“(Can’t we go see a movie?)
A movie? That isn’t real!
This is REAL. This is my neighborhood…”
(Corey Feldman as Ricky Butler in “The ‘Burbs”, 1989)
Like so many rappers before him, Troy Walsh won’t hesitate to let you know where he’s coming from. For good reason. Because where Troy Walsh is from, rap isn’t a particularly evident career option. Positioning his social status somewhere in the “upper middle class,” the “last rapper you fathom could make it” has come to put American suburbia singlehandedly on the hip-hop map: “Mine is a tale that has gone untold / from the land of plenty where the money is old.” Dubbing himself Mr. Unlikely, Walsh reps the ‘burbs harder than Mr. Rogers and Martha Stewart combined. It’s something that eventually had to happen. In a situation where white rappers have become a common sight, the next logical step is to create a Caucasian MC who doesn’t try at all to ‘be down’ and instead abides to his ethnic group’s own codes. And so this Troy Walsh character drives a Volvo, rocks Lacoste, and plays golf. In his own words, he’s “more Anglo-Saxon than colonial settlers.”
Troy Walsh is, per definition, a novelty act. Hence, his posturing runs the risk of becoming a gimmick fast. Lines like “I’m here to cause a racket, rep for my tax bracket” are funny the first couple of times, but after a while you start to wonder what other motive there is behind the creation of Troy Wlash than to command at least some type of attention in the ongoing bonfire of the vanities that is the rap industry. Yet as strange as his debut ultimately may be, you have to give Troy Walsh props on several levels. He’s no Paul Barman. Dude can rap. With a highly physical flow falling somewhere between a laconic Mr. Eon and an amped Eminem, he has the vocal presence of a professional rapper. Secondly, his persona is a welcome break from the countless white teenagers in the suburbs who adopt the fashion and language codes of hip-hop at a largely superficial level. That Walsh clearly carries it to excess, may last but not least be an (over-)reaction to the awful antics of some of his peers. It is probably no coincidence that he won the rap competition accompanying the 1999 parody “Whiteboyz”, earning him the chance to perform at the movie’s premiere in New York.
Another plus is that Walsh lets reality seep in more often than you intially notice. In the various freestyles inserted into this promo mix courtesy of DJ Lt. Dan, he will brag that he “got a garage the size of your crib,” he will claim to “revel in decimals level Merryl-Lynch,” but a good number of songs touch on the darker side of life in the ‘burbs, whether through his excessive consumption of alcohol and weed, or the odd observation that won’t quite fit into the picture, like when he mentions a couple of “twin teen sons / who are so cracked out they can’t see what they done.” In these instants, Walsh makes an attempt to reveal what goes on behind these lily-white picket fences:
“What’s worse is that most the insanity
is born out of amity and perfect families
No tough love, abuse and cold stares
just babysitters, riddlin’ and time-out chairs”
Songs like “Fuck a Party Up” and “I Get Fucked Up” hint at the often self-destructive behavior of suburban kids, but the most telling track in that regard may be “Runaway Train”, where Walsh recounts: “Seen friends eaten up by the middle-class crack / seen friends beaten up over little-ass stacks,” before he takes a look in the mirror: “I’m young, blond, dumb, sick and unemployed / sip till I’m playin’ the wall like Pink Floyd.” When it comes to the turmoil of those teenage years, it’s probably the same ballgame here and there. At least that might be this suburbanite’s message to his urban peers: “Trust me, fam, our lives are so same / the love and the lies, the dope and the games.”
But these are mere subplots in Troy Walsh’s adventures. Of utmost importance to him, it seems, is his peculiar position as a WASP MC. At times, his take on his situation is comical:
“I dated the prom queen, I was Varsity captain
I’m not the type of gentleman supposed to be rappin’
I can’t front on the feel and I couldn’t fake the words
so I made this recording feel like autumn in the ‘burbs”
Other times, the “only rap head you can mistake for John Lennon” adopts a more serious tone, stressing the importance of staying true to yourself as a rap artist:
“Believe it, this rap, it’s my natural medium
An idiotic idiom I instantly created
when I heard hip-hop and instantly related
I’m not corporate hip-hop, no hybrid concoction
I tell you piss off if you tell me how to function”
With original in-house production (courtesy of Mr. Clean and Troy Walsh himself), a brand-new label and recommendation from DJ Lt. Dan and legendary Philly producer Joe ‘The Butcher’ Nicolo, Mr. Unlikely seems very much on top of the decision-making. And all aforementioned interesting implications aside, he definitely deserves some greater exposure, be it through the infectious “TROY”, the Whitey Ford-meets-Big Tymers title track, the rhyme excercise “Whispers”, the Nirvana-sampling (“Heart-Shaped Box”) “Runaway Train”, or the bacchanalian “Happy Hour”. With this handful of highlights, at least Troy Walsh doesn’t meet you empty-handed. But to really justify his steez, he will have to come better equipped next time. So far, an “Animal Talk” can’t compare to GZA’s “Animal Planet”, while “The Notorious ADD” (where he addresses his attention deficit disorder) sounds like a PSA put in rhyme form to appeal to a younger audience.
“Country Clubbin” is not the final word on suburban rap music. Because despite claiming otherwise, Troy Walsh does have an identity crisis, and it revolves exactly around his admitted or alleged suburbanness. Not only is his definition of the ‘burbs strictly upper class, whenever you think he’s just portraying some ‘Whiteboyz’ character he came up with, he gets serious about it (“I Will”), and whenever you think he’s coming straight from the heart, he throws in a tongue-in-cheek “I mean a handsome, hip, white, rappin’ collegian / with hip-hop ability beyond no reason? / That’s about as likely as daylight in the evening.” But I guess that’s what you get when you transplant the flamboyant medium of rap into some quiet cul-de-sac. You are bound to get a depiction of suburban life that borders on caricature. You are bound to end up with an irritating amount of references to ‘haters’ (“Whispers”). But you can also end up with a song like “The Burbs (Summertime Mix”), where the Mechanicsburg, PA native successfully gets his Fresh Prince on. Still, a song like “The Realness”, where Walsh attempts to put the enormity of his task into honest words, but which at the same time features snobbish self-descriptions like “so amazingly healthy / we’re all brazenly wealthy” and a thematic Mobb Deep sample, makes the whole thing appear like a mission impossible.
Whether intended or not, “Country Clubbin” is prone to make you think about the categories ‘urban’ and ‘suburban’, to make you ponder the fact that these terms describe an ongoing ethnical segregation. Ironically, Troy Walsh claims to live the life that many rappers dream of in their very songs. For a long time now, the streets have championed brands that once were insignia of suburbia: Jeep, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. And while Jay-Z currently spins the tale of the inner city drug dealer setting up shop in suburbia in his guest verse on the remix of “Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)” by dead prez, in reality Jay-Z has long relocated to some remote gated community, probably next to the Walsh’s. Here’s hoping they get together for a barbecue sometime.