm at 7:49 AM on August 31, 2010


Flagged as fantastic, pastabagel. Thank you.
posted by hermitosis at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2010


> Every so often I encounter a writer who tries to create a female-centered version of that kind of language (eg "enveloping"), but that attempt is often more noticeable for its failures than for its power.

I always liked -phagy type references, engulfing, an organism under a microscope swallowing another in one fell swoop.
posted by ifjuly at 7:55 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another layer is that (despite sexism and cultural meaning) "Bitches Ain't Shit" is fascinating lyrically. A song from any context that begins "Bitches ain't shit but hos and tricks, lick on these nuts and suck the dick" has an absurdist poetry to it divorced from the deeper meaning of the song. The song's malleable use of pronouns to denounce women as useless, turn Easy E into a woman, and therefore dismiss him is interesting. Also interesting is "and now she's suing cause shit that she be doin' ain't shit" in its multiple uses of "shit."
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree with Pastabagel that most of the text in "Bitches Ain't Shit" is really a thinly disguised metaphor for feuds Dre and Snoop were having with other rappers. However, the song still isn't talking about the "life in the hood", so much as just the problems in the record industry. However, I agree with your final analysis if you're talking about the cover of "Boyz N The Hood" by Dynamite Hack.

I think other covers, like Nina Gordon's version of "Straight Outta Compton" and The Gourd's "Gin and Juice" treat the content of the song more seriously. In The Gourd's case, the song is about a party, with ups and downs, and the cover reflects that attitude pretty well. I don't think either of these covers are very funny though.
posted by demiurge at 8:32 AM on August 31, 2010


Pastabagel: Your sketch history of rap only appears to include artists that made the crossover to mainstream (*cough*white*cough*) audiences. Maybe this is your point? I honestly had a hard time following your point through that oddly-constructed history of hip-hop.

And that's what Ben Folds and his copycats are doing, and that's the real irony. The black guy from the hood tells upper middle class whites exactly how bad it is in the 'hood, the drugs, the guns, the crime, the misogyny, etc., and upper middle class whites think it's funny.

This, though, appears to be making the same point as koeselitz earlier, and I still disagree for much the same reason. The upper middle class whites don't think it's funny when the black guy from the hood raps it. In fact, that was generally greeted with terror and angry speeches from white people in power and sympathetic dreams of rebellion from their kids.

What's funny is when a sensitive white guy puts it to a tinkling overly-earnest piano melody. It's not the content that's funny, it's the nerdy white guy singing it.

Also, if you're looking for outrage at the conditions of urban black life, this is a pretty poor song to choose. As has been pointed out extensively upthread, it's partly about a record-industry dustup between Dre and Easy-E, and partly Snoop's lament about family solidarity preventing him from obtaining satisfaction for his girlfriend's infidelity.

It may not be all that relevant, but I'm left wondering what you'd make of the fact that "Lyrical Gangbang," (in my opinion) the best song on The Chronic, opens with a verse by the Lady of Rage, and predominantly samples Led Zeppelin.
posted by rusty at 8:35 AM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


And that's what Ben Folds and his copycats are doing, and that's the real irony. The black guy from the hood tells upper middle class whites exactly how bad it is in the 'hood, the drugs, the guns, the crime, the misogyny, etc., and upper middle class whites think it's funny. So they don't take it seriously. Irony is the cop out. Instead of listening to the content of the message coming out of South Central (and elsewhere), the focus is turned instead is placed the form of the message so that dealing with the content is avoided.


I think there's a little more going on than that. Obviously, the ironic, "Hee hee! Who would think that I would sing such a song when I am so white? Hee hee!" thing is going on to some extent with Ben Folds/Dynamite Hack/a cappella groups, but I also think that radically transferring songs out of their original context forces you to reevaluate them. A lot of what you point out about Bitches Ain't Shit shows that there is a relatively high barrier to understanding what's really going on with these songs, between the slang and specific cultural references and the larger context of living in poor urban areas, and it seems equally clear to me that much of that baggage gets left behind when suburban white kids listen to it. When Ben Folds covers the song, at least part of what he does is strip away some of the stuff that his audience won't get or doesn't care about, and you're left confronting the lyrical content for itself and not breezing by thinking, "damn, Dre's a badass!" or, "I bet my mother would flip if she heard me listening to this song."

I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit this, but I didn't really get Boyz-n-the-Hood until I spent some time listening to the Dynamite Hack version. Eazy-E's delivery is so flat and his persona so unpleasant that I didn't really think about what was going on in the original. When I heard it played like music I was more familiar with, though, and with some of the stuff preventing me from really paying attention removed, I listened to it like I'd listen to a pop song, and the tragic elements of the song became much more clear. That is, admittedly, a personal failing and I'm sure there were white kids who got all that the first time around. Moreover, the Dynamite Hack cover is, if anything, even more snickeringly ironic than Ben Folds's (the music video pretty well seals that by itself), but I still think there is some value in this sort of radical recontextualization.
posted by Copronymus at 8:54 AM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ben Folds isn't a sensitive feminist hero!

Anyone else ever hear Song for the Dumped?

The idea that misogyny is ironic because a white or "nerdy" guy is expressing it is hilarious to me. Like my roommate who happily listened to rock but completely dismissed anything involving rap as "misogynist". Okay then.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel, your knowledge of the material is fantastic and your observations on the process of appropriation are incisive. However, there's a sort of an either/or that I get from your post that gives me bad flashbacks to my grad school days--either you have to understand the original work by understanding the intent of the artist or you misread it entirely by judging the work using your own experiences.

All my life as an educated white liberal kid I've been fed the story of how mainstream white America is this cultural Borg collective, sucking up the authentic production of marginalized groups and bastardizing it either for commercial purposes or to silence the original voices. This is the dominant narrative when it comes to popular music: Jazz, Rock, Rap were all black forms that white kids ripped off. But the real story of each of these was the way musicians working in different traditions looked at someone else's music and took the part they liked--even if they misunderstood it.
posted by Trace McJoy at 9:12 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Furthermore, when rap songs are performed live, it's customary to skip the verses sung by the other people on the track who aren't there.

Pastabagel,
Your whole comment was absolutely riveting - thank you.

Though I've reached the stage in musical appreciation when I'm beginning to channel my own sarky stepfather.

I could feel a response to your sentence staring to form:

Furthermore, when songs were performed live in my day, it was customary to hear verses with what was commonly known as a tune...
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:23 AM on August 31, 2010


Pastabagel missed a couple of things, but the over-all point is dead on, and much more clearly explained that I could have done it.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:08 AM on August 31, 2010


So the song is sexist insofar as it uses the female pronoun in a derogatory way, but it is not sexist in that it expresses hostility towards women, because, in that verse, there is no woman being discussed.

Pastabagel: Your comment is thought provoking and interesting, but this bit here rings false. I'd urge you to reconsider the idea that you can call a dude a "bitch" and talk shit about him in the context of being a woman but be displaying no hostility towards women.

Let me make a perfect analogy in this context: If I called a white dude a nigger and talked about how shit he was by comparing him to a black man, would you accept the idea that I wasn't expressing hostility towards black folks because no black people were being discussed? I suspect you would not. It's the same thing.

The song is blatantly and horribly misogynistic. The stronger argument (which you make) is that the song is deliberately invoking that misogyny to illustrate the terrible conditions in which an entire subculture has been subjugated. But that's a completely different argument than "it's not actually sexist because it's a dude being called a bitch in the first verse.
posted by Justinian at 10:15 AM on August 31, 2010 [11 favorites]


Just awesome, Pastabagel - I couldn't have said it better. Though I feel like I should comment on the materialism aspect of rap that seems to grind a lot of peoples gears these days.

So where we start with stories about drive-bys, car jacking and the like, we end up with songs about Lexuses and Bentleys, and designer clothes.

I think that unlike a lot of other forms of music like rock and r&b (which are usually based on the lyricists emotions, insecurities, love, loss, etc), rapping has always had a very competitive aspect to it since its inception in the Bronx in the 70's - the graffiti crews and b-boys of those days competed with each other as well. I see the materialism in modern rap as a progression of the competitive nature of rap lyrics, and I think a lot of it makes for some really clever punchlines.

