Attention rap fans: Your favorite art form is in serious jeopardy.
It would be premature to say that rap is dead, although that thought might zip through our brain as you open a copy of the new CD, "Mickey Unrapped."
But if rap music is embraced by Mickey Mouse, can oblivion be far behind? It's a serious blow to the innate coolness of music that thrives on rebellion, on street savvy, to be so royally defanged in the new parody CD.
After all, consider the fate of disco (remember disco?). It was doing fine until the Disney folks discovered it and issued the parody recording "Disco Mickey Mouse," which featured sendups of such hits as "Macho Man" (this time starring Donald Duck, and retitled "Macho Duck"). Our household became very, very familiar with this 1979 recording back in the early 1980s, when we had two toddlers who loved anything that carried the Mouse imprimatur. It's still a feature of the parents' nightmares, as Disneyesque goblins romp through our unconscious hollering, "Macho, macho duck! He's a macho, macho duck!"
Maybe it's just coincidence, and maybe it's not, that disco went down the tubes not long after the release of "Disco Mickey Mouse." Can "Mickey Unrapped" spell the same doom for rap?
The one thing that may save "Unrapped" is the collaboration of some of the original rappers on sendups of their own material. The CD is officially a collaborative product between Walt Disney Records and Bellmark Records, the label of such hot-selling groups as Tag Team. As the Disney folks put it in their marketing messages, "This novel pairing creates new crossover potential in audience, promotion and merchandising."
One of the catchiest songs on the new disc is "Whoomp! (There It Went)," which, unless your radio was on the fritz for most of last year, you will instantly recognize as a parody of Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)." With newly sanitized lyrics and concept, this song now features such lyrics as "Party on, party people, let me hear some noise/Party with Donald, Daisy, and the boys."
As you have guessed, this doesn't exactly carry a Parental Advisory sticker. It's a hoot to hear the original Tag Team rappers sending up their own song with lines praising the hipness of Donald Duck ("He's no fool, he's so cool"). The album also enlists Color Me Badd in an a cappella "Color of Music" (a new song written for this recording), Whoopi Goldberg in the new "Bowwow to the Beat," and an assortment of squeaky cartoon voices doing an MC Hammer parody, "U Can't Botch This." The funniest lines are in the Salt-N-Pepa/En Vogue parody, "What A Mouse."
All this is being marketed with the kind of earnest and comprehensive campaign usually associated with the Disney folks. There is a lot of palaver about "sharing strength and building new relationships" with the collaborating Bellmark label. There is the month-long direct-response campaign on cable television, promoting consumer awareness of the album prior to its official release. And, of course, there is merchandising.
Along the way, you may rediscover some key facts about the Disney characters. Maybe you already realized that Goofy is supposed to be a dog; I always figured the official Disney dog was Pluto, and Goofy was just, well, Goofy. But Goofy's star turn on the new album, "D.J. Goof," reminds everyone that he, too, is a canine ("Dogs are cool. Dogs are good. Would ya like to be a dog? I thought you would.").
Far from spelling the death of rap, promoters such as Bellmark's president Al Bell expect that "Mickey Unrapped" should "serve as a catalyst to perpetuate the continued growth, popularity and acceptance of rap music and other music from the hip-hop culture."
Well, maybe. Our youngsters, who know all the words to the original rap songs parodied on the new CD, are pretty dubious. The really little kids, they say, won't get the joke because they won't know the original rap songs. And the kids old enough to get the joke will think that the squeaky-clean Mickey and Goofy lyrics are totally uncool.
We'll see. Maybe "Mickey Unrapped" will go double platinum, just like the disco album. Maybe it's a sign that rap is all wrapped up.