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Biologicals That DID Bother: Gucci Mane & Rich Boy

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About half of the children in the U.S will live in a single parent household at some point in their lives…somewhere around 25 million kids live apart from their biological fathers…that makes up about 1/3rd of the children in America.

These are the kinds of facts spit-up at you to mean this or that (and they do mean this or that) but it’s worth noting that the pervasive asides to absentee dads in hip-hop specifically are less a sign of something wrong with rap culture and more a sign of hip-hop’s ability to hone-in on the real-to-life details that most pop product glosses over. A list of Dad’s Day “appropriate” raps would be heartwarming but inaccurate.

Still, there are a few heartwarming homages to dads, most notably and really damned touching are the “Pop’s Raps” and then, simply album-ending spoken-words from Mr. Lynn at the end of Common’s albums. But the most affecting tributes to dads in my opinion, are rappers Gucci Mane and Rich Boy, who both took on their father’s name as their rap moniker.

Gucci Mane’s name stems from the nickname given to his hustler step-dad, often called “Gucci Man” for his presumably stunting ways. Rich Boy, born Maurice Richards, was referred to as a child as “Rich’s boy”–pronounced with Alabama dialect like “Rich boy”–because of his liquor-store owner father’s nickname of Rich, obviously “Richards” shortened.

What’s interesting about both of these names is how they stem from regional (personal, rarefied) pronunciation and essentially flip the expected wealth-grabbing origin of the names. And so, two rap nicknames that from the outside seem pretty standard and even downright stupid, bring with them layers of personal and regional history, tying community and growing up and true, fatherly influence together.

Hardly a strict “like father, like son” type influence, but certainly there’s a consistency in the low-level glory of Gucci’s rhymes and fashion sense, and his step-dad, the most stuntin’-est guy in the direct vicinity–Gucci’s a true character as I imagine “Gucci Man” was– and there’s a kind of wage-earning sincerity and passion to Rich Boy’s work, that goes right in line with being the child of the local liquor store owner.

Written by Brandon

June 22nd, 2009 at 2:13 am

Posted in Gucci Mane, Rich Boy

Close-Up Blog-a-thon: Rich Boy ‘Throw Some Ds’

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During the week of October 12-21, the film blog House Next Door held a “Close-Up Blog-a-thon”, basically consisting of House’s bloggers and other film bloggers writing about their favorite close-ups from films. It led to some very interesting ones, including one on Juvenile’s ‘Ha’. This entry’s way-late for that blog-a-thon, but I wanted to write about it anyways, so here goes…

‘Throw Some Ds’ is directed by Bernard Gourley, who is also responsible for last year’s equally-amazing video for Three-Six Mafia’s ‘Stay Fly’. Both are well-orchestrated but fairly loose, medium budget, Southern rap videos that eschew narrative but also resist being just a bunch of cool-looking shots (although it contains plenty of those…). See, most music videos, especially rap videos, commit to the formula of mixing some kind of vague narrative with performance footage; We get the rapper in front of something or a few things rhyming and then when that gets old, it bounces to that rapper and his friends hanging out or literalizing the lyrics of the song or whatever and then back again, repeating for the next 3-4 minutes. Both of Gourley’s videos mentioned, manage to meld the performance and storyline together. ‘Stay Fly’ is essentially Three-Six’s night-out in Miami- from the hotel to the limo to club and back again, rapping in each location- and ‘Throw Some Ds’ finds Rich Boy waking up, leaving his house, and then rapping throughout the town. Rich Boy performs in a few locations and throughout his verses, the camera sort of strays away to reveal some effective shots of people and cars, that punctuate his raps. There’s still this performance/narrative divide, but because it’s all in the same location, it feels more cohesive.

