Slate's Culturebox: Rapping to 'Chronicles of Narnia'

Farai Chideya talks to Slate contributor Josh Levin about a recent Saturday Night Live rap parody called "Lazy Sunday" that follows two SNL stars as they wake up late, get cupcakes and go see a movie — all to a hard-core hip-hop beat. The video has been a popular download on the Web, and Levin says it's evidence the rap music industry may need to re-evaluate its direction...

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

If you've been on the Internet much in the last 10 days, there's a good chance you've come across a certain video. No, not that kind of video. This one features two very white guys rapping about their favorite things, cupcakes and "The Chronicles of Narnia."

(Soundbite of "Lazy Sunday")

Mr. ANDY SAMBERG: (Rapping) Yo, stop at the deli; the theater's is overpriced.

Mr. CHRIS PARNELL: (Rapping) You've got that backpack; I'm going to pack it up nice. Don't want security to get suspicious.

Mr. SAMBERG: (Rapping) Mr. Pibbs and Red Vines equals crazy delicious.

Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping) Yo, reach in my pocket, pull out some dough.

CHIDEYA: You can download the video free on iTunes, or link to it from our site, npr.org. It's actually a parody that aired on "Saturday Night Live" on December 17th, but our next guest argues that "Lazy Sunday," as the video is titled, harks back to the good old days of rap. Josh Levin writes about music and sports for the online magazine Slate, and he joins us now.

Welcome.

JOSH LEVIN (Slate): Hey, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So first of all, Josh, describe the video a little more for those who haven't seen it.

LEVIN: It's a very short digital video that shows a day in the life of a pair of extraordinarily dorky New Yorkers. And, you know, among the things that they're doing are eating lots of cupcakes, going to see "The Chronicles of Narnia" and a couple things in between.

CHIDEYA: What's your favorite scene from the whole video?

LEVIN: I would have to say that it's when they're sitting on a park bench and debating what the dopest route is to get to the Upper West Side, and they're debating various online mapping services.

(Soundbite of "Lazy Sunday")

Mr. SAMBERG: (Rapping) Yo, where's the movie playing?

Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping) Upper West Side, dude.

Mr. SAMBERG: (Rapping) Well, I pick up Yahoo! Maps to find the dopest route.

Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping) I prefer MapQuest. That's a good one, too.

Mr. SAMBERG: (Rapping) Google Maps is the best.

Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping) True that.

Mr. SAMBERG and Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping in unison) Double true!

Mr. SAMBERG: (Rapping) 68th and Broadway...

Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping) Step on it, sucker.

Mr. SAMBERG: (Rapping) What you want to do, Chris?

Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping) Snack attack, mother (censored)!

Mr. SAMBERG and Mr. PARNELL: (Rapping in unison) "The Chron"--What?--"icles of Narnia"...

CHIDEYA: Now there have been many white rappers over the years, and perhaps even more parodies of white people attempting to rap. What makes this video different, and why do you think it's so popular?

LEVIN: Well, you said before that the video is a parody, and I think it does kind of make fun or poke fun a little bit at the cliches of rap music. It does not use the rappers' or comedians' whiteness as a comedy crutch. I mean, they're not talking about bling and Cristal in a sort of cringe-inducing way. I mean, they're just talking about the stuff that they really like to do and peppering in a few hip-hop phrases here and there. Like, talking about how the cupcakes that they like have really bomb frostings. But it's not done in a really cliched way. Like, the video doesn't include any fancy cars or yachts or anything.

CHIDEYA: In your Slate article, you say this parody rap reminds you of some of the famous acts from the '80s; Run-DMC, for example, and also the Beastie Boys. The video even reminds me a little bit of the Beastie Boys. So let's listen to a little bit of their stuff.

(Soundbite of "Sure Shot")

BEASTIE BOYS: ...mic with the panty hose. I strap on my ear goggles and I'm ready to go, 'cause at the boards is the man they call the Mario. Pull up at the function and you know I Kojak to all the party people that are on my bozak. I've got more action than my man John Woo and I've got mad hits like I was Rod Carew. Yeah, 'cause you can't, you won't and you don't stop.

CHIDEYA: So what's so old school about this rap, this new Internet sensation?

LEVIN: Well, if you listen to that Beastie Boys clip that we just played, you can see a lot of similarities, the way that the Beasties traded rhymes on that and the way that they put an emphasis or enunciation at the end of each line. You can see a lot of that in the "Lazy Sunday" video. For example, at one point, they're talking about how many 10-dollar bills they have and really bragging about it, and they say, `You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons.'

CHIDEYA: What do you think today's hip-hop artists can learn from the popularity of this "Saturday Night Live" rap, other than "Narnia" sells?

LEVIN: I think it's the moments of just weirdness and goofiness and whimsy in this rap that make it so great and funny. I mean, people aren't forwarding this thing around because they're making fun of the guys because they're so dorky and lame; they're sending it around because the stuff that they rap about is really entertaining and funny. And I think a lot of rappers today just don't realize that it's OK to be sort of weird and silly. You know, you don't always have to take yourself so seriously. That's what I think a lot of the great stuff from the '80s--you know, Biz Markie, Tone Loc, the Beastie Boys, whoever--those guys just really appreciated the fact that you could be just really strange.

CHIDEYA: Opinion from Josh Levin, a writer and editor at the online magazine Slate.

Thanks, Josh.

LEVIN: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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