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Judd Apatow Thinks Rap Music Is Really Funny!


Last night, I caught some of ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ and was particularly annoyed by a scene late in the movie, where a rapper called Lil’ Nutzzak is introduced to an aging Dewey through this a video clip. Nutzzak’s rap samples a single-word from Dewey’s classic song ‘Walk Hard’ and the plan becomes pairing Dewey with this up-and-coming rapper (there’s some wonderfully shameless Cox and Nutzzak jokes in there too). It’s a moderately clever parody of total sell-out, music exec retardation but writers, Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan’s disdain for rap comes through way more than a genuine disgust for corporate synergy- and it’s weird.

While the rest of the movie sends-up musical tall-tales like Brian Wilson in the sandbox and appropriately cuts-down Hollywood’s hubris for reducing a country legend’s ups and downs to a single event involving his dead brother– in ‘Walk Hard’ the brother is sawed totally in-half during a machete fight– there’s no begrudging respect or polite joshing when it comes to hip-hop’s excesses and absurdities. When Ghostface- pretty much as ethical and moral of an rapper as there’s ever been- comes out at a Dewey Cox Lifetime Achievement Concert, it’s got none of the vague absurdity of Jewel or Lyle Lovett being there, it’s just, “Ha! A rapper’s on the stage saying some dirty-words! Oh how far music’s devolved!”

Apatow’s producer/director/writer filmography contains a weird trend of using hip-hop as either a quick throwaway joke or as a way to reduce a character or scene to absurdity. Recall the intro to ‘Knocked-Up’ which uses Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s classic ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ (Armond White: “white boys clowning to Old Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”) with emphasis on Dirty’s “Ooh baby I like it raw” hook to make it really obvious and funny what this movie’s already going to be about. Think of the constant hip-hop slang used by everyone but Steve Carrell’s character in ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’ and how it’s essentially used to represent just how vulgar and crass everyone’s become and how stupid white people are for adopting any part of this culture.

Leslie Mann’s bar-slut in ‘Virgin’ is speeding home, too drunk to drive, blaring and singing along to Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’, which is sort of real- drunk white sluts love Missy Elliott- but it’s sort of the icing on the cake for why this girl’s so terrible. It’s not presented with any of the sympathy given to a whiny loser who collects action figures, rides a bike, and hasn’t ever dropped his dick in a pussy. Contrast this disdain for hip-hop with the ‘Superbad’ kids. The movie’s James Brown-referencing title, constant funk soundtrack, and actor Jonah Hill’s Richard Pryor T-shirt (now sold at Urban Outfitters, by the way) are all used to invoke the characters nerdy, outsider-ness. They are characters wonderfully out-of-step with the rest of their peers because of their interest in 70s funk and soul. I won’t even begin to understand that one…

In the Apatow and company universe, which is one that despite all the blowjob and weed jokes is incredibly conservative- dumb critics say this is why his movies “have heart”- rap music and culture are one of the biggest signifiers of how low things have sunk and how distant people are from their “real” emotions: Rap as ruiner of everything. In previous Apatow movies, this was just sort of irksome, but because ‘Walk Hard’ is a movie that sets-out to make fun of just how most music biopics just don’t get it, it’s even more apparent how little Apatow and Kasdan themselves “get” about pop-music history.

The obvious contrast is between Lil Nutzzak’s inarguably offensive interpolation of ‘Walk Hard’ and Dewey’s innocuous but somehow riot-causing, priest-punching ballad ‘Take My Hand’. It seems in many ways, the movie is saying, “Here’s actual dirty stuff, here’s actually reprehensible music” with little understanding or sympathy for the mores of previous generations. It’s probably quite hard for a guy like Apatow, so clearly stuck in his own head, to think of the freedom and excitement music could and still does possess- in part, because he’s decided to skewer it in this big, dumb movie- but anyone with a working knowledge of pop history should be able to fall-back a few decades and realize just how rowdy Elvis Presley, or Jerry Lee Lewis were and frankly, still are. Lyrically of course, the songs only appeared innocent and were full of double-entendre and even when they weren’t, the songs were brimming with anger, angst, and depression. One of my go-to records is Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ LP. There’s a song on it just called ‘Misery’ and it’s about some other dude fucking the girl you used to fuck and how fucked-up that is! And even the music is only safe and cute if you’re not listening close enough. Plonking horns, a hard-as-fuck drums, and the limits of early 60s recording gives this an incredible raw, anarchic sound. Oh yeah, and the creepy organ solo by an under-discussed electronic music pioneer named Max Crook-Crook rewired a bunch of instruments to create a hybrid synth, shit is real!- pretty much solidifies how this music’s supposed to make you feel- less happy and cheery, more creepy, which is the same feeling Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’ gives you and something Dewey’s ‘Take My Hand’ is directly aping. If you can’t see why an entire generation of kids in the 50s and early 60s weren’t totally ready to explode after hearing this shit, you’re not really listening.

There’s a rough, energy to that music that was mostly sucked away in the supposedly “free” 60s– and continues through pussified 60s pop-influenced indie rock– but is still alive and well in hip-hop, dance, and club culture, all of which are very scary and silly to guys like Apatow. In David Foster Wallace’s ‘Signifying Rappers’ he discusses the significance of pop lyrics and connects it to rap in a way that Apatow’s totally blind to seeing:

“It’s well-known in pop history that slang and double entendre and even the tacit neologizing of innocuous words were used to make rock lyrics at once explicit and shocking enough to ‘rock’ and suitable enough for the radio airplay rock needed- e.g. “Baby here is my love/I’d love just to love you” equals “Baby, here is my dick/I’d just love to fuck you” (75).

What rap, in a lot of ways has done is sort of flipped this and uses very explicit lyrics to sometimes say polite, innocuous things (a lot of the time of course, it’s straight-forward but still-). Rap uses the relative freedom to say anything to chip closer at honesty because really, if you love someone you also want to fuck them, so why not say it? Stuff’s complicated Judd, think about it. In a way, it makes sense that the two most offensive and pop-culturally off parodies in ‘Walk Hard’ would be about 50s rock and contemporary rap.

-Costello, Mark & David Foster Wallace. ‘Signifying Rappers’. Ecco Press, New Jersey: 1990.

Written by Brandon

May 14th, 2008 at 7:19 am

3 Responses to 'Judd Apatow Thinks Rap Music Is Really Funny!'

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  1. i will try this

    Self Defense Online

    13 Dec 10 at 7:07 pm

  2. Apatow’s movies suck. Bleh.


    13 Sep 11 at 7:03 am

  3. I Am Going To have to come back again whenever my course load lets up – nevertheless I am taking your Rss feed so i could read your internet site offline. Thanks.


    16 Jun 12 at 2:50 am

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