From the first verses of "Rapper's Delight," hip-hop has emphasized braggadocio, and most rappers believe more is more when it comes to boasting about their net worth and sexual conquests. But in our ironic age, it shouldn't be surprising that a new crop of MCs is boasting about a lack of cars, women, and riches. These aren't self-pity–drenched emo-rappers (sorry, Slug), but rather comedians and MCs racking up YouTube hits through humorous self-deprecation.
Rappers have slagged themselves in the past, but "Weird Al" Yankovic took self-parody to a new level in his rollicking 2006 Chamillionaire parody "White and Nerdy." ("My rims never spin/To the contrary/You'll find that they're quite stationary.") More recently, S.F. actor and comedian Erik Weiner racked up some 150,000 YouTube hits with two stories about his own ineptitude. "I Google Myself" concerns desperate female-trolling Internet shenanigans, while "One Line on The Sopranos" details his real-life experience playing a store manager on the HBO show. Weiner performed a forgettable bit of dialogue in that 2001 television appearance — "Leon, take your break at two" — and re-creates the reaction to his overwrought performance with lines like "The director gave me a note I'll always believe/He said, 'Come in, say your line, and immediately leave.'"
"I think everyone can relate to the song," Weiner says, adding that he co-wrote the lyrics to his YouTube hits with Jordan Allen-Dutton (their music was composed by his brother, Mark Weiner). "Not that everyone can relate to having one line on The Sopranos, but [they can relate] to the attitude of thinking your shit is hotter than it actually is."
Weiner now lives in Los Angeles, and can genuinely hold his own on the mike. He first rapped in public as part of the play The Bomb-itty of Errors, which melded Shakespeare to hip-hop and was performed Off-Broadway and in Europe. He's a big fan of the self-deprecation stylings of the Pharcyde MC Fatlip and Montreal comedian Jon Lajoie, an even more successful viral rapper. Lajoie's "Everyday Normal Guy" video has garnered more than seven million YouTube hits since being posted in November 2007. In the song, he imparts that he can't afford a car and is "average" in the sack, adding: "I get nervous in social situations, motherfucker!"
Self-deprecation rap has elements in common with nerdcore, another white-dominated hip-hop subgenre. Though the latter often focuses on science fiction and computers, the former is concerned first and foremost with humbling oneself. But there is crossover; Carmel Valley nerdcore rapper MC Lars pokes fun at himself in his song "White Kids Aren't Hyphy." ("I wish I was a little bit hyphy/I wish E-40 liked me/I wish I didn't crash going ghost-riding nightly.") Other self-mocking MCs include U.K. rapper Scorzayzee, who brags on "Casio Sweep" that "We can have beans on toast/If we stop at the shop and you buy me a loaf." Meanwhile, this pledges to be a banner year for rappers known to, um, take their own piss, with new albums due from MC Paul Barman and R.A. the Rugged Man.
MCs clowning themselves is a welcome trend that could help broaden the scope of what's acceptable in rap (and comedy). Maybe someday we'll start hearing "My mama" jokes. As for Weiner, he insists the gag isn't always on him. "For some people, just being white and saying 'fo sheezy' is the whole joke," he says, although his work extends beyond skin color. Hip-hop is "a perfect medium for comedy, considering you have set-ups and punch lines." Weiner has a point, although you suspect he never expected to make his name bragging about his shortcomings.