Baracka Flacka Flames: A Hip-Hop Parody Stirs Up Issues [video]
10-25-2010, 11:02 PM
Baracka Flacka Flames: A Hip-Hop Parody Stirs Up Issues [video]
Wasn't even going to entertain this too hard. Then the New York Times went and tried to write a serious article on it, which really makes it funny.
Prez N the Hood: A Hip-Hop Parody Stirs Up Issues
“I’m the head of the state!” President Obama shouts, with a blend of jubilation and indignation on his face.
Except that’s not exactly what he says — the sentence is spiked with an expletive and a racial epithet.
And, of course, it’s not Mr. Obama, but an extremely convincing impersonator, James Davis, performing as Baracka Flacka Flames in a video called “Head of the State.” (The video is available on
YouTube and elsewhere online.) The clip, which has been viewed more than million times since Thursday, is a spoof of the bombastic “Hard in Da Paint,” the recent hit by the rowdy Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame.
After that introduction, there are three more minutes of jarring juxtapositions. Mr. Davis’s Obama raps about his detractors with more curses and epithets, smokes marijuana, dances with a bottle of alcohol, pets a pit bull and more. Actresses play the first lady (Jefandi Cato, whose resemblance to Michelle Obama is a little uncanny) and Oprah Winfrey, who happily join in the raucous party.
It’s first-rate parody, and also untested waters. Mr. Obama was a favorite of comedians even before he was elected president, but typically his stiffness and aloofness are their targets. In reimagining the President as an off-duty, fun-chasing tough guy, Baracka Flacka Flames is a different proposition.
On the one hand, it’s witty and incisive parody, as fluent in Mr. Obama’s tics as in hip-hop manners. The clip was filmed in front of an abandoned house in South Central Los Angeles and echoes the video of Waka Flocka Flame’s original song.
As well, it’s seemingly an acknowledgment by the filmmakers that racial stereotypes still shape how some people perceive the first couple, and that many divergent stripes of blackness can be collapsed into one idea.
The enterprise is elevated to something greater than a vulgar joke by Mr. Davis’s nearly pitch-perfect impression of Mr. Obama, a challenge that many better-known comedians have struggled with (notably Fred Armisen, whose cool jazzbo Obama on “Saturday Night Live” is the antithesis of Mr. Davis’s). Even in the distracting context of this video, the depiction is sharp and carefully executed, from the short, serious vocal interjections to the emphatic hand gestures while speaking, clenched fist vertical, with thumb pointing out at the listener.
“Like Obama, I grew up around a lot of white people, I was educated around a lot of white people,” Mr. Davis said in an interview. “There’s a lot of impersonations I’m just naturally horrible at. I’m lucky the one I’m good at is the president.”
Mr. Davis is a stand-up comedian and a writer for various awards shows on the BET network. Martin Usher, the video’s director and Mr. Davis’s partner in Live That Life Productions, is a largely self-taught filmmaker who has worked on small behind-the-scenes positions on the television series “Party Down” and the film “Defiance,” among others.
The “Head of the State” clip that they created is in the spirit of the Lonely Island musical sketches on “Saturday Night Live,” though a parody of this nature, with its heavy racial overtones, would be almost unthinkable in that context.
Some of the lyrics of the original song were reworked to become more provocative and specific to the president: for example, the gun threat, “Front yard, broad day with the SK” became “Secret Service, but I got my own SK.” Others stayed the same, plenty funny without any tweaks: “Where you at? Where’s your trap? You ain’t hood.”
Fusing worlds — Hollywood and South Central, the presidency and hip-hop, and so on — is integral to Mr. Davis’s comedy. He grew up “a block away from Crenshaw,” he said, “not in the hood, but hood-adjacent.” He cites “Chappelle’s Show” as well as parody films, including “Fear of a Black Hat” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” as inspirations.
The vacant house used in the shoot is across the street from Mr. Usher’s home. To get approval to shoot on the block, Mr. Davis and Mr. Usher sat down with local authorities, which in this case, does not mean the police. “We somewhat got a hood pass, we talked to some O.G.’s,” Mr. Davis said, referring to original gangsters. “That was some of the most exciting things about this, sitting around with people I know gangbang, ‘American Gangster’-looking dudes.” (The process ended up echoing the story line of Waka Flocka Flame’s video, in which the rapper gets an audience with Triple O.G. T. Rodgers, an early member of the Bloods turned gang interventionist.)
Locating Mr. Obama in a hip-hop context wasn’t a stretch, Mr. Davis said: “He’s a come-up story, in the biggest way possible. That’s what a lot of rap is about, grinding hard, making it from nothing to something.”
Mr. Obama has become something of a hip-hop touchstone, rapped about by Jay-Z and Young Jeezy, but also someone who has been tarred for his relationship to the genre. When Ludacris released a song before the 2008 election that criticized Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain, the Obama campaign went on the defensive, denouncing it. And when Mr. Obama told Rolling Stone last month that he had Lil Wayne on his iPod, the conservative backlash was as swift as it was predictable.
And yet what makes “Head of the State” so successful is the idea of Mr. Obama as a fish out of water, cutting loose in a fantastical context. “Who is Obama when the White House doors are closed, and the cameras leave?” Mr. Davis asked. “I would be a little disappointed if Obama only listened to Luther Vandross and Sinatra. Obama needs some Lil Wayne in between staff meetings. I want some bass in that White House.”
Not everyone has shared Mr. Davis’s curiosity or his willingness to play fast and loose with the image of the president and the first lady, who has largely been immune to the sort of scrutiny that her husband endures. Mr. Davis appeared on “Inside Edition” last week to endure a grilling about whether the clip was disrespectful to the president, and whether it would be disruptive to the midterm elections.
And Waka Flocka Flame appears to be of mixed opinion on the song. “That they used it to be so sarcastic, it was almost a form of disrespect,” he said. He shared it on Twitter, though only to “let other people see how ignorant other people can be,” he asserted, not wholly convincingly. His manager, Debra Antney (who is also his mother), said she called up the influential hip-hop video site WorldstarHipHop.com to have the clip removed, to no avail. “That’s not a positive image for us, period, as African-Americans, where we came from, where we’re going today,” she said.
Mr. Davis, though, said he believed that the sort of humor in the clip helped move beyond basic binaries about racial representation. “I can speak to the educated black guy and the hood black guy,” he said. “The fact that we can come out and put on a full production like this in an area where there’s gang violence, in what people would consider the hood, is important to me.”
And he believes that the president wouldn’t be offended by his portrayal, if he ever sees it. “I don’t know what it takes to get to Obama,” Mr. Davis said. “If the White House is like other businesses, other offices, he probably knows about it. Maybe it’s on his to-do list: fix the economy, health care, watch this link.”
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Baracka Flacka Flames: A Hip-Hop Parody Stirs Up Issues [video] - achali - 10-25-2010 11:02 PM
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