Seeing a bunch of white guys bopping across MTV pretending to be rappers is no cause for critical reflection these days, but Dynamite Hack are no mere korny bizkits. Unlike the mindless mooks who currently bastardize hip-hop by filtering it through a postmetal lens, these Houston boys go one better, actually covering a hip-hop track—not just any random screed, mind you, but Eazy E's "Boyz N The Hood," one of LA gangster rap's seminal works. In their heavily rotated video, the Houston quartet party in their mansion's backyard, sporting summer whites, golf visors, pastels, and argyles, not to mention rolled-up pant legs. A tire-less Rolls Royce is propped up on cinderblocks in the lush front yard, where lead singer Mark Morris is having his (already-straight) hair relaxed. The boys play cricket in Izod shirts with the logos morphed out, hip-hop-video style. At the local links, they drive baby Hummer golf carts. (This stuff is even funnier in light of hip-hop's not-too-long-gone golf fascination—check out Biggie Smalls' posthumous "Mo Money Mo Problems" video and Russell Simmons' aspirational Phat Farm argyles).
And these boys sing. Not in some aggro, punk, boy-aren't-we-some-angsty-kids way, but in a lovely, fey crooner tone. "I had this guitar riff that was probably going to end up being a very stupid, shallow love song," Morris says. "Every lyric was 'Oh, I love you' and it just wasn't working. So instead of singing crappy lyrics, I started singing 'Boyz N The Hood.' Chad [Robinson, bassist] came in the room and was like 'Oh, that's awesome. That's so funny. You gotta leave it like that!'"
And indeed, it is funny—mocking but not derogatory, homage with only marginal ghetto voyeurism. It's a dulcet tune, but it opens up a whole host of race issues. "Some people tell me I'm a genius," Morris continues, "that I'm forcing white America to listen to the problems of black America, that I'm tricking them into listening to the song by putting it to this sweet music. Honestly, I really didn't think about it that much."
On the radio edit, most of the potentially offensive language gets muted, but there's still something unsettling about seeing a pink-faced whiteboy sing about grabbing a woman by her "nappy-ass weave" and boast about how he "reached back like a pimp and slapped the ho." Sure, not all rappers participate in the things they rap about, but this kind of flagrant culture-dabbling almost undermines what's otherwise a shockingly pure tribute.
Even Dr. Dre himself stepped in to comment. Upper brass at Universal ran the video past him for a green light, and while he liked the song, he balked at the group's use of the n-word. "He stepped up and said a white person cannot say that," relates Morris. "The other stuff definitely refers to a specific culture, but it's not really derogatory. That moment is always the one I feel nervous singing live, I always wanted to take it out and change it to brothers, and I was outvoted by the members of my band, who don't want to disrupt the artistic integrity of the song." This debate may well be the first since the Civil Rights Movement in which white people were fighting for their right to partake in race denigration (white power folks and the ACLU aside). "I don't feel that strongly about keeping the integrity of the song intact," muses Morris. "I just really don't want to offend anybody."
For Kid606, the issues were far more personal. The San Diego-born experimental electronic musician remixed NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" (V/VM), turning the belligerent Ice Cube vocal into an aural effects delight—squeals, feedback, chaotic programming. It ain't your homie's gangster rap. Rather, it's a swipe at the IDM oligarchy—so-called intelligent dance music artists who co-opt hip-hop samples loosely and obligatorily. "They're doing it because they feel they have to instead of because they need to or because it means anything to them," says Kid606. "It's just like hearing breakbeat in a Sinead O'Connor track, which is why my thing was to take the whole fucking tamale and put my stamp all over it, instead of just grabbing a snippet of some black guy yelling and weaving it in."
With its built-in obscurity, Kid606's track won't be doing any damage to the nation's race relations. And in an era when a scrawny white kid with NWA-backing tops the pop charts with his own brand of legitimate hip-hop, maybe it's not Dynamite Hack we should be worried about either. But odds are we won't get even get there. In Austin, where the song made its radio debut, on-air DJs gave listeners the option to request either the original or the cover. Says Morris, without a hint of bitterness, "Every time, people would vote for the original."