There are some particularly amazing shots of Rich Boy, in the center of the frame, rapping, as cars weave around him, and dozens of great close-ups of spinning wheels, sides of cars, and what I’m going to call “characters” in the video. I say “characters” and not extras because the people afforded a close-up are quite memorable and often, the way they receive their close-up, humanizes them in a way that most music videos don’t fuck around with…Let’s start with the shots of the ridiculously hot chick in the teal-ish hoodie, sitting atop Polow Da Don’s car.If you look at the above frame, you can see her legs behind Polow’s head, but the first time you really become aware of her is actually in close-up. See, the video’s sort of a whirl of performance shots of Rich Boy in numerous locations (in a car, atop a roof, in a convenience store, in front of a house) and then “characters” and objects that occupy the same space as those performance shots. Even before Polow drops his verse, the video’s cut to him a bunch of times bouncing up and down, with Rich Boy in the mid-ground and caddy and girl in the background. You barely notice the girl is even there until suddenly, a true close-up of her singing along to the chorus and nodding her head is provided. The it goes back to the super-wide shot and now, this anonymous girl in the video has a face.This girl is really “the chick” of the video but other than her I-guess-that’s-sexy gum-stretching, she’s just chilling out and singing along like everybody else. She’s afforded this humane and genuine close-up and is otherwise, relegated to the background, never “objectified” or anything like that. It isn’t that the video is making any sort of radical, filmic “statement” about objectification, it’s just that it’s a video interested in faces and regionalism and reality. The video is filled with real locations (in wide shot) and real faces (in close-up) with medium-shots almost exclusively given to Rich Boy and Polow. This is how Gourley divides between “performance” and “narrative”; it isn’t by something as obvious and clear as a different location, but in what kinds of shots are allotted to what kinds of people.

Another example of the humanizing effects of the close-up is a wide-shot of a young guy, standing in front of his car. That shot is followed-up by a slow-motion pan that admires the guy’s car, and then we get a tight-close-up of his face, staring into the camera. He isn’t joyful but he’s not doing any kind of hard-ass scowling either, he’s just sort of staring sincerely and defiantly.What I like about this close-up is the way it sort of confounds the effect of the wide-to-close device. The two-shot sequence of going from very-wide to very-close is a visceral editing “trick” that is both stylistically cool and also based on basic audience reward. The wide shot is the set-up and the close-up, the punchline or… the wide shot, the question (you see a lot but it’s all a bit unclear or overwhelming), and the close-up, the answer (focus on a small part of the formerly wide composition, it’s now clear). Gourley confounds this by placing that slow-motion pan between the wide and the close-up. I think if the shot simply went from wide of the car to close-up of the guy, it would be as if the guy is defined by his car: Wide (Whose car is that?)/Close-Up (It is that guy’s car). Instead, Gourley throws-in that slo-mo pan that I see as like, admiring, even objectifying the car (the way most videos objectify women) and it sort of moves it beyond such a simple sense of ownership or even boasting, and into appreciation. It’s sort of the typical neighborhood interaction in three shots: sees the car (wide), likes the car (slo-mo pan), tells the owner of car how nice their car is (close-up).
One of the many locations for Rich Boy’s “performance” parts, is in front of an wooden, green-painted house. Late in the video, there’s a shot of Rich Boy rapping in front of this house and in the background, sitting on the porch is an old man. You’d only see the old man in this shot if you’re really paying attention, but it goes from this shot where he’s barely noticable, to a close-up of the old man. The barely-in-the-background shot of the “character” to the extreme close-up is the same sequence of shot used for the hot girl, but here it takes on added weight and humanity…Seeing the old man in close-up reveals in fairly-explicit detail, his missing eye. At first, it’s shocking because only the astute viewer even picks up on the old man’s appearance in the previous shot and in that shot, one could not tell he is missing a fucking eye! So, it’s a shock-cut in a way but the next shot, a wider shot, changes the context.Going wide after the shock-close-up is effective in lessening the shock and once again, humanizing this “character”; It is a reversal of the guy with the car in the sense of the set-up/punchline or question/answer stuff I was babbling about. Here, it begins with the shocking cut (he has one eye) and then goes wide (his whole body) and so, he is first seen as a dude with one eye and then as a whole person. If the shots were reversed (see below), you’d see the old man and then see his missing eye and so, he’d become an old man with one eye. It would almost be like a horror movie cut in the sense of starting with the mundane and then going-in for the shocking. Showing the eye and then going wide, makes you get over the shock of the eye and see the guy as a person.
The video couches this humanity in typical rap video imagery and adjusts it slightly, which also fits Rich Boy’s song. ‘Throw Some Ds’ is not a political rap song, but it isn’t the “dumb” rap song it sometimes is mistaken for, either. It is a kind of everyman rap single, that tries to approximate the minor, down-to-earth victory of getting some new, awesome rims on your car and the video, responds in-kind by humanizing the people in most rap videos that are used only as short-hand for “hardness” (one-eyed man, young guy and his car) or hotness (the girl in the hoodie).

