by carl wilson

The Tragically Hip Replacements?

Latest, greatest theory on who is really behind the DJ Cyber-Rap record: It's Gord Downie.

So, last weekend I finally undraped to my ears the full monty of Funeral, the album purportedly by 59-year-old Ronald Marie MacDougall, the widowed father of runaway pothead son Brendan - with guest stars Pyramid Culture, Laura Barrett, DJ Wes Allen, Matt Collins of Ninja High School and other notables of Toronto's indie/'bad bands' scene. Any issue of authenticity is laid to rest by the transparently put-upon voice in which it's rapped; obviously the thing is a novelty record, but what a novelty record! (If we must follow this up with a debate on the legitimacy of novelty records, so be it. You will lose.) While it goes on a bit long, the music and satire here are surprisingly sustainedly engaging and pleasurable, with a rapidly layered brickwork of reference points (from TV to high art to indie cultcha) to rival MF Doom or Nice 'n' Smooth, but from the previously unexampled position of interrogating generation gaps. This works best in the songs where Cyber-Rap bounces his monologues off his guests - in Don't Call It a Comeback, he jaws about his life and electro-pop science choir Pyramid Culture sings about the coelacanth, implicitly comparing the two kinds of longevity; on another, he raps about his youth in the swinging 60s while Matt Collins waxes maybe-equally-faux-nostalgic on his high-school days of grunge. The Hey Ya cover is a level of meta-jokiness I really could do without (although it is the kind of thing a pushin'-60 would-be hipster might mistake for cool), but the duet with Laura Barrett on Ace of Base's The Sign almost measures up to The Mountain Goats' version that likely inspired it.

Calling Funeral anything like "the year's best [Canadian/Toronto/whatever] hip-hop album" is ridiculous - it's not a hip-hop album. But to react to it with hip-hop purism is even dumber - like jazz snots hating on Spike Jones in the 1940s, or knee-jerk reactions against early Frank Zappa, it's a case of denial that a subcultural style has become a mainstream lingua franca, at which point anyone and everyone can and should play shell games with its signifiers. Not that this strips away the sociocultural subtext. But just as with Ninja High School, it's important to note that the target of the playful critique is not in fact rap or hip-hop but the indie youth-culture community itself. The jokes are not about bling and video hotties but about Joanna Newsom and the Arcade Fire and hipster fashion and the corresponding fears of normalcy, aging and "lameness" that permeate that ambience. Reading it as an insult to hip-hop would just be a willful posture to set oneself up as the champion of same. If anything, Funeral is a flamboyant flip of the bird to white youth culture precisely in its ethnic and ageist insularity.

Got a better hypothesis than Downie on DJ Cyber-Rap's secret identity, by the way? (Aside from producer Tom Lahey?) Theories more than welcome.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 09 at 2:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)



Nice site. Thanks:-)

Posted by culture on August 27, 2006 6:05 PM



Did any of you people happen to catch DJ CyberRaps e-Mole Radio interview? Hilarious...

Posted by e-Mole on August 17, 2006 1:33 PM



Thanks for getting my back Rob D.

Posted by General Ize on August 11, 2006 9:18 PM



I just watched "Stylin O6: Profile Of A Mack" and I'm wondering if anyone can give me back the three minutes of my life that I wasted...

If this is the sort of stuff that is popular in Toronto, then Toronto's pretty fucking square.

The emperor has no clothes (or ho's for that matter)...

Posted by Rob D. on August 11, 2006 6:06 PM



Of course, I know who DJ Cyber Rap is because Pyramid Culture recorded with him. And to me, he will always be good old Ronny "Marie" MacD, a lovable coot with a flare for rhyme, and one of the gosh-darned nicest men I've ever had the pleasure of working with.

Posted by Kat Collins on August 11, 2006 2:47 PM



The video's nudging me more towards the 'he's real' side of things. Who knows, who cares, this is very amusing and interesting.

Posted by Kurt on August 10, 2006 6:40 PM



I heard about DJ Cyber Rap shortly before the album release, and was also very pleasantly surprised when I picked it up. Some comments on your article and the comments here…

The mystery of the character is definitely a huge part of enjoying the album! I figure - if he's real, that's hilarious, but faintly sad (the character has many sad qualities... basically he's very lonely and deluded). If he's fictional, this project's really thorough and attentive to detail. The character and persona are definitely more important than the music here. Although some tracks are very, very catchy. I feel like that's mostly to highlight that even this 'old guy' can sound great when backed with good production (tom lahey), and maybe that's a shot at low-talent high-digital trickery some people pump out at a prodigious rate (Scott Storch comes to mind.)

