Why Lil’ Dickey’s Music Video for “Professional Rapper” Is A Genius Marketing Move
Professional Rapper: Constructing Identities in The Star Text
In Lil’ Dicky’s music video for his song Professional Rapper, he is portrayed to embody several conflated identities. The video itself frames Lil’ Dicky, or David Burd, as an average guy who has come from ordinary circumstances; however, this idea is contradictory in that he is also presented to audiences as an extraordinary, talented artist. Further, the video also emphasizes the idea that Lil’ Dicky is a unique artist who has chosen to separate himself from the traditional conventions of the rap genre; however, this is paradoxical in that the video itself draws on several traditional rap conventions to be sure not to push the artist too far away from the conventions of mainstream rap. Therefore, the music video for Professional Rapper can be seen as a genius move to simultaneously portray to audiences that Lil’ Dicky is both ordinary and extraordinary, and unique, yet still somewhat mainstream; this may increase his popularity as an artist by attracting a wider audience with different interests and standards for the rap genre.
The video begins with the rapper David Burd depicted wearing a basic dress shirt and tie and walking into a company’s foyer that is aptly named: “Rap Game Inc.”. Here, he is portrayed to the audience as an ordinary guy as the video contrasts his appearance and that of other aspiring rap artists who have tattoos, chains, and the type of ‘swag’ one would conventionally associate with rap artists (0:14).
When asked who he is, he foregrounds that his name is David Burd, and places less importance on his rap name “Lil’ Dicky”. Not only does the video continually foreground his first name (over his rap name which is actually already rather well established in the genre of rap), but he is also shown handing Snoop Dogg what appears to be a resume for a job application at Rap Game Inc; in effect, the video is emphasizing the idea that Lil’ Dicky is really just an ordinary guy by the name of David Burd who is simply looking for a job within the music industry.
However, this identity of David Burd as an ordinary guy contradicts with the fact that not only is he the rapper Lil’ Dicky, who is already signed by CMSN and rapidly gaining popularity, but that he has also evidently already been revered by well established rappers such as Snoop Dogg; this is inherent in the fact that both the song and video itself rely on their musical collaboration in order for the video to exist in the first place. As Goodwin notes: “star images are paradoxical. They are composed… of elements that do not cohere, of contradicting tendencies…[they] show the star as both an ordinary and extraordinary person” (117). Here, two of Lil’ Dicky’s respective identities are conflated with one another; arguably, by framing the identity of Lil’ Dicky as an ordinary guy named David Burd, audiences may be more impressed with him and his ability to have rapidly achieved stardom. In contrast, because Lil’ Dicky is arguably a rather extraordinary individual, audiences may be enticed by his celebrity status. However, because the video conflates both of these identities, and portray Lil’ Dicky as possessing both of them, it is arguable that he will entice a more diverse audience and urge them to discuss and discern amongst themselves which one he best represents.
Despite the idea that he is somewhat of an extraordinary individual, the video consistently reverts back to the idea that Lil’ Dicky, or David Burd, is really just an ordinary guy. At one point in the video, Snoop Dogg asks Lil’ Dicky about his life and his background. Lil’ Dicky is depicted as a graduate from Richmond University and a member of a small town where he lived in a middle-class home in the suburbs. In addition, he is depicted in the video sitting in class writing a to do list that reads: “apply for jobs, finish ethics paper, shave neck and dick, buy chapstick, finalize resume” (1:05).
This scene, as well as the the pie chart displayed at (1:15) which suggests he only works and does chores and taxes, effectively convey the idea that there is nothing extraordinary about David Burd or his background, but rather that the identity he embodies is that of an ordinary guy, or of an average student reluctantly entering the workforce.
In contrast, when Snoop Dogg asks Lil’ Dicky what his biggest strengths are, the video conveys to the audience that he is actually an extraordinary artist and even capable of impressing a seasoned rapper like Snoop Dogg. While in a boardroom, Lil’ Dicky puts on a presentation of his skills and abilities. Firstly, he demonstrates his abilities to ‘flow’ quickly and artistically while he is shown pointing at a complex flow chart and explaining that he satisfies every single aspect required to be a talented rapper.
Some of the skills portrayed on the flow chart consist of breath control, alliteration and assonance, unpredictable rhyme schemes, as well as speed and fluidity (2:24). Arguably, someone who is capable of exercising all of these skills with a high degree of effectiveness would not be considered average or ordinary. In contrast, this portion of the video suggests to audiences that David Burd is an extraordinarily skilled artist. It could be argued that the music video for Professional Rapper intentionally portrays Lil’ Dicky as being both ordinary and extraordinary, since such a contradiction is likely to evoke a sense of intrigue on the part of audiences. They are more likely to relate to him if he is ordinary and yet they are more likely to be impressed by him if he is extraordinary –therefore, the conflation of both these identities is done intentionally as it is likely to increase Lil’ Dicky’s popularity if he is marketed to audiences as being capable of embodying both.
The music video for Lil’ Dicky’s song Professional Rapper also portrays him as possessing two contrasting identities by means of being presented to audiences as both a unique, progressive artist and as an artist that holds true to many conventions of mainstream rap. Paired with the lyric: “I never had a tool, but I had to be the man in school, so I could get whatever job I wanted”(1:02–1:03) is a clip of Lil’ Dicky holding his hand in the shape of a gun, which is quickly replaced by an image of him holding a pencil and proceeding to work hard his civic and scholastic goals.
