A new rap album can be a lot like the latest horror flick: full of played cliches, callbacks to other works in the genre and corny dialogue strewn in between the good bits.
Genre outsiders might look at the latest slasher or 2 Chainz album and wonder who likes this kind of stuff. Don’t their fans realize they’re getting served the same shlock over and over again with a different title? What they might not realized is that the fans not only know these cliches—or tropes—well, but they look for them, and even celebrate them.
There’s no bigger form of geeked-out cliche celebration than the sendup. Good parodies can even transcend their status as mere tribute and reach a level of admiration equal to the work they riff off. Horror had “Tucker and Dale Versus Evil,” and for rap, there’s the Lonely Island. After nabbing two Grammy nominations in their first two records (including a legitimate “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration” nod for “I’m On A Boat”), the fake rap or “frap” trio has returned with another obtuse comedy album that pokes fun at a variety of modern trends and genres—but mostly rap.
From “Go Kindergarten” to “The Compliments,” the lion’s share of “The Wack Album” zeroes in on the tropes of rap in a playful ribbing. “Go Kindergarten” plays off the idea that the crowd will do pretty much whatever an MC tells them to do at a show without a second thought, even if its 100% absurd (“Have a motherfuckin’ baby on the floor / Raise it in the club, homeschool it by the door!”). “YOLO” and “Semicolon” aim at two of raps most egregious new creations—the use of YOLO (You Only Live Once) to justify doing anything at all (or, in the parody, nothing ever) and hashtags—with varying success. The bad grammar lesson of “Semicolon” provides the contrivance needed for the trio to unload a list of ridiculous hashtag raps, but there isn’t that second level that many of their jokes shift into to mix things up. “YOLO” fares better, though, taking the cautionary definition of the popular catchphrase to the extreme and throwing Kendrick Lamar and Adam Levine along for the ride. It also showcases one of the group’s most extravagant music videos, and the visualization of the verses is half the fun.
Which brings up another point: as was true of their first two albums, most of the singles released as videos are hard to fathom as more than the audio track of their visuals. This isn’t necessarily because the songs aren’t up to scratch, but that the videos make the gags that much better. Take part three of the “Dick in a Box” and “Motherlover” Samburg/Timberlake trilogy, “3-Way (The Golden Rule),” for example. A ’90s R&B song about two bros deciding they can have sex with each other so long as there’s a lady in the room—Lady Gaga, to be precise—is funny in its own right. But you’d be missing the hilarious commitment Samburg and Timberlake make to their silky ’90s player personas, the callback to “Motherlover” at the beginning and, of course, the glorious neon overalls they sport throughout it.
“Spring Break Anthem,” on the other hand, is not only funnier with the video, but kind of confusing without it. Here, the gag is in the juxtaposition of the animalistic college spring break—a wholly accepted thing in society—with the idea of two men marrying each other—still largely controversial. It’s a concept that comes across clear enough in the video, but without the visual clarification, it sounds like the story of a bunch of dudes going down to party in Cancun that end up marrying one another. That’s still a funny idea that’s just random enough to work for fans of TLI, but it doesn’t give the song the credit its due, as its actually pretty poignant.
Especially when you consider that just five songs later is “I Fu**** My Aunt,” one of the groups’ opposite-of-gangsta rap ballads that’s as weird as it gets—and then T-Pain drops in.
Even if it’s not your speed, weighing in at 20 tracks, something’s bound to land on the album. For those that do share their twisted sense of humor or pick up on their sundry good-natured jabs at rap culture, “The Wack Album” continues the Lonely Island’s winning streak. You’ve probably already heard the best tracks off of it in on SNL and the Wack Wednesday pre-releases, but there’s enough here to warrant a look—especially if you nab a version with videos.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s indie and bluegrass blogger. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.