Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who thought Mother Goose would go POP?

Ok, ok this has been way overdue but I finally found the motivation to write about the absurdity of this song. By now I'm sure all of you have heard Jibbs' song Chain Hang Low. If you haven't, just be sure to watch MTV or BET or google the video online. Like other songs about "bling, bling," Jibbs, a St. Louis native, confidently tells us about his chain(s) in two verses. It is not his rhyming that makes the song catchy or memorable, it is the kids that harmonize in his chorus:

Do yo chain hang low?
Do it wobble to the flo'?
Do it shine in the light?
Is it platinum, is it gold?
Could you through it ova ya shoulda
If ya hot & make ya cold?
Do yo chain hang low?

To the untrained ear this seems like another exploitation of children singing the chorus. Think back to when Jay-Z released the song Hard Knock Life with the hook from the musical Annie. That wasn't so bad because Hova just took the song from the musical and put it in his song. But we know that after Mr. Carter does something hot, it becomes a trend in the rap world. Then it became hot to have kids in music videos (i.e. Diddy's videos with the kids doing the Harlem Shake, Missy's videos and many other artists). But I think Jibbs has taken it a bit too far by taking an old nursery song and making it into a rap single. The original song is entitled Do Your Ears Hang Low?

Do your ears hang low?
Do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie them in a knot?
Can you tie them in a bow?
Can you throw them o'er your shoulder like a continental soldier?
Do your ears hang low?

Mr. Jibbs, not to be convinced with Mr. Pibb, must have been watching an episode of Nick Canon's Wild N Out when he thought up the song. For those of you not familiar with said show, they perform skits in which they transform old Nursery School songs into rap songs. My favorites include their rendition of London Bridges (Fergie should also thank Nick Canon), She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain, and The Wheels on the Bus. If I were Mr. Canon, I would seek some kind of reimbursement. But I digress from my point. I find it troubling that hip hop has settled for mere Mother Goose rhymes. And even more troubling is the fact that people are going crazy for it. The only creative part of the song is the production. The rest is just wish wash "bling, bling" rap that is supported by the strong performance of the children in the hook. I am not hating on the success of the song. Indeed, I am impressed that America can be swept by such simplicity. I can see how this song may entertain a child, although it isn't meant for a child. But I do not see the enjoyment an adult could get from the song especially if he or she is familiar with the original tune. I read an interesting post by a writer named Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times. Sanneh writes:

It is one of the oldest tunes in the American repertory. In the 19th century it was a minstrel mainstay known, depending on the lyrics, as “Zip Coon” or “Turkey in the Straw.” More recently the same tune has been appropriated for a children’s song (“Do Your Ears Hang Low?”) and for the ice-cream-truck jingle that you may be hearing for a few more weeks. And now, thanks to the St. Louis rapper Jibbs, the old song provides the basis for a new hip-hop hit, “Chain Hang Low” (Geffen), which should still be playing on the radio long after the ice cream trucks have gone into hibernation. He raps — brays really — the verses and a chorus of children sings the refrain (“Do your chain hang low? Do it wobble to the flo’?/Do it shine in the light? Is it platinum? Is it gold?”). Perhaps without meaning to, Jibbs has updated one of the most popular melodies of the blackface era, reprising a song that has been stuck in American heads for a few centuries.

This is an interesting point offered by Sanneh that I hadn't thought of. It gives me even more reasons why I should hate Jibbs' song. In a time when hip hop music is taking many steps backwards, it is the work of "one hit wonders" that continues to bury such a storied artform. Next thing you know, all of Mother Goose's rhymes will be turned into videos that we see on TRL or 106 & Park. Jibbs has opened the door and its only a matter of time before other rappers that are trying to get on try their hand at a nursery school rhyme that they probably never sang when they were a child.


Khab said...

Not to mention it also sample the ice cream truck music. I mean what else grabs little kids attention other than the ice cream truck riding down the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

RAK here--

St. Louis rap, if not more rap, has a tradition than Sanneh does not mention (I hate Sanneh's views for a number of reasons. in this case, he's not too off, but he's been absurd in past years. Rob Michelin and I used to have a regular "I Hate Sanneh" email whenever he wrote about hip hop). Nelly ripped a nursery rhyme for country grammar. Think back to Slick Rick's "A Children's Story".

Now, is Jibb's worse because it linked with a ministrel song? probably. do we think jibbs knew it was a blackface song? i'd bet no.

Sanneh has made a mark as a NY Times critic of hip hop who finds nothing up to par. Popular culture has never been up to snuff, and black popular culture has always been sneered upon the most. Sometimes warranted, sometimes not.

But here's a question. Look at Katrina, or the Iraq War. Gather the lyrics by hip hop artists vs. the lyrics by rock artists, or country artists. I'll bet you get a whole lot more hip hop than rock or country. Yet they aren't getting blamed.

