July 18, 2011


Logo/ No Logo

Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci" video came out in the middle of May, as an (allegedly) self-released thing, with cameos by a couple of members of Odd Future; by the end of the month, she had a major-label record deal. It's an unbelievably catchy track, it's got a bunch of great lines in it (a new twist on the hip-hop dealer trope: "see me on your college campus/baggie full of Adderalls"), and there's something massively annoying about it.

The problem isn't quite that Kreayshawn tries to have it both ways with her brand namedropping (getting over on mentioning Gucci/Louis/Fendi/Prada, getting over on dissing them); that's more clever than annoying, really. It's also not really that she's coming from outside hip-hop culture proper and working within its idiom; that's the way any idiom gets fresh ideas, and as of "Gucci Gucci" she's doing some fun stuff ("Google Map"/"noodle back" is a great rhyme).

The beat's definitely not an issue; Lil Wayne has even dropped a freestyle on it, taking advantage of the fact that "Gucci" sounds like "Tunechi." "Gucci Gucci" is a throwback to the sound of '90s West Coast hip-hop, and the "one big room full of bad bitches" sample isn't actually a bit of somebody else's hit, although it sounds like it could be: it's Kreayshawn cannibalizing herself, slowing down a line that's repeated over and over in her earlier video "Bumpin' Bumpin." And yes, her flow has improved considerably since last August (it could hardly have gotten worse).

The key to understanding what "Gucci Gucci" is actually up to might rest with the first great hip-hop record to mention that particular brand in its title: Schoolly D's "Gucci Time," from 1985.

Schoolly was also basically an editor-director-plus-his-own-boss: the label of the 12-inch single wasn't even typeset, it was in somebody's shaky handwriting. It was rawer than raw, "based on fact, not based fictitious" — nothing but a drum machine, some scratching from DJ Code Money, Schoolly rhyming, and occasionally somebody doubling him for a word or a line.

"Gucci Time" is one of those records every old-schooler knows; even people who didn't listen to hip-hop by black people heard "lookin' at my Gucci it's about that time" in Beastie Boys' "Time to Get Ill"). Like Kreayshawn, Schoolly sampled himself: his fantastic, baggie-full-of-Adderalls-intensity 1989 album Am I Black Enough for You? reprised "lookin' at my Gucci it's about that time" in a slightly fancier track called "Gucci Again," whose opening snarl became the seed of the Chemical Brothers' "Block Rockin' Beats." And Schoolly's triumphant verse-ender "I use the microphone like a plumber use a tool" turned up again in his 1991 single "Where'd You Get That Funk From."

But the way Kreayshawn and Schoolly D respectively talk about Gucci illustrates what's so irritating about "Gucci Gucci." When Schoolly's looking at his Gucci, he could be looking at his Gucci watch ("it's about that time") or looking at his less-than-full Gucci wallet ("it's about that time for MC Schoolly D to start hummin' a rhyme"), the idea being that he can fill it by rhyming.

The A-side of Schoolly D's "Gucci Gucci" was "P.S.K. - What Does It Mean?" The answer to that question was the Park Side Killers, a Philly gang. In that context, wearing Gucci is aspirational: it says that you've made so much money that you can afford to buy something that expensive, and that therefore you're super-skillful. A quarter of a century later, that's still the implication high-end brand names have in a lot of hip-hop—see, for instance, Soulja Boy Tell'em's 2009 "Gucci Bandanna."

On the other hand, the "basic bitches" Kreayshawn is backhanding seem, from context, more likely to be fashionistas than people from actual low-income backgrounds. Anti-materialism: who's going to complain about that? Well, it's not quite anti-materialism, at least not entirely. "Basic bitches wear that sh-- so I don't even bother" translates as "I am better than you who dress like you've got money"—which means that part of the argument she's making is an attack on the culture around the idiom she's adopting.

In other words, it's very much the kind of rhetoric Owen Jones talks about (in a British rather than American context) in his new book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class: language that implies that both acting like you're poor and acting like you want to not be poor any more, even by accessorizing, are worthy of contempt. "Bitch, you ain't no Barbie, I see you work at Arby's/Number two, super-sized, hurry up, I'm starving"—that's a double-edged line, especially since "Barbie" these days also means Harajuku Barbie, a la Nicki Minaj. It's a funny snap, but it's a snap at somebody who's in a lower social position for being in that position, and therefore incredibly mean-spirited. What Kreayshawn's selling isn't an overpriced purse, but it might be more pernicious.