SNL Narnia-Rap Skit: Better Than Actual Rap?
Intelligent design: This snowman is not angry because he's about to make cookies
The weirdest thing has been happening this week. It's not the transit strike; I'm in Virginia, so I don't care about that. (Leave town, chumps.) It's this: people are actually talking about a Saturday Night Live skit, quoting it, putting links on their blogs like I'm doing here. This hasn't happened in years, at least in my circles.
I haven't seen much of SNL this season, but the general consensus seems to be that this is its weakest season in years: stunt-casted hosts and celebrity-cameo overload and, most of all, already half-baked skit ideas repeated over and over, almost verbatim, in a desperate to find another Wayne's World-esque recurrent-character goldmine. Possibly the worst: Horatio Sanz as a really fat rapper who hosts a talk show (?) and talks about eating constantly. Given all this constant, epic failure, a digital video where two white cast-members rap about eating cupcakes and going to see Narnia should be a horrendous idea, the epitome of haha-we're-white irony-mining and blackfaced-up wiggity-wiggity posing, like the rapping Santa I saw at Walgreen's this weekend (he raps over "Getting Jiggy With It").
But there's nothing insulting or racist about "Lazy Sunday," the short in question. For one thing, and this is remarkable, "Lazy Sunday" is a pretty good rap song. (Sasha Frere-Jones: "This routine is quite good, both as comedy and as a piece of rap music.") The beat isn't one of those faux-old-school jernk-jernk-skritch boilerplate things. It's solid: hard heavy piano, subtle snare shuffle, a nice little bass-riff sample every once in a while, convincingly hard and cinematic, like, you know, a real rap beat. Chris Parnell, despite being probably really old, has a clumsily amped shouty delivery he showcased on a Weekend Update stalking-Ashton-Kutcher thing a while back and I think some Eminem skit I never saw. Fellow Pitchfork dude Peter Macia points out that Andy Samberg, the hipster-looking new guy, raps a lot like Slug (he said better than Slug; I just say a lot like Slug). Both of them share lines and jump in on each other and generally avoid sucking for the entire length of the song, wisely opting not to use the look-at-me-I'm-rapping karayzy-white-guy overenunciation so common in rap-comedy. It works.
The video doesn't ape rap-clip cliches, either. It's more student-film: logos coming up anytime they mention a brand, jerky stop-motion between verses, Parnell and Samberg wearing scrubby parkas instead of the Puffy-in-97 shiny suits that white people still wear when they're making fun of rap. I wouldn't be sad if more videos looked like this; it's a whole hell of a lot more appealing than the Nine Inch Nails bleached-out yellow tint that rock-video directors have run into the ground again and again.
And the comedy doesn't depend on making fun of rap for being dumb or the goofy white rappers for being goofy-white. It's the punchlines: "I love those cupcakes like McAdams loves Gosling," "You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons," "We're about to get taken to a dreamworld of magic." More than that it's likeable, something that Parnell and Samberg might've thought out while bored one day and run out the next day to film. (My girlfriend Bridget: "It's really cute! I want cupcakes!") What's most disarming is the specificity: here's what we're doing today, let's make a song about it. After a particularly weak year for indie-rap, it's something that white rapping herbs across America could learn from: sledding and 7-11 runs and Animal Planet are more interesting another fuck-Bush song, and you don't have to act like a buffoon to make them funny. Why isn't everything this easy?