American society is hypercritical of black popular culture, placing it in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position. just a thought.

Brother Darkness said...

I offered Sanneh's view as something that I hadn't thought of. I definitely don't think Jibbs had any idea of the minstrel meaning found in that song. But I do think his song is a bit different from Nelly's or Slick Rick's songs. Though the comparisons can be made, the fact remains that Jibbs uses kids in a rap using while using a song that was meant for children. All he did was replace "ears" with "chain."

By no way, shape or form do I think that was as creative as Nelly's song "Country Grammar" in which he sings: "I'm going down, down baby/your street in a range rover/street sweeper baby/cocked back and ready to blow." Slick Rick's song is far from a "Children's Story" as well. The difference is the level of creativity level in the three different songs. In Jibbs' case, the lack of creativity.

I haven't read any of Sanneh's other articles but I'm definitely interested in reading his opinions about hip hop culture not being up to par. That can be said about a lot of critics today who think hip hop is dead. I agree to a point when such songs as "Chain Hang Low" gain more attention than any song off the "Game Point" album.

Rob Michelin said...

It's a day late and a dollar short, but. . .Can we start a petition to remove Mr. Sanneh from journalism? Why does he write? And how much does he get paid by the record labels to convince Americans to buy garbage?

Rob Michelin
Visiting Lecturer
Williams College

Rob Michelin said...

Our Love/Hate Relationship with Love Songs: The Cognition of Eric Benet

A musical discussion meets deeply personal reflection. . .

"Can I just see you every morning when I open my eyes. . ." is the first line of the chorus to one of the greatest love songs of all time. "Spend my life with you" by Eric Benet was and is still an amazing song, but 'she' and I (Yes, I associate gender to specific tunes) have had it rough.

To start, I've got to take you back... way back...back into time. Everyone has exes, and everyone has THE Ex. The Ex (Myspace friend number Uno) and I were High School sweethearts and vowed we would be together for all of eternity. We graduated from late-night phone calls on mom's phone while listening to Eric and Tamia on the Quiet Storm - to late-night phone calls on the High School Senior's private line- to We're away at college and don't have to sneak-a-freak - to 'Whoa, there are a lot of women that want a piece of me..." - to "I passed out and I don’t remember what happened with him" -to "If you love something then let it go. . ." - to "I'm sorry, let's not do this breakin' up stuff anymore" - to "If you love something then let it go. . ." - to "I can't believe you've made me feel this way, I'm going to live it up and you can see what it feels like" - to "We're adults now...playing with adult emotions. No games. Let's try and make this work." - to "No...Now "I" can't believe you've made me feel this way, I guess I'm back in the game?" - to "Whoa, there are a lot of men that want a piece of me" - to "Look at this mess we've made. Who's going to try and fix it?" - to "no one?" - to what about Eric Benet?!?!

All the while a picture wrapped in the words of this song hung on her wall. Until the day she got her own place and that frame was moved to a box next to the bed, I was sure that Eric Benet had hit the nail on the head. Alas, Eric...Was it you who failed us? or was it "us"...that failed us?

Well I gotta say, you were fairly consistent. Your words never changed. Your melody is still just as sweet, your voice; just as clear. And still, I hear this song and my stomach turns. Why? It's not your fault E. Tamia, don't take it personally. It's all about cognition. Musical cognition is a beautiful thing. It's an amazing thing. It's the thing that makes you want to do the running man, or lean wit it (or rock wit it as the case may be). It's that magic that creates relationships to the things piping through whatever system is near.

Here's how we hear things.

Music goes into the ear canal and into our Echoic Memory. In the Echoic Memory, we begin to look for references with which we can associate sound. What does this sound like? Why is this familiar to me? These references are then decoded and analyzed based on experiences (cultural, emotional or otherwise). Your experiences are found in the long-term memory where, for example, all the pain or joy or nostalgia associated with my jam is tucked away. There you'll find the days when you could talk through a problem, the breadth from realizing what making love actually feels like to sex in the park, romantic hideaways, beaded placeholders, ruckus arguments, family, mutual friends. Searching for these references IS he emotional roller coaster that we feel when we hear a song like this. All so we can decide (in out short term memory) whether or not we listen and enjoy, change the station, skip that track, call THE Ex and say "Hey, What are we doing? We used to be...we could still be stellar", or Find "Kick in the Door" in the old ipod and 'tell 'em why you mad'.

I don't blame you Eric and Tamia. I will never blame it on the boogie. Readers- DON'T RUIN YOUR JAMS for the fleeting. . .It's not fair to the music! Instead, remember why you fell in love with the music. Remember why you held it so dear. Maybe it'll help you keep it zipped up and keep your heart where it very well may need to be or where it should have been.

I'll post this on facebook and my blogspot. Let me know what you think.

This is Rob Michelin, and that's how I hear it.