Written by Brandon

October 29th, 2007 at 6:16 am

Posted in Rich Boy, music videos

The Short, Weird, Career of Rich Boy (So Far)


When ‘Throw Some D’s’ showed up almost a year ago, it became another hot song amongst non-elitist types and a guilty pleasure among “discerning” types. It should have been some kind of minor rallying cry for everybody who likes good rap (I guess it ultimately was?). The reaction among modern rap skeptics was predictably knee-jerk: they saw a Southern rapper, heard “crack” and a chorus about rims and blew it off. Fair enough I guess, but what’s so striking about the song is that it’s scope is so minor and the beat, besides being great, maintains some of the melancholy strains of the Switch sample and really, has more in-common with regional 90s songs about cars and women than it does with the scourge that is/was? “trap-hop”. The video too, had enough of that corporate sheen to play on MTV but with a certain naturalistic edge to match the song. But almost immediately, Rich Boy was out-shined by his overrated, loudmouth co-producer, Polow Da Don who stole the song, co-producing the beat and dropping that dick-on-the-wall line; it left Rich Boy looking like a lucky idiot with a hook-up.

I stupidly bought into this perception of Rich Boy. His rapping wasn’t anything to write home about (although it is rewarding, Rich Boy’s actually subtle), he looked pretty stupid (like a character from NES’s River City Ransom) and through some unfortunate marketing- advertisements showing a thin, designer hoodie-wearing Rich Boy, chest-exposed, mugging for the camera- and my rap-fan cynicism (too many rookies with hot singles, not delivering) seemed verified. Somehow, that lame-as-shit cover was burned into my brain. It meant that either Rich Boy wasn’t the kinda-everyman ‘Throw Some D’s and his electrical engineering dropout anti-street cred that became street cred persona suggested or he was the kind of rapper willing to you know, put on a lame hoodie, expose his chest, and cash-in on his single. Just from that cover, I could predict an album that was a little too long, started out with five or so good tracks, suffered from poor pacing, and had at least one R & B crossover. Then, a few weeks before the album, ‘Boy Looka Here’ was released and for the simple fact that it wasn’t ‘Throw Some D’s’, it was disappointing but Rich Boy was just as good if not better on the track. His accent is even more pronounced (that in itself is political, hints of ‘Let’s Get This Paper’?) and he fits the beat’s stomp quite well. The video, like ‘Throw Some D’s’, maintained some regional specificity and cleverly contrasts it with some “the night before…” Vegas partying and makes a marching band parade seem way more fun than sin city. Oh yeah- and because it’s what I do (make vague, pretentious connections) there’s this vaguely Diane Arbus-like aspect to the video, especially the little kid in cowboy masks…and there are the really effective medium shot and close-up of the dude with one eye in the ‘D’s’ video. That highlights the good, stranger side of Rich Boy, the guy who was an electrical engineer and raps in a so-thick-he-doesn’t-complete-words accent and scrunches up his face to spit about dead friends and hypocrite religion and bullshit wars…
Ultimately, as Rich Boy’s album loomed, I found Polow da Don to be full of the same mixed signals as Rich Boy. The beat for ‘Boy Looka Here’ is cool but it’s this obnoxious Timbaland type beat that brings together Southern stomp and disparate elements like a strummed acoustic guitar and space synths and people are supposed to be impressed, well fuck that. Of course, around the same time Da Don was dropping this surprisingly great song but that too feels underwhelming next to ‘Throw Some D’s’ and Da Don is revealed as a good but not great producer; and then, Rich Boy’s album drops and the Rich Boy produced ‘The Madness’ has more in common with ‘D’s’ than a lot of da Don’s beats…
And then…the next next single is ‘Good Things’, the track I knew the album would have and surprise- it falls exactly at track 6 and slows the album’s momentum down and just its existence is enough to make me revert to those initial rap-cynic feelings for the guy. It is a track like this, its inevitable release as a single, and songs with titles like ‘Touch That Ass’ that make a guy like Rich Boy hard to embrace and explains why talk of him as not being great or even good, but “showing potential” were so pervasive: Talk of potential is the kind of talk mixtapes should be prefaced with, not major label debuts.