I realize that you didn't necessarily write off Jay and Biggies name brand dropping as "bad" or "lesser" rap, but I just think its worth pointing out that competition has always been a part of hip hop culture and money is the ultimate "win" these days, so it just makes sense.
posted by windbox at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2010


And that's what Ben Folds and his copycats are doing, and that's the real irony. The black guy from the hood tells upper middle class whites exactly how bad it is in the 'hood, the drugs, the guns, the crime, the misogyny, etc., and upper middle class whites think it's funny. So they don't take it seriously. Irony is the cop out. Instead of listening to the content of the message coming out of South Central (and elsewhere), the focus is turned instead is placed the form of the message so that dealing with the content is avoided.

Best illustrated by The Barenaked Ladies' cover of "Fight The Power."
Is this the first of the ironic white hip-hop covers? (1991)
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2010


Here's to hoping that all those girls are sterile orphans.
posted by spock at 10:47 AM on August 31, 2010


Best illustrated by The Barenaked Ladies' cover of "Fight The Power."
Is this the first of the ironic white hip-hop covers? (1991)


I dunno if this is so ironic that they're trying to avoid the message here. Being literally the same as the the BNL guys - at one point my kids went to school with Tyler Stewart's kids - there's this weird dynamic where as a middle-class white kid growing up in Ontario you like Gordon Lightfoot and all sort of but all the really influential musicians are pretty divorced from you own life experiences. Public Enemy probably had a huge impact on the guys in BNL as they were growing up - the music was powerful and popular. But really, wtf does it have to do with a bunch of white guys from Scarborough? Not much. But it's still a huge influence on them. So should they not cover it because it's not "theirs" or should they cover it because it's an awesome song and they love it?

Not everybody is a cultural critic and my feeling is that those guys just really, really like "Fight the Power".
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Your comment is fascinating, Pastabagel. I wonder though, when a song like this gets so abstracted from its source context (which in this case, the content is completely twisted and lost by reinterpretation literally at face value through the white culture lens), and starts to take on a local meaning within its new context and more recent history, if what is being said isn't worth looking at as well? What I mean is, I'm curious if (unintentionally or not) the Columbia women aren't actually focussing the empowerment message of their rendition one level back (the Ben Folds Five audience, i.e. white males and white culture) rather than two (the Dr. Dre audience, i.e. black males and black culture), which incidentally and ignorantly reinforces the original misunderstanding and misappropriation that the Ben Folds Five cover created.

I guess what I'm trying to ask is, who is Bacchantae singing to and what are they really singing about? My guess is, unbeknownst to them, the scope of their intended message doesn't go back that far, although the reality is that it does go much farther, in an unfortunately misguided way. That the message they're sending (by amplifying form* to drown dearth of content/message**) works on the local level, but is largely problematic on the global level (for reasons you beautifully illustrated).

Your thoughts?

*form, as illustrated by a capella singing, female singers, traditional preppy attire, etc.
**dearth of content = the sexism and mysogyny. It is a dearth on the local level because its sexist and vapid when stripped of its context, which is how it "arrived" to these women, thanks to the Ben Folds Five cover.

posted by iamkimiam at 11:13 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I understand that gansta rap popularity was due in large measure to suburban white kids. But that wasn't an accident. Dre deliberately marketed it there. He made every effort to make sure that white suburban kids heard it. But he was selling it to them as music of authentic rebellion there. Dre knew enough about music consumers to know that whites wanted something authentic, and that they believed authentic meant lower middle class and it often also meant black.

I think this really undercuts your charge of cultural atrocity. Dre's music was at least as much an attempt to get rich by shocking the parents of white suburban teenagers as it was an earnest documentary about the suffering on the front lines of the drug wars.

As such, I think it is totally fair game for parody and mockery, especially the misogyny. No amount of suffering gives you a free pass to talk about women that way.
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on August 31, 2010


I don't think this cover is either parody or mockery, merely a vessel full of transgressive words. It doesn't even reach parody or comedy - it's simply juxtaposition. And while juxtaposition is an essential element of both parody and comedy, as this video demonstrates, it is by itself insufficient.
posted by GuyZero at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ben Folds isn't a sensitive feminist hero!

Anyone else ever hear Song for the Dumped?


Well, that's not really fair because Song for the Dumped is an angry song about a particular woman, rather than being hostile to women in general, and it's not really representative of the usual themes of his work which generally have more nuanced (if still male-centric) views about relationships.

The idea that misogyny is ironic because a white or "nerdy" guy is expressing it is hilarious to me. Like my roommate who happily listened to rock but completely dismissed anything involving rap as "misogynist". Okay then.

It's not ironic because of the misogyny, it's ironic because of the cultural aspects expressed in the song and inherent in rap in general clash with Ben Folds and the type of music he plays. When Folds sings the "now she's suing cause shit that she be doin' ain't shit" line quoted above, there is an obvious cognitive dissonance when a white guy who speaks more or less standard English uses the habitual be.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2010


spock: "Here's to hoping that all those girls are sterile orphans."

They ain't shit.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:38 AM on August 31, 2010


Well, that's not really fair because Song for the Dumped is an angry song about a particular woman

The whole "I want my money back," as if being dumped means Folds isn't getting what he paid for, seems very misogynist to me.
posted by straight at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2010


Pastabagel: YES.

And I also appreciate that Jay-Z has turned away from these kinds of materialist songs in his later career.

Eh. Now he just raps biopic.

Reminisce upon a time
when C_D was full of rhyme
shoutin' down the world,
back in the day…
bustin' the cherries
back in the night…
in the back of the Aries (word!)

et-fucking-cetera.

The perfect Jay-Z song would be an epic poem about the trials and tribulations of Jay-Z, written by Calliope herself. He could call it the ILLiad.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:45 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd urge you to reconsider the idea that you can call a dude a "bitch" and talk shit about him in the context of being a woman but be displaying no hostility towards women.

My comment "the song is sexist insofar as it uses the female pronoun in a derogatory way" was meant to encapsulate this very notion. What I meant was that the song is not sexist for the reason that the song is attacking a particular female, because the song is in fact attacking a male. The song can be (and is) sexist for a host of other reasons.

rapping has always had a very competitive aspect to it since its inception in the Bronx in the 70's - the graffiti crews and b-boys of those days competed with each other as well. I see the materialism in modern rap as a progression of the competitive nature of rap lyrics, and I think a lot of it makes for some really clever punchlines.

All music has been competitive among composers and performers. How many guitar magazines have featured the font cover headline "Best Guitarists of All Time." Centuries ago Paganini deliberately wrote songs he knew other violinists couldn't play; Chopin did the same on piano. Bach and Mozart embedded little jokes and jabs in their music. Rap is no different than pretty much every other form of music in this regard. Consider the country song "Devil Went Down To Georgia," which is the fiddle equivalent of a rap battle between Charlie Daniels (I think) and the devil.

The materialism aspect is very different and represents precisely the points at which the cultural sublimation takes place. One way to consider the history of art, and oil painting in particular, is to note how the work art reflects the desires of the art's patron, because that is who is paying for the art. The oil portraits of the 16th-18th centuries featured lavish clothing, furniture and sculpture from the orient, persian rugs, etc. Your average technically accomplished artist basically painted what the patron wanted to show in the way they though the patron might have wanted it displayed. And the patron always wanted their portraits to say either "Look how important I am" (the European equivalent of a baller or a pimp) or "Look at my fabulous wealth accumulated from all over the world" (the European equivalent of references to Lexus, DKNY, Versace and Rio).

And to further respond to Justinian's point, the misogyny in hip hop is nothing new. All those nude paintings we see in museums served the purpose of displaying women as property, e.g. the patron's mistress. Is this any different from bragging about "hos"?

The true artists are the artists who can subvert the sublimation, you can simultaneously deliver one explicit message while encoding within that message its opposite. So you get artists who paint popes and priests as mercantilist thugs, or "great men of commerce" as drunks.

