In the summer of 2008, Asher Roth burst onto mainstream radio with his ode to beer pong, “I Love College." Roth, the project of the now ubiquitous Bieber-bringer Scooter Braun, was everywhere. His single got tons of play on top-40 stations, blasting from Jeep Wranglers and at house parties where Jell-O shots were served. It was a fun little thing, and if you listened to the rest of the album or any of his freestyles, it was evident that he actually had talent. And he was likeable, too: comfortable in his own skin, possessed with decent lyrical talent and a somewhat smooth flow. Asher Roth? Sure, why not?
Unfortunately, Roth opened up the floodgates for the new subsection of brofrat rappers, each less talented and cornier than the next. FratRapTumblr was established to document this growing genre, and it’s updated nearly every day with new videos and MP3s by purveyors of this style. Frat rappers are multiplying, like an incurable virus hellbent on killing hip-hop.
Of course, it seems a little silly to be arguing for the sanctity of rap music in 2011 when videos like this one exist. But the attention these frat rappers are receiving is inversely proportional to their creativity. The record deal nabbed by Rich Hil, Tommy Hilfiger's son, has gotten people yakking, as did the sudden conspicuousness of Chet Haze, aka Chester Hanks, earlier this year. What makes people like Hil and Haze feel they can be taken seriously as they pull serious rapper faces in videos and chime in with seriously awkward rapper ad-libs? I blame frat rap. (Take this lyric from Haze: "a call from the brothers in the frat house/ I'm with my girl, tryin' to get up under that blouse/ She a freshman/ She a freak though/ In the bed, but a lady in the street, yo.") The media has a field day with these guys (although some would prefer not to). And they're easy targets. But then, they're celebrity offspring—delusions of grandeur are their birthright. No, there are much worse people. Here are three.
Great name, but that’s about it.
There’s something about a former Google employee thinking it’s okay to rap that makes the veins in my forehead throb. He makes me more ashamed for Long Island Jews than Bernie Madoff.
His first verse opens with him saying, “You ain’t never met a kid like this before,” and all I can think is, yes, yes, I have. ALL I HAVE TO DO IS OPEN MY EYES IN MURRAY HILL. I’ve met a million kids like you before. They’re about to graduate from law school. You look like the nerdy Jewish kid my Nerdy Jewish friends used to beat up in synagogue.
He follows up in the verse by declaring himself to be a “fucking hustler.” Listen to me, white rappers from Long Island: Nobody wants to hear you rapping about how you made it and you’re hustling. Stick to what you know. If you worked at Google, I want to hear you rapping about fucking algorithms or some shit, not how you’re grinding every day. You are not grinding every day. You have health insurance. Shut up.
If the majority of your lyrics (and this seems true of most rappers in this genre) revolve around you saying, “Most people say I shouldn’t rap but I’m doing it anyway,” then, I don’t know, MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T BE RAPPING. Apply to dental school.
Your background is always going to factor in to the judgments people make about you as an artist. You can make up for that with skill, with originality, by bringing something different to the table. But there’s none of that here.
Never would I do that I’m a real fucking hustler
You be in the background making noise like a muffler
But if it doesn’t kill me it makes me tougher
And that’s a message that I pass on to my brother
You never gonna really make a difference til you suffer
But we passed that now, its time to smash that, thunder.
Simple rhymes and rhyme structures, as well as the employment of used-up metaphors can work if you're Gucci Mane, have a charismatic presence and are rapping about something interesting. If you're not Gucci Mane and you're doing these things, it simply means you’re terrible at rapping.
Another emerging frat rap star from Boston. He played soccer and went to prep school or something, and, judging by the number of blogs mentioning him, he appears to be gaining traction. He takes pride in his frat roots, proclaiming his ownership of his college campus that same way Jeezy would proclaim to own a block. Judging by the other videos I’ve seen of the frat rap genre, he is pretty much of the same mold as 95% of the other frat rappers out there, down to the lyrics about drinking with his bros and his ability to fuck my girlfriend if he so wished and the R&B-centric choruses that alert us to his ability to reach the top. His videos were obviously filmed while him and his dudebros were on spring break.
He’s just trying to get his dance on. Come back to a girl with no pants on. Put his man’s on. Ya dig? Props on filming the second video during the same Spring Break trip. That’s how you minimize expenses, dog!
Sure, there are plenty of black rappers out there who are also shooting terrible videos: Strutting around rented mansions while their goofy friends stand around dancing awkwardly and putting their arms around clearly disinterested females. But those rappers don’t receive nearly the amount of fanfare that Adams has. They fade into oblivion. And there’s just something about the Abercrombie-esque shots of him frolicking into the surf with his perfectly coiffed hairdo and hairless chest. SPRING BREAK RULES! Sure, rap has always been about braggadocio, but free drinks at Tommy Doyle's and all the Alpha Phi chicks you could bang in a semester does not count as an alluring fantasy life.
There were some jokesters before this, like Mickey Avalon and Dirt Nasty, who had the potential to be irritating, but once it became clear they didn’t take themselves seriously and were only in it for the women, money and drugs, they became easier to ignore. The trouble with Sam Adams is he seems to genuinely believe he's bringing something new and exciting to the table.
Probably the most likely to achieve mainstream success in the wake of Asher Roth—and draw the most ire along the way. Barely out of high school and hailing from Pittsburgh, Miller burst onto the scene for no other reason than people are bored and white people who write about rap on the Internet will latch onto anything.
Boasting a record deal and a half-million Twitter followers, he was cosigned by Wiz Khalifa (himself a one trick pony, albeit one with charisma and great production skills). Miller is slightly tolerable. He follows all the rules white rappers have followed for decades: He shows that he has black friends in his videos (let's dap each other up on camera!), sports a bunch of awful tattoos, constantly refers to getting high, and displays a nice collection of sneakers. His beats are well produced and a throwback to that '90s-era ish. His flow isn’t half bad. He even once mentioned Big L so at least he knows there were rappers before Kanye.
But that’s really all there is to him. There’s no storytelling, no lyrics that mention any sort of different perspective or experience. As with the others, there’s nothing here that's unique. There’s no need to pay attention to him, no need to press repeat on his songs. The goofy looks he puts on during his videos and corny references to Kids might have worked ten years ago, but now it just reeks of trying too hard. That said, he doesn’t completely suck, so that puts him at the top of his class in this genre.
I recently spoke with Stan Ipcus, a former rapper from White Plains who was doing this frat rap shtick in the late '90s, rhyming about weed, girls, beer, and basketball—but he did it well. If anyone fathered these kids, it was certainly him, though it’d be unfair to blame him for what he wrought. He lamented that his time came before all the attention that social media could have provided. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and cheap studio programs—they're all making it easy for frat rappers, emboldened by the success of Asher Roth, to develop and promote this genre. They’re recording their own albums and videos and they aren’t shy about shoving this stuff in our faces. Rap has always been about rapping about what you know and what you see, but what if what you know is boring and uninteresting? What if you don't care to make it otherwise? As Common Sense once said, “If I don’t like it I don’t like it, that don’t mean that I’m hating.” Except in this case I am hating. Stop making music, please. You guys are embarrassing.
Danny Gold is a journalist and filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn. He writes about crime, politics, boxing, culture and parties for a bunch of different New York newspapers. He really thinks the Lost Boyz never got the attention they deserved.