Katy Perry Covers Jay-Z And Kanye West, Adds Rapping To List Of Things She Is The Worst At

katyperry_paris_march19.jpg
Off the top of my head, I can come up with more "controversial" stances Katy Perry has taken than I can count on one hand: "Ur So Gay" being mean, homophobic, and seemingly aimed at Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz; "I Kissed a Girl" being shock-Sapphic and heteronormative; "You / PMS / Like a bitch / I would know" in "Hot N Cold"; the Sesame Street debacle; the unparalleled mastery of the Maxim mien to optimize titillation; the use of "Last Friday Night" to hop on Rebecca Black's comet and put on nerd drag; the use of "Firework" to hop on the It Gets Better wave; the uncomfortably xenophobic "E.T.," and specifically a remix in which one of the most famous black rappers of the moment was turned into a lascivious, rape-y beast; the microwaved breakup "rage" of "Part of Me" getting timed to a) the end of a very public relationship, b) the re-release of an album, and c) the Grammys in which Adele's heartfelt kiss-offs were venerated. Her debut album was named One of the Boys; her "California Gurls" had a Snoop Dogg verse because casual misogyny and watered-down Golden State triumphalism fit, and "Gurls" because she decided to make it the least convincing Big Star tribute ever.

So why is Katy Perry not going all the way when covering "Niggas in Paris," and instead doing Karmin-style genre tourism? C'mon, Katy: We know what you're saying when you say "ninja," just like Reggie "Combat Jack" Osse did when he took the Voice's Tom Breihan to task for using "ninja" as a substitute for "nigga" in 2006. And you even admit in the opening seconds of your BBC performance that things are going to get embarrassing!

Perry's got every right in the world to cover whatever she wants to cover, but covering "Niggas in Paris" when her only interaction with hip-hop has been her giving "edge" to her pop songs by adding rappers (Snoop, Kanye, Missy Elliott, B.o.B) is weird. But why would she travel the treacherous terrain of white-girl rap if not to get some of the shine that Kreayshawn and Perry replicant Amy Heidemann of Karmin have received? (Karmin's own use of rap to break into pop, from the look-I-can-rap-just-as-"well"-as-y'all cover of Busta Rhymes' gymnastic flow on "Look At Me Now" to the use of "jigga" in the place of "nigga," is about as iffy an appropriation as any in the last few years; Perry being conscious of Karmin's encroachment on her nontroversy turf is the guffaw-worthy subplot here.) This is Perry making a headline because she felt like she needed to make a headline, and making it about as indelicately as possible.

Prominent white people wading into rap, despite white folks like Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys being among the genre's forefathers, will probably always make headlines: no musical genre has been taken as the representation of an ideology like rap has been taken to represent minority life (and specifically black life), and the Fox News-ified political discourse has coded "hip-hop," even stuff as relatively benign as Common's oeuvre, as dangerous to boot. Perry knows this.

Osse's issue with Breihan was about appropriation ("That shit," referring to "ninja," "is too effin' close, boy"), but also about the authenticity of criticism from white rap fans (Breihan panned Kingdom Come and praised Pitbull, among other high crimes and misdemeanors against "real rap"), and the argument made it clear that there will always be divides and debates in the world of hip-hop over who gets to have what say and who gets the benefit of the doubt. Respect matters in rap—Elliott Wilson's got a magazine of the same name for a reason— and the white figures that have had sustained success in the genre, from the Beasties and Eminem to lesser figures like The Alchemist and Evidence, have had to earn their respect by paying respect, paying dues, and showing and proving. Perry probably knows this, too: if she didn't learn it by being in the music industry, dating rapper (with authenticity issues!) Travis "Travie" McCoy of Gym Class Heroes might have been an education.

So we have a) Perry likely willfully thumbing her nose at the rap fan establishment by covering a rap song, and b) Perry using the same questionable substitute for "nigga" that got a big-time white rap critic fileted. And yet it's c) Perry covering one of the best songs of 2011 as half-heartedly as possible, subbing "mothereffs" for "motherfuckers" and "so" for "shit" in the rallying cry/hook, that rankles the most.

Forget that she's making one of the most overt engagements of race in recent memory (Jay-Z noted "If you escaped what I escaped, you'd be in Paris getting fucked up, too" on a song about the incongruity of wealthy black men in Paris, and it peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 despite no DJ being able to say its full name, which, wow) into a bloodless Kidz Bop track: Perry can't figure out flows that virtually anyone who has heard the song more than once has down pat, doesn't know the words, and sounds like she's never spoken English before at some points. If you're going to do SEO rap and traffic in appropriation, Katy, you could at least aim for a level of quality control above "reprehensibly abysmal."

