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Lil’ Jon Bon Jovi

Peter Schroeder | Monday, February 27, 2006

I think we’ve all had this thought at one point or another. You’re at a dorm dance and all of a sudden you hear the sweet serenade of an ’80s hair band. You can easily imagine a true fan of this genre, playing some righteous licks on his air guitar, mullet flapping in the breeze while his black Quiet Riot T-Shirt and acid-washed jeans declare his lifelong dedication to all things rock. Then you ask yourself, “How could anybody take this stuff seriously?”

It’s easier than you would think, and it’s happening again right now. After spending the past weekend in St. Louis, home of Nelly and Chingy, I made a startling realization: hip-hop is the modern hair band. I think at this point I need to make an important distinction. When I say “hip-hop,” I don’t mean all hip-hop, but rather a distinct brand of it. Just as all the rock bands in the ’80s were not hair bands, so too not all hip-hop acts today are the type of hip-hop I’m talking about. From now on, I’ll be referring to this specific brand of hip-hop as “bling-hop” to avoid confusion. Think “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas, and you’ll catch my drift.

Right, back to my assertion that bling-hop is the modern-day hair band. Initially, they don’t seem to have a lot in common. One set wore the tightest leather and cheetah-print Spandex pants that money could buy, and the other opts for all of Subway Jared’s old Dockers. One belted like banshees, and the other prefers the smooth flow of their rhymes. The Damn Yankees were wondering, “Can You Take Me High Enough?” On the other hand, Lil’ Jon just wants you to “Get Low.” Aquanet and cornrows. If I placed the Black Eyed Peas and White Snake next to each other, you’d never believe that these groups are, at heart, the same. Trust me, the similarities are there.

First, let’s start with the spelling. For some reason, both hair bands and bling-hop artists decide to give Webster the finger and spell their names like they’re cheating at Scrabble. The ’80s were a Motley Crue infested with Ratt. In fact, they rocked so hard, they could probably even make a Leppard Def. On the other hand, the spelling of some bling-hop acts today is far from Fabolos. I bet that many people would even declare that these spelling atrocities are Ludacris. The similarities between these two groups are numerous, and poor spelling is just the tip of the iceberg. Iceburg? No, it’s iceberg.

Furthermore, there’s the issue of superfluous facial accessories. Hair bands bucked the system by taking to the Avon counters and covering themselves in rouge and eyeliner. Also, each member of a hair band (even the keyboardist) had to have a personal hole in the O-Zone above their head from copious hairspray usage. But bling-hop doesn’t get a free pass here. Some of these acts decide to coat their mouths with grills made of platinum or gold. In fact, our old friend Nelly just wrote a song about these grills. It’s called “Grillz.” So we’ve moved on from spelling, but the similarities persist.

But lastly and most importantly, the key similarity between these two groups is that the emphasis on their work is the lifestyle rather than the music. Style over substance, crunk over content. Hair bands were about living fast, partying hard, and rocking out. We’ve all seen the “Behind the Music” specials; it truly was sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It was more important that they lived like a rock star, even if they didn’t necessarily sound like one. Likewise, a modern bling-hop artist needs to portray a certain lifestyle. He needs to have the Escalade rolling on 22’s, the house payment hanging around his neck and diamonds crammed wherever there is room for cramming. Just watch music videos from either era to catch these lifestyles. A hair band video consists of lots of hot chicks, driving a fast car or a crazy party. A bling-hop video shows lots of hot chicks (again), riding on some spinners (they don’t stop) and popping the Cristal. This is where the heart of their similarities lies; the lifestyle you present is as, if not more, important than the music you create.

As you can see, the mullet may have faded, but its spirit lives on. It’s not that either genre is bad, but it’s important to recognize that they exist as a simple pleasure, not serious artistic expression. I fully anticipate that in 20 years, kids will be at a virtual SYR or jetpack-dancing at the bar, and they’ll hear some “It’s Getting Hot In Herre,” and wonder how we ever bought into this stuff.

Peter Schroeder is a senior English major. As for plans after graduation, he is open to suggestions. He can be contacted at pschroed@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.