Let me give you an example of this in rap. One of 50 Cent's first videos from his first album was "In Da Club". Much of the video shows 50 Cent where you'd expect him to be, in a nightclub, drinking and dancing as the song describes.

Except in the video, 50 Cent is not actually at a club. He's at the "Shady/Aftermath Artist Development Center." The video shows 50 Cent as a machine literally being constructed in a laboratory by 50's producers Eminem and Dr. Dre (Dre's "Forgot about Dre": "I've been in the lab/with a pen and a pad/trying to get this damn label off.") The club in the video is more like a simulation of a club, where 50's behavior and performance is observed and critiqued by his producers from behind glass.

The subversive message of the video is that these lyrics about living the highlife in nightclubs with champagne and girls is a meticulously constructed fantasy designed to sell the rapper to you, i.e. to sell records. They are making and packaging a product, not sending a message or telling a story.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:45 AM on August 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


He also calls her a bitch for what sounds like a relatively friendly breakup. We've all had our moments of disproportionate post-breakup discomposure but this is an actual song that he wrote and recorded.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:46 AM on August 31, 2010


I'm seriously considering emailing this thread to friends of mine who are involved in a (formerly) grad school acappella group that covers Ben Folds, but not Dr. Dre, to get their impression of the music and the comments. This is a very interesting subject, but I feel like I'm not qualified to say much except that there are enough intersections of appropriation and oppression (misogyny) involved that it's impossible to beanplate them all out.
posted by immlass at 11:47 AM on August 31, 2010


What I mean is, I'm curious if (unintentionally or not) the Columbia women aren't actually focussing the empowerment message of their rendition one level back (the Ben Folds Five audience, i.e. white males and white culture) rather than two (the Dr. Dre audience, i.e. black males and black culture), which incidentally and ignorantly reinforces the original misunderstanding and misappropriation that the Ben Folds Five cover created.

I guess what I'm trying to ask is, who is Bacchantae singing to and what are they really singing about?


I'm not sure what is empowering about the Columbia women's rendition. The verse about Eric Wright literally makes no sense from them. For their rendition to mean anything it is only on a superficial level: "This is a song originally in the gansta rap style, we are going to do it a cappella, but don't pay too much attention to what the song is about because ti doesn't really matter."

Furthermore, they are doing Ben Folds doing Dr. Dre - a copy of a copy. In doing that, they are saying "we are doing this because Ben Folds made it safe/acceptable for us to be doing it, but we wouldn't have done it otherwise." Ben Folds is the girls' semantic cover. And the Ben Folds audience had plenty of white women in it too, incidentally.

Who are they signing to? To an audience of people who will either get the Ben Folds connection immediately, or will connect with the ironic sentiment. They, like Ben Folds, are absolutely not signing to Dr. Dre's audience. This isn't to say that that audience wouldn't find it funny in an SNL skit sort of way, but I don't know that in their minds it rises to the level of an ironic work that more than just a gimmick.

What strikes me as truly ironic is that this ironic rehashing of art out of its cultural milieu is on the decline. The trend was set in the nineties and is played out. I think this is so because it isn't anything new, it isn't adding anything in the reproduction, it's just taking things out. That ceases to be interesting after the novelty of the reproduction wears off. Is Ben Folds doing anything that in 20 people will want to revisit?
posted by Pastabagel at 11:59 AM on August 31, 2010


The whole "I want my money back," as if being dumped means Folds isn't getting what he paid for, seems very misogynist to me.

The context in the song is that she let him buy her dinner immediately before she dumped him, which was arguably a crappy thing for her to do. Like she knew that she was going to break up ahead of time and used him to get a free meal before breaking the news. I don't think it's meant to be referencing the idea that women owe something to a guy if he buys her dinner or anything like that, just that you don't let someone go out of their way to do something nice for you right before you end a relationship with them.

He also calls her a bitch for what sounds like a relatively friendly breakup. We've all had our moments of disproportionate post-breakup discomposure but this is an actual song that he wrote and recorded.

But it's a song about disproportionate post-breakup discomposure, and was written and recorded to capture that feeling. If he had used less harsh language, the song wouldn't have felt as authentic. I seriously doubt that Ben Folds thinks a black t-shirt is actually a big deal in the context of a breakup, but those are the little annoying things that people deal with in the immediate aftermath of one. And the relatively friendly breakup part is played as a joke in the song, Folds implies that "taking a break" is just a euphemism the person is using to send a message that more or less really means "fuck you."
posted by burnmp3s at 12:02 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't think this cover is either parody or mockery, merely a vessel full of transgressive words.

Yes. I think to the extent that there is any thought or purpose behind Bacchantae singing this, it's probably just trying to use the song as a way to reclaim/deflate "bitches" the way homosexuals have tried to reclaim/deflate "queer," without much more thought than that to what the song is about or where it comes from.

They don't care about the cultural background of the song. They probably just chose it as a handy example of the misogynist language women have to deal with. And by featuring that language, I say Dre's song fully deserves to be disrespected like this.
posted by straight at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


"I'm not sure what is empowering about the Columbia women's rendition."

To me, what's empowering is that they've made the proposition "Bitches ain't shit" both untrue and meaningless, evidenced and trumped by the form of their message. They could be reading the phone book, it doesn't matter. It's the manner and style which is being highlighted, through a capella-ness and dress and affect and props. And if they were reading the phone book, I think they'd want us to say, "Wow. They've just made the phone book sound beautiful. They're something." Except that it's not the phone book. It's the very message that they're railing against...mysogyny and sexism. They may very well believe that they're reclaiming the word 'bitches', much like black people reclaiming and restylizing the word 'nigger'. So I wonder if by singing this, they're making a statement against sexism and mysogyny, in an ironic way that's self-contained*. Maybe they're directing that statement primarily to the Ben Folds Five audience and not so much to the global audience. Because until their version, it's been a male-led, male-parodied conversation. The voice they lend, their copy, is not quite exact, because it's female and that's a huge contradiction to the message in a way that a Ben Folds Five cover or mixed-gender group can't spotlight so acutely. It's this added dimension that's being flaunted when the all-female group does a preppy, sweet and sincere version big on talent and even bigger on form. Who is the appeal to?

So those are my thoughts. I'm curious if there's something to them. If not, I'm curious where it breaks down, too.

*The parody-ness of it is ironic, too, but not in the same way. Parody irony is not self-contained because, as a parody, it necessitates something to reference outside of itself (the focus of the mockery). But the irony of the anti-sexism message is self-contained, because it references the words themselves, contained in the song they're singing.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:46 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just had to say, Dr. Dre really doesn't deserve the deep respect voiced by some in this thread. Fine, like the music and the message, but the man is a thug.
posted by Toothless Willy at 12:51 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was also the first rap music that was not deliberately silly (Beastie Boys, Digital Underground, etc.), not exclusively political or overtly racial (Public Enemy, KRS-One, etc), or juvenile (LL Cool J, the Fresh Prince, Biz Markie, etc).

Aw, c'mon. Where does Run DMC fall in that camp? King of Rock isn't silly, overtly racial or juvenile.

Fascinating points. Not sure I agree with a lot of it (I have trouble associating artistic integrity with the guy now trying to sell me Dr. Pepper and custom headphones) but a fascinating thread. I find the covers to be a bit of a nostalgic look at the past (this song is almost 20 years old) that speaks to the racial gaps that are a lot closer in this generation than in the past. To a young kid now I can really see this dated material just sounding funny. Syd Barrett lyrics now sound ridiculous. These kids don't have the context of the Easy E feud. It was a hit, and hits usually don't require context.

A lot of middle class white kids grew up listening to this music and weren't at an age to really comprehend what was being said or the cultural disparity. And by the time they were, as PastaBagel has mentioned the style switched to materialism. But problems in lower income/class/racial areas have been in music for a century and I'd say the same critique is true, it isn't unique to the rap genre. The music is used when profitable by whoever is in a position to do so. And in terms of ignoring these issues I don't think it's even unique to music, it's done in cinema, television and politics. The Wayans brothers satired the Boyz N the Hood genre. Money is king, always.

