Understand southern rap with this purple drank video


Behold “Drank In My Cup,” which I first encountered in remix form on the excellent 2 Chainz & Future mixtape Codeine Astronauts. Be warned that Codeine Astronauts is perhaps the most ridiculous mixtape ever, albeit in delightful ways. One of the many entities involved in its release is Ticketmaster Tapes, so on the download version a white voice periodically says “Ticketmaster tapes! Real quality street music!” in the middle of the song. It kind of makes it all better. There is also a skit in which Big Moe discovers that some unscrupulous fellows have put Karo in the drank. Hilarity/violence ensues.

Clearly, Codeine Astronauts is the product of a particular culture. Both 2 Chainz and Future are from Georgia, and Kirko Bangz* is from Houston, as he reminds us every fifteen seconds. Houston dominates southern rap right now, and southern rap is—pure opinion here—the most vital hip hop going. It is slower than East Coast and exists more than West Coast, and it makes up for its borderline-retarded lyrical mode with fantastic production. Southern rap production is so good right now that it’s influencing Harlem. It sounds big and artificial, but mostly it is very slow.

“Drank In My Cup” is so slow that it needs the vocoder to hold the chorus together. If you can, listen to it on something with a subwoofer, so you can hear how warped and lumbering the bass is. That trippy production is a musical choice, but it’s also an ideological one; besides organs, high hat rolls and endstopped trochaic meter, the thing that really defines southern rap is purple drank.

Purple drank is narcotic cough syrup from Mexico, typically with codeine as its active ingredient. It is readily available in Houston, where it is commonly mixed with fruit juice, liquor and—if you really want to play it according to Hoyle—a Jolly Rancher.* If you drink a bunch of cough syrup with liquor in it and maybe smoke marijuana, your brain stops working right. You are trippin’, and—if various rappers are to be believed—everything is purple. Perhaps, if you consume enough drank and dro, you will be on your Frankenstein. At that point, everything will sound like the 63.5 bpm remix.

You will also probably die. Assuming you do not, you will be forced to conform the idiosyncrasies of your regional rap style to the broad demands of pop music. The 2 Chainz remix is not doing so hot, but as of this writing the YouTube video for the original “Drank In My Cup” has over 12 million views. It is a rap track, but it is also a slow jam. Once you get past the bass, the most striking thing about “Drank In My Cup” is the way it translates the R&B love song into the lyrical conventions of hip hop.

Kirko Bangz is something of a heartthrob, and the hook of “Drank In My Cup” is his earnest profession of loving support for a woman. “Girl, I know how much you really want somebody,” he explains, “want somebody that don’t really need you.” The conceit of the song is that women do not want to be trapped in a committed relationship—handcuffed, as Ghostface would say—but rather long for the freedom of emotionless sex. I haven’t been down there, but I’m not sure that’s what the ladies of Houston actually want. The bizarre genius of “Drank In My Cup” is that it is a bunch of 22 year-old men (and 2 Chainz, who is old) reassuring a woman whom they have imagined as A) hot and B) in all other regards a man. It solves the problem of hip hop’s tacit prohibition against love songs by professing love for the male ideal of female sexuality.

That’s not exactly new, of course. But the whole point of hip hop is to come up with new sounds that make use of familiar signifiers—trippy bass, purple drank, casual sex—so that your track is simultaneously exciting and recognizable. The grafting of R&B themes onto hip hop execution is striking throughout the remix, beginning with 2 Chainz’s assertion that “every day I wake up / pillow full of her makeup.” Hip hop fans will recognize a standard lyrical construction, here; every day, rappers wake up and do something that synecdochically captures their lifestyle. In this case, Chainz wakes up and has to change his pillowcase, because the woman with whom he is pursuing a purely sexual relationship sleeps over at his house every night. I hate to break it to you, Chainz, but that’s your girlfriend.

The novice may complain that we are inflicting more analysis than “Drank In My Cup” can bear. I respectfully submit that the novice is totally wrong, and the best thing about hip hop right now is the insane number of formal conventions in its microgenres. You should listen to Codeine Astronauts. It is brilliant and very dumb in turns, like all the best club music. I believe it is art. Do not get on your Frankenstein, though. You stay off your Frankenstein.

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  1. Personally, I can’t help but feel like this is just a slightly dumber Drake rip-off. I also submit that Drake is the current master of the hip-hop love song, a feat he accomplishes by being just a little too vulgar and sort of mean.

    “Put those fucking heels on and work it, girl,” Drake says to a woman who is a student working weekends in the city: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDUMJh_VCrw

    “Bitch, I’m the man. Don’t you forget it,” Drake says to an ex-girlfriend who he claims to miss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4ZjMvdzYE4&feature=related

    Also, be it henceforth known that Drake is not above looking through your phone when you go to the bathroom. You already sort of knew that, but now you have proof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyBU0JZ3RbY

  2. I should also say that Codeine Astronauts contains some tracks that are southern rap at its worst. The “Cocky” remix, for example, sounds like it was written for a Klan talent show. I was going to add “Got Dammit” to this list, but now I love it.

  3. I know this is anecdotal (I’m not going to google for actual evidence about sexual proclivities while I’m at work), but I have met quite a few women that prefer casual sex (often with multiple partners). I’m not going to go as far as to say that hip hop understands or respects women’s desires as a rule, but sexuality isn’t a non-intersecting venn diagram where all women feel one way and all men feel another way as you have posited. How men and women are socialized to view sex may be another story.

  4. Big Game has a fine point. I have heard plenty of women complain that men are constantly “falling in love” with them. I have heard many women complain the exact opposite. On the other hand, I personally relate pretty heavily to the sentiments expressed by Rivers Cuomo on “Tired of Sex” way back in 1996.

    I also think DB might be reading 2 Chainz a bit literally. Yes, conventional English would tell us that 2 Chainz is saying he wakes up everyday with the make-up of one particular female on his pillow. This is not what he means. He wakes up with a pillow full of some chick’s make-up, is what he means. And this may be a good moment to reflect on just how deeply misogynistic many of the men who work in hip hop are: he can say “her” as a catch for all the different women because they are all the same to him. http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/MjAxMi05M2NjM2UxNDA2ZDIzYWE0.png

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