A few weeks ago I wrote about my (re)discovery of Music Choice, the big media conglomerate that primarily brings music to digital television for whatever narrow profit the banner ads will bring. I have spent more time over the past week or so (as my children and I have been spending chaotic and messy quality time at home) contemplating the various channels that Music Choice gives to the world.
I don’t know exactly how the system works, but there must be some inter-corporate back-scratching going on because the tracks repeat regularly on each station and there are typically underrepresented artists (I have yet to hear They Might Be Giants, the Pixies or Fugazi on any channel). But, since I am too lazy to do any real research on the matter, I will just assume corporate shenanigans informed only partly by actual music knowledge and taste.
The last time I talked about Music Choice I was so breathless with the single “The John Wayne” by Little Green Cars (a passion that has tempered, but only marginally) that I mentioned the artist 2 Chainz only in passing. As to be expected from Music Choice, I have heard this song a couple of times now and I am obsessed (for no good reason) with the double-bind it presents.
Here’s the gist of my fixation with it. The repeated (ad nauseam) refrain “I’m Different” is, in my so very humble opinion, paradoxical for the basic reason that, since everyone claims difference, to claim to be different is to make one essentially the same. That is, a proclamation of difference is so common as to confirm the opposite of the claim.
Did that make sense?
To make it more confusing, let’s review why 2 Chainz says he is different in the song (to make the elision between performer and persona and to assume that the content of the song exists to support the repeated assertion of difference; and to assume that he isn’t referring to his Ivy League education–as one of my students pointed out).
(1) He has a convertible (“Pull up to the scene with my ceiling missing”); (2) he flouts his rival rappers (“Middle finger up to my competition”); (3) he makes off with other guys’ girls (“When I leave the scene, bet your boo gone / And I beat the pussy like a new song”); (4) he gets a a lot of girls (see most of the song); (4) he has a lot of money to spend on stuff (thousand dollars on sneakers; “my valet parks a Brinks truck”).
So, 2 Chainz (or the persona of the rapper performing this song) is womanizing, misogynistic, materialistic and happy to couch expressions of his own excellence in violent and competitive language aimed at any other performers (or romantic rivals, perhaps). All of this, of course, makes him very un-different.
Yet, perhaps these claims of rap identity and hyper-masculine sexuality actually do add up to a type of difference. See, by asserting difference even while conceding sameness the performer points to the gap between the claim and the reality thereby confirming, if I am right about this, a knowledge of his very sameness. The recognition of this sameness, I submit, couched within its own denial does in fact add up to a difference from those who neither recognize they are stereotypes nor attempt to address the issue at all.
Does that make sense? Probably not.
But here’s another thing about being and playing a stereotype, about accepting a role and developing it: the performer communicates the sameness as a gesture of becoming what he wants to be and then establishes difference by creating variation within the received pattern. 2 Chainz does this very thing with some strange phrasing (“ceiling missing” for a convertible), word-play (“Got the present for the present”) and a variety of creative rhyming that includes slant rhymes (“like a kitchen cabinet” / … “you are cut from a different fabric”) use of assonance and word-changes (“Bitch sit down, you got a bad atti’ / Gave her the wrong number and a bad addy / You ain’t going nowhere like a bad navi”) and some amusing if not also challenging imagery (“Then put a fat rabbit on the Craftmatic” where “fat rabbit” is a metonym for a woman and the Craftmatic a commercial loan-word for a bed/mattress).
And this taunting, word play and creative rhyme all comes together at the beginning of the third verse:
2 Chainz got your girl on the celly
And when I get off the celly,
I made her meet at the telly
When she meet at the telly
I put it straight in her belly
When it go in the belly, it ain’t shit you can tell me
We can take issue with the typical and unkind treatment of women (and we should); we can also point out with limited cleverness how stereotypical all the claims the rapper makes are. But, at the end the way the claims are made are new.
So, the point I guess I could make is that not only is he the same because he says he’s different and actually different by conceding he’s the same, but 2 Chainz actually also does differentiate himself through the very thing which makes him who he is, not what he has or the mask he puts on as a performer (the four categories above) but through what he does (rap, rhyme and compose).
One last note, I was confused by some of the lyrics. I got help from http://www.Rapgenius.com, a site that bills itself as a hip-hop Wikipedia and which also aims “to critique rap as poetry”. The collaborative and democratic nature of this site (anyone can join and contribute) and the culturally leveling aim of its mission—to show that a modern form like rap is both responsive to and worthy of interpretive attention—are the very things that make the rapid-commercializing internet still worth saving. I could lose years on this site.
Check it out, my brother. How does it stand with your feelings for the Wu Tang Clan?