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fall 2006 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

Young Writers Calling the Shots: Corner Pocket Magazine
By MK Stallings

While browsing the net, I came across stories capturing Chamillionaire's opinion of Weird Al Yankovic's "White & Nerdy," which spoofs the platinum rapper's hit "Ridin'." I also viewed Weird Al's video online.

Before watching the video, I read several reports that Chamillionaire is pleased — even honored — by the Weird Al spoof. And why wouldn't he be? It keeps the rapper's hit song, or its likeness, in the public sphere. It probably will renew interest in "Ridin'" and, perhaps, help Chamillionaire sell more records. Furthermore, Weird Al has spoofed some of the biggest hits in the last twenty years of mainstream music. Certainly, Chamillionaire will enjoy the income from royalty revenue the spoof should garner. But does Weird Al's spoof somehow negate the "driving while black and young" commentary of "Ridin'?"

According to some of the students in a hip-hop writing class I co-teach, yes. One high school student, Kalen Everson, pointed out "that everything that black people do [in the video] is bad, and everything that white people do is good."

"In the video, black people are hustling, smoking...With the white guy doing good in school, he is in [extracurricular] clubs and activities instead of being in gangs," Everson continues.

A.K. Rodgers, sophomore at Francis Howell North High School, felt that the video "would have been cool if they didn't have the actors...acting like hustlers." In fact, Rodgers "[s]ometimes...can't get over the fact some Caucasians try to portray African Americans for laughs and entertainment."

Although Rodgers felt as the video was "cool" overall, there is one scene in the video she didn't like that depicted an African American male selling an illicit product to Weird Al's "nerd," the product being a bootleg copy of "Star Wars."

As a quick aside, journalism teaches its writers to provide both sides of the story for fairness. Since this article and my students mostly criticize Weird Al's spoof, I should note that several of the students reported that "White & Nerdy" was funny, if not downright hilarious. I, too, thought it was funny, and was pleasantly surprised by Weird Al's flow.

That said, Vincent Toles, senior at Clyde C. Miller Academy and Managing Editor of Corner Pocket Magazine, found the video amusing, yet offensive. From Toles' perspective, Weird Al suggests that "white and nerdy" people "could never be accepted as part of hip hop culture." Toles then discerns the irony of the video's message in saying "just by doing [White & Nerdy]... [Weird Al] is now hip hop."

Of course, Weird Al spoofed another rap hit, Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," in the comical "Amish Paradise." It is "White & Nerdy," however, that Jordan Ward, 6th grader at McKinley Classical Jr. Academy, found "totally stereotypical."

"[A] while back, Coolio made a serious record...about how people in the ghetto suffer," Ward writes. He goes on to say that, "Weird Al Yankovic put his own spin on it, but promoted all the things Coolio was trying to demote in his song."

Teens say the darndest things.

Based on the response of some my students, it appears as though Weird Al is guilty of negation. Sociologist R. Charles Key wrote in 1978 that the voices of modern black sociologists — and blacks in general — have been negated by a "process of co-optation and containment, or the emanation of tragic consequences out of otherwise good and liberal intentions" of whites. Not to get into a Michael Eric Dysonian analysis, but Chamillionaire renders a cogent, social critique of the unwarranted harassment that young African American males are subject to from some police officers, simply because black youth fit the profile of a delinquent or criminal. His critique received a level of attention and airplay unseen since N.W.A.'s "F...the Police."

Weird Al Yankovic's video, though seemingly complimentary of Chamillionaire's hit, features a tragic juxtaposition of racial consequence. As my students discussed in their pieces, Weird Al's hook finds him yearning for the acceptance of "gangstas," only to be met with rejection and disrespect because he is "so white and nerdy." Unwittingly or not, white and nerdy is juxtaposed to black and gangsta. As noted previously, African Americans in that video were consistently depicted as asocial gangsters while whites were shown as pro-social "nerds."

In fairness to Weird Al, it could be argued that Chamillionaire depicted himself and other black males in his video as asocial gangsters, making him fair game for parody. It could also be argued that Chamillionaire has no ownership of his image due to the contractual constraints or financial pressures of his record deal, resulting in the perpetuation of an unfortunate stereotype. Even if Chamillionaire is following a social script of black masculinity most popularly implemented by gangsta rappers on Ruthless and Death Row Records, respectively; it was authorized and supported by wealthy white guys, exclusively.

Readers can check out complete teen reviews of "White and Nerdy" at Corner Pocket Magazine's site. MK Stallings is a founding member of the Urban Artist's Alliance for Child Development, which runs the Corner Pocket hip-hop journalism workshop, a program for young people between the ages of 12 and 17. The magazine publishes reviews, features, interviews and poetry by teen writers.

© 2006 The Commonspace