News__ Die Antwoord Fatty Boom Boom
October 17, 2012
Yo-Landi in a yellow sundress and...blackface If at any point you stopped to wonder how Yo-Landi Vi$$er and the boys of Die Antwoord felt about Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, and Rick Ross, their new video speaks volumes. The lyrics for "Fatty Boom Boom" accuse hip hop of being an "inbred fuckfest" where all the rappers sound the same. It's not a new criticism, but the question of the day is: is this video racist? Let's talk about it. Now Die Antwoord has played in dark waters before, throwing around the word faggot and problematizing tribal rituals in South Africa that deal with gay men in their video for Evil Boy. But full blackface? This is a first, even for them. The video shows a group of rich Americans on a bus tour in South Africa, "Lady Gaga" (played by a guy) seated front and center, with an overacting black tour guide driving the bus and talking with a caricatured tone of amazement. The bus gets attacked by a group of ski masked men with guns, Gaga runs away in her meat dress, and later has a gynecologist pull a prawn out of her pussy (based on this painting titled "Black Gynecologist"). She also gets eaten by a lion, and it all comes in the wake of Die Antwoord dissing Gaga and calling her superficial after they refused her offer to have them on her latest world tour. But enough about Gaga, let's get to the paint. After the attack, Die Antwoord takes frame with Yo-Landi's skin painted head-to-toe in black. They frantically, violently, and menacingly deliver their cuts to the hip hop industry with gusto. They're covered in tribal paint at times, and blackface at others. It's a visual that places them in the position of traditional African savage while we can infer the naive, white tourist spectators somewhere out of screen. But Ninja and Yo-Landi are both white. In the past, Die Antwoord's archive references English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, and particularly black and white working class cultures in South Africa. They portray themselves as cross-racial and defiantly not upper class. They've criticized rich people before, most obviously in their song "Rich Bitch," and have been highly criticized, most recently for the "Fok Julle Naaiers" video for the use of the words "faggot" and "nigger." Interscope actually dropped Die Antwoord as a client in the wake of the video and Ninja released a video statement defending their lyrics. He announces that DJ Hi Tek, their sometimes 3rd member is gay, and argues that in South Africa, black people don't have a problem with white people calling them niggers--that's an American sensitivity. Something tells us that would be news to a lot of South Africans, including media scholar, Adam Haupt. In his new book, Static: Race and Representation in Post-Apartheid Music, Media and Film, he writes of the group, "In essence, this is how a privileged, white, English-speaking South African artist is able to "go native" and become a Web 2.0 viral marketing success story in the US and Europe." Between Ninja's gang-related tattoos, gold grills and the mixed dialects he and Yo-Landi rap in, there are numerous ways Die Antwoord borrows from culture's other than their own. Their image fuses the white Afrikaans working class and the black working class into something ambiguously defiant. But defiant of what? Are they saying American hip hop is a joke by criticizing it in some sort of twisted minstrel show? Maybe their intention in this video was to criticize the mainstream music industry saying rappers have turned into puppets for money? But did Die Antwoord, "get away with blackface?" No, because it's something you just can't "get away with." Does this mean we should banish Die Antwoord from our iPods and protest them on the regular? That's a decision for you to make on your own. But it is vital to call this video out for what it is: a gimmick using the shock value of a horrifically racist part of history. We can't know what they were trying to convey without an artist's statement, but the reception for this video should dig deeper than just throwing it in with Die Antwoord's regular old antics. Watch the video for "Fatty Boom Boom" below and weigh in with your thoughts about Yo-Landi in blackface below.