What the hell is frat rap, you ask? Congratulations -- this means you are (1) likely of legal drinking age, and (2) spend your spare time doing things other than wiping away spittle as you click through yet another Tumblr page. (Um, when we do it, it counts as research, we swear.)
Allow us to school you. If the new class of young rappers like Drake, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, et al. represent a more pop-oriented turn of the genre that's less obsessed with being hard enough, frat rap is, in many ways, its pale, logical conclusion.
Hand-wringing over the racial integration of hip-hop long ago became a moot point. Rap music -- though maybe not hip-hop culture, per se -- has become the lingua franca of American youth. And anybody born after, say, 1980 feels a right to participate.
With more complete integration, though, comes, shall we say, a broadening of the rap perspective. The average white suburban kid who grew up on rap and wants to rap himself couldn't possibly talk about street life without getting clowned. In the past, this meant a wordier, more willfully avant-garde tack, along the tongue-twisting lines of the old Definitive Jux collective (RIP) or the Minnesotans of Rhymesayers.
Those were the days, though. Because the new pack of pasty rappers, many born after 1990, don't seem to concern themselves with either engaging with hip-hop culture as a whole or even proving their lyrical mettle too much. Rather, up-and-comers like Mac Miller are, like the first rappers, just narrating life as they see it.
If you weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth and came up feeling nurtured by hip-hop, these melanin-challenged dudemanbros might make you feel embarrassed for the state of your favorite genre. Hell, if you are melanin-challenged and privileged and a fan of "real" hip-hop, these guys might make you feel embarrassed too.
And what to make of the groups with actual black members, like Dean's List, who the Tumblr gods have decided qualify as frat-rap too? We may not be on enough collegiate postracial theory to tackle that one right now. But these guys are coming for the airwaves soon, and we had all better be prepared.
Case in point: This Saturday's local performance by Miller, probably the biggest name in the budding scene, is sold out. And that's at America's Backyard, the sprawling outdoor venue attached to Revolution that may hold a bigger capacity than the club itself.
OK, so Miller and his cohorts aren't all 100 percent bad. Probably, a lot of these are kids getting thrust into the bloggy spotlight way more prematurely than would have ever happened when there was still a music industry. Others, maybe, really just are Rainbow flip-flop-wearing d-bags. Whatever the case, here's a guide to five "frat-rappers" you need to know now.
Roth 101: You may need a reminder about Roth, who, at age 25, is a veritable elder statesman of frat rap. In fact, this is literal. He's the one responsible for the radio-hit spring break monstrosity that was "I Love College," an ode to drinking, lassitude, and taking tuition money for granted. In fact, the song was so over-the-top in its celebration of rich-white-boy slackerdom that it almost seemed to be ironic -- except that, if intended that way at all, its irony was completely lost on all of its fans.
Sample Song Titles and Lyrics: "Fuck Your Ringtone Dog," "Lark on My Go-Kart"; "I'm champion at beer pong/Allen Iverson, Hakeem Olajuwon" (from "I Love College")
Three Natty Ices (out of a six-pack). The thing is, though Roth's breakout hit made him seem like a total d-bag, he actually boasted a decent-enough grassroots hip-hop background beforehand. His rhymes on other artists' songs can be surprisingly fierce -- take this spot on Consequence's "Childish Games,"
for instance. Maybe Roth was just the victim of a wack album and contrived marketing?
Miller 101: This is how suburban this 19-year-old kid is: Before his current chosen nom de guerre, he was known as "Easy Mac." Still, Miller presents a frustrating conundrum for people who were previously weeping over the loss of "golden age" hip-hop.
That's because his beat selection and his delivery -- or at least attempt at delivery -- are clearly rooted in D.A.I.S.Y.-age-style boom-bap. It's just that rather than broach the hippie-dippie subjects that made early De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest so endearing without needing to prove their toughness, Miller craps all over solid beats with odes to buying middlebrow stuff.
Sample Song Titles and Lyrics: "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza," "Nikes on My Feet"; "Call me Stanley Steamer/I'll be giving her the pipe/When I'm out of town she wanna see me/So we Skype/She might get obsessed and keep calling/30,000 feet Tom Petty free-fallin'" (from "La La La")
Frat Factor: Let's give him four beers out of a six-pack. Though he often comes off as lyrically clueless, Miller doesn't seem outright ill-intentioned... And if this were ten years ago, before the MP3-blog race to nowhere, we probably wouldn't even be talking about a guy at this stage of musical development. Then again, he sure seems like the first guy who'd get punched over a keg party misunderstanding.
Meekins 101: Here's where the race for the next big thing has brought us: to a kid who graduated high school this year. Seriously. Cam Meekins is an 18-year-old from the educated Boston suburb of Wellesley (yes, home of the women's liberal arts college). You'd think this would net some kind of cool literary allusions or something... but no; instead, Meekins gives us things like a remix of "Teach Me How to Dougie."
Sample Song Titles and Lyrics: "High School Parties," "No Place to Go," "I'm Bored"; "And I'm skipping out of class so I ring the alarm/And smoke grass till my ass fall deep in the car" (from "High School Parties")
Frat Factor: A tough one. Meekins is nowhere near ready for the international rap stage, but it seems unfair to give the "frat" title to someone barely college-aged. Jury's still out, mainly because we feel wrong making fun of children.
It's there that he got his first larger public break of sorts, rocking the college-party circuit and eventually opening for Lupe Fiasco there after winning a talent competition. Though he's said he grew up listening to standard boomer-era classic rock, he's credited Eminem with being his inspiration to first rap. To his credit, he's never tried to hide or apologize for any of this; he even released his own unofficial remix of Roth's "I Love College."
Sample Song Titles and Lyrics: Webby's individual track titles don't reveal much; his mixtape titles are more telling: Teenage Mutant Ninja Rapper, Best in the Burbs, and the Underclassmen among them.
As for lyrics, here's a snippet from "Off the Chain," which he admits in the spoken intro was written in 45 minutes while he was high: "Drop shit so sick I need an antibiotic/I'm an otter, and I'll crack you like the shell of a mollusk."
Frat Factor: Five beers out of six -- totally, utterly fratty, but not necessarily evil.
Adams 101: What's with a small radius of New England churning these guys out? Adams -- that's actually his real first and middle name -- also hails from Massachusetts. He gets some "street cred" for growing up mostly in an actual city, Boston, albeit in cutesy Cambridge. (At 17, his parents moved the family out of the county to the small town of Wayland.)
Not only did he attend a small private college -- Trinity, again in Connecticut! -- but he was an all-star soccer player there. Unsurprisingly, his hip-hop pedigree doesn't run too deep, but he started getting a fair deal of Internet attention with his own -- surprise! -- Roth response called, creatively, "I Hate College."
Sample Song Titles and Lyrics: "Tab Open," "Feel Me Feeling You," and "Frat Star"; "So girl come get at us/I promise you'll get mad love/I run this campus anyway baby/I got this wrapped up" (from "Frat Star").