INSPIRATION strikes quickly in hip-hop and can move even faster on the Internet. Sometimes half an hour is all you need to launch an audacious musical statement through cyberspace. Especially when Kanye West is your unwitting co-conspirator.
Houston rappers Damien Randle and Micah Nickerson, who bill themselves professionally as the Legendary K.O., took West’s infamous unscripted remark during a live NBC telethon for hurricane relief (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people”), improvised some rhymes and grafted them onto West’s Top 10 single “Gold Digger.”
Thirty minutes in the making, the unauthorized remix is in the midst of an equally rapid burst of notoriety in the cyberworld, where improvisational bravado can generate instant, if fleeting, rewards and where the line between homage and theft seems to grow thinner by the day.
Since “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” first appeared on the Web on Sept. 6, managers of six sites that are hosting it say it has been downloaded at least 500,000 times, although such figures are impossible to verify independently.
The song has been reposted by countless bloggers and discussed in chatrooms as far away as Norway, New Zealand and Singapore.
Domestically, urban and alternative radio stations have been playing an edited version of the song in cities including Atlanta, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Honolulu. (So far it has not received commercial airplay in Los Angeles.)
“We just grabbed it off the Web and added it to our stack of new releases,” said Brian Turner, program director for WFMU-FM in Hoboken, N.J. “It was an instant hit with the DJs here.”
Nickerson, who lives just minutes from the Houston Astrodome, where hundreds of evacuees have been temporarily relocated from New Orleans since late August, said he was motivated by survivors’ firsthand accounts.
“Seeing the loss of human dignity ... it created a lot of pent-up emotion,” he said. “I knew I was going to put it into a song.”
He laid down the track and his vocal on his home computer and sent it to Randle, who lives 10 minutes away.
“Mike called at 6 [p.m.] and said, ‘Check your computer,’ ” says Randle, who quickly recorded his vocals. The song was online by 6:30.
Although Randle and Nickerson have received positive feedback from the blogosphere, some chatroom denizens have accused them of trying to cash in on West’s telethon notoriety.
The rappers, both 28, insist they were only responding to tragedy.
But they admit the song is the high point of a 13-year, under-the-mainstream career during which they have recorded for various indie and European record labels but nowadays self-produce songs such as “Self-Proclaimed World’s Greatest Tag Team,” releasing them through their website, www.k-otix.com.
Despite the radio airplay and blog recognition, “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” may violate copyright laws. Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, was threatened with legal action last year for “The Grey Album,” his widely circulated digital merging of Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” with the Beatles’ so-called “White Album.”
But industry observers say it is unlikely that Randle and Nickerson, who offer the song on their website as a free download, will see any cease-and-desist orders.
“In the rap world, it’s very common to take a song and rearrange it and give it new lyrics,” said Dana Hall, urban music editor for Radio & Records magazine. “Remixes [such as this] are not strictly legal, but they’re accepted.”
Nickerson and Randle say they have made attempts to reach West to work out a joint venture but haven’t been able to contact his management. Representatives for West’s label, Island Def Jam, on Thursday said the rapper had no comment on Nickerson and Randle’s remix.
In a fitting coda to the rappers’ appropriation of West’s song and comment, some amateur filmmakers are creating unauthorized music videos for the “George Bush” track.
One, available at www.theblacklantern.com, intercuts images of West with footage of New Orleans residents stranded on rooftops.
Another includes grainy imagery of President Bush altered so as to appear that he is making rude hand gestures to impoverished New Orleans locals.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
‘George Bush Doesn’t Like Black People’
Five days in this ... attic
Can’t use the cellphone I keep getting static
Dying ‘cause they lying instead of telling us the truth
Other day the helicopters got my neighbors off the roof
Screwed ‘cause they say they coming back for us too
That was three days ago, I don’t see no rescue
See a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do
Since God made the path that I’m trying to walk through
Swam to the store, tryin’ to look for food
Corner store’s kinda flooded so I broke my way through
I got what I could but before I got through
News say the police shot a black man trying to loot
(Who!?) Don’t like black people
George Bush don’t like black people
George Bush don’t like black people
George Bush don’t like ‘em
-- Excerpt from “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People.” Lyrics by the Legendary K.O.