“Mayne fuck coke whites, cause my Vans fuckin gold
Got new topsiders fin’ ta fly like kites
Go to sleep in the day, go to parties at night
Man I’m from B-Town and all my niggaz get like
Man we be sportin Vans and we throw away Nikes
If you wanna get right, stop buyin those Nikes
Get some new fuckin Vans and you bet you’ll look icey
Does anything there seem overtly controversial to the naked eye? Not really. The Young L produced “Vans” by Berkeley, California’s own The Pack (formerly known as The Wolfpack) reads like a song that professes a love for one brand of footwear above all others. That’s something hip-hop artists have done ever since Run-D.M.C. laced up their first pair of Adidas, a tradition continued all the way to the present day where rappers and DJ’s not only sport kicks but become walking advertisements for them, in everything from Lugz to Timberlands to Clarks. Therein lies the key – apparently somebody at Viacom decided “Vans” was little more than a three minute, seventeen second long ad for shoes that they weren’t getting paid for. Never mind that “My Adidas” and “Air Force Ones” ran uncut, suddenly a bunch of suits in ties said HELL NO to The Pack despite the song’s burgeoning popularity from coast to coast. When “Vans” finally made it on TV it had been so stripped down that it became a joke, particularly given the chorus repeats the phrase “got my Vans on but they look like sneakers” over and over again, yet every single reference to Vans was stricken from the video.
It’s an ironic twist of fate that hip-hop has been witness to for over two decades now – the more some corporation or concerned citizens committee tries to shut shit down or censor it, the more popular they end up making it. The Pack has thus proven to be the most successful group to ever come out of Too $hort’s tiny Up All Nite Music imprint. Eager to cash in on this free publicity, $hort and his parent label Jive rushed out the “Skateboards 2 Scrapers” EP for the group. If the name seems like Pharrell meets Keak Da Sneak, then you’ve already got the right idea. The fab foursome of Young L, Lil Uno, Lil B, and Stunna have cultivated a sound for their music that’s hella Cali in topic and style yet surprisingly quirky and electronic in sound and execution. “Vans” is a perfect example, as a track which seems to eschew all forms of percussion except for the sound of finger snapping and occasional hi-hats. The song at first seems to lack the big bass beats you’d expect, until you crank the volume way up and the low electronic notes of the melody become the bass punch in itself – and this is a song TAILOR-MADE to be cranked up. The rappers have a low-key, almost nonchalant delivery – they seem content to just ride the beat instead of overwhelming it. Any of these elements itself might doom a more amateur group to failure, but The Pack combines them all together and makes it work, creating an authentic sound all their own.
The rest of the “Skateboards 2 Scrapers” EP largely works works on the same formula, although at times that formula becomes excessively repetitive. “I’m Shinin'” cranks up the machismo and vocal delivery without cranking up the track that accompanies it, settling for a simple rising pitch note looped over an uncomplicated boom, bap-boom, boom-bap beat that doesn’t improve it. “Oh Go” on the other hand gets the most hyphy of any song on the album and succeeds as a result. Heavy bass hits combine with a noise that can only be described as the air horn from a hockey game when goals get scored. It shouldn’t work, but it does despite simplistic Stunna lyrics like “got a big bat, so I need a fat cat/Stunna got racks, what you fin’ to do for that?” In fact none of the lyricism displayed by the group is excessively impressive. “Candy” is both the best and the worst of an early 2 Live Crew song, built entirely around the chorus “this my pussy I can do what I want – yeah, I’m a big girl now.” It’s unapologetically rude, lewd, and crude – and yes it’s hella fun to listen to.
The Pack should get down and thank their lucky stars that MTV are stupid as hell. After struggling for years in obscurity as an unknown unconventional rap group from the not-so-mean streets of Berkeley, the idiotic decision to censor “Vans” took a group that was already on the verge of going national and made their song a hot topic of discussion from the internet to the club. Despite Viacom’s decision you couldn’t keep “got my Vans on but they look like sneakers” from booming out of speakers and headphones across the United States and all around the world. Come to think of it, the people who make Vans footwear ought to get down and thank their lucky stars for The Pack’s tribute song, which has no doubt done as much for their sales among hip-hop heads as Run-D.M.C. did for Adidas sneakers over 20 years ago. The Pack still have a long way to go to make it to the top, but they’ve got a good start with a hit song and a unique outlook on West coast rap that is at times as nerdy as it is crunk.