“Our art is a reflection of our reality.” This quote is taken from the upcoming NWA biopic set to be released next week. But just as the story of the group that brought gritty tales of LA street life to the world is set to hit the big screen, a different type of reality is on the rise in hip hop. This reality is a long way from street corner hustlers and tales of inner city survival.
Lil Dicky is a white university graduate from a nice, upper middle class background in Pennsylvania. A single, Professional Rapper, from his new album of the same name is currently sitting in second place on the indie hip hop charts according to DJ Booth. The song features Lil Dicky attempting to convince the boss of hip hop, played here by Snoop Dogg, that he deserves a position in the rap game.
The fact that Dicky was able to secure a collaboration with Snoop Dogg shows that he’s already gained a little pull on the scene. Even more impressive and unexpected are appearances from Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan, currently two of the hottest prospects in rap. These star turns on the album suggest that a once much maligned sub-genre of hip hop may be turning mainstream.
“Frat rap” is a term used to describe a number of rappers whose themes revolve around the struggles of being a middle class, white college student. Typical themes include getting high, partying and chicks. The genesis of the scene was arguably Asher Roth’s ode to the American collegiate experience, the imaginatively titled I Love College.
This seminal record in the frat rap catalogue included the memorable hook of “man, I love college/I love drinking/ I love women/and I love college.”
Despite a general aura of American frat douchiness, I Love College is a pretty harmless, laid back party record. Roth had just enough likeability to pull off verses about drinking and pizza without making you want to punch your computer monitor. It wasn’t California Love but in terms of attempts at rapping go it was far from rock bottom.
However, this early foray into the previously lyrically untapped world of US undergraduates inspired others to follow where Roth had first dared to tread. Over in the UK I was totally unaware of this scene, as any British attempt to mimic it would have doubtless inspired ruthless piss taking. It’s hard to imagine anyone rapping with a straight face about Monday nights at Liquid/Envy and even a parody sounds skin-crawlingly cringe-worthy. I decided to address my ignorance after running across lil Dicky’s catalogue.
As I delved into this unfamiliar scene, I found that like any genre, frat rap has its decent, its bad and its outright terrible.
As I delved into the world of bars about dorm room hook-ups and skipping classes, I found a lot of it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It’s not good rap by any means. There are no overlooked gems here or anyone who’s going to give Pusha T a run for his money lyrically. But basically, like I Love College there’s not a lot to get angry about. It’s pretty corny but it’s not the worst music I’ve ever heard. I wouldn’t choose to listen to it but if the choice was between an hour of frat rap or the Ting Tings, I’d take the latter every single time. I don’t care if they haven’t put out music in 10 years, I fucking hate the Ting Tings.
Stuff like Hoodie Allen is basically what you’d expect. It’s light, frothy rhymes about keeping that partaaay vibe going even though your friends have moved on from downing shots of brightly coloured liqueurs. I can’t imagine this stuff actually getting played at parties but the 2.5 million views for Allen’s video “Act My Age” suggests he does have a real audience. Second tier grime acts would kill for those sorts of numbers. Hoodie’s flow is hardly top shelf (Making money like an owner/ these rappers are so over the hill/word to Jonah”) but there’s a disarming quality to its simplicity. It doesn’t make me angry that people listen to this.
Of course, there is a more wankerish end of the spectrum. Sam Adams belongs at this end. Adams looks like the sort of guy who could be the villain in a teen comedy. A sort of Stiffler character but with any charm removed. I would feel bad about making these sort of snap judgements based on appearance if Adams didn’t so emphatically confirm them in his lyrics. Apparently Adams made his name off of a remix of Asher Roth’s I Love College (Adams’ version is wittily re branded I Hate College). In it, Adams’ basically repeats the theme of the original but in a far more obnoxious way. Sample lyrics include; “I hate college but love getting laid/socialite swag at night when the sun fades” and “soon to blow trees and down to pound Coors/down to pound whores.” That tune has over 9 million views. Think about that.
