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Lil Dicky has been on my radar since his debut, and I’ve often brought him up on the podcast over the years. Much to Brian’s chagrin, I’ve often defended Dicky’s place in the game to little avail. However, at this point, I feel I’ve meditated on his presence enough to flesh out my opinion properly. This is as much an op-ed as it is an attempt to find catharsis, as I find Lil Dicky’s career to have gone from exciting to frustrating.
With the release of his new music video, “Freaky Friday,” I felt I had an opportunity to clarify my feelings about David Andrew Burd, known to the rest of the world as Lil Dicky. Lil Dicky consistently misses the mark without respecting or even really understanding the culture he’s trying to be a part of; thus creating dissonance within his career that riddles his songs with problematic content, robbing him of the opportunity to be genuinely insightful, and hurting other potential artists in his lane.
Let’s start at the beginning. Lil Dicky, or Dave Burd, is a rapper from Pennsylvania. I first heard of Lil Dicky when the video for his song “Ex-Boyfriend” hit the front page of Reddit. The song is an expertly performed, hilariously written song about a guy who feels inadequate when he meets his girlfriend’s gorgeous ex. The song worked because it was playful and funny. Also, Dicky’s bars were intricate and well delivered. In this track, I saw the potential for something that I had been yearning for years – an artist who can utilize the tools of hip-hop to tell stories outside of the traditional culture.
The hiphop playbook is tired and cliché. I’m not interested in your diamonds, money, cars, women, or your drugs. It’s like I hear the same verse reinterpreted over and over again since the Bling-era. I understand that life in the hood is hard, and we should celebrate success, but I can only connect with it so far. I don’t have these experiences and likely never will. With Lil Dicky, I saw the potential for an alternative, and more exciting than that, one that spoke to my own human experience.
However, when I checked out his mixtape, “So Hard,” I found a few tracks that made it crystal clear that Dicky does not get it. The track “White Dude” in particular proves it. It’s a track where Lil Dicky celebrates his white privilege in a hip-hop song. Everything is wrong with this song. He dedicates the first verse to rapping about how great it is to be white, the second verse how great it is to be a man. It seems that Dicky doesn’t understand that it isn’t appropriate to celebrate white privilege, especially through the medium of hiphop.
Now, this track could potentially be defended as a hard satire if it existed in isolation. However, the songs “How Can I Become a Bawlaa” and “All K” serve to double down on Dicky’s ignorance.
In “All K” Burd attempts to equate being Jewish to being black, by using an anti-semitic term in place of the N-word. While the Jews have indeed seen centuries of hardships, their struggle and the struggle of the black American are two completely different things. It’s clear that Burd just saw two words that are meant to reference offensive stereotypes and switched them without any real thought. And “How Can I Become a Bawlaa” is a fucking tragedy. This song gets so close to expressing a sentiment I’ve held for years – my jealousy over the insider’s club aspect of the hip-hop community. Dicky raps about how his race and his class leave him an outsider looking in, which does sound like a unique an interesting topic for a rap song. The track has its moments; it’s just baffling that Dicky doesn’t seem to have the answer to the titular question of the song.
“Other people get to rap about, like home cooked crack, and, like, jail and shit and I gotta spit a lotta shit about a motherfucking kid up in a crib that’s got the central air” – raps Lil Dicky.
After this debut mixtape, I still had hope for Dicky despite these problematic tracks. I knew that if he smartened up, he could create refreshing and well-crafted songs, so when his album dropped in 2015, I had to check it out. And guess what? It happened again. Dicky gets so painfully close to creating a unique set of tracks but gets bogged down by his need to prove himself as a legitimate artist. “Professional Rapper” is Lil Dicky’s mission statement to the hip-hop community; essentially explaining why he should be allowed to be there.
“Well, I wanna be the dude that came in and made the stand up rap
Put the random rap in demand like that for the people that was anti-rap
Yet, the fans of rap start to recognize that anti-rap
Is ironically one of the real brands of rap left”
Dicky then proceeds to miss the mark on this album because he’s trying to transition into being a serious rapper. He tries to make more serious songs, but they don’t work because he doesn’t understand how to approach these topics in a witty or satirical way. Right after stating that his mission statement was to tell stories through “stand-up rap,” he punctuates his album with tracks that don’t carry a hint of irony. It’s a shame too because Lil Dicky has some funny and subversive ideas on the album.
I skipped the Brain project but recently was greeted by a fresh Lil Dicky video in my Youtube recommendations. And let me tell you, it’s as irksome as ever. Dicky’s new video has him switching bodies with Chris Brown, giving each person the opportunity to appreciate things about each other’s lives that they don’t have access to. Instead, he squanders the opportunity, and abhorrently one of the first things he does is use Chris Brown to have the N-word peppered in the song.
In addition to this, Dicky makes the mistake of equating a rich black man with a middle-class white man. Once again, Dicky had the opportunity to create something genuinely subversive, but he missed the mark.
I understand that Dicky is limited to artists who are willing to collaborate with him, and if Chris Brown says ‘yes,’ you don’t turn him down. But imagine for a moment if he switched bodies with Killer Mike. What if he spits a verse about the benefits of being black without bringing class into it? I can’t shake the feeling that there was a missed opportunity here.
I love the craft of hip-hop. I love rappers like MF Doom who focus on the bars and tell unique stories with them. What has carried Lil Dicky and what continues to carry him is his evident appreciation of the craft. Songs like “Bruh…” are enough to show that the dude can rap. It’s just a shame he doesn’t seem able to appreciate his platform. Dicky has the opportunity to say some important and exciting things. He has the chance to break away from the traditional hip-hop paradigms and tell fresh stories. I hope that one day he realizes that potential, but if any of his recent work is a sign of what’s to come, that hope seems bleak.