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Cock of the Walk: Is Lil Dicky — Straight, White, Jewish Dude Extraordinaire — Rap's Next Big Thing? 

Tuesday, Sep 9 2014
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Sometime around fifth grade, Dave Burd — now professionally known as Lil Dicky — was sitting in a music class when the teacher played an instrumental of "Feel So Good," Ma$e's 1997 track. Sitting in front of Burd was "this light-skinned black girl" he always found "super hot." She started lip-syncing to the song, and the boy was entranced. "I remember never being more attracted to a girl as I was [then]," says Burd, now 26. "I was like, 'Holy shit.' And that was rap."

In April 2013, Burd released So Hard, his first mixtape as Lil Dicky. As evidenced by the substantial gap between that vision of lip-syncing and So Hard, making hip-hop isn't exactly something Burd has been working on for eons. Until as recently as two years ago, rap wasn't anything more to him than his favorite style of music.

You wouldn't guess that by his work. So Hard is oozing panache and jammed with skillfully written — and delivered — lines. Dicky specializes in comedy rap that's genuinely worthwhile and funny, the kind of funny worth hitting rewind for, even after already catching the punch line. His flow is both laid back and breathlessly agile, and he favors catchy, minimalist beats that put his voice center stage.

"Ex-Boyfriend," his signature track, is about Dicky meeting his attractive girlfriend's scorching-hot, absolutely-perfect-in-every-way ex and feeling utterly inadequate, especially when comparing dick sizes; the ex's is "plus eight like Jon & Kate." On "Sports," he hooks up with a girl, name-dropping athletes like Tim Lincecum and James Harden to illustrate the anecdote, while on "Too High," he discusses smoking too much weed and the stupidity that ensued: overanalyzing Avatar, neglecting chicken nuggets in an oven, jerking off to whatever came to mind. Elsewhere, he meticulously details his porn habit, has a disastrous night at a club, and rhapsodizes about the joy of staying home on a Friday night to accomplish absolutely nothing.

Dicky might be an underachieving man-child, but his self-awareness and eye for life's particulars and peculiarities make the character (if there is one) super-relatable and likable. Burd calls his sense of humor a "less contrived" and more grounded one compared to other sketch comedians. "With the Lonely Island guys, it feels like they're just famous comedians making jokes whereas [with] me, it's very much grounded in reality," he says. (He adds that his ability to actually rap well also makes his jokes more appreciated.) His own comedy "big five" consists of Louis CK, Kevin Hart, Katt Williams, Will Smith, and Larry David, with his own style combining Smith's "urban swag" and David's neurotic Jewishness.

That last reference point fleshes out just how far removed Burd is from the stereotypical portrait of a rapper. Growing up in the Philly suburb of Cheltenham Township in what his music portrays as comfortably upper-middle class, he majored in business at the University of Richmond and graduated at the top of his class. Though now based out of Santa Monica, he used to live in Pacific Heights and work for S.F. advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. He's a white, straight, financially comfortable Jewish male, and his music won't let you forget it. He poses inside a burning Star of David on So Hard's cover, embraces "kike" the way black rappers do "nigga," and, at varying times, laments and celebrates his identity.

"White Dude" is all about how awesome it is to have his life, which includes not getting harassed by cops for a crime and having his dad hire a high-quality lawyer to represent him. But on other songs, he practically idolizes the idea of being black, from the hood, and/or gangsta. "How Can I Become a Bawlaa" juxtaposes the thrills of gangsta rap imagery — the violence, the cars, the drugs — with banal moments in Dicky's real life, like giving directions to strangers while out walking his dog or getting misty-eyed over the 2007 Hillary Swank/Gerard Butler drama P.S. I Love You. His identity issues are fascinating and crucial to making Dicky's comedy click.

Even with all the jokes, Burd has been taking this project seriously from Day One. "My intention was certainly not for it to be something I do for fun. I would be lying if I said that. I definitely wanted to achieve recognition off of it," he says. He was particularly motivated after being underwhelmed with what he had been finding in hip-hop, especially comedic rap. "I just felt like I'm seeing all these people become very rich and successful and famous for doing something that I felt like if I put my mind to, I can do even better. I always knew if these guys are worthy of the attention they get, my stuff was certainly worthy of some attention," he says. "I knew people who watched would appreciate it; I just didn't know if people would be watching."

People were watching. Lil Dicky's goofy music videos are another part of his appeal, and "Ex-Boyfriend" caught fire the day it hit YouTube — "like, a million views in a day," Burd says — even though he had never posted anything online under the alias before. On Kickstarter in late 2013, 2,813 backers pledged $113,017 toward funding Dicky's videos, touring, and new album, far exceeding the $70,000 goal. Dicky's full-length, due at an undetermined date, will sound more musically professional — more, Burd says, like the work of a comedic rapper than a rapping comedian.

His aspirations are big; he indicated as much in "Ham," the first track on So Hard: "I'm coming for these motherfuckin' brothers making money / Everybody love the funny little buddy making jams now." Burd is vocal about certain goals — winning a Grammy, an Emmy, and MVP at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game — and knows that he could be huge soon after already having so much success. To him, it's a "when," not an "if."

"I watched the VMAs last night from my couch. I can't wait 'til I'm at the VMAs, you know what I mean? To me, it can't happen soon enough," Burd says before extrapolating on getting there. "In an honestly realistic scenario, I'll be at the VMAs next year, and then the year following, they'll show my reactions when jokes are made."

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