[20 March 2006]
The Graduate: Post-Punk Laptop Rap as Essential Musical Expression
An Essay by Andrew Neilsen
For the multimedia portion of my application to the Stanford University Ph.D. program in American Literature, I submit a recording that I have made, The Graduate, along with this short accompanying essay.
The basis of all storytelling is narrative, and modern populist narrative is no longer confined to the musty pages of the novel. The central thesis underlying The Graduate is that effective discussion of issues central to modern youth can be discussed not in the form of fiction but by appropriating for this new purpose the three-minute verse-chorus structure used by hip hop. I have adopted the pen-name of MC Lars, adapted from MC Lars Horris in a previous incarnation (the Horris was dropped due to an unfortunate similarity to another MC, Paul Barman). Influenced by the lyrical hilarity of Weird Al Yankovic and the punk humor of Bloodhound Gang, I have corralled the help of influential friends Jaret Reddick from Bowling For Soup, punk band The Matches and Ill Bill from Non Phixion to create this work.
It’s pretty amazing that someone presumably serious about launching a career as a rapper would publicly cite Weird Al as an influence. What do you make of that? There’s a long pedigree of joke rappers out there who do MC Lars perhaps better than MC Lars, I’m afraid. Goldie Looking Chain’s “Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do” effectively lambastes the conservative anti-rap stance much more effectively than Lars’ whimsical attack on major recording labels on “Download This Song”. MC Paul Barman, too, the rapper who he is so afraid of being compared to, has almost done the whole white-boy humor-rap thing to death, hasn’t he?
The song-stories that appear on The Graduate are humorous parodies of real life that contain kernels of true experience to which we can all relate. For example, “The Roommate From Hell” tells the story of a college Junior who is assigned Satan as his roommate.
There’s one good line in that song, where the Devil raps that he’s got to “go do some blow with that ho Kate Moss”; otherwise isn’t this an appropriation of shallow stereotypes with no discernable chorus and a static—almost boring—bass line?
In another piece, taking this idea to its literal extreme, I have re-told Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick in rap form. I have a long-standing interest in 19th Century American authors, and have previously given Edgar Alan Poe the same homage Melville receives here.
“Ahab” is interesting but ultimately fails as a song, because the whole thing is hijacked by the Supergrass sample that MC Lars has chosen to use. The one time Lars’ literary sensibility is irresistible is on the grower “Space Game”, which in a sudden twist shifts from Darth Maul- and Neo-dropping geek rap to a sublimely enjoyable exposition of modern and post-modern authors, with some killer lines and an effective bassline.
My methodology is to combine incisive, story-telling lyrics with music specially selected to communicate this message. I have used samples from musical legends Iggy Pop and Supergrass, among others, as part of my subversive commentary on youth and music—while the listener is prompted by the familiar tune to dance or sing along, the words undermine, revealing truth.
The samples are the biggest problem on The Graduate, it seems to us. Lars has taken the easy way out in choosing such famous songs as Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” on “Download This Song”, or Supergrass’ “Moving” on “Ahab”. They provide catchy choruses, sure, but it just feels like Lars is taking the easy way out; and he hasn’t quite mastered the art of selecting samples. The one place it does work is on his Laptop EP hit (which makes a reappearance on this album), “iGeneration”—when the sample shouts “You’re part of it”, it’s a perfect combination of celebration and accusation.
In all, I have combined all these diverse elements and interests into a hybrid, original sound that I call ‘post punk laptop rap’. I believe this represents an exciting entry into the lit-rap canon.
One problem is, he repeats himself. The chorus (such as it is) for “Generic Crunk Rap” is the same as “Rapgirl”, a simple triplet-quarter-quarter rhythm (“generic crunk rap” / “suburban rap queen”). And the ideas aren’t even new: the call-and-response of “——is not punk rock” in “Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock” (which by the way also appears in “Generic Crunk Rap”) found a funnier incarnation in “America Fuck Yeah” from Team America.
Thank you for your consideration of my application. MTV and Sirius satellite radio were both impressed and have given me some of the support I deserve. I hope to continue my important exploration of rap as narrative as a student at Stanford’s prestigious Ph.D. program.
The biggest shock here can be summarized by the question “Is he serious?” The guy’s so well-meaning, so straight-faced about his jokey, one-conceit little songs, as if he actually sees in them and in his adopted moniker ‘post punk laptop rap’ something vital. In his preoccupation with sending up genres such as emo or crunk, his reliance on too-famous samples that hijack Lars’ own creativity, and his simple, simplistic delivery, he has failed to create a cohesive or compelling album. There is a kernel of something here, but if MC Lars is ever going to be taken seriously he’s going to have to improve his delivery and craft, and drop the jokey inconsequentiality. Should we let him into our program? I’m not sure.