Lil Dicky and the truth about comedy rap – it’s tricky!

‘He’s not like a ‘rapper’ rapper,” the guy in the restaurant explains to his unimpressed girlfriend. “He’s like a ‘funny’ rapper.”

Those two statements – true and open to debate respectively – are from the opening scene of the video to Lil Dicky’s Freaky Friday, which is this week’s UK No 1 single, and which on Monday crossed 100m YouTube views, and will soon join its thriftiness-espousing predecessor $ave Dat Money in passing the same number of Spotify plays.

Freaky Friday tells the story of Lil Dicky mystically swapping bodies with black guest vocalist Chris Brown, and is an extreme extrapolation of a line in Lil Dicky’s 2013 song White Dude, in which he lamented not being able to use the N-word. The upshot is that in 2018 Lil Dicky, now voiced by Chris Brown in the song’s body-swap concept, is finally “allowed” to say the N-word 11 times.

It’s all very amusing, if you sidestep the fact that Chris Brown is a woman-beater with whose plight both the video and song suggest the audience must sympathise, and if you sidestep the video’s racial stereotyping, and if you sidestep the ramifications of the N-word bonanza (such as the all-white women’s lacrosse team who caused a minor storm last month when they uploaded video of themselves singing along). That’s enough sidestepping to take you off the pavement and into the path of an out-of-control excuse juggernaut, but then you still face other tracks in Lil Dicky’s catalogue such as White Dude and White Crime, which tackle white privilege and male privilege. One assessment of Lil Dicky’s travails was offered in the headline to a 2015 car-crash interview: Lil Dicky Isn’t a White Supremacist, He’s Just an Asshole.

Either way, Freaky Friday is the biggest hit yet from 30-year-old David Burd, who grew up in an upper middle class Jewish family in Philadelphia and worked – of course! – as an advertising creative before recording his first mixtape in 2011. By 2013, he had a viral video on his hands with Ex Boyfriend, and he followed it with a barrage of audio and video content. He has since been embraced by a number of big names: his debut album, 2015’s Professional Rapper, saw collaborations with Snoop Dogg, T-Pain and Fetty Wap.

Freaky Friday is the latest in a long line of comedy rap hits, which more recently include Macklemore’s Thrift Shop and the assorted works of the Lonely Island, and date back to the 1980s with acts such as Weird Al Yankovic. Lil Dicky’s success once again raises the question of why rap and hip-hop are so apparently hilarious: is it simply that there are multiple, strong visual and sonic reference points that make parody easy, making comedy rap no different from the way metal has given the world Spinal Tap, Bad News, the Darkness and Muse? Or do the roots of hip-hop, and grime in the UK, mean that if you’re parodying them, you’re making a joke out of far more than just music?

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