Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.
Far be it from us to lecture about racial semiotics here on Intensities in Ten Suburbs, but here we go. Dynamite Hack were a post-grunge band from Alvin, Texas, who achieved very brief and limited fame at the turn of the millennium for their cover of N.W.A.’s gangsta rap standard “Boyz n the Hood.” It first appeared on a compilation entitled in a tribue to classic hip-hop entitled Take a Bite Out of Rhyme: A Rock Tribute to Rap, and then as the first single from ’00 full-length Superfast, where the song would gain moderate radio support and eventually peak at #12 on the Modern Rock charts. Many would call the southern white boys’ cover of the violent, decadent West Coast anthem patronizing, obnoxious and dumb, if not outright racist. Personally, I’d be more inclined to call it one of the best–and one of the most surprisingly influential–pop covers of the decade.
Not to say that isn’t just a little bit patronizing, obnoxious, or dumb. But in my opinion, the cover is an entirely worthy and faithful tribute to what made the original so great, just presented in a different framework–that of the patronizing, obnoxious, dumb white kid enamored with the glamor of the N.W.A. persona. And there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing at all–it’s practically the manifest destiny of the suburban youth of America to idealize the rock stars of their infancy, and around the time of the 21st century, a new generation was coming of age that (somewhat understandably) found the gangsta rap and eventual g-funk stars to be far more compelling figures than either the lame hair metalers or the introspective grunge dudes that dominated popular rock from the late 80s into the early 90s. They had no shot at ever being like them, or ever being able to relate to their experiences, but neither really did anglophilic punk followers or members of the KISS Army in the late 70s. All NWA did was add guns and hard drugs to the mix, and those were really just peripherals to the true appeal of gangsta rap to young, confused white males–the confidence, the pure untouchability that all the genre’s leading lights seemed to possess.
Anyway, for me to try to morally justify Dynamite Hack’s brief moment in the sun–as if it even needed jutsification–is to get away from the main point: There’s a reason that this song, and not StainD’s “Bring the Noise” or Kottonmouth Kings’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” was the one that became the first major Stupid White Boys Covering Covering a Classic Rap Song hit. And that’s because Dynamite Hack didn’t really sound like they were doing anything outside of themselves to cover the song. Built on a rollicking guitar-picking melody, the thing sounded almost like a campfire singalong–sweet, catchy and pristine, a perfect jumping off point for a folky story song (which in essence is what “Boyz n the Hood” is–just not the sort of song for which you’d generally picture Eazy-E saying “Hey kids, let’s all gather round, while Uncle Eric tells you all a tale of drive-by shootings and domestic violence!”)
The Hack were wise to drop listeners right into the middle of the song, and to not attempt to cover the entire near-six minute running time of the original. Drawing it out would have played up the joke elements of the song, instead of just making it sound like a bunch of bored teenagers trying to glamourize their uneventful events of their day by exaggerating on a few key details–a take on the song supported by the fact that it starts out with the narrator getting bitched out by his mom. Meanwhile, structurally, the song takes the original to the next level by building up to one key point in each verse, at which point the narrator’s unimpressed drawl turns into a triumphant shout–“THEN I LET THE APLINE PLAYYYY!! / I WAS PUMPIN’ NEW SHIT BY N.W.A.!!!”–creating a sense of exultation in the lifestyle, missing in the original because it wouldn’t have made sense to seem that enthusiastic about, but entirely appropriate for a remake by losers for whom the supposed daily events of living in South-Central L.A. would seem unbearably exciting.
And really, when you get down to it–is the original “Boyz n the Hood” actually that unassailable? Don’t get me wrong, lyrically, it’s easily one of the best first-person narratives in the last 30 years of pop music, but the production–miles away from the rapid-fire breakbeats of “Straight Outta Compton” or sweet soul samples of “Express Yourself”–was still really quite raw, just a basic synth pattern, a pounding 808 and a couple miscellaneous contemporary samples thrown into the chorus breaks. It gave the song an urgent, street-level feel to it which probably ended up helping its rep at the time, but listening to it today, it does get kind of monotonous by the four or five-minute mark. The suburban white kids of the 21st century deserved a condensed, more easily palated version of the song from which they could eventually work backwards to the NWA version, and Dynamite Hack were more than willing to oblige on that front.
Apparently realizing their own right to make soft, accoustic versions of gangsta rap hits, the success of Dynamite Hack opened the floodgates for similar covers by other pasty artists, like Nina Gordon’s “Straight Outta Compton” and Ben Folds’ “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” as well as less inflammatory send-ups like Coldplay’s “Hot in Herre” and Travis Morrison’s “What’s Your Fantasy?” For better or worse, though, Dynamite Hack did not stick around to really reap the benefits of their moderate success, as Superfast was their last album released to date, and their hip-hop cover tally seems permanently stalled at one. Still, nearly a decade later and few songs are as guaranteed to put a smile on my face from their very first note as this one. If you think it’s ridiculous, deplorable stuff, then fine, that’s your right, I suppose. But if you ever feel the urge to try to make the West Side sign with your fingers while watching a 2Pac video, or to hold your gun sidweays while playing Duck Hunt, or to wear a White Sox hat to a block party outside the city of Chicago–well, you better not let me catch you.