Did you see that hilarious video? You know, the one on YouTube where there's this guy, and he's rapping, and it's totally bad but also kind of funny? So many hits! So many links! BuzzFeed's internal organs are exploding in a =D spree! Everyone's gigabytes are quivering! LOLz! I've just described at least a few percentage points of blog output during the past year, possibly even counting the splogosphere. All it takes to be a short-lived cultural scapegoat is a flip cam, vocal cords, a distribution channel and something half-resembling hip hop. You're guaranteed dozens of identical "click on this!" posts, hundreds of identical derisive comments and millions of identical Google searches.

The mockery is equivalent to what Rebecca Black gets for pop--but unlike Rebecca Black, who's enough of a relatable-yet-polished tween to have conceivably scored a Disney deal had history wound itself differently, these people would not be plausible hip hop artists. Their videos aren't unintentionally laughable, in the "Let's rap about the issues of today!" sense; in most cases, they're trying to be funny. They're not funny. They're not even harmless. The LOLs here are more like lulz, in the troll sense; novelty rap videos are mainly popular because people relish the chance to mock rap.

Ah, now the phantom snippiness's begun: Just lighten up! It's just for fun! Get a sense of humor! Part of humor, though, is originality. Remove the names and anonymize the subject matter for these videos and they'd be indistinguishable; once you've seen one, you've seen them all. Nobody's watching these videos to scout talent or because they sound good. They're watching because, the thinking goes, rap is supposedly inherently hilarious. Like the parallel phenomenon of ironic acoustic covers of rap--most of which are feted with "this is so much better than the original"--it depends on the premise that hip hop is inherently a joke, more so than other genres of music, and that making fun of it is even better, especially if the people making fun are white or middle/upper class. It hardly needs to be said that most hip hop is made by minority artists. At best, it's mildly insensitive; at worst, it's the same impulse that enabled minstrel shows. There are three forms:


Examples: "Whole Foods Parking Lot," "First World Problems Rap," Asher Roth (what happens when this category gets a record deal)

Of all three categories, this has the lowest barrier to entry. You just need a digital camera, slightly goofy, youthful looks and sentiments that are vaguely relatable, maybe worth a tiny chuckle. It's the Thought Catalog of hip hop! The precursor here is "Weird Al" Yankovic, although he targets more genres and at least tries (usually) to get the parodied artists' blessing. (Chamillionaire was much more OK with his parody than Coolio.) "Whole Foods Parking Lot" is a purer example: like his fellow YouTube brethren, he adopts the slang of cultures he's not part of (it's getting real!) to mine that hilarious! contrast between him and Those Other Hip Hop People.

"First World Problems Rap" is the ur-example and also the perfect illustration of why these all suck. "First-world problems" is a pejorative phrase, not a trophy. And if you're in a position to make and coast on videos like this, they're probably all you have.


Examples: Any kid or would-be kid of a semi-celebrity; any suspiciously coincidental YouTube "discovery"

Many people fall here: everyone from aging casino owners and Tommy Hilfiger's son (today's "find"s) to other actors' kids to socialites making career pivots they'd probably categorize as "slumming." In other words, anyone who can hire a connected PR grad/lapsed journalist or josh a friend to circulate a few key emails, press releases or forum seed posts and pretend for a few paragraphs that more than two people found talent there. Here, the contrast doesn't come from their subject matter--most of their songs at least seem like they could be something like rap songs if they could rap or write--but solely from who's performing them and how rich and famous they are. At least the former category had semi-jokes built in; here, the fact that this stuff exists is the joke. Maura Johnston at the Village Voice (and of historical Popdust) has strong words for this:

Let's just pause for a moment and talk about how without "haters" (ooh, does that word burn me up inside) these scions of privilege gone street would be even more of a footnote than they already are; chalk the outsized attention they receive in comparison to any other musician who might not have as much branding up to incipient class war and/or those people who still have office jobs to go to being really really bored and in need of channeling their vague, if ever-simmering, dissatisfaction with their lives into rage at something, anything.


Examples: Lil B, Mr. Ghetto, Kreayshawn (sorta)

This is the worst of the lot. Like the former category, these videos' existence is what people call the joke, but they only got that way because all their context got lopped off for mockery's sake. Consider Mr. Ghetto, an artist in the multifaceted, decades-old New Orleans bounce scene. Most people know Mr. Ghetto best for "Walmart" and couldn't tell you a thing about N.O. bounce despite the genre being in the damn YouTube title. Why? The scene doesn't matter to them; all they want is the funny. Take Perez Hilton, who posted the video as only Perez and his ghostwriters can: "LOLz! Why does this exist? Maybe it's to remind us that there are always worse things out there than the celebrities who try to start music careers." The words "New Orleans" and "bounce" are nowhere to be found; a few commenters did provide context, which raises the question of how poor a job you're doing when the sort of people who comment on perezhilton.com outdo you. Or consider Lil B or Tyler, the Creator, who don't have coverage quite this bad but for whom the news always carries a vague sense of mockery, a subtext of "here be wackiness!" Lil B and Odd Future are arguably in on the joke by now, but why must there be a joke at all?

Then we get to Kreayshawn. Her "White Girl Mob"'s use of the N-word, the "White Girl Mob" being called that in the first place, and her comments about established hip hop artists have gotten her more than enough recent controversy, but think back to before that, before the million-dollar record deal or interviews existed at all. "Gucci Gucci" looked exactly like any novelty rap video from any of these categories and was covered as such. But Kreayshawn had one key advantage: she'd actually hung out with Odd Future and Lil B, which let her and her cohorts claim cred while at the same time, as Brandon Soderberg wrote in SPIN, "cherry-pick[ing] signifiers to bolster their shaky authenticity." It's really quite stunning: you're laughing at her, but you're simultaneously laughing with her at the rap culture she's half-imitating. Of everything here, this sucks the most.