Since the word ‘tool’ pertains to the rap jargon for a gun, and Lil’ Dicky is replacing it with a pencil, the video portrays Lil’ Dicky as a unique type of rapper, who, unlike preconceived notions of conventional rap artists, is not aggressive or violent, nor does he appear to come from the streets. As Goodwin notes: “one of pop’s most important myths is that musicians come from ‘the street’…central here are urban fantasies of street knowledge…played out in rock and rap lyrics” (116). Lil’ Dicky puts this myth to the test in the music video; as he portrayed as a unique rapper devoid of conventional ‘street’ knowledge and influences and in contrast shown growing up in a nice, picturesque neighborhood, working hard in school, and trying his best to get good grades and a respectable job. Moreover, the music video portrays him as unique and against mainstream conventions of the rap genre when he states: “I want to be the best, I just want to do it my way, and turn the whole game sideways”(3:38–3:41). At this point in the video, everyone and everything within the Rap Game Inc. building, such as scantily clad women, money, DJ’s, and hot tubs, is flipped on it’s side only to fall off the screen, which is arguably a visual metaphor for Lil’ Dicky vowing to purge these conventions from his music and his identity as a whole. Therefore, it could be argued that Lil’ Dicky “is sold through non-image…[since] [his] public rejection of image-makers and star making machinery is a notoriously effective way of establishing an image” (Goodwin, 113–114). In effect, his rejection for traditional codes of rap in this music video is arguably Lil’ Dicky’s method of marketing himself as a unique artist who is against the idea of conforming to particular conventions of the rap genre in order to become popular amongst a particular audience.
However, in following this scene, Snoop Dogg walks Lil’ Dicky back across the same room he had just flipped on it’s side; here, the same people signing cheques, DJ’s producing beats, and women grinding on men and shaking their butts resurface.
Then, Snoop points to Lil’ Dicky and states that he is a ‘young rook’ and that he should listen to Snoop who is ‘a Wiley vet’ (3:56). This may suggest that in order for Lil’ Dicky to become both a popular and professional rapper, he must still adhere to some of rap’s conventions; such as the objectification of women, marijuana culture, and street mentality. This idea contrasts with Lil’ Dicky’s aspiration to construct a unique identity, as although he claims to be against the mainstream conventions of rap, the video still foregrounds these conventions as critical to his future success. For example, the flow chart in the video that was previously analyzed also contains the rap convention of Thanatos (violence) as the rap skill of possessing an “aggressive mentality” is also one of the rap skills that Lil’ Dicky shows audiences that he possesses (2:24). Despite the idea that he has attempted to show us otherwise, Lil’ Dicky is similar to Michael Jackson in that he portrays himself as a mix between “the continuing and contradictory personas of fantastic otherworldliness…and streetwise homeboy” (Goodwin, 112). Arguably, the tactic of portraying himself as an individual who is willing to stick to the traditional conventions of rap while simultaneously pursuing a new progressive path within the genre, he is more likely to increase his popularity by engendering interest and intrigue in audiences from both respective camps.
Furthermore, and in relation to Eros (sex) the convention of the objectification of women traditionally found in rap music videos is also present in the video; while Lil’ Dicky is following Snoop Dogg down a hall, the pictures hung up in the background are organized in a questionable order and may suggest both the goals and conventions associated with the rap genre and rap artists alike.
They read: Motivation, Collaboration, Bitches, and Intercourse (3:05–3:09). Even Lil’ Dicky himself claims that one of the reasons being a rapper is the best is because “bitches let him draw up on their breasts”; this lyric is paired with the image of Lil’ Dicky trapped in between a women’s large cleavage with his name written on her chest, (1:32) while another scene consists of a girl with a big butt grinding on him (2:39). Several other traditional conventions of the rap genre are used, such as Snoop Dogg constantly drinking booze as well as both artists being shown to share an affinity for marijuana culture. Further, Lil’ Dicky is also shown walking past pictures of Biggie Smalls, Eminem, Tupac, and Jay-Z as he says: “honestly, I just want to be like one of the greats” (3:19), which may suggest that he would conform to traditional, or already established conventions of the rap genre in order to become successful. Moreover, in light of Lil’ Dicky’s desire to stand out and be different, Snoop says: “traditionally speaking this shit works right?” while the video pans across Snoop Dogg’s office with a bunch of gold records (2:12). Since Snoop is arguably depicted as Lil’ Dicky’s mentor in the music video, the audience may be left at the end of the music video questioning whether or not he will follow in Snoop Dogg’s footsteps of adhering to particular codes of the rap genre that have made him and other artists successful, or if he will indeed forge his own unique path. This type of liminal character is an attractive subject to a diverse array of viewership if they have been persuaded that he may in fact do both.
In an attempt to make him seem ordinary, the video makes particular choices in regards to the way in which Lil’ Dicky’s clothes, background, and life as a student are portrayed. In contrast, Lil’ Dicky is also portrayed as an extraordinary individual, capable of carrying out highly technical rap skills and collaborating with the culturally revered rapper Snoop Dogg. In addition, the music video frames Lil Dicky’ as an artist who is vowing to be unique and not conforming to the traditional conventions of the rap genre. However, the video itself both draws from and relies on several of the very rap conventions that he attempts to reject, thus paradoxically pushing him more towards the mainstream. In effect, these conflating identities may increase Lil’ Dicky’s popularity, as the possession of multiple identities may not only reach out to more diverse audiences, but may also spur individuals to be interested in discovering for themselves who he as an artist ‘truly’ is.
Goodwin, Andrew. “Dancing in the Distraction Factory.” Music Television and Popular Culture 5 (1992): 98–129. Print.
Lil’Dicky “Professional Rapper”. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 31 Jul. 2015. Monday. 5 Oct. 2015 — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlU4FuIJT2k