Anyone know if Dre still has the rights to that song and authorized the remake? Or have an interview with his take? I know the publishing rights for those days are muddled.
posted by dig_duggler at 12:54 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Okay maybe half of King of Rock is silly.
posted by dig_duggler at 12:59 PM on August 31, 2010


I dunno if this is so ironic that they're trying to avoid the message here.

It's the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the Barenaked Ladies' cover that illustrates Pastabagel's point: The black guy from the hood tells upper middle class whites exactly how bad it is in the 'hood, the drugs, the guns, the crime, the misogyny, etc., and upper middle class whites think it's funny. So they don't take it seriously.

Barenaked Ladies took the original lyrics:

Elvis was a hero to most
but he never meant shit to me you see
straight up racist that sucker was
simple and plain
mother fuck him and John Wayne

and changed them to:

Elvis was a hero to most
Buddy Elvis was a hero to most
Buddy Ebsen was a hero to most
Buddy Rich was a hero to most
Buddy Hackett was a hero to most
Nutty Buddy was a hero to most

Barenaked Ladies turned "Fight The Power" into a comedy song-- which I'd say definitely avoids the message of Public Enemy's original.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:25 PM on August 31, 2010


The Barenaked Ladies turn everything into a comedy song. It's kind of a weakness they have as musicians.

But again, does that mean Public Enemy's or NWA's songs are essentially "uncoverable"? Because that seems to at least as presumptuous as making a joke of them.
posted by GuyZero at 1:48 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel, I don't quite disagree with anything you're saying, but I feel like at points you make a statement as if it's self-evident that something is bad, and it's really not self-evident, and when I hold it up to scrutiny I'm not sure I think it's bad at all.

Look at those videos carefully. Everyone in the Ben Folds audience is white. And there are no black members of either the Columbia group or in the UC Berkely group.

It does not then follow that they must be racist and making fun of black people. At best it could follow, but even then, it's a weak argument. You could argue that they don't have enough black input to appreciate what they're doing, maybe -- though it assumes they don't have much contact with black people outside the narrow sphere in which you've seen them -- but that doesn't mean they have racist intentions.


They aren't re-arranging the original, or even re-arranging a different original. It's a copy of a copy, and each copy is lossy.

Okay. So what? They're not cutting a record or selling anyone anything. They're not taking it very seriously. They heard a cover and wanted to sing it. Why does it have to be original? I agree that something can be gained by making it original, but why is it a "war-crime level cultural atrocity" for someone to hear a song and want to sing it as they heard it? Do you get very angry at karaoke and demand that people not sing unless they can wow you with an original take on it, because otherwise, they're shitting all over the original expression? Does every creative act need to reach some standard of quality and originality or else people should feel bad about themselves and keep those urges inside?

I just don't buy that. I think that's harmful because people shouldn't have to be amazing or original to sing a song. Singing a song as one has heard it, with or without friends, is not something people should be made to feel ashamed of. Furthermore, when people cover or imitate something, the original still exists as it's always been. If you don't like someone's cover, you can stop listening to it and put on the original.

Surely you sing along with things sometimes, or sing a part of a song with a friend for no great reason. Or at least I would hope you do. If you stop yourself out of shame or respect or something, well, all I have to say is that you don't need to live that way. If you like living that way, cool, but you're not going to be very happy if you need the world to conform to your views, nor will they.

Point is: there does not need to be some lofty motivation for these sorts of things. It can be impressive when there is, but let's not start mandating it, or looking for it in amateur YouTube videos.


So the song is sexist insofar as it uses the female pronoun in a derogatory way, but it is not sexist in that it expresses hostility towards women, because, in that verse, there is no woman being discussed.

Okay, actually, I do flat out disagree with this idea. Others have already addressed why that makes no sense: if you express hostility to a man by comparing him to a woman, it's implicit that women are something one should not want to be compared to. That's expressing hostility toward women.


In this context, the song makes no sense as a cover, because that first verse is about a very personal beef Dre had with Easy E in real life, and it makes no sense for anyone else to sing it (unless they change the reference to "Eric Wright" to someone in their own life, but then it wouldn't be ironic, it would be hostile).

Okay, so it doesn't make sense for someone to cover it and keep those lines. So what? They're the lyrics to the song, so people sing/rap them anyway. I think my main issue with a lot of the things you're saying is that you seem to be approaching this from the perspective that there is, or should be, only one reason or way to cover a song. Well, there isn't, and past that I don't see any reason why there should be. I can agree that yes, it would be more impressive if someone covered "Bitches Ain't Shit" and replaced several specific lines with lines that are more meaningful to them -- but why do you seemingly feel (correct me if I'm wrong) that should be mandatory? That they're a terrible, stupid person if they don't do those things?

When someone hears a song and wants to cover it, usually they have whatever goals they have for it. Like they want to see if they can put it in another genre as is, for example. That's as far as their interest goes. I'm only a vocalist so when I want to cover a song, my urge is one of the following: cover it entirely as it is (including tones and breaths and vowels); cover it in a different tone with a different sort of emotion; swap it to an unexpected genre. It's just whatever I think would be fun for me, and as far as I've ever heard from other musicians, that's pretty much the whole of it. Sometimes, usually with the tone change and only sometimes with the genre change, I have a real artistic reason for thinking it adds something meaningful to the song to reinterpret it in that way. I don't mean to say musicians never think about those things. But a ton of covers are just for fun.

If you don't like those kinds of cover, okay, no argument here. If you analyze it for social motivation, though, really expecting to find it, you're going to be very disappointed. And if, acting on the assumption that such motivation is there in the first place, you try to imply that you can know the motivation behind it and it is war-crime awful, that's going to be wrong often enough. I suspect you're going to be wrong far, far more often than you're right, but neither of us have any way to prove that.

Really, I think it's one thing to say white people are intentionally trying to appropriate black culture and convert something tragic to something they can laugh at, and another to say, "Hey, we should consider the privilege involved here and maybe not do that sort of thing, even if that wasn't the intent." I feel like you're saying the former and I just can't swallow that; I can swallow that some people do it intentionally, and we can be vaguely mad at those disembodied people, but it's a straw man to attribute that to specific people without clear proof and it makes it difficult to take you seriously. Your post doesn't give me any good reason to believe Ben Folds or these girls are racist except that you think covering such a song makes it self-evident that someone has racist intent to laugh at black people. It doesn't.

At most you could argue that they're not aware of their privilege, and that privilege leads them cover songs whenever they get a creative urge to change it up, without ever considering that maybe that's making light of something very serious. I would even agree with that, because when I hear a song and get a creative urge to do something with it, that creative urge will immediately override whatever social considerations might be prudent. It might be moments or days later before I think about that sort of thing. I've probably covered things in the past that are potentially unwise for me to have covered. I appreciate reminders to think about those things. Flat-out calling people overtly racist -- in a "war crime" way, even -- for following a creative urge isn't very productive, though, nor is it even true. If you want people to take that seriously then it's not a great idea to use that kind of hyperbole or argue it on the basis of ungenerous assumptions.

In hip hop, the music is sampled and the words are spoken (not sung), so the only original content is the lyrics, and as such, they are extremely protected. The tradition in hip hop is that you don't cover someone else's lyrics unless you change them. (See The Game's cover of "Straight Outta Compton.") This is not specific to rap either. In rock, it's bad form to cover a song by performing the guitar solos identically, note-for-note. Doing that makes it a rip-off, not a cover.

Okay, so what if it's a rip-off? Again, why is a rip-off, as opposed to a "genuine" cover (whatever that might mean) such a creative slap in the face that no one should ever do it? I don't think that's as self-evidently bad as you seem to think it is, nor do I think it should be universally viewed as bad. All I'm hearing is that you don't like rip-offs, and there's nothing wrong with that as your personal feelings. Apparently you really don't like rip-offs, not even when it's a spontaneous sort of thing some girls put on YouTube, and okay, fine.

But when I sit around with my family singing Christmas songs, should I hate myself? Should I just not do it? Should we have the good sense not to record something that was fun for us and we want to remember? When I sing with my friends at karaoke and enjoy singing a song with no original embellishments, should I feel bad about myself? Only if I record it? I like singing "Barbie Girl" with my friends and trying to do it just like the original. Does the fact that it's a rip-off make it unforgivable to have spent my time on?

