You've probably heard about southern Dallas rapper Dooney da Priest (real name: Duwayne Brown), who has produced two songs of note in the past couple months. The latest one, "Vote No!," was Dooney's foray into politics, a crunk anthem supporting, um, a toll road. Guess writing "Vote no/So the south side of Trinity can grow" beats trying to find an internal rhyme for "sizzurp."
But it's his first high-profile song that continues to make news. Commissioned by Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, Dooney's "Pull Your Pants Up" is a four-minute plea to "urban" (as The Dallas Morning News puts it) youths, who favor the long-popular style of dropped drawers, to get some jeans that fit, for chrissakes. The song goes, in part:
"I'm a street priest, I'm not here to judge
This a letter to the streets
Talking to my thugs
...wear what you wanna wear
I'm just sayin', man, I'm sicka seein' your underwear
I like to speak on behalf of the community
You look suspect
Jail is where you're soon to be
Behind bars, it's a code for the 'n' word
The word saggin' spelled backwards is the 'n' word.
I think it's rude, but some of y'all think it's cool
Walkin' around showin' yo behind to other dudes
It looks retarded
Degenerate and real odd
Yeah, you're hard, but now it's hard to get a real job
You're 20 and above and you still sag?
A disgrace to your race, where your pride at?
C'mon, man, pull your pants up and get your pride back."
As far as Southern rap goes, this song rates about a D+. The crunk beat is catchy enough but not particularly inventive. Relying mainly on end rhymes and single-syllable words, Dooney's—a committed, born-again Christian who works with the ultra-conservative Potter's House—skills are simplistic, about the level of some fifth-grader scribbling on the back of his notebook (the exception being the smooth flow of the "It looks retarded/Degenerate and real odd" and a few other spots). When you listen to it, you feel that same cringe of embarrassment as when you see TV blips of whitebread presidential candidates clapping along to a gospel choir, or when your parents dance at weddings.
The song is part of a city-wide campaign that urges bla...sorry, "urban" youths to stop saggin'. Caraway originally meant to propose a city ordinance forcing Dallas denizens to pull their pants up above their underwear, but, knowing he was entering into some hairy constitutional territory, he chose instead to launch the campaign, which also includes billboards imploring, "Don't be lame...raise your game. Pull your pants up."
First, can we talk about how surreal this is? Let's take a deep breath and really think about it: Billboards. Throughout one of the biggest cities in the United States. That beg citizens...to pull up their pants.
All those futuristic dystopia films such as Blade Runner and Robocop got it wrong: The surrealness of the new millennium does not look like a dark, noirish city filled with murderous cyborgs and robot femmes fatales. Nope, the future looks like a pair of really big jeans.
This trend, which has been around since at least the early days of gangsta rap, is not random, however. It takes its aesthetic from prison garb. Most convicted prisoners are not allowed to wear belts or drawstrings, thus the baggy dungarees, and back in the day many took the look back home with them upon release, or else their visitors adopted it and took it into the streets themselves. The allusion to doing time, then, is a reference to many things: To having paid your street dues, to being oppressed by the system, to being "hard."
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It's the combination of failing to grasp the implications of this prison aesthetic; the lame song; the lack of understanding about the surrealness of the situation; and the fantasy that somehow this song is going to change behavior on a large scale that drives home just how out of touch both religious leaders and the civic establishment are when it comes to the complicated nature of hip-hop culture. Put simply: Y'all got it wrong.
Let's put it this way: If your subculture is so disenfranchised that you have to glorify prison—glorify it to the point that you voluntarily wear a quasi-prison uniform—your world is clearly difficult and complex. If baggy jeans are your badge of honor, you don't have much hope, now do you? The hip-hop tradition is not just fashion, it's a grab for some kind of pride in a situation that doesn't offer much hope for obtaining pride in the way enfranchised people do. No one's gonna let that go because of some simplistic billboard. Caraway's "Don't be lame" is analogous to Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign in the '80s, and we all know how well that Pollyanna motherfucker worked.
Similarly, a four-minute piece of bad Christian crunk might convince some second-grader, but on the whole Dooney's song is the David battling the Goliath of modern hip-hop's blingy boasts, courtesy of folks such as Dr. Dre ("So give me body like Latifah and I might beat cha/With my beanie on I look just like the grim reaper/Pony tail, saggy pants, bulletproof vest/Like an alien, Dre Dog is coming through your chest"; Dem Franchise Boyz ("Yea I'm super clean rock jeans wit a white tee"); and Jim Jones ("I hop'd out saggy jeans and my rock glistenin'"). Compared with the glamorized juxtaposition of prison jeans and a big ol' diamond, the exhortation "don't be lame" is a whisper in the wind. If it's heard at all, in fact, it will resemble a hand-wringing, beseeching milquetoast plea. Think about it: Hip-hop is rife with violent images worthy of a Halloween flick—"Raise your game" just isn't gonna cut it. This time, Goliath wins.
If this whole misguided campaign is any indication of the perspective of the powers that be, nothing's going to cut it. If anyone cared to ask the question Why do young people want to dress this way?, we might have a start to the long journey of getting them to wear a freakin' belt. Like any visible manifestation of some very dark, very tough issues, the whole pants thing is merely a surface symbol of deep-rooted problems. And, as such, getting people to pull up their drawers would only be a surface fix. Exterior blight always indicates a troubled core, so let's just say no to simplistic solutions.