The rest of Adams’ material carries on in the same vein. All Night Longer includes the immortal hook “tell the bartender to make that motherfucker stronger.” It does contain some profound observations about race though with the line “everybody notice white girls drink vodka sodas.” Makes you think.
It gets worse than Adams though who it turns out is about the mid point of the scene in terms of taste. Rappers like Huey Mack and Mike Stud make Adams look like a sort of thought provoking Q-tip type character in the frat rap scene.
Perhaps, unsurprisingly for a man who chose Mike Stud as his rapping name, big Mike lives all the worst aspects of frat boys through his lyrics. Looking sort of like a WASP version of Jersey Shore’s The Situation and despite seemingly being around 35, Mike is apparently the big dog on campus. “I’m gifted boy/making money, chips ahoy,” Mike tells us, although how he makes these riches remains unclear. The video to This feeling features Mickey S cruising in a Ferrari while his mate runs around with a big American flag presumably because he’s living that life bro! Mike brags about his lifestyle and the amount of hoes he apparently has access to. Obviously this is pretty standard fare for hip hop but when it comes from a guy who probably has a successful career as a stockbroker to fall back on it feels less forgiveable.
Huey Mack presumably appeals to the same demographic as Mike Stud. It’s the sort of unapologetic braggadocio rap that Future might be able to pull off but isn’t so becoming of a college kid with a buzz cut. “I am getting to the money/ I’m on my monopoly/ getting all this green/ and I ain’t talking broccoli.” How Huey is hustling to make this guap again isn’t revealed. Presumably it’s some sort of complex campus based drug trafficking operation.
But Huey’s not all about the cash, he’s got a lighter side too; “I am getting real big/ yes that is what she said/ you know I am a joker, but no Brokeback.” Why he suddenly feels the need to reference Brokeback Mountain here is unclear but the insinuation is undeniable; Huey is all about the ladies.
Getting away from the dumber end of the spectrum, there are artists who have come out of the frat rap scene that have earned a degree of respect in hip hop on the basis of skill. Asher Roth, the godfather of the genre himself, has moved on from light hearted descriptions of college life. Now going all out on the hippy look with long hair and tie die hoodies, Roth is actually a decent rapper who’s carved out his own niche. He’ll probably never score a hit as big as I Love College again but he doesn’t seem particularly fussed.
There’s also Mac Miller who has transcended his frat roots to become a genuinely well respected act in the hip hop world. Probably the best rapper to come out of the whole genre, Miller’s collaborated with everyone from Earl Sweatshirt to Chief Keef. Like Asher Roth, he’s moved away from the frat image he started out with. If frat rap has produced one real star it’s Miller, although he doesn’t really fit in the genre any more.
Back to Lil’ Dicky. While Dicky deals with the typical themes of college rap, nights out, trying to get girls etc, he does so with a self-deprecating humour that makes him far more likeable than some of his peers. His songs are essentially comedy numbers similar to Lonely Island although he seems to take rapping a bit more seriously. Dicky’s songs encourage you to laugh at his failures rather than look in awe upon his success.
Some have expressed confusion that Lil’ Dicky doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to be a comedy act or taken seriously. While quite a few hip hop pundits seem unimpressed, as frat rap goes it’s at least funny. When Dicky shows his more straight faced side it’s less enjoyable but still better than the likes of Mike Stud.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of frat rap. It’s best artists seem to have outgrown the scene pretty quickly or treat it as a tongue in cheek comedy vehicle. It’s least enjoyable artists live down to all your worst expectations. But it does raise an interesting question. Has rap now transcended its urban, African-American origins? White, well off college students seem keen to express their lifestyles through rapping. While hip hop fans may treat it with disdain, the Youtube views and fact that people like Hoodie Allen can tour the States in front of relatively big crowds suggest that there is an audience for it. Frat rap seems pretty content to remain in its niche, separate from the rest of hip hop besides the odd crossover who can win respect outside the genre.