Furthermore, I'd be hard-pressed to find any creative person who would say there isn't some value to be had in imitating something precisely. It helps you build skill and additional tools for when you want to express original ideas, and it pushes your boundaries in different ways than originality does. Creative people have to do both. I don't know a single creative person who has never imitated anything, and I know a ton of very talented creative people. You seem maybe to be saying that if they imitate something to the extent of its being a rip-off, they should never show it to anyone. But I don't see why not; it can be good for what it is, and it's important for budding creative people to not feel this insane pressure to be amazing from the beginning. Or maybe you're saying if they do that sort of thing, they shouldn't expect any accolades for originality -- but they don't. They know exactly what they're doing. Furthermore, the idea that once some creative thing has been made that other people simply are barred from enacting it saddens me. It's fun to do the dance from "Single Ladies." Should I stop doing that because I'm not a serious dancer and I didn't make my own choreography? No one else can ever do those steps without shame now, or experience whatever happy feelings come along with them? It's fun to sing "I'm Just a Girl" by No Doubt while completely imitating Gwen Stefani's voice, emphasis, breaths, vowels, etc. Should that experience be locked off to mankind forever because being unoriginal is so shameful?

If all you're saying is you don't like rip-offs, though, then don't make it into this big shamefest where creative people should feel bad for doing the things they must do. Everyone doesn't like something, but that doesn't mean it's objectively, self-evidently bad. It means those people should stay away from that sort of thing because they won't be impressed. I routinely avoid things that don't impress me. I won't judge you. But no, it's not true that a rip-off is assumed by everyone to have no value, so I find what you're saying here unconvincing.


The use of the sample in hip hop effectively says "We all know this music, but here's the context in which we listen to it today" (the context of "The Chronic" is the life of a teenager in South Central LA at the height of the 80's drug wars, navigating hustlers, cops, gangs, teen pregnancy, etc.) But the important thing about a hip hop record is really about you listening to the rapper listen to the record from which the sample was taken.

But these covers not only don't acknowledge the sampled sources Dre chose or their importance to the song, they completely obliterate them. The covers erase the historical context of black music from the song.


Because it's a cover whose goal doesn't interface with those historical contexts. All covers take some elements of the original and lose or replace the others. Whether that ought to be done with certain social elements is one thing, and I think that's worth discussing. That's pretty much where you go with this, I know. But I'm bristling a bit at the implication that one shouldn't ever cover a rap song in a way that puts it in another genre, basically, because to do so would be to destroy those samples. Or that one can't possibly cover Dre specifically in another genre because the important thing about Dre (to you, and to a lot of people) is the things he did with beats.

See, to some people, those aren't the things that interest them. It's not because they're racist, it's just because, say, they like the sound of other genres better, for example; when someone takes a pop song and does a punk cover, it's clear to everyone that they just like punk. With something like rap, though, motives get questioned -- and they should, that's good, but to assume horrible motives here and not in other covers where this happens is not convincing to me. This is a sticky moral area for me because I feel strongly that people should reconsider their privilege and I don't want to dismiss the idea that maybe white people just shouldn't cover some songs -- after all, it's not a huge sacrifice not to cover a few things. At the same time, though, I feel strongly that having rigid rules for something like covers is kind of ridiculous and harmful. Not the kind of harm that would outweigh the moral/social issues if the argument were more clearcut, but that's just it: it's not that clearcut. I feel like the argument, at least as you've made it, seems to be based heavily on some of your preferences that strike me mostly as arbitrary (I don't mean any disrespect; everyone's preferences are arbitrary at some level), so exactly how one would navigate what should or should not be covered, and if so in what way, isn't at all clear. And the reasons why it's harmful seem to be based on assumptions you've made about motivations that I just don't find compelling because they don't at all match up with my experiences of creative people. I don't have a great feel for the extent of the harm because comparing it to a war crime is hyperbolic.

But we'll get to the heavier stuff in a minute. Here in particular, I feel like, okay, what you admire about Dre is, in part, his beats, and you can't fathom that someone would cover Dre and dismiss those because it's so much a part of why Dre is important. But there are other reasons to like Dre, and other things that can be preserved even without the historical context of the beats. I mean, people remix songs all the time and completely replace the beats. Black DJs do this to all kinds of songs whose beats have some historical context. You can say that it's okay for a black DJ to do it, but the point is that removing the historical context of the beats doesn't break a song -- except to the people who are interested in that particularly.

Furthermore, I don't think anyone should have to really know and like an artist to want to cover one of their songs. It's nice when they do, but lots of people don't know much about the artists they listen to. Their covers will undoubtedly grate on the people who know everything about the artist covered, and appeal to other people who like the same things the person doing the covering does. For example, I hate almost every Depeche Mode cover because I feel like nearly everyone obliterates the stuff I like and replaces it with stuff I hate. That's covers, though. Tons of black people won't miss the historical context if you replace the beats in a Dre song. Tons of black people don't much know or care about Dre in general. Several black people on my Facebook list liked the video when I posted it last night, and one of them is as dedicated to rap history as you can be. History is not an indispensable factor to a lot of people when they listen to music.

And that's what I mean when I say some of the stuff you think is unforgivable seems arbitrary. Do people really need to preserve the historical context of rap beats when they cover a song, and is it really that bad if they don't? I don't know that it is. It doesn't seem to be, in practice. If the person covering it is ignorant of the history they're obliterating AND the audience whose history is being obliterated is equally as ignorant of it, does it matter that much then? I don't know. For example, it seems odd, and almost racist really, to say that all black people ought to care about the historical context of Dre's beats if they don't already -- it seems more like the beats have significance to a subculture who has decided they're important, and I have sympathy for that. But to call it racist, like Dre's an indispensable symbol of something to most black people, is something else entirely... something I'm not sure if I buy. Same for quoting personal lyrics exactly. When my black friends do karaoke or covers of rap, they just say the lyrics as they are. I dunno, they don't seem to care. To imply that they should care seems to say that black people are indivisible from rap itself, whether they want to be or not, and I'm not comfortable with that.

When we start saying that this or that is sacred to black people, but in practice it only seems to be sacred to some smaller group of black people, it just feels a little racist to me. It feels like telling black people what they should think is important even though they've already decided it isn't that important to many of them, for whatever reason. I can't deny that music has played a large role in black culture, and in how the rest of the world perceives black culture, and all that. At the same time, there are still things more important than music and we don't forcibly join music to other cultures like we do with rap and black people. I can't imagine, for example, being told that as a Southern white girl I ought to know all the historical contexts of Southern blues-y rock. Yeah, I grew up listening to it, and I like Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top and all that, but I only know a little bit about the historical contexts. Most of the black people I know are the same way about rap; everyone has their lives to lead and the historical context for rap falls to the wayside for plenty of black people, too. Tons of black people resent the idea that all black people have something to do with rap.

On top of that, I feel like the only reason rap gets pushed as something inescapable for black people is because it's the biggest experience of black people that many white people have. Black people, though, have a far more complete picture of black people that isn't dependent on rap.

To be clear I'm not saying you're actually racist, I'm just saying that by following that line of thought and finding it a little racist might reveal why it doesn't make sense to start making rules for covers. I don't think it's as simple as you can't quote personal lyrics or you can't get rid of the historical context of the beats, etc. I would agree it's probably more impressive not to do those things, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to do them. If there's something inherently disrespectful about covering these songs, it seems like we need to pinpoint that before we start making rules and calling people racist.

I think, though, we're getting there...


Ben Folds actually substitutes his own distinctly "white" arrangement on top of it. He is saying in his arrangement, "I'm taking this song and I'm going to make it indisputably white, and in doing so, it will be funny."

What you get is an ironic rendition for sure, but one that is also mocking and dismissive. "Aren't these lyrics so stupid?"


