For me, before there was “Bugatti”, “Good Kush & Alcohol”, “I’m Different”, or “No Hands” (or really anything by Waka and 2 Chainz), I drove around my hometown listening to “Ice Cream Paint Job” off Yeezy’s No Ceilings mixtape. We’re talking 2009 here. Yes, all ignorant rappers owe a debt to Cam’ron for elevating the whole ignorant rap genre, but for kids like me born between 1990 and 1993, “Ice Cream Paint Job” was maybe our first encounter with ignorance. We were juniors in high school. We were bored. We didn’t care what it was really like on the streets. We just wanted hip hop to make us feel hyped.
The genius of Lil Wayne on this track is his ability to rap for over three minutes and avoid any deeper meaning. Seriously, I read the RapGenius page for this song learned nothing new. The track is explicit in every sense of the word—it’s intensely vulgar and, at least for a person of my generation, his verses are exceedingly clear. Of course, like most rap, Lil Wayne makes many pop culture references, but most are fairly mainstream, e.g. Tomb Raider, Degree stick, Michael Phelps, or the Alps. “Ice Cream Paint Job” isn’t about life in the bad part of New Orleans, and it’s not even about a car with an ‘ice cream paint job”, unlike the orignal track by Dorrough. Lil Wayne is just “all over this ice cream beat like sprinkles”, which is actually a perfect example of his lyricism here. We know the title of the song, and we know what sprinkles are. That’s it. It really is.
Once my brain is fully developed, maybe I’ll feel the same connection with GZA’s Liquid Swords or Nas’ Illmatic that I feel with “Ice Cream Paint Job”, but that seems unlikely. GZA and Nas are for your mind. Ignorant rap is for your soul. We listen to it when you want to avoid deep feelings, when we want to feel shallow. Ignorant rap glosses over the underlying social processes the fuel the rampant consumerism, violence, and vulgarity of hip hop—it is emblematic, not explanatory. It’s useless to criticize these rappers, since they simply don’t care. They’ve accrued the ability to grace a beat with a sense of cool just by calling a song their own and speaking over it. For these rappers, it’s maybe not about the money or the girls, as their verses might lead you to believe. It may just be about how we allow them to get up on the mic and say almost anything. It’s wordplay, not gunplay.