TheVine story: ‘Exclusive – US hip-hop industry reacts to Chris Lilley’s ‘Angry Boys”, July 2011

My first feature story for TheVine. This received a massive response from readers, both on TheVine, where it was first published, and also on the digital versions of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, WA Today and Brisbane Times, all of whom picked up a syndicated version of the story. Excerpt below:

Chris Lilley’s new television show Angry Boys has been greeted with a degree of ambivalence by Australian viewers. Coming in for a particular amount of flak is Lilley’s character S.mouse, a Los Angeles-based rapper based somewhere between Soulja Boy and Lil’ Bow Wow. Whether S.mouse is funny has been a topic of discussion on numerous internet forums, but some critics have gone further, voicing their concern that the character is little more than a simplified blackface parody of US hip-hop culture.

Is S.mouse racist? And does the character have anything worthwhile to say about American hip-hop culture? Seeing as the show received partial funding from US cable network HBO, we here at TheVine thought it’d be a good idea to show S.mouse from Angry Boys to Stateside hip-hop aficionados, on both sides of the industry, to find out what they think of one of Lilley’s most divisive characters yet.

Zilla Rocca, MC – 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers (Philadelphia)
The S.mouse stuff is crossing lines of comfort, decency, and racial boundaries rather flippantly. Strike one is having a white person say the ‘n’ word multiple times. It’s not like blackface hasn’t been done in the recent past—Ice Cube did a whole show called Black. White. where a black family was made white and a white family was made black to see how the world treats them. Fred Armisen, a white guy, portrays Barack Obama on SNL, the same way Darrell Hammond, another white guy, portrayed Jesse Jackson. Either way, blackface has been used to stir up either hard-fought political and racial truths we tend to believe don’t exist anymore in America, or it’s done in a lavishly ridiculous and playful manner while tiptoeing carefully around outright exploitation.

S.mouse, while funny at times, wasn’t going for the revelation of ugly racial truths through the most controversial medium available (a white guy in blackface); he was making fun of American rap stars who aren’t his colour. The rap stars he chose to lampoon (Soulja BoyLil’ Wayne and the year 2000 rap star who frankly doesn’t exist anymore) are truly the lowest hanging fruit. He didn’t mimic Kanye West, the son of academics, Jay-Z, the most savvy and sharp businessman rap has ever seen. He didn’t punk Drake, the polished preppy child star, Diddy, a millionaire impresario of nearly twenty years, or 50 Cent, the ruthless student of Robert Greene and Forbes Magazine. He picked rappers who record dumb songs, talk like illiterates, and live up to the stereotypes of rappers my mum frowns upon: obsessed with money/hoes/clothes with no real street cred and proud to be ‘hood’ all in the same. Sadly, this is not the current state of the American Pop Rapper. He is ten years late on his ‘clever’ takedown. With the internet and invention of smart phones, it’s no excuse.

It’s a very basic principle he violated: white people can only mock black people and black culture if there’s a black person around saying it’s OK. When Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle mocked white people, they were working with white writers, white network execs, white cast mates who all thought it was genius. Danny Hoch and Jamie Kennedy (3 A.M,Blackbird) purposely put black characters in their movies who spoke on behalf of the audience: “You’re going too far, and there are consequences.” S.mouse goes way too far and only interacts with black people who are hired to read their lines, not act as the audience’s conscience.

Kool A.D., MC – Das Racist (New York City)
This is dumb. I had to turn it off a couple minutes in. His accent is bad, which makes the blackface worse. The only time I’ve seen blackface used in a way that actually made me “think more critically about race” is [the Spike Lee film] BamboozledIce Cube Presents: Black. White. was pretty dumb but I watched every episode. Hoodoo Possession by Guillermo Gomez-Pena had its heart in the right place but was too ‘avant-garde’ which is French for “white people seem to eat it up.” I only saw a few minutes of Tropic Thunder [in which the white Robert Downey Jr. plays a black man] but it was annoying in that “let’s see if we can innocuously pull off something traditionally understood to be racist as an ‘edgy statement’ of how we’re over it” way. This show seems like it’s similarly whack but I have even less patience for that type of thing now. I would go into great detail and use a bunch of college words but I don’t have the time to do that anymore unless someone wants to pay me. Maybe Australians would call this ‘cheeky’, or something. As for how it would go in America: who knows what the kids want, am I right?

For the full story, visit TheVine.

One Response to “TheVine story: ‘Exclusive – US hip-hop industry reacts to Chris Lilley’s ‘Angry Boys”, July 2011”

  1. […] of the show. Check out an excerpt below. For an American perspective on S.mouse, take a look here. Last week TheVine quizzed a handful of American hip-hop artists and journalists on their thoughts […]

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