The Witness of Lil Dicky
In his song, “Reagan,” rap artist Killer Mike makes this statement about the greater hip hop community:
“It seems our people starve from a lack of understanding / ‘Cause all we seem to give them is some balling and some dancing / And some talkin' bout our car and imaginary mansions / We should be indicted for the bullshit we inciting.”
Fewer rappers ball harder or dance wilder than emerging rapper David Burd, aka Lil Dicky. In a music video for a song on his debut album, Burd can be seen traipsing through Beverly Hills mansions, laying with models on the decks of yachts, and spraying champagne over crowds at a nightclub with Fetty Wap. These kinds of scenes aren’t rare in hip-hop music videos. They've come to be expected in any rap video that wants to put its viewers in awe. This kind of belligerent spending serves to legitimize rappers to their audience. David knows this. He gives us scene after scene of this sort. But he gives us something else as well.
The opening segment of this video, titled, “Save Dat Money,” shows David standing outside the gates of a Beverly Hills mansion pushing the call button on the intercom.
“Hi,” David smiles into the speaker, “My names David Burd. This is kind of ridiculous but I’m actually a rapper.”
“And we’re trying to shoot the most epic rap video we can for no money, and we were wondering if we could use your mansion for a couple shots.”
There’s a long silence on the other end of the speaker, followed by a hesitant but clear “No.”
They continue down the boulevard, asking these wealthy home owners to borrow their mansion for a couple minutes, and get turned down repeatedly. Finally, David gives his spiel to an elderly woman, who thinks for a moment before saying, “Well… okay.” And then the party begins.
The song, which is all about saving money, comes smack dab in the middle of his album. Interspersed throughout the record are interludes containing phone calls between him and his parents in which his mother tells him to make sure he gets enough sleep before his concerts and his father really wants to know if he’s seen the new TV ad for Anchorman 2. In this album, titled Professional Rapper, we see the artist Lil Dicky in his songs. We see Lil Dicky in songs like “Bruh..” which contains no melody or chorus, but instead displays him tearing the track to shreds, spitting bar after bar, leaving no question in the listener’s mind as to whether or not he belongs in the rap industry. Along With Lil Dicky, though, comes David Burd, the college educated son of two Jewish parents, the product of upper-middle class Philadelphia suburbs, and the white guy trying to make it in an African-American dominated genre, lamenting in one of his songs “Why I didn’t go with jazz, mutha f---a?”
The transparency David is bringing to the rap game is sending tremors through the whole industry, and David knows it. But instead of challenging the industry head on, he is partnering with it, earning his way into the game through lyrical merit, but infusing those lyrics with tokens of change. With an often uncomfortable amount of vulnerability, David Burd is bringing reality back to hip hop through a combination of humor and raw skill.
In his opening song, Lil Dicky sits opposite Snoop Dogg, supposedly in some sort of job interview. The rap consists of discourse between Dicky and Snoop, with Snoop often voicing doubt or flat out condescension toward Dicky, saying at one point “Rap’s like life. If you wanna do this, you won’t get far actin’ like a lil’ bitch.” To which Dicky responds, “Nah, that’s my niche! Don’t get offended by this, but that’s the market y'all missed…I wanna do this whole thing different.” This is essentially Dicky’s thesis for the whole 20-track album. Through this discourse, Burd demonstrates the utmost respect for the rap industry. He doesn’t confront anyone. He doesn’t post subtweets on Twitter. He doesn't start any beef. Instead, he comes before one of the greats and lays his case at his feet, simply asking Snoop to hear him out. Snoop, in this case the liaison for the whole rap community, responds with a hesitant, “Sure.”
David Burd is not the first rapper to try and bring a dose of reality to the rap industry through humorous, vulnerable lyrics. Artists like George Watsky, Spose, Wax, and Dunson all have similar ideas. While all these rappers demonstrate significant skill and have their own loyal followings, their sound doesn’t seem to engage the same crowds as those of more popular rappers. Dicky steps ahead of the pack by engaging the greats in the game. Instead of commenting on and critiquing artists like Fetty Wap, Rich Homie Quan, and Snoop Dogg, he brings them into his project, blending their sound with his style, while inviting them to participate in a different, possibly more realistic story than they’re used to telling.
In his song “Personality,” which features T-Pain, Dicky makes the claim that while, “…we ain’t never been ballers,” he and T-Pain are wooing women simply by the merits of their character, or as T-Pain sings in the chorus, “We gettin’ p---y with our personality.” Dicky doesn’t stop with challenging the fabric of rap culture, though. In the track that immediately follows this song, he even pokes holes in his own persona. In his ten minute track titled “Pillow Talking,” he invents a conversation between himself and a girl he has invited over. It begins amicably enough, supporting the claims about his wooing abilities in “Personality,” but Burd quickly finds himself at odds with this made up woman in almost every category: religion, politics, dietary choices, etc. The track ends with Dicky eating a pizza alone on the floor while the girl falls asleep, annoyed, in his bed. It seems that while Burd fearlessly critiques the widespread "fronting" of the rap community, he holds himself to the same inscrutable standard by illuminating and laughing at the inconsistencies he finds in his own image.
“It seems our people starve from a lack of understanding.”
David Burd has seen the starvation of our people, and his music is a testament to his passion to feed. He accomplishes this not by exposing his competitors through his lyrics, but rather by coming alongside these rappers as teammates as he exposes himself. He illustrates that no matter how big Lil Dicky gets, he cannot be separated from David Burd, nor should he be. They thrive only when they rely on each other. Dicky needs the support of his loving, sometimes overbearing Jewish parents, and David needs the passion and creative outlet of Lil Dicky. Only showing his audience one of these people would be possibly the most tragic lie Lil Dicky could ever tell.