I am very much anti-gun in real life. So it’s always disturbed me just how much I enjoy shoot-em-up gangster movies or war movies or rap songs. I’m not like a fetishist, for the weaponry itself. I don’t have posters over my desk of women in bikinis firing Uzis or whatever. But I do like some tough-guy talk at the end of a barrel-on screen or through some speakers.
I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising: Here’s this invention we made that can can take life so efficiently, bestow the ultimate power, etc. And watching my five-year-old son shoot imaginary bullets out of a cardboard paper-towel tube or a wooden flute with flowers painted on it or, when there’s nothing else available, his fingers, reminds me of when I did the same at the same age, and of the futility of my parents’ refusal to buy me toy guns, and of my refusal to buy them for him. I don’t know much about developmental psychology but it really does seem like little boys have an inclination to shoot things. (I’ll let some Freudian expound on the part anatomy plays in the phenomenon.) And I suppose there’s a similar root explanation for why I can be so entertained by something I find theoretically disgusting.
Anyway, Waka Flocka Flame pushes those very base emotional buttons with his new video, “Luv Dem Gun Sounds.” (The song came out last year, on the the Atlanta rapper’s Flockavelli mixtape.) No weapons are pictured, but you hear plenty of them-the beat itself is constructed from recorded gun blasts and a screaming snippet of metal guitar. It was put together by the producer South Side, and it’s hugely, and harrowingly, great. In the video, too, Flocka pushes rap as far towards heavy metal (in two senses of the term, I suppose) as it’s ever been, banging his head to explosive beats, flying his dreads around like Metallica’s Jason Newsted used to do with his wavier tresses. And the scenario, filmed in Memphis, apparently, with members of a local Bloods set, is, in a word, frightening.
Striking a similar tone, with a more cinematically horror-movie-styled video, is Yelawolf’s “Pop the Trunk.”
As much as this white Alabama rapper’s inflection and delivery mimic’s that of Eminem (I hate to make that comparison, but it’s unavoidable: what is it with white rapper’s pinched nasal staccato?) he has something going on here that seems vivid and real. It’s undeniably intense. Watch him performing it live, with drummer Travis Barker, earlier this summer in L.A.
With this too, but even more with “Dem Gun Sounds,” I’m reminded of how I felt the first time I heard “Iron Man,” by Black Sabbath. I was eleven or twelve, I guess, in sixth grade. The massive drums and slashing guitar, Ozzy’s distorted, demonic voice-it’s violent, and it scared me a little. Not that I would have let on to Colin Dodds and Steve Wallace, playing the tape on a box near the bike rack behind our school. But I remember thinking, that’s the “heavy metal” I’d been hearing about on TV, Phil Donohue talking to worried moms about it or whatever.
That was the first time I heard a band that lived up to the name. But riding home that day, humming the song to myself, imagining what Ozzy looked like singing like that, I realized, too, that this was exactly the sort of sound I wanted to be listening to at the time. A sound I was probably hearing in my subconscious anyway. It was echoing something deep in my head, the part of young people that want to shoot stuff and destroy the world. (Testosterone, I guess it’s called-I know I’m not inventing the wheel here-just bubbling off in a different direction than the football field, where I only ever got flattened.) Feeding that stuff, maybe, too-ut I hope and trust in a way that leads to healthy catharsis, as opposed to actually hurting anyone. I’m a pacifist.