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22 comments
MY STADY — mystady.com
MY STADY — mystady.com

Words have context.

Somebody singing along to "Niggas in Paris" doesn't make them racist. I don't understand why she felt the need to change the lyrics. White guilt? I don't get it. It creates more problems than it solves and it's fucking stupid.

White people, just sing along otherwise you're butchering the song. I'm not giving you permission as a black dude, I'm saying you don't need to fucking ASK permission. Would anybody have called her racist for saying nigga? It's a catchy fucking song, get over it!

Frankly, if you feel you have to ask then the answer is no because you clearly don't have a proper grasp of language.

imspinningaround
imspinningaround

Aw man, does this mean I have to stop doing 99 Problems at karaoke night?

YouWayhjj
YouWayhjj

Jesus, Andy. This article was painful to read because you're a good writer, but every single one of your arguments sucked and were unprofessionally whiny. She didn't piss off black people, white people, kids, adults, sponsors, networks, moms, dads, teachers, Rush Limbaugh or anyone else who normally would be breathing down her dick. What more do you want? Apparently she just pissed off one fan at the V.V. who likes to fist himself while listening to Firework.

brian
brian

Does she still have big tits?

Young Scuba
Young Scuba

Katy needs to die just for trying to top Michael's five no. 1's off Bad

Dr_John_Zoidberg
Dr_John_Zoidberg

Honestly, I don't understand what's so bad about this.  I'm no fan of Katty Perry, but I've heard covers of rap songs that are WAY worse than this.  Furthermore, she used "ninjas"  its not "niggas" and its not even close.  Any righteous anger over this is reverse racism.  Does the covering of that song belong to African Americans alone? What if Katty Perry was from The Bronx, could she get away with it?

Is that why that superfluous word is spewed all over the music world?  To claim some kind of ownership over who is allowed to cover hip-hop songs?  I walk outside of my apartment every day and hear 12 year old kids calling each other by that word, sometimes more than once in the same sentence.  Are pop musicians keeping that word in the vernacular just so people like Katty Perry can't cover their songs without it being suggested she's engaging in some kind of racial commentary?

I honestly think its beyond racist to suggest that hip-hop is different from other forms of music because its made almost exclusively by African Americans.  Is it not open to interpretation, like all other art forms?  Is it so base and literal as to make it impossible for anyone else to identify with it unless they "get it"?  I bet if you could get Jay-Z on the phone, knowing what I know about him and the kind of person he is, he would think this is all ridiculous. 

slax0r
slax0r

A lot of people criticising just the change in words don't seem to realise this was on UK national radio, on the biggest station in the UK, in the middle of the morning. She could hardly say 'niggas' and 'motherfucker' could she?

Keep the argument about her covering the song itself, not changing the words, though personally I'm thinking people are getting way too worked up about the song and it's meaning. Just cause you like a song doesn't mean you have to come from the same background as the original singer/writer.

Lighten up a bit - who gives a fuck when elephants are dying? (Joke alert! ref: Lee Ryan!)

Andy Hutchins
Andy Hutchins

Some of the people who would otherwise be taking offense to a white girl from California trying to pass in London while performing "Niggas in Paris" are up in arms about the murder of a 17-year-old black kid in Samford, Florida. There's only so much attention to go around, and the fuckery nearly always exceeds it.

Andy Hutchins
Andy Hutchins

Call me when another form of music evolves from the dozens, which probably came to America via slavery, and we'll talk about how rap is just like every other musical genre.

MY STADY — mystady.com
MY STADY — mystady.com

"A lot of people criticising just the change in words don't seem to realise this was on UK national radio, on the biggest station in the UK, in the middle of the morning. She could hardly say 'niggas' and 'motherfucker' could she?"

If that's the case WHY BOTHER? What a pointless exercise.

YouWayhjj
YouWayhjj

Not sure what the comparison between Katy Perry singing a PG version of "Niggas in Paris" and an overzealous, paranoid neighborhood volunteer patrol guy who called 911 forty six times in the last three months. As Tupac Shakur said, “Niggers were the ones on the rope,hanging off them. Niggas are the ones with the gold ropes, hanging out at clubs". That being said, you should listen to "Sucka Nigga" by A Tribe Called Quest and check out this video of a white teacher who called his student a nigga: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

burning_plastic
burning_plastic

The blues comes from Africa. There are African stringed instruments that it would be very easy to imagine were the inspiration for the first bent notes played on guitar. It evolved into Jazz in some hands. Gospel music with call and response has roots in Africa. Folk music, the old ballads, comes from Europe In the 1920's when everyone was suddenly able to hear every type of music on the radio these different genres cross-pollinated and led to country music, rockabilly and rock and roll. Rap is not unique in having African roots. Rap might be more unique musically than lyrically since it can borrow from and be based on music from all other genres. Even John Cage writing music to be performed using radios as instruments has something in common with using turntables as instruments.

