As long as bars are creative, we tend not to care when our favorite rappers say crude things to make a rhyme work. Claiming to urinate codeine and beat pussy up like a professional heavyweight boxer are both absurd when you think about it, but they aren’t statements. They’re expressions, they’re artistic. They’re supposed to be absurd.
One punchline in particular, however, always rubs me the wrong way.
If you have to invoke Ike Turner to describe any form of hitting something, you’re being lazy. Not only that, you’re contributing to hip-hop’s stagnant lyrical landscape. Not only that, you’re glorifying domestic violence and completely shitting on the greatness of Tina Turner. To a lesser extent, you’re making that part of the Turner story more important than both of their immense contributions to music, but yeah, Ike did that to himself.
It’s one thing to keep someone of historical importance relevant through references. Thing is, Ike Turner punchlines are almost always classless. I’m not going to list the numerous songs that contain one of these famed “I hit ____ like Ike Turner” bars, but listening to Quavo’s verse on the otherwise fire More Life song “Portland” had me thinking about this.
Another counterargument to my irritation with Ike Turner punchlines is the truth that other foul events and people in history are referenced as much, or even more, in hip-hop than Ike Turner. Think Pablo Escobar, John Gotti, and other figures of the sort.
While that’s true, the qualities that rappers find admirable in these people tend to go beyond killing authority figures and terrorizing people. When Rick Ross invokes Gotti, for example, it’s his legacy of success against all odds and his legal invincibility that inspires him. Any trap rapper worth their salt probably has a slick line about Pablo, Medellín, Griselda Blanco, or Mexican cartels. But even if the narrative of hood rich drug dealers is played out, that story comes from necessity. For all of the fakes, there are plenty of prominent figures in hip-hop who rationally turned to trapping as their best option to improve their lives. Invoking mob bosses and drug kingpins to put some polish on the trap story makes sense.
But what the fuck is so cool about comparing yourself to an infamous wife-beater to simply say you hit stuff hard? What does that add to our image of you, the rapper? Whether it’s water-whipped cocaine or pussy—especially pussy—what is it about invoking Ike Turner’s willingness to throw hands at a woman, a woman who’s also one of the greatest musical artists of all time, that makes you think, “What a great line! Let’s record!”?
Do you want a bar like, “Chris Brown with the right hand!” to become commonplace in the Rent-A-Punchline rotation in several years? How about, “Put that ass to sleep, call me Ray Rice“?
Just think about it. Hopefully it doesn’t take long for you to realize I’m right about this.
Update 5/25/2020: edited for clarity, grammar, and corniness
I specifically thought about this after hearing “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “Cowboy” by Tyler, the Creator and decided to look it up.
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