Danny Brown vs Young Jeezy: Serious Satire

This will be my fourth post and so far, 3 of the 4 have been at least partially focused on hip-hop. It wasn’t my intention to focus so heavily on this genre. I guess it is the way in which the artists are in constant conversation with each other that draws me to it. Some of these conversations are direct. A typical hip-hop album contains a laundry list of collaborators, and the release of the list of featured artists is a much hyped event in the lead-up to an album release. Some are indirect. A single song can contain so many references to other rappers, writers, artists, or cultural figures that if completely annotated it would not feel out of place in an academic journal. This of course isn’t to say that artists in other genres don’t collaborate or draw upon and respond to past works, indeed all good art in any discipline should be part of a larger conversation. It just feels to me that this give and take is occurring much more rapidly and more dynamically in hip-hop right now.

To illustrate what I mean, I want to talk about Danny Brown, who arguably does this better than anyone else. Brown, a 35 year-old rapper from Detroit, has blown up over the last few years. His latest release, Atrocity Exhibition, will likely be considered one of the best albums of 2016. The album title itself is a double reference to the Joy Division song and J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name. On the album Brown takes the listener on a madcap ride into the depths of self-destruction and drug abuse. And while there is more than enough content on the album worthy of analysis, I’d rather save it for another day and instead focus on one of my favorite tracks off Brown’s breakout album 20ll’s XXX, “Scrap or Die.”

“Scrap or Die” is a direct response to Young Jeezy’s 2005 song “Trap or Die.”

In the original, Jeezy’s the “man on these streets,” “got a hundred niggas with [him],” and he “trap all day” so that he has “rubberbands when we wrap them stacks.” The hook lays out the rewards promised by the trap lifestyle

Smoke purp' by the pound, Goose by the fifth

Re-up on the first then again on the fifth (yeahhh)

We trap or die nigga (geah, oh!), we trap or die nigga

And these hoes love a nigga cause they know that we the truth

Got the Chevy same color Tropicana orange juice (yeahhh)

We trap or die nigga (geah, oh!), we trap or die nigga

In “Scrap or Die,” Brown isn’t quite living as good as Jeezy. He and his family are “ripping down gutters,” “[busting] open walls just to get the wiring,” and even taking “aluminum siding” all to sell for scrap at shady junkyards that will “cheat you out a couple bucks on that dope fiend shit.” In Brown’s version the hook goes

Now it's copper by the pound, wire by the inch

Got a check on the first and it's gone by the fifth (Scrap or die, nigga)

And you might be laughing at it cause you know the shit is true

Rusty flat bed truck the color of doo-doo (Scrap or die, nigga)

“Scrap or Die” is a deeply cutting response to “Trap or Die” and the numerous other songs that glorify drug dealing and, with full realization of how pretentious it sounds it sounds in the context of a blog post, the gangsta lifestyle. ‘Trappin’ brings Jeezy money, power, and respect. He has all the drugs, cars, and women he could want, and while it’s an enticing image, it’s also ultimately fantasy. Brown flips the illusion of the drug dealing life with a harsh look at the reality of drug abuse. The addicts Brown knows are poor and have to scrounge money any way they can in order to afford their next hit, including stealing copper wire. His money’s ‘gone by the fifth’ and instead of driving flashy new cars he has a ‘rusty flat bed tuck the color of doo-doo’. “Scrap or Die” is a great song on it’s own, Brown’s lyrics are gritty and compelling, and his delivery hits hard over the grimy beat. But expertly calling-out some of the most destructive fake narratives in the genre takes the song to a whole other level.

#DannyBrown #YoungJeezy

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