The minstrel-show biz | Bleader

The minstrel-show biz


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Trend piece alert: yesterday's Baltimore Sun featured a piece by Rashod D. Ollison on the supposed rise of "minstrel rap." The article is a loose rewrite of a month-old article in the New York Daily News, which itself was not much more than a paper port of an post by blogger Byron Crawford. The supposed trend is the revival of minstrelsy—not just labels and media outfits promoting, in Crawford's words, "the most coon-like negros they can find," but the actual use of elements from minstrel acts in hip-hop. The Sun and NYDN pieces both cite the same three primary offenders, all of which were mentioned in Crawford's original post.

For some reason—common sense, most likely—the papers didn't follow Crawford in calling out D4L and Mike Jones as particularly "coon-like." But I'll agree with Crawford about Ms. Peachez's "Fry That Chicken" video. It looks like something that racist white people would come up with and force a black family to lip-synch to at gunpoint. The fact that it appears on the Internet's lead repository of racially sketchy things, eBaum's World, supports that idea. But I think all of the pieces are pushing it with their other two examples, the Harlem-spawned "Chicken Noodle Soup" dance and Jibbs's "Chain Hang Low."

"Chain Hang Low" shares a melody with the old minstrel song called "Zip Coon." That is a true fact. But—not to insult the musicological/historical knowledge of Jibbs and producers the Beatstaz—isn't it more likely that "Chain Hang Low" comes from the "Do Your Balls Hang Low?" song that every boy in America learns by age six, not the circa-1820s minstrel song that it (and "Turkey in the Straw") takes its melody from? And isn't it more likely that the tons of people who've bought, downloaded, and ringtoned "Chain Hang Low" are doing so because the song a) is impossibly catchy and b) sounds like "Do Your Balls Hang Low?" rather than because Jibbs is singing a song based on a 180-year-old pop hit?

As for the "Chicken Noodle Soup" dance, I think Jon Caramanica explains it best. He tells the Sun:

"Hasn't there always been dance songs like 'Chicken Noodle Soup'?" asks Jon Caramanica, music editor at VIBE magazine. "Haven't black and white kids always danced around, flapping their arms? It becomes easy to write off substance-free records. I'm trying to understand why they have relevance. It's worth noting the song in its natural locus instead of putting any sociopolitical weight on it that it never intended to have."

The Source's Chloe Hilliard is quoted in the Sun saying that there's a "correlation between the minstrel shows of the past and the 'Chicken Noodle Soup' dance" that is supposed to serve as some kind of satire. Watching dozens of "Chicken Noodle Soup" dance videos on YouTube, I've never caught that message. Maybe I missed it.

What do you think? Is the American public suddenly responding to entertainment that subliminally evokes a type of race-based performance that almost no one alive has had any direct exposure to, and which is difficult to find even if you know where to look? Is this all just a media snowball based off of a blog post by a guy who says wrong-headed and/or offensive shit as a matter of habit? Should we even worry about "minstrel rap" when gangsta shit does the job of negatively influencing white America's views just fine on its own?