Mims' "This Is Why I'm Hot": Rap as Aggressive Emptiness
This is why this is why this is why I'm etc.
Lately I've been making a habit of watching the previous day's Rap City on DVR while I eat my breakfast in the morning. Half the time, though, I haven't even finished my cereal by the time the episode ends because I fast-forward through the whole damn thing. They run the same goddam videos on the show all the time, and most of them are almost oppressively boring, both musically and visually: Snoop Dogg's "That's That," Saigon's "Pain in My Life," that Lil Flip and Lyfe Jennings piece of shit. Maybe it's a symptom of rap albums selling less, but we're seeing fewer and fewer videos that even attempt to be engaging or lively, to dazzle. Also, Q45 is maybe the most irritating and incompetent VJ in cable history; I never realized how much I'd miss Tigger. I only stop fast-forwarding for any new video I haven't seen yet, for whatever booth freestyle might be on, and for a couple of videos. The videos for the "Top Back" and "We Fly High" remixes display the sort of energy and showmanship that's increasingly rare in rap videos; all the people involved actually look happy to be there, including (shockingly enough) the girls; all the images are materialistic cliches, but they're cliches done with spirit and verve. I also like that new Lil Scrappy video where Scrappy seems completely delighted at every single goofy thing E-40 says. For all these videos, I can understand why I hit play: none of them do anything revolutionary, but they're all flashy and fun, and they give me something to look at while I'm eating my Lucky Charms. But there's another video that I always watch, and I'm not even completely sure why. I can't even figure out if I like the damn thing.
There's really not much to like about Mims' video for "This Is Why I'm Hot." All the camerawork is low-grade and grainy, but it's not one of those videos like T.I.'s "U Don't Know Me" that uses dirty imagery and choppy editing to achieve a state of jumpy urgency. Instead, everything has a sort of narcotic haze; even the bits that aren't in slow-motion seem to be. In the first verse, there's a painful little sequence where Mims talks about all the cities where people love him while he stands in front of obvious green-screen versions of the Gateway Arch and Wrigley Field. Later, we see him driving his jeep, and the camera does that camcorder reverse-effect trick so that Mims' skin looks purple and the sky looks green. The girls in the video are thoroughly average, and a particularly busted Remy Ma shows up for a cameo. Throughout, Mims has the exact same shit-eating grin on his face. At the end, it says "to be continued" on the screen. About a million rap videos end by saying they're to be continued, and it never, ever happens; it's doubly ridiculous here because the video doesn't even try to tell a story. The video is a cheap, slapdash rush-job, the sort of thing a label might order when it realizes a certain song is getting a few local-radio spins and it needs something for Rap City in the next two days; for a while, I thought I was stopping to watch the video just because I was enjoying hating it so much.
And then there's the matter of the song. The beat is pretty incredible: a few ghostly, weightless synth-bleeps over a slow, creaking drum-track. It's minimal and hypnotic, like it was built to fade in to the background and to make room for a great rapper. But Mims isn't that rapper. He starts out his first verse saying "This is why I'm hot / I don't gotta rap / I could sell a mil saying nothing on the track," and then he sets out to test that hypothesis. He delivers three verses in a sort of contented half-asleep monotone, keeping his enunciation crisp but also maddeningly slow, and he touches on all the most obvious cliches in the most simplistic ways possible. (On girls: "They hop in my car / I tell them 'all aboard' / We hit the studio, they say they like how I record.") I've only heard one memorable line from Mims, and even that is pretty much just ridiculous and endearing (from the track's reggae remix: "Now if you take the sun and multiply its heat / Ten times over, then what you find is me"). He delivers all his lyrics in a sort of lazy, unhurried lope, and you can hear the grin on his face the entire time. The track's hook is a masterwork of confoundingly circular logic: "I'm hot cuz I'm fly / You ain't cuz you not." If I spend a whole lot longer looking for any actual meaning in this song, I'm going to drive myself insane.
But then, the song's aggressive neglect of meaning is what makes it so magnetic. A week and a half ago, there was a scene on The (White) Rapper Show where John Brown insists that his group needs to repeat the hook of its song four times over because "you gotta brainwash them," and Brown's hypnotically simple hooks are a huge part of why he's still on the show. Everything about "This Is Why I'm Hot" (hook, verses, beat, video) is so simple that I'm not sure even John Brown could've thought of it; it's a mesmerizing blank. It reminds me of another pop song I took forever figuring out that I loved. Cassie's "Me & U" had the same kind of minimally insistent icy-techno synth riff, the same barely-there drums, and a vocal that flaunted its airy vacuousness the same way. "Me & U" also ended up kicking off a shockingly enjoyable little album. If Mims has another eleven songs as winningly empty as "This Is Why I'm Hot," I might like his album a whole lot; it might just take me a while to realize it.