The beats and format is rap but most of the references are indie. Flagrant samples from both genres are definitely on the record though. The combination is really endearing. This 50+ character clearly thinks rap music is 'where it's at!' (and with old-guy zeal!) and finds it sort of familiar to his generation of beat/slam poets (a beat poem opens the album), but this is combined with thinking too that being "in the know AND in the scene" is all the cooler, leading to the excessive indie references. He’s seems so stoked about the discovery of ‘cool music’, you just can’t hate him. What you're left with is a character that desperately flaunts a popularized sub-culture in order to express himself to others. This could be a clever parody on what many indie bands do as the genre becomes mainstreamed, although unlike Cyber Rap most bands don't associate themselves with 'the scene' by talking about Emily Haines and chuck taylors in their songs!

The humour goes way beyond him just being old, even though it's a big point of amusement. But DJ Cyber Rap's sort of proud of his age, whereas being young (or being portrayed as young) is definitely a big part of indie rock. It really is 'what the kids are into' these days, and while Cyber Rap doesn't point that out his character makes it painfully obvious. While indie rock itself can maybe be appreciated by a wide audience, it’s mostly locked in the 15-30 demographic, not unlike rap. But Cyber Rap's wise to ignore those who say "You can't rap/ if your hair looks like Steve Martin's", because the ambition and wit more than compensate for the old-guy take on rap. And 'pure or unpure rap' seems irrelevant, I agree Carl, because I think the point was to just make more than a simple rap record. And the new video is really, really funny.

Posted by milton on August 10, 2006 6:05 PM



Dave - I publicly apologize, as you're right, I misconstrued (or actually misremembered) what you'd said. More on this in private mail.

However, you're completely misreading my motivations in turn. Overvigilant anti-purism and semi-hysterical anti-authenticity speeches are the bread and butter of the Zoilus critical method, whether we're talking about DJ Cyber-Rap or Coldplay or whatever.

To be clear: I was actually more than ready to hate the DJ Cyber-Rap disc before I heard it, which is why I never mentioned it before this weekend, when I listened to it and was completely surprised to be enjoying it.

Posted by zoilus on August 10, 2006 4:30 PM



wow, until that little name drop, i was feeling like warren beatty when linda ronstadt wrote that song about him or didn't or whatver.

for the record, i didn't slam dj cyber rap, and in fact neither did anyone else on the to-ist thread. the fact that you painted me as some kind of rap-purist here -- before i said word one about dj cyber-rap himself -- makes my head hurt. (can you be a rap purist and dig mike skinner? what kind of purism are we talking about?) i do have an opinion on the subject, but if you're going to presuppose what that is and dismiss it before i even open my mouth, i'm certainly not going to bother arguing. clearly you're not interested in hearing anyone question the motives of local indie musicians, for reasons that i suspect have a lot more to do with scene politics than an interest in truth, or fairness. find somebody else to be your strawman.

Posted by dave m. on August 10, 2006 3:04 PM



Thanks for the video. Before I saw it, I was pretty sure I was Spartacus.. ur, um.. DJ Cyber-Rap.

Posted by Half on August 10, 2006 2:28 PM



Check out DJ Cyber-Rap's new music video and then tell me it's a hoax:

Posted by Laura B on August 10, 2006 2:12 PM



Someone suggested it's Tom Green - sounds like a good guesstimate

Posted by George on August 10, 2006 2:04 PM



it's clearly mayor david miller.

or maggie macdonald.

Posted by lisstless on August 10, 2006 1:37 PM



interesting theories all, and i love the speculation. all are capable of doing it.

my question is, why do we want to believe it's a fake? isn't it more glorious to believe that it's real?

yrs truly,
santa claus

Posted by barclay on August 10, 2006 9:46 AM



Jon-Rae was on tour then. Only Leon Taheny has the chops and the mystery financial backers for this.

Posted by Tim on August 10, 2006 8:04 AM



Well, I was talking to one of the guys at Soundscapes and he said it definitely wasn't Joel Gibb. But, he said he read some DJ C-R graffitti in the Sneaky Dee's bathroom downstairs and it was in Jon-Rae's handwriting.

Posted by Ryan M on August 10, 2006 2:46 AM



Okay, it's increasingly evident that Ryan is DJ Cyber-Rap, trying to throw up camouflage.

(Now I'm kicking myself for not having started a rumour that Zoilus is DJ Cyber-Rap *months* ago.)

Posted by zoilus on August 10, 2006 1:40 AM



Actually, I ended up talking to Chris today and he told me that Joel Gibb is actually DJ Cyber Rap.

Posted by Ryan M on August 10, 2006 1:06 AM



btw, pedantic point, but i think DJ C-R is rap but not hip-hop.

also: I am DJ Cyber-Rap, but Graham helped me with my flow.

