If you’re at all “in the know” with pop culture, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of Lil’ Dicky. The Philly-born, crowd-funded rapper has made his living off of music highlighting exactly what he is: the last person you’d ever expect to be a popular hip-hop artist. From his first music video “Ex-Boyfriend” in 2013 to his first album Professional Rapper in 2015, David Burd (aka Lil’ Dicky) has prided himself on being the “funny” rapper, even going so far as stating that he started rapping to further his comedy career. In the middle of March, Burd released his latest video, “Freaky Friday”, a parody/remake of the 1976 and 2003 movies of the same name. The video features everyone’s favorite 2000’s hip-hop star… Chris Brown. In the video, Dicky laments being known as “just the funny guy” and Brown laments how difficult fame is and, like the movies, the two switch bodies for a day to gain a better understanding of loving themselves.
Due to it’s quick rise to popularity—the video already has 249,000,000 views on Youtube since its release on March 15, and recently debuted at number 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100—it is undoubtedly clear that Burd has once again given his fans what they want. His lyrics are comically satirical and Brown’s vocals are just as we all remember them to be back in the early 2000’s-back when he was relevant. Even more so, when thinking about the production and creation value of the song, I think it is clear that Burd has reached a level of creativity unlike anything listeners and viewers have seen from him. The references to the movies are both nostalgic and humorous, and the concept of Burd writing lyrics and performing as if the two really had switched bodies is incredibly “meta.”
However, despite how creative it is, I shudder when I watch it. The problem here actually lies with Burd’s co-star, Chris “Breezy” Brown. Chris Brown is a convicted domestic abuser—see his very public accusation, indictment, and conviction in 2009 from a violent incident with then-girlfriend Rihanna—and as recently as 2017 was the subject of a restraining order from another ex-girlfriend, with her claiming he threatened to kill her. Rihanna said that Brown was not the “monster everyone has made him out to be,” but in this instance I respectfully disagree with RiRi. Brown has shown he is a violent person, who has the capacity to threaten, intimidate, and abuse women he supposedly cares about.
Now, back to Burd’s video and lyrics. It’s bad enough that Brown is the main co-star and collaborator in this piece, but it’s even worse that Burd’s lyric seem to encourage and normalize Breezy’s dark past. He starts the video by showing an interview with Brown—made-up or real, it doesn’t really matter—in which Brown laments how being famous means every action is scrutinized. Normally this wouldn’t be bad; I think there’s something to be said for the way we put celebrities under a microscope and treat them like they’re gods amongst mortals. However, in light of Chris Brown’s previous actions, the line feels…poisonous. It comes off as if Brown believes his past is behind him and those actions should have no bearing on the lens through which we view his actions today, and it also functions in an attempt to humanize Brown. If the audience understands how tough it is to be a celebrity, maybe we’ll give Chris Brown a break: maybe it’s the pressure of the fame, and we can all understand cracking beneath the weight of such stress? The words continue in the first verse, “I woke up Chris Breezy/ Oh my god I’m the man.” Here, as Brown sings lyrics pretending he is Dicky experiencing life in Brown’s body, Burd has created an atmosphere in which it is desirable to be Chris Brown. Well, Lil’ Dicky, if I ever woke up in the body of a convicted domestic abuser and known intimidator, I hope my first thought would not be “I’m the man.” Furthermore, by doing this, Dicky has put Brown onto a pedestal as the premiere “cool guy” in hip-hop. It causes audience members to begin to associate dreams of being a music star with the life of Breezy. Within the first 2 minutes of the video, Burd has not only humanized the plight of Brown, but has also started a narrative that paints Breezy’s life as the gold standard of what we should dream to be.
Perhaps the most egregious foul occurring in Freaky Friday comes in Lil’ Dicky’s first lyric. As he wakes up, pretending to be Chris Brown in the body of a young, white, Jewish male, the lyrics state, “Ain’t nobody judging ‘cause I’m black or my controversial past/ I’ma go see a movie and relax.” Did you all just have the same reaction I did when those lyrics first came out? First, calling Brown’s past “controversial” is a disgrace to Rihanna and any other woman who has been a victim of domestic violence. Abortion, gun legislation, and immigration policies are all examples of truly controversial topics. Domestic abuse is not—or at least should not be—one of them. Brown’s past is, at best, dark or problematic, but is probably best described as horrifying and cruel. Furthermore, the continuation of the line to say that Brown can—now that he doesn’t look like himself—“go see a movie and relax” is furthering the feelings of humanization implied by the interview in the opening skit. The idea that Brown was not able to relax before, even to see a movie, is supposed to make the audience feel sorry for him. All of this furthers an idea that Brown is both a hip-hop icon and a human capable of making mistakes.
At this point you may be wondering, “Ok man, I get it. You really hate this song. Why does it matter though?” Well, allow me to answer that question with some statistics courtesy of the NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, peep these statistics and more here):
- Nearly TWENTY people per minute are physically abused by their partner
- 1 in 4 men and 1 in 3 women have been or will be the subject of some form of physical violence by a partner in his or her lifetime
- There is a relationship between domestic violence and depression or suicidal behaviors
Just think about those numbers for a second. If this were any communicable disease, we would call it an epidemic. How has the medical community handled epidemics in the past? Prevention. We focused on vaccinations, screenings, and early interventions. Patients are screened for everything from colon cancer to hyperlipidemia. We train medical students to ask every patient, regardless of age, about alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse. There’s even different protocols for patients identified as being “high risk” for certain diseases. So that’s what we’re doing for domestic violence, right? Not at all. Not once while on ER did I ask the assault victim if a partner caused his wounds. Not once did I ask about safety in the home during my OB rotation (to be fair, I know some colleagues who did ask this to every patient while on OB/GYN; my point is that it seems the issue is not uniformly given the emphasis it is due). Even if I had, these are secondary prevention at best: treating the problem only if we suspect one. As medical professionals we neglect to screen every person—regardless of gender, race, or social status—that walks into our clinic, hospital, ER, etc. for abuse at home. We don’t have a focus on educating patients about the negative effects abuse can have on them or their children. We don’t support programs to “vaccinate” against domestic violence through early identification or education of young children, young couples, and young parents. We haven’t done research, or at least haven’t applied the data, on identification and early interventions for “high risk” individuals. The hard truth is that there is an epidemic of domestic violence in this country and—especially by supporting songs like “Freaky Friday” and artists like Chris Brown, even as a co-collaborator—we normalize and humanize abuse as if it’s just like getting the common cold.
I’ll leave you all with this. In 2007, then-Falcons-quarterback Michael Vick pled guilty to being involved in a dog-fighting ring. He served 21 months in a federal prison and since his release has worked with the Humane Society and numerous other organizations—including backing bills in the legislature—to help end animal cruelty. However, despite these efforts to show how he has changed, Vick was still booed and boycotted upon his return to the NFL in 2009. Teams were criticized for signing him. On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Brown was convicted of domestic abuse and has since shown no signs of remorse, even having a restraining order filed against him in 2017. And where is he you might ask? Featured on a Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 song and a world tour with some of the best new names in rap, including 6LACK. Yes, we defend dogs and “vaccinate” against dog fighting more fervently than human people and domestic abuse.
So to Lil’ Dicky I say: there are numerous other early 2000’s hip-hop artists with whom you could’ve collaborated—T-Pain would have been my choice. Did it really have to be Breezy?
Note: This song has slightly faded from popularity of late, most of this was written in early April, at the height of it’s popularity. I’d urge everyone to start to consider this topic in the broad spectrum of music and what you listen to. That is, at what point can you personally no longer separate the art from the artist and what messages might you be supporting by listening to certain artists?