Again, I do not think that's at all what most rap covers are trying to say, if they're even trying to say anything. At best it might be, "Don't these lyrics sound absurd in this context?" People make ballads of metal songs for the same reason, or cheery pop versions, etc. You're making a lot of assumptions here not only about the motivation of the artist, but the motivation of the audience. You can think the original song sounds great and the lyrics fit their context fine, and then think the lyrics are awful or funny in a different context. Someone already pointed this out, but it's absolutely the case that you can take the original song seriously and be very emotional jarred by it, but still find the cover funny. The cover does nothing to change the seriousness of the original song. For the record, that's how I feel about "Bitches Ain't Shit" -- I feel shitty and sad when I hear it, which I think I'm supposed to, but the cover is funny to me. Well, the exception is "and shit 'cause the shit that she doin ain't shit" or however it goes makes me laugh, I can't help it -- it seems like the humor there is intentional, anyway.

Furthermore, as others have pointed out it's not about laughing at the song so much as it is about laughing at the person performing it. It's a self-deprecating thing for the performer, even; i.e. one holds himself up to the original performer to show how they don't measure up in some way that reflects poorly on them. When a white guy does a rap song like that, he's usually saying, "Wow, I will never be as cool or emotionally affecting as this rapper, I am pathetic." I suppose you could argue I don't know their motivation any better than you do. All I can say is that's been the earnest impression I've gotten from people doing that, and I don't think that impression should be discounted as easily as you seem to.

Which, again, doesn't mean maybe they shouldn't do it for other reasons. I'm just saying this argument rings false to me and isn't convincing.


Yes, arranged as a piano ballad by a white guy and performed in front of an almost entirely white-from-suburbia college audience, they are stupid. But sung by a guy (Dr. Dre) who has lived to see his two brothers and countless friends killed? Maybe not quite as silly.

Aha, I think that's it. Here I have some sympathy for what you're saying. Yes, maybe it's tasteless to cover something like that. Maybe it trivializes or at least makes light of the original experience, and maybe that shouldn't be done. Again, insofar as it happens, though, I think that's usually a privilege thing, not an intentionally racist thing; whites-from-suburbia generally don't have any clue what it's like to have friends be murdered, and when they hear a song like that, it's too easily just a bunch of words for them. It can come across as glamorous instead of tragic to someone who hasn't been through it. So a white person might think "wow, I'm not 'hard' or 'thug' at all" in a self-deprecating way, without ever considering that it can be hurtful to invoke the pain the rapper has been through without understanding it.

That kind of cover, I think, should hopefully be more sensitive, if it's done at all -- probably shouldn't be an ironic or funny cover. That's something you can urge people to think about and it's not so hazy or arbitrary.

So now we're back to "Bitches Ain't Shit," though, and unfortunately I'm not sure it's that easy here after all: someone could have a legitimate criticism of misogynistic or violent or homophobic ideas expressed in a rap song and I don't think that should be stifled either. If, for example, someone wants to trivialize "Bitches Ain't Shit" or make it sound stupid, I'm not sure that bothers me very much. I'm not sure that, ultimately, that's the sort of thing we should beat ourselves up to respect.

Someone writes a song about how someone they loved was murdered, or how hard their life is, okay, let's not touch that, or if we do, let's be sensitive about it. That seems obvious.

Someone writes a song in which they're dismissive and scornful (or violent) toward women (or gays). We can understand the cultural context and appreciate the tragedy of it, and maybe it's mixed in with some personal painful stuff for the rapper. However, I think it's worse to say we shouldn't expose the wrongheadedness of it, too.


The black guy from the hood tells upper middle class whites exactly how bad it is in the 'hood, the drugs, the guns, the crime, the misogyny, etc., and upper middle class whites think it's funny. So they don't take it seriously. Irony is the cop out. Instead of listening to the content of the message coming out of South Central (and elsewhere), the focus is turned instead is placed the form of the message so that dealing with the content is avoided.

I... mostly agree with this. I don't know that the white people literally think it's funny so much as they think the incongruity of the cover is funny. I think that least some of the white people even have some appreciation and understanding for what's tragic in the 'hood. However, yeah, in general I don't think it's a great idea to take most painful rap songs and make light of them, precisely because you're right that it turns the focus away from their content and it's hurtful to laugh at that sort of thing.

In the case of "Bitches Ain't Shit" specifically, though, I think covers that expose the misogyny and seem to judge that mindset to be wrongheaded are legitimate and far less hurtful than the original song. Culturally ingrained/necessitated or whatever, misogynistic ideas should be exposed for how irrational and stupid they are. You can do that for its own sake without any blame or racist implications, and you can do that and still have sympathy for misogynists as fellow victims of unfortunate social forces. There's no way to do that except point it out, and it's always going to be painful to the person who expressed the misogynistic ideas. Hopefully painful in a way that gets them to re-evaluate things, and not painful in a way that makes them eternally defensive. We shy away from these things because they're messy, but ignoring it or just letting it stand doesn't make it better.

Furthermore, if misogyny is somehow so inherent to a subset of black culture it would be racially insensitive to expose it, well, I have two arguments for that. First is that it's both racist and sexist to say that misogyny is an inherent black thing, and thus we ought to be respectful of it. Second, even if we want to frame it as inseparable part of black culture -- I don't -- that doesn't mean it shouldn't be eliminated anyway. Having slaves was an inseparable part of some white culture for a long time, but we wouldn't say that we should be respectful of the mindsets that go into owning slaves because that's just how those people grew up and their life is hard for other reasons -- we should understand it, but not respect it to the extent that we stand at a distance and let it do its thing.
posted by Nattie at 2:18 PM on August 31, 2010 [12 favorites]


What you get is an ironic rendition for sure, but one that is also mocking and dismissive. "Aren't these lyrics so stupid?"

Richard Cheese covers rap music, and heavy metal, and everything else, in a mocking, jokey, white, comedic style. Is his cover of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" a racist and war crimes level cultural atrocity, or just his cover of "Gin and Juice"?
posted by norm at 2:35 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


But again, does that mean Public Enemy's or NWA's songs are essentially "uncoverable"? Because that seems to at least as presumptuous as making a joke of them.

It's a good question. So much of Hip-Hop is so individual I'd say the genre doesn't lend itself well to covers. It's hard to imagine hundreds of (not-played-for-laughs ) covers of "Straight Outta Compton" like there are hundreds of covers of more generic rock songs like "Light My Fire."

That said, can a song be "uncoverable?" I agree with you, that doesn't sound right. Pastabagel mentioned The Game's cover of "Straight Outta Compton," which is an interesting case: it's almost like a documentary about the original song instead of a straight-up cover.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:51 PM on August 31, 2010


Double irony all the way. Love it. Great post, hermitosis.
posted by w0mbat at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2010


I have only a passing resemblance with the original (ex playing it and nodding in agreement so the song made my skin prickle afterward) and I'm listening to the Folds version for the first time, and it's playing to me like a new song, not an ironic cover. And, you know, it works for me. As said upthread, the melody does lend itself well to a downbeat arrangement; I've heard many a sexist song set to ballad time. I'm a big sucker for people rearranging songs when they cover them - one of my favourite ever songs is An Pierle's version of Are 'Friends' Electric? And as Pastabagel says, we're left with a sad song about what it's like in the hood. I think a good chunk of it isn't actually that ironic.

For a long time now I've wanted to do a choral arrangement of "Smell Yo Dick" just because it's absurd and vaguely blasphemous to put that kind of song in that format.
This reminds me a bit of Money by ODB - a song that I like even though I feel I shouldn't whenever I notice the lyrics. Specifically something the DJs Mark and Lard said when it was on the Radio 1 playlist: 'You can call me dirty, and then lift up your skirt? Well, I hope that's in the Carry On sense, because nobody could sing that with a straight face.'

Oh, and: The Jackson Jills covering Culture Club
posted by mippy at 2:59 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


But it's a song about disproportionate post-breakup discomposure, and was written and recorded to capture that feeling.

Folds has been married something like five times, so the song could be made up entirely.
posted by mippy at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2010


Barenaked Ladies took the original lyrics:

Elvis was a hero to most
but he never meant shit to me you see
straight up racist that sucker was
simple and plain
mother fuck him and John Wayne


See, the first time i heard these lyrics was in the New Bad Things' I Suck: 'Nietsche was a hero to most, but he never meant a goddamn thing to me...'