Posted by zoilus on August 10, 2006 12:24 AM



Every word of that was on point, thanks, Graham. (and i wasn't thinking of you on the purism tip. My friend Dave M, who joined in the going-apeshit frenzy on DJ C-R at Torontoist, however....)

In the case of DJ C-R, the joke about not understanding hip-hop is so built into the scenario that it would be hard to take it at all in a Mel Brooks way... unlike Goldie Lookin' Chain. (Which is good in one sense, but which I also can't listen to because I find it so aggravating.) ... I won't reprise the NHS beef further, as we've had it here before.

Ryan - oh dear. I'm not sure I really wanted to know the truth yet. The mystery is so much more entertaining, and once we know the answer everybody's going to start analyzing it. It's so much easier to listen to the album in its undecidable state - which is a nice illuminating thing about anonymity and music, don't you think?

Posted by zoilus on August 10, 2006 12:23 AM



I've been told my a few people that DJ Cyber Rap is actually Chris Mills from Kids on TV/Just Like The Movies. Just think about it. Makes complete sense.

Posted by Ryan M on August 9, 2006 7:31 PM



as the cliche goes, rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live...rapping is the vocal practice, hip-hop refers to the overall (sub)culture which may be made up of anything from 4 to 10 "elements."

i might be reading too much into your entry carl, but it seemed to be anticipating a "hip-hop purism" / "rap-ism" / whatever you want to call it that I definitely partake in from time to time. but, anyways, this isn't the place to get into NHS and the whole intention vs. results arguments (i always thought the problem was that what nhs and their supporters are enjoying is being received by others as exactly which is wrong with the band - true of the bad bands in general?) that arise from there.

but, whatever, to get to my point, hip-hop is surely diffuse enough to accomodate dj cyber-rap. that is, it's not like someone like say rick ross (sample lyric: "We never steal cars, but we deal hard / Whip it real hard whip it whip it real hard / I caught a charge, I caught a charge / Whip it real hard, whip it whip it real hard") is really all that more profound, interesting or inventive (despite the possible subconscious nod to Devo) as cyber-rap or whatever. the linkage of hip-hop with traditions of minstrelsy (besides racism, minstrelsy being funny above all else, to both black and white audiences of the time) would also point to the humour that is at the heart of the culture. the first singles until say the message are just party rocking techniques and punchlines, too, which might be said of a lot of rekkids even today.

the thing is, it's a slippery slope though as my nod to minstrelsy would hopefully suggest. the music is funny but there's also a history of mainstream (meaning white, although most rap fans from 84 onwards are white, but we'll put that aside, white here signifies an adorno-esque "culture industry") derision of rap on those very grounds: that it was just a comedy fad (see malcolm mclaren but also mel brooks's (!) rap rekkid). so, i see a tendency to react against those charges even today which would be manifested later as hip-hop purism. notice underground rap which is so earnest and humourless at times that mr. lif's new, mildly funny at times, rekkid is somewhat shocking.

in any case, the point perhaps is not that cyber-rap is bad rap (of course it is but then again, as you say, we can't really judge it as rap) but how it, on its own terms, satirizes (unless the dude is like real) the annex crowd and toronto(pians) in general.

by the way, i am dj cyber-rap.

Posted by Graham on August 9, 2006 6:51 PM



I think that generally rap is so funny to begin with (even gangsta rap is usually very funny...intentionally) that any accusations of a rap album being "goofy" sound silly to me. Is early beastie boyz any less "goofy" as rap than DJ cyber-rap or NHS? not to me it aint.

I dont understand why the NHS get called "goofy". Anyone who wants to read whatever the hell they do as rap or hip-hop has a valid point. I compare this with the reaction the goldie lookin' chain got in the UK. While the GLC is clearly a pretty mean one punchline joke (offensive in a classist if not racist way) and sort of mediocre as rap everyone was all over that shit, mostly because it was so good. "Guns don't kill people, rappers do" or "your mother's got a penis" stand proudly beside most public enemy or NWA tracks.

Now if only we got indie rock to take itself a little less seriously.......

Posted by guy tanentzapf on August 9, 2006 5:48 PM



oh, well, that WAS clear, carl - but i just kept finding that the rapping got in the way of the songs.

and i think more pertinently, in my hurry i said "rap" where i should have said "hip-hop"...

but yes, i'd like v much to see NHS live and in-my-face. i'll add them to the list with Jon-Rae and the River and the Sunparlour Players as gotta-gottas.

Posted by Sean on August 9, 2006 5:31 PM



Well, Cyber-Rap is def. *more* goofball than NHS, which it's a mistake to listen to as rap at all. Listen to it as 90s meta-postpunk with beats and shouting, with a sense of humour but also in earnest. I'm kinