Every once in a while, I listen to the point of view of someone who I’m predisposed to ignore and I am pleasantly surprised. This happened to me yesterday evening when the song “Feds Watching” by rapper 2 Chainz (formerly known as Tity Boi) came on the radio.
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of 2 Chainz’ music. Newer Atlanta rap music largely misses me with its emphasis on end-scheme rhyme and beat over lyricism. Chainz fits comfortably within that mold but he’s grown popular over the last two years. Also, anybody who used to willingly call themselves “Tity Boi” with the third ‘t’ missing gets a permanent side eye from me. Really? No cheeks?!
But “Feds Watching” gave me pause. It has become my Friday jam knock, my carpe diem anthem, my pep talk for personal greatness, and my love letter to young black American men. Alladat? Why, yes. All of that.
Disclaimer: I wholly do not support the rampant use of the words b***** and h*** in this song, or in rap music generally. I think it’s lazy and overly facile to rely on the short I or long O sound in rhyme schemes, as so many rappers do by using the slurs in every single song. Most instances lack craftsmanship. You thought I was going to mention the misogyny? Oh, I guess I just did.
The Lyrics I Loved:
Dreads hang on designer everything
Mr. Comme des Garçons, Mr. Alexander Wang
I love the juxtaposition of dreads with name brands. 2 Chainz has gorgeous long locs and he sets up right from the beginning an image of two things he finds beautiful. Also, because the profile of a young black male with dreadlocks doesn’t fit the usual customer of Comme Des Garçons, he seems to take pride in the cultural clash.
OG’s never fed us, now young n****s fed up
This made me say, “Whoa.” He succinctly voiced a grievance that the older generation didn’t properly pass the baton. This sentiment is especially poignant given the current public debate about Harry Belafonte and rapper Jay-Z’s raptivism and celebrity.
I’mma be fresh as hell if the Feds watching
Drop top, head bopping
Admittedly, this premise is as ignorant as Jessica Simpson thinking that tuna fish cluck underwater. It’s also hilarious. Who hasn’t thought that if today is the day/time/moment I’m going to get caught doing something, I might as well go out with a bang? Check your reflection in the window before the cop pushes your head down. I look good? Cool. And what did I do while this song played? I bopped my head.
Also, 2 Chainz gives a cheeky middle finger salute to the (real or imagined) federal agents watching him bop in a car they probably can’t afford. Reminds me of Biggie’s verse in “More Money, More Problems“: “Federal agents mad ‘cuz I’m flagrant.” Oh, hip-hop loves to tease the Feds. I’m not sure how many rappers actually have Feds tailing them. But they sure like to imagine the Feds are clocking their every move, envious because they are young, black, and rich.
Make no mistake, this song is a glorification of a criminal pursuit. No bueno for us straight-laced types. But it’s also a nod to profiling, which dehumanizes and criminalizes innocent men. So even if he is riding dirty, 2 Chainz would like nothing better than to be fresh and clean if agents pull him over and pat him down, if they peg him for a suspect and shoot, no questions asked.
Lastly, I find it important that 2 Chainz reiterates the old adage of carpe diem in his own voice.
Ain’t no such thing as tomorrow
The way we living today
With all of the above threats dangling, he knows he has no claim on a tomorrow. So today, every day, he is about to kill the Feds with his freshness. Gon ‘head, 2 Chainz. I feel you.