Every Tuesday, FADER deputy editor Eric Ducker gets on instant messenger and “discusses” a subject that’s been on his mind with another member of our staff or a special guest. After the jump, read his condensed (and emoticon-free) conversation with editorial assistant Felipe Delerme about Busta Rhymes’ “Arab Money,” the new single produced by Ron Browz that you can listen to here. Delerme wrote a Gen F on Browz in the upcoming FADER #58 and has been thinking a lot about Harlem recently.
Eric Ducker: Let’s start with some context. As I live in LA and you live in New York, can you give me a sense of how big Busta Rhymes’ “Arab Money” is over there right now?
Felipe Delerme: Well, it’s not THE song, but it certainly gets a reaction. It has a place in a very recent, and in my presumption, a very temporary “Ron Browz set,” preceded by or following “Pop Champagne” and now “Jumping Out the Window.” The dance isn’t so overly involved that grown men and women, albeit intoxicated, don’t mind having at it.
ED: What type of radio play is it getting?
FD: Right now, strictly urban radio, and the spins are within mix shows for the most part, but I could see pop stations hopping on if it continues to bubble.
ED: So right now it’s more about Ron Browz and Jim Jones’ “Pop Champagne,” and if that does well, “Arab Money” has a chance to follow through that door?
FD: Yes and no. They share Browz’s production and Auto-Tune, but Busta has and will have fans who do not and still won’t know who Browz is. It wouldn’t be wrong, however, to claim “Arab Money” is sneaking in through a door “Pop Champagne” left open.
ED: I’m not implying sneaking, I mean that “Pop Champagne” would open people up to a new production sound, allowing other Ron Browz productions with a similar sound to also be successful. I don’t think any rap artist can assume these days that the success of their single is a given. Just this summer Busta busted on “Don’t Touch Me (Throw the Water on ’Em)” even though it’s amazing.
FD: “Arab Money” has a good a shot as any to re-introduce Busta to mainstream consciousness.
ED: But let’s talk about the fact that it’s called “Arab Money” and the fact that Ron Browz’s is singing non-sensical Arabic on the hook, which is culturally equivalent to doing a song involving China and having the hook be: Ching chang ching chong chong. It’s pretty fucked up. You think anyone will care?
FD: Well, as a black man, I’ll be the first to admit that the black community can be amazingly forgiving of their own racial insensitivities. It’s like “chinky eyes” are a mark of attraction in the black community. Say that shit out loud, it’s actually horrible. And, more than just the black community, within the country’s anti-Middle Eastern sentiment, this song might work in a couple of strange ways.
ED: The chorus is definitely bothersome.
FD: I definitely understand that, and I’m not the first, as a clip of Busta singing the song in the streets after some concert actually made it onto Al Jazeera. But that brings me back to the community, which I’ll call hip-hop for sheer inclusiveness, and their ability to blissfully disregard racism when the barrel isn’t pointed directly at them. As such, I wouldn’t completely count it out of charting. Although I doubt it’ll be nominated for any awards.
ED: It reminds me a bit of the rush of hip-hop songs sampling Indian music a few years back. I know of two songs (Erick Sermon’s “React” and Timbaland’s “Indian Flute”) where the chorus is basically them saying, “We don’t know what the girl sampled in the chorus is saying.”
FD: The biggest difference in those being that they use cultural music in attempts to achieve a new sound. Browz, on the other hand, cooked up something that inspired a cultural feel, and therein nonsensical chanting.
ED: And that brings us into a whole huge question and history of cultural appropriation and insensitivity, which leads us into a big music journalism death spiral.
FD: And while that discussion could get pretty boring pretty fast, I definitely see merit in it, just for the sake of people thinking about what the fuck they release, a lot of times probably in the best interest of the artist.
ED: Taking it back about twenty-five steps, do you like “Arab Money”?
FD: I don’t give it much thought. It comes on and (usually drink in hand) I dance. Which may or may not be the problem. What I want to know is the offensiveness of “Arab” as a term.
ED: I don’t think “Arab” is completely offensive, but I think pronouncing it “A-rab,” as Busta Rhymes does, is. I’ll have to check on that.
We consulted with Alex Wagner, the former editor-in-chief of The FADER, who is very smart and politically astute, to get her opinion.
ED: Would you say that calling someone “Arab” is not offensive, but if you do so pronouncing it “A-rab” it is offensive?
Alex Wagner: Uhm, yeah. “A-rab” fits into the category of “Orientals” or “Eye-talians.”
ED: But is “Arab” offensive on its own when pronounced correctly?
AW: It’s pretty generalizing. In what context are you calling people Arabs?
ED: I’m not calling anyone Arabs. I’m talking with Felipe about the Busta Rhymes song “Arab Money.”
AW: Oh yes. It’s kind of not cool, to just be like ARAB MONEY. Yeah. I would say that’s derogatory.
ED: “Middle Eastern Money” on words alone, offensive or not offensive?
AW: Not offensive at all. “Arab” refers to an ethnicity and “Arab Money” can be construed as a generality, a pejorative. Not that Bussa Bus cares.
ED: No, he obviously doesn’t.
ED: Will anyone outside of New York who isn’t a journalist or a dedicated music follower care about this song?
FD: I could see that. They shot a video, and if it’s wacky enough…
ED: Is “Arab Money” part of Ron Browz’s commercial radio infiltration, or something that will come and go?
FD: I think it is a part of Browz’s infiltration, and as such, something that will come and go. The strength of his production has always been his versatility. Not that that makes him any better or worse a producer, but all these recent songs—“Arab Money,” “Pop Champagne,” “Jumping Out the Window”—sound like they could have been made during the same studio session. Whereas I’d never assume the guy who produced “Ether” was the same guy who produced “Blow it Out.” This signature sort of sound he’s presenting could very well be his undoing. After it makes him that is. I’m rooting for Browz, but I don’t see longevity as of yet. He’d have to continue to improve as a rapper and a producer the way Kanye did. As far as “Arab Money”… When I first got wind of it, I wanted to blog it so bad, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. It just kind of perplexed me, while amazing me at the same time, of course.
ED: Cool, I think we’re good.
FD: Wait, last question, will this end or reignite the reign of the keffiyeh?
ED: As long as there are pretentious photo journalists in the world, there will always be non-Middle Easterners wearing keffiyehs.
FD: I don’t think Busta is pretentious and he’s definitely not a photo journalist, but I assure you, he will be wearing one in the video