Defenders of the rapper cite label politics and waning sales as excuses for the album missing greatness. That’s not an excuse for making an okay-but-lifeless album (especially one looked over by a producer with something resembling a vision!) but it does explain why it happened. It reminds me of resentful sports fans defending their team or justifying a loss, “if we hadn’t given up that touchdown” (oh but you did!): If Rich Boy hadn’t succumbed to major label expectations and maybe the demands of an asshole producer he’d have made a great album! Not catering to those demands or somehow magically, rapping over them and making them irrelevant is what separates a great rapper from a good one. Still, that potential and a particularly crappy year for new artists got him on the cover of ‘XXL’ with a bunch of other relatively good newcomers and the release of ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ shows a saavy focus on the smart, good, side of his rap persona:

The video’s a little calculated with it’s overwrought imagery and beautiful-but-broken cinematography but rappers have done way worse. The whole thing is really sincere and obviously comes from a real place. His calling-out specific dead friends (“R.I.P Pooh Bear”) and not just general appeals to dead homies is effective, as is seeing a grave- prop or not- with those same words Rich Boy just rapped, framed in close-up. The dropping of the gold atop the grave is obviously performative but it too works. The song and the video, makes clear everything that’s been bubbling under the surface in other Rich Boy songs and videos. Those realistic images from ‘D’s’ and ‘Boy Looka Here’ are now explicitly political and the everyman victory of getting new rims on your car becomes the angry everyman observations that the same prick you went to high school with is now a preacher: “Preachers in that pulpit, say they teach that bullshit/Know how we know it’s bullshit? Same niggas I went to school with”. His answer to all this very real and palpable bullshit is to “get that paper” and while simpletons might bemoan this “problematic” suggestion, they are missing the point (and probably have enough money).

I considered writing a whole blog on this and might still, but more often than not, what these demands to get/make money are is a less douchey way of saying “let it go”. That is to say, when Jay-Z and Nas squashed their beef, Nas said something about how they were going to join together and get that money instead. Rappers, for reasons valid and retarded, don’t like to sound like hippie-dippie faggots so saying shit like “Oh you know, I’m really above all this beef foolishness” is something they just don’t do; instead they say, “fuck that, let’s just get this paper” which says the same thing in a way that is no less self-congratulatory but a little more honest: it’s much more realistic fuck you than some “being the better man” bullshit that still leaves you feeling like a punk. ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ is a call against apathy and for action…Stop complaining, go out and do it! The song is not only orders around its listeners with smart, pissed off rhymes, but it is Rich Boy’s own statement self (he paid for the video himself). Somehow, given the push and pull of Rich Boy’s brief career (so far), it makes weird, convoluted sense that a true assertion of self wouldn’t occur until the fourth single.

Written by Brandon

October 10th, 2007 at 6:40 am

Posted in Polow Da Don, Rich Boy