In July this year, The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon ridiculed Sudan-born, Melbourne-based rapper Ajak Chol, better known by his stage names of Bangs, Ur Boy Bangs and other variations. Chol’s viral YouTube hit, ‘Take U to Da Movies’ featured on The Tonight Show‘s ‘Do Not Play’ segment and was mocked by host and narrator Steve Higgins. The track fuelled global discussion, but why? Was Fallon simply making fun of a Sudanese migrant for poorly mirroring US culture? Or is it possible Ur Boy is at the beginning of the next movement in art history?
‘Take U to Da Movies’ went viral in 2009, and like many other YouTube hits it briefly pushed its creator into the public eye. The video launched a kind of fad music career for Chol, with the rapper even performing at the 2010 Melbourne Big Day Out. The track is confusing from an artistic standpoint, as it parodies US gangsta rap culture while looking like a serious attempt at creating rap music. ‘Take U to Da Movies’ upholds the egocentric rap aesthetic, yet the subject (Ur Boy taking a girl to the movies, paying for the popcorn and so on) is endearing and oddly polite. The lyricism along with the absurdity of the video (Bangs performs in front of green-screened JPEG images of city skylines, expensive cars, Australian cash and so on) could be the reason for its traction online. However, it is difficult to discern exactly what factors are pushing the clip repeatedly into the limelight.
Most of Chol’s other music videos appear to be less outwardly ironic. For example, ‘Better Place’ is about the reputation of Sudanese people in Australia, and ‘I’m Going to the Ghetto’ examines Chol’s experience living in this country:
Let me tell you the truth, but don’t get me wrong
I’m not happy in this country at all
I want to go back to where I’m from, which is my home
I don’t know why I’m here
These tracks are more serious, though they share same raw production values as ‘Take You to Da Movies. The Sudanese-Australian videographer Ez Eldin Deng shot many of them. The two met in 2004 at the Western English Language School in Braybrook, Victoria, and have been collaborating since.
Like many other viral videos, the success of ‘Take U to Da Movies’ had an accidental element. Deng explained, ‘It was an experiment; I wanted to work out how green screen [also known as chroma key compositing, a post-production filmmaking technique] worked, and Bangs had the idea for the images. I didn’t know anything about YouTube.’ Deng felt the popularity of ‘Take U to Da Movies’ was due to its simplicity. ‘There is no technology where I come from and I wanted to do something simple, something people could relate to. Some people find it funny and some just try to work out how we did it.’
‘Take U to Da Movies’ appearing on The Tonight Show created something of media frenzy in Australia and online. In the days following, Chol released a response in the form of a diss track entitled, ‘Ur Boy Bangz – Response to Jimmy Fallon – Do Not Watch’. It is difficult to tell if Chol is actually offended or if it’s an elaborate joke at Fallon’s expense. Following the online release of the diss track, Chol then participated in a number of radio and television appearances, including interviews with ABC Radio National, Ten’s Studio 10 and SBS Radio. These appearances and countless online articles were supportive of the rapper’s encounter with The Tonight Show, though were also extremely patronising. The public reaction makes you wonder if this is just another example of humanity’s inherent cruelty when it comes rejoicing the perceived failure of others. And, for the record, the other side of the Fallon’s mean-spirited coin is the condescending praise given by so many media outlets; ABC RN Drive’s Patricia Karvelas was kind to Chol, but at times it appeared as if she was talking to a child.
The media reception is indicative of an outdated thinking on the way art is created – that is, if it doesn’t share the qualities of something known to be successful, critically or otherwise, then it is trivial and not worthy of respect. Are the reactions of Fallon and the media just an extension of angry white male syndrome, a kind of nostalgia for the past when everything made sense and a community understood why something was being discussed and shared around? The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you think ‘Take U to Da Movies’ is a good example of rap music or not. It doesn’t matter if it was intended as a parody or if it was meant to be serious (or somehow both). There is no longer a point in discerning the intention of a creator in the post-postmodern world. What is important is working out why one music video speaks to a global audience and countless others fall through the cracks. It is not arbitrary. My guess is that what Ajak Chol and Ez Eldin Deng are doing resonated because it represents a new honesty in art, a realness that’s far from the egotistical laughter of a talk show host that modern culture is likely to leave behind.
There are now audiences for artworks that would usually be rejected due to dated notions on what art is. An example is the art/music style, Vaporwave, which emerged early this decade. Vaporwave is characterised by a preoccupation with an 80s and 90s yuppie aesthetic. The music typically involves extensive sampling of lounge and muzak from the 1970s onwards. In a sarcastic video ‘How To Make Vaporwave’, YouTuber FrankJavCee describes the music as ‘basically 80s elevator/infomercial music digitally slowed down with effects.’ Vaporwave appears almost exclusively on the internet and functions as both a critique and embrace of consumer capitalism. It epitomises post-irony and ambivalence in modern culture, and it rejects most of the technical standards of traditional and contemporary art. Irrespective of how this music is being formally reviewed, it has a wide, growing audience online – and like Ur Boy Bangs, it warrants acknowledgement of its being more than just a failed artistic attempt.
‘In that moment, poetry will be made by everyone, and there will be emus in the zone,’ says Chris Marker in his complex video-essay, Sans Soleil. The film is pieced together from decades of travel videography, where each shot functions as a memory or an unconscious moment in time. Marker’s film was created in a way that appeared both intentional and accidental. ‘Take U to Da Movies’ lacks the technical expertise of traditional and mainstream art; however, it captures a vulnerability that’s almost impossible to recreate in traditional art forms. Like Sans Soleil, ‘Take U to Da Movies’ achieved this both consciously and by mistake. The YouTube hit was, in the truest creative spirit, an experiment by two Sudanese-Australians to learn about new technology and online platforms. The idea of the trained and self-aware artist is being dismantled. The internet is ushering in a new age unrestricted by craft and fixed notions about what art is.