All Saints covered Under The Bridge and chopped out the verse referring to heroin addiction. Sixpence None The Richer covered There She Goes as though it wasn't a song about heroin. Perfect Day, for chrissakes, covered by various musicians as a promo video for the BBC. And the Scissor Sisters'; hi-nrg cover of Comfortably Numb. Does any of this mean heroin is taken less seriously?
posted by mippy at 3:13 PM on August 31, 2010


Sixpence None The Richer covered There She Goes as though it wasn't a song about heroin.

Using Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" in a cruise ship commercial is probably the epitome of this. But perhaps The Onion puts it best: Song About Heroin Used To Advertise Bank.

It's hard to imagine hundreds of (not-played-for-laughs ) covers of "Straight Outta Compton" like there are hundreds of covers of more generic rock songs like "Light My Fire."

Certainly some songs are more generic while others area very direct reflection of the original artist's life. I agree it's impossible to ever fully decontextualize a song by NWA or (say) Eminem away from them. But that's entirely different from somehow saying that it's not not possible to perform these songs without somehow being disrespectful to the artist. At the very minimum, as others have noted, it's not like NWA are above criticism or being flat-out insulted.
posted by GuyZero at 3:37 PM on August 31, 2010


I won't lie and say I didn't, uh, kinda scan through some of these comments, so it's possible somebody else has already made this point. But as was noted upthread, this song was recorded nearly twenty years ago, and these singers appear to be in their late teens/early twenties. I'm not sure that any of these questions about racism, etc., are really all that meaningful to a person who, for their entire lifespan, has known rap to be popular music. More to the point, for someone who, from about sixth grade on, was routinely hearing (true or not) that Eminem was the best rapper in the business. The context of that person is radically different from that of a person in their thirties or forties (I can only imagine). I'm not sure these ideas about cultural appropriation were even a blip in their thought process here.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:24 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think there are many things to enjoy about the video. And many ways that this video should *NOT* be enjoyed

I posted this on facebook earlier and 3 things happened

1. The usual string of likes and "haha.. that's funny" and "that's awesome comments"

2. A discussion about if it's ever funny to make a joke out of either the very real misogyny and homophobia that comes out of a lot of mainstream rap and hip hop, or the "frat boy's" "ironic" adoption of it"

3. A back and forth game of video one-upsmanship.

The videos posted were
1. The Blue Ribbon Glee Club performing Fugazi's Waiting Room
2. A lo-fi cover of oi! punks Cocksparrer's "We're Coming Back" by the all-female tribute group Cuntsparrer
3. Richard Cheese's lounge vversion of Guns 'N Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle"
4. Eric Burdon and War's funky version of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" full of hippie visuals, hand drum-and-flute solos
5. A children's choir performing Phoenix's "Lisztomania"
6. Virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine performing Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell"
7. Some youtube genius dude playing Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" on a harp

I think the joke could have been who can grab the most offensive hip hop track? and pulled out Ice Cube's "A Bitch Is A Bitch" or Too $hort's "A Bitch is a Bitch" or something, and the game could have been LOL Black people are different! or LOL White people are SO White when they imitate Black people! but, at least in this instance it was here's a song I love done well in a weird context! and I think the a cappella Dr. Dre track works just fine on that level

Now it's my turn and I gotta go find another weird cover song. Why don't the Ukrainians or Opium Jukebox have videos?
posted by elr at 4:54 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am reminded of the scene in the Jerk when Navin R Johnson is being educated on the difference between shit and shinola.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:56 PM on August 31, 2010


Bacchantae might like to meet the Tea Partay (SLYT) crew at a mixer.

Hey, my first comment!
posted by kawika at 5:37 PM on August 31, 2010


Now it's my turn and I gotta go find another weird cover song.
posted by elr


A computer voiced electronic cover of finnish folk song Ievan polkka
Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service covers Avril Lavigne's "Complicated".
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats covers Ace of Base "The Sign"
posted by haveanicesummer at 5:41 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Seconding mippy who was the first to point out that the other thing about Ben Folds version is that it works as a song. I defy anyone to listen to it and not find themselves unconsciously humming the fade out at some point later that day. Bitches can't haaaaang with the streets...)
posted by rusty at 6:10 PM on August 31, 2010


but it's not like Eminem is some privileged "Malibu's Most Wanted" poser

I'm reasonably aware of Eminem's background--I saw 8 Mile in a theater when it came out. He may have grown up in some "bad" parts in and around Detroit but the way he talks when he's doing his "rapper" thing is an affectation. Obviously he's been around enough people who speak that way to have become fluent in it but it's not his natural way of speaking (and I mean "natural" as the way he originally learned to speak as a child). That's why I called him an imitator.

His use of language in his music is extraordinary but I don't think anybody would have ever paid much attention to him if he hadn't distinguished himself among a predominately Black crowd as "the White guy who can rap really good" who also happened to have real street cred (versus someone like Vanilla Ice).

Similarly, no one would have given this a cappella group doing "Bitches Ain't Shit" a second thought (or an FPP) if they weren't a bunch of preppy-looking White girls mouthing some vulgar gangsta rap. It's attempted irony based on some often racially-based assumptions about how what comes out of your mouth should match what you look like.

While I was typing this an H&M clothing TV commercial played, which featured a White woman modeling a poncho to the sound of Erykah Badu singing the first stanza of "Mannish Boy", a blues standard made famous by Muddy Waters. It got my attention on a several levels.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:20 PM on August 31, 2010


the way he talks when he's doing his "rapper" thing is an affectation

Are you claiming there is a rapper for whom this sentence is not true?
posted by straight at 8:34 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. The Blue Ribbon Glee Club performing Fugazi's Waiting Room
2. A lo-fi cover of oi! punks Cocksparrer's "We're Coming Back" by the all-female tribute group Cuntsparrer


Those two videos just made up for the agony of the Ben Folds remix I listened to above. The a capella Fugazi's use of the concert footage was marvelous.

There's something really, really wonderful about taking music out of one context and into another, despite all of the faults of both original and cover, and all the attached cultural baggage.
posted by Forktine at 8:41 PM on August 31, 2010


It's interesting that you bring up Eminem in this thread, as he's well known for being a protege of Dr. Dre. Dre produced his first album, and released it on his record label. Eminem then went on to have his own protege, 50 Cent, who is keeping absurdist sexism in the hip hop community alive with some of his recent tweets.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:22 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I may have spent a great deal of my limited internet-time these past two days TubeDubbing that a capella song with other videos. Here are three that especially worked for me for varied reasons:

Face painting

Well... there's morris dancing and bad morris dancing and people in strange costumes...

Dog birth

I realize I have much to answer for

posted by Kattullus at 9:33 PM on August 31, 2010


Ok, Blue Ribbon Glee Club made this whole discussion worth it. Their cover of California Uber Alles is also pretty great in the same vein. It's a more obvious choice, but they really get into it.

I don't know why I always click on people doing PJ Harvey covers, however. That never works.
posted by furiousthought at 9:49 PM on August 31, 2010


For a Halloween concert, DeCadence's version became Witches Ain't Fit (for treats and tricks.)
posted by Zed at 11:22 PM on August 31, 2010


the way he talks when he's doing his "rapper" thing is an affectation

Are you claiming there is a rapper for whom this sentence is not true?


Without a lot of trouble, sure. I didn't mean when he was rapping, I meant when he was talking while in his rapper persona.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:14 AM on September 1, 2010


Nattie:

I wanted to formulate a reposnse to your very thorough critique, but we are dangerously close to "peer-reviewed journal article" length here, so I'll address the main themes. But thank you for taking such an interest in what I wrote.

Sexism - Obviously the song is sexist. My point was that the song is not sexists because it calls out a woman as a bitch because the song isn't calling out a woman in that verse at all. So it can't be sexist for attacking a woman because he's actually attacking a man. But I totally agree that it is sexist for attacking a man by calling him a woman and using the female pronoun to refer to him. It is also sexist for a whole host of other reasons. My point was simply that most people may not realize that the entire first verse is about a man, not a woman.

