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For hiphop journalists who are understandably bored with Puffy’s material excesses and Company Flow’s pointless scowling, Ol’ Dirty Bastard is the headline that never quits. Writers love ODB because, to them, he’s a freak show: See crazy black man take a limo to pick up food stamps. See crazy black man get sued for child support and arrested for possession of crack. See crazy black man upstage Puffy by rambling incoherently.
The headlines that tag stories on ODB remind me of Ricki Lake episodes. And, like the show, ODB implicates everyone involved: It isn’t just the mother who slept with her daughter’s boyfriend who looks slimy, but also the audience; and it isn’t just ODB who deserves condemnation, but also the hiphop journalists who praise him. It almost seems as if an unholy covenant has been formed among these pen-pushers and camera-clickers, with the explicit goal of promoting the misanthropic lunacy of ODB.
The evidence: ODB’s latest release, Nigga Please, an incoherent rant for which rap’s critical establishment has fallen head over heels. From the underground to the mainstream, the critical consensus is that the album is an outstanding work of art. In his review for Rolling Stone, Greg Tate calls the disc “mad-brilliant” and “the ultimate guilty pleasure.” Writing in Spin, R.J. Smith calls the album “dazzling.” Even the reviewer for the subterranean Web-zine HipHopSite.com can’t stop himself from gushing: “I feel compelled to write about every song as I listen to the album for the 50th time.”
But Nigga Please is about as artistic as something made by a 3-year-old with crayons and construction paper. ODB’s hatred overflows the album like a muddy stream—chunks of rants and twigs of thought at times lodge themselves in the listener’s ear, but all you can conclude is that ODB hates everything. Nigga Please is anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-black—and, ultimately, anti-ODB.
The album opens with “Recognize,” which enlists comic golden boy Chris Rock to no discernible effect. The track is anchored by a listless bass, kickless drums, and ODB’s nonsensical braggadocio: “Who gets drunk at night ’til the early morn?/Tap dances at the party like it’s going on?…Mad niggas getting drunk at the bar/I’m throwing Moet bottles hahahaha!”
The next song, “I Can’t Wait,” sounds a little too similar to Puff Daddy’s “Victory,” except that ODB decides to add his imitation of Southern speed rapping—a Puff Daddy beat plus a Mystikal imitation; you do the math. “I Can’t Wait” is the first of the album’s series of mind-bogglingly bland hooks: “Big baby Jesus, I can’t wait/Nigga fuck that, I can’t wait.”
The album’s first single, the catchy “Got Your Money,” succeeds in spite of ODB’s incoherence: “You can call me dirty and then lift up your skirt/And you want some of this Dirty/God made dirt and Dirt bust yo ass.” Its bouncy bass line makes the song danceable, but the cut is notable mostly for its surprisingly incisive self-criticism: “Radio plays this all day every day/Recognize I’m a fool and you love me.” This is one of the album’s more lucid moments—for the most part, Nigga Please is lost amid drunken ramblings.
Most evident on the album are ODB’s misogyny, homophobia, and self-hatred. I’ve never been one for Tipper Gore- inspired tirades against an artist’s choice of phrasing, but for years I’ve agreed that some things are just not meant to be heard by children. The troubling thing about Nigga Please is that it’s not fit for my mother to hear, either. Not simply because it’s offensive, but because it’s hiphop at its most embarrassing. Nigga Please strips rap of everything that sets it apart—prominent percussion, vocal manipulation of rhythm, and insightful lyrics. Without tight beats, ill flow, and well-crafted lyrics, hiphop is nothing more than malevolent pop music.
Tate actually tries to wrap ODB in the cape of a black nationalist MC for his anti-white rant on “Rollin Wit You.” Tate writes that ODB “sticks it to The Man,” and, alluding to a Public Enemy song, says that “While Puffy is cozying up to Donald Trump at Justin’s, ODB will be in the alley getting louder than a bomb.” But here’s ODB’s analysis of hiphop’s current influx of white MCs: “Ya’ll colored, bitch-ass, faggot, punk-ass muthafuckas don’t see/That these white people are trying to take over your shit.” Does this include the white people who gave ODB his contract and are now making millions off his manifold dysfunction?
There is something disconcertingly voyeuristic about the praise ODB is receiving for Nigga Please and the lifestyle that produced it. ODB, as he appears on wax, is one of the last people whom most of these critics would invite into their living rooms. Yet they praise him for, as Tate puts it, “bringing hiphop that gospel truth it’s been missing, as only a stone-cold pimp trickster can.” Chuck D is no pimp, and Rakim isn’t exactly a trickster, but they have both brought more “gospel truth” to hiphop than ODB ever will.
ODB’s antics make for exciting headlines, and the critics figure that where there’s smoke there must be fire. More likely, however, there’s only the haze of ODB’s obfuscating lyrics—and a bevy of lost critics blinded by the spectacle of his tabloid-worthy lifestyle. CP