So I could agree with you that rap isn't like other genres, but not for the reason you give. And when you replied to me, I'm not sure if you purposely missed the point or not. I agree that politics and marketing can go hand in hand. I don't see why an ugly word is okay when certain people say it.

I suspect it's because it's in the interests of the establishment to use rap music to keep poor people ignorant as they have always done and I think that might be the connection to slavery that you were looking for. 

Dr_John_Zoidberg
Dr_John_Zoidberg

Wow, you're breaking out slavery here?   Hip-hop is pop culture.  Its a billion dollar industry.  Its not like Katty Perry is writing songs from the perspective of someone who overcame the pitfalls of inner city decay and poverty.  Its not like she's trying to usurp the message here or misappropriate it.  Is everyone who covers "Roxanne" by The Police singing to a prostitute they wish would be their girlfriend?  When people sing "Rocket Man" are they trying to explain the self-destructive impulses born of being a closeted homosexual?  If Jay-Z samples "Rocket Man" is he being insensitive to the struggle of homosexuals? No. Its just a good song that a lot of people like.

I honestly expect more from a publication that's based out of my neighborhood.  This is needlessly inflammatory.

burning_plastic
burning_plastic

 It's a funny reference to the term "full ninja."

also, I like the word "nontroversy" very much and plan on using it. My problem with some people being allowed to say a word that other people can't say is that it's a bunch of bullshit from the start. If the idea is to take away the power of the word, but then it's a big deal for some people to say it, then how was the power taken away?It's totally illogical. Jay-Z is allowed to say a word to take it back because it was used to put down a group of people. Okay. So why does he say "faggot?" It's not that kind of faggot?

I understand that I could be misinterpreted as one of those people that says, "If they say it why can't I?" and actually I think it's a stupid word for anyone to apply to themselves or anyone else. But my actual point is nothing like that. I'm saying, okay, people have been oppressed, and this word has been used against them, and I'll go along with taking the word back for the sake of argument, and even agreeing that certain people that may have had that word applied to them have more right to say it. So why do they say "faggot?"

It's not about taking back a word. It's about trying to appeal to a certain audience. And it's bullshit. Katy Perry should leave a song alone if she can't say or doesn't know the words. I agree on that. But trying to act like it's some political statement for Jay-Z to use the same word is bullshit. It's marketing. That's all it is.

Andy Hutchins
Andy Hutchins

This is also true, which is why I took her to task for also doing this as a naked ploy for attention, and also for doing a horrible cover.

Andy Hutchins
Andy Hutchins

To respond to your first point: Rap is on a completely different plane of popularity than blues/jazz/gospel are right now. You're right that it's not alone in evolving from slavery, and I'm dumb for not acknowledging that in the first place, but I think I should probably clarify my point: No current mainstream music genre is as tied to a race as rap is to blackness in America, and the prevailing narratives of struggle and overcoming are familiar and popular in part because they are rooted in struggle and overcoming. Perry taking a song that's about that and reducing it to use "Got my ninjas in London, and they goin' gorillas!" to talk about partying is weird.

I don't necessarily think "an ugly word is okay when certain people say it"; I think "ugly" words need to be used carefully, and I think the deliberate titling of "Niggas in Paris" and use of "nigga" in the song has more to do with politics than marketing, and I think that if you think "Niggas in Paris" is part of a conspiracy to keep poor people ignorant, you probably haven't listened hard enough to it. 

Andy Hutchins
Andy Hutchins

Hip-hop is pop culture and the people who perform it are generally trying to both participate in that billion-dollar industry and participate in the time-honored trend of telling underclass stories and creating and recreating the narrative of struggle that has been part of hip-hop forever.

Perry, by censoring words and generally destroying the song in question, is definitely usurping the message and misappropriating it, and, you're right, it's not like Perry is writing songs from the same perspective as Jay/Kanye; if she did, she might have a better understanding of why this was a colossally bad move.

Andy Hutchins
Andy Hutchins

Believe it or not, politics and marketing can go hand in hand!

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