Racism - I didn't bring up the whiteness of the Ben Folds crowd or the a cappella groups to make the point that the crowd or singers are racists. I'm sure that they aren't. I'm making the cultural point that this white crowd enjoys the song when it is rendered in this way--ironic, stripped of the samples of 70's funk, and delivered by a soft-spoken white singer. That does not mean that they don't enjoy it in the original. But it means that they like what was done to it. I'm commenting about how interesting it is that they like the song in this way, and what that represents. Why are white audiences comfortable with the cover now, when in the early 90's they weren't? Why were ironic renditions not popular then (they were made, they just weren't popular), but they are now?

But it begs a question, why are no black groups doing ironic covers of this, and if they are, why aren't they getting the attention that these white groups are? I don't think it's racism, I think it's that the dominant culture still considers music by blacks as something other than part of the dominant culture.

You said, "they think the incongruity of the cover is funny." You correct of course, but I'm trying to figure out why it's funny, why is it incongruous? And why is the incongruity funny, and not scary, sad, disheartenting or tragic. And finally, what does it mean that the reaction of the dominant culture to the incongruity between the popular music of black culture and that dominant culture's popular music is to find it funny?

I'm not calling it racist because I don't think it is racist. I don't think the white kids in that audience don't like blacks or are afraid of them. I do think they are afraid of what Dre in that song represents, the gansta culture in south central LA. And I think that everytime the reality of that world is exposed in theirs, it's a source of anxiety. I'm trying to get to the source of that anxiety, and unpack all these reactions. Racism, in my opinion, is not instructive here.

That kind of cover, I think, should hopefully be more sensitive, if it's done at all -- probably shouldn't be an ironic or funny cover. That's something you can urge people to think about and it's not so hazy or arbitrary.

I wasn't suggesting that the cover was in bad taste, I was explaining that the gangsta pose for Dre isn't a pose, it's a survival tactic given his childhood. But when we take the lyrics out of their original context, we lose the ability to learn something about how Dre's "art" reflects his life.

But your point brought up a thought I've long had about the Nina Gordon cover of NWA's very aggressive "Straight Outta Compton." It too is an ironic cover (and early enough that it was still novel). But there is also something else.

Because the song is sung by a woman, it retains something lost in the Ben Folds covers (and which remains lost in covers of the Ben Folds cover even done by all-woman groups). A woman doing the cover is in the same position with respect to the dominant while male power as a black man is. They are both "others." A male perspective is "a perspective." But a woman gives "a woman's perspective." So the woman signing is communicating in the same direction as Ice Cube (the rapper on the song). Both are communicating to the white male audience: "when I come back, boy, I'm comin straight outta Compton."

What is also interesting is that the lyrics are such that when Nina Gordon sings it, the original lyrics change meaning. Her cover sounds like a Homeric hymn recounting a epic struggle.

The original lyrics:

Straight outta Compton crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes
When I'm called off I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off
You too boy if ya fuck with me
The police are gonna hafta come and get me
Off yo ass that's how I'm goin out
For the punk motherfuckers that's showin out..

When she sings it:

Straight outta Compton, a crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube, From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes:
"When I'm called off I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off
You too boy if ya fuck with me
The police are gonna hafta come and get me
Off yo ass that's how I'm goin out
For the punk motherfuckers that's showin out.."

She's effectively saying "Gather round and listen to the tale of Ice Cube, he of NWA from the long lost land of Compton." The lyrics are open to a second reading that amounts to her identifying the character she then quotes to recount his exploits. So here, using the original lyrics still makes sense.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:12 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm loving this thread.

Pastabagel, one thing I'd urge you to question is why so much of your argument hinges on the idea that there must be a reason for any individual who sings or raps someone else's lyrics to do so. Everything you've said about the personal-ness of hip-hop lyrics (and in particular this song) is just as true of any other kind of music.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:07 AM on September 1, 2010


straight: the way he talks when he's doing his "rapper" thing is an affectation

Are you claiming there is a rapper for whom this sentence is not true?


Not to be all Wu-Tang fanoboy, buuut:

Ghostface, for sure. It would be silly to think story raps are real life, but there really isn't a line between Ghostface, as a persona, and Dennis Coles.

RZA isn't the greatest raper alive or anything, but I'm pretty sure when he is making love to his wife he goes "Bdoo-doo-doo-doot, BOBBY!"
posted by paisley henosis at 10:37 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The fact that some rappers internalize their persona and become their persona does not mean that the persona is not an affectation.
posted by straight at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2010


straight: The fact that some rappers internalize their persona and become their persona does not mean that the persona is not an affectation.

You don't really know much about Ghostface, clearly. Or ODB, or Scarface, or lots of rappers.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:56 AM on September 1, 2010


Pastabagel, one thing I'd urge you to question is why so much of your argument hinges on the idea that there must be a reason for any individual who sings or raps someone else's lyrics to do so. Everything you've said about the personal-ness of hip-hop lyrics (and in particular this song) is just as true of any other kind of music.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:07 PM on September 1


I'm happy to question anything I do. There has to be a reason people make the choices they do, even if they themselves are not aware of the reasons. Ben Folds made a choice to cover this song, and he probably worked very long and hard on the arrangement. Why did these a cappella groups chose to cover this same song, using Ben Folds arrangement?

I'm not sure if you are saying something else though. Could you clarify what you mean?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:47 PM on September 1, 2010


Sorry, I should have been clearer. What I'm specifically referring to is this sentiment, which you've voiced a few times:

Pastabagel: "In this context, the song makes no sense as a cover, because that first verse is about a very personal beef Dre had with Easy E in real life, and it makes no sense for anyone else to sing it (unless they change the reference to "Eric Wright" to someone in their own life, but then it wouldn't be ironic, it would be hostile). "

My reaction to that kind of statement is no, that's just objectively false. There doesn't need to be some kind of literal connection to a performer's own life in order for her to perform certain lyrics. To me, that seems like a totally arbitrary limitation. Your construction of Nina Gordon's "Straight Outta Compton" -- in which the first line can be read as an introduction and the rest of the song as a quotation -- is interesting, but not as relevant as you seem to think. The success of that recording (and it is arguably more successful than the Ben Folds song) doesn't hinge on whether the words could somehow be construed as being something literally coming from the singer's mouth.

Let's imagine that the Bachantae recording started with the line, "Here's what Dre and Snoop have to say." And then the rest of the song would be a quote. That would be an funny decision, but would that really be the thing that makes the difference in whether the song is an atrocity?
posted by roll truck roll at 1:10 PM on September 1, 2010


Can't I just enjoy this? Jesus.

No. You have to wait for assorted white people to give you the proper black context.
posted by Ritchie at 5:25 AM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


You don't really know much about Ghostface, clearly. Or ODB, or Scarface, or lots of rappers.

I'd have to agree with straight on this one. All three of those of those rappers rely heavily on a created persona. I'm honestly trying to think of one that doesn't. I suppose some rappers come fairly close (Jeru the Damaja?) and would also land in the "being real" category. The Venn diagram of those two camps would overlap to a fair degree but wouldn't encapsulate each other.
Dre picked Eminem most likely for more than just the simple reason he's so damn good. Was one of the reasons because he's white? Yeah, without a doubt.

As for the rest of the discussion, it's interesting, but filled with a bunch of factual inaccuracies.
But, I will submit this for refernce and perhaps future thought: DJ Quik - Quikker Said Than Dunn as opposed to the original Eazy-E - Easier Said Than Done
posted by P.o.B. at 1:11 PM on September 2, 2010


For example, when Ice Cube performs "Straight Outta Compton" live on his solo tours, the song ends after his first verse (which happens to be first). No one covers Easy E's, Dre's or MC Ren's respective lines.

Um, when he performed it with the Roots on Fallon they did the Easy E verse and the Ren verse.
posted by The World Famous at 3:35 PM on September 2, 2010


I'm the C-A-S-
A-N-O-V-A
and the rest is F-L-Y.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:49 PM on September 4, 2010


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