Close Listen: Big Wax (and Ron Moten) on Vince Gray’s “Power”
As expected, MC Big Wax is quite displeased with the first three months of Vincent Gray's mayoralty. The Lincoln Heights rapper, whose last-minute YouTube salvo "Don't Leave Us Fenty" last August couldn't quite shore up the then-mayor's re-election campaign, released a video yesterday for his song critiquing the nascent Gray administration.
"Don't Leave Us Fenty" lambasted candidate Gray for his tenure leading the D.C. Department of Human Services, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.'s side gig running a questionable nonprofit organization, and home-improvement favors performed for Gray by the contractor William C. Smith & Co. Big Wax even took a swipe at Washington City Paper, specifically for a November 2009 cover story on the inner workings Peacoholics, the youth-services group run by Fenty confidante Ron Moten, who produced "Don't Leave Us Fenty," as well as this new track.
Wax and Moten's new barrage rewrites Kanye West's "Power," swapping out Yeezy's self-aggrandizing paranoia for fresh barbs against Gray's proposed budget and coterie of ethically challenged advisers. From the opening verse, including the rhyme "the Gray administration seems to be getting everything wrong/every corrupt politician needs their own theme song," it's clear none of the Wilson Building's current occupants will be spared.
Except it's not Wax and Moten's song, it's West's. Borrowing beats is common in hip-hop. Parody lyrics, when done well, can be great, though it's a technique perfected by the likes of "Weird Al" Yankovic.
This is not to say that Wax doesn't have enough grievances for a decent protest song. The Ward 7 MC slams Gray for planning cuts to welfare services while raising taxes and fees on things like parking garages, alcoholic beverages, and the Circulator bus. One budgetary charge is especially telling, with Wax lamenting "last summer it was 22,000 summer jobs/this summer it's 10,000, wonder why the young'uns rob." It's hard not to see that line being penned by Moten, whose group received roughly $10 million in city funds between 2005 and 2009.
More jabs land on Gray's approach to teacher reinstatements, the proposed $113 million in cuts to social services, and his chucking of Gerri Mason Hall as chief of staff amid growing criticism of questionable hires in the mayor's office. But the nastiest rhymes are saved for l'affaire Rochelle Webb. Not only are there several lines recounting Webb's brief tenure as acting director of the Department of Employment Services—"He had Rochelle Webb staying at the W/She ran up a two-month bill, Vince tell the truth" and later, "Brought in Rochelle Webb all the way from Arizona"—the video was filmed outside the very W Hotel where Webb stayed, at 15th and F streets NW, prompting City Paper Managing Editor Mike Madden to ask if "this first-ever hip-hop video about government rates at hotels for relocating bureaucrats?"
The song, Mike DeBonis reported last week, is effectively Moten's rebuttal to Gray's recent State of the District address. And whereas Gray focused on things like Washington being ranked as the country's "happiest city," it's clear Big Wax and Moten disagree. We just wish they could have been as creative in their songwriting this time as they were during the 2010 mayoral campaign. Moten has deep cred in the go-go community, and Big Wax is a solid MC. They came up with some original music for their Fenty torch songs last year; perhaps the Gray administration has depressed them so much they can only resort to rewriting Billboard Hot 100 songs. Could the Vince Gray version of Rebecca Black's "Friday" be far behind? Though given that song's deliberations over where to sit in a car, it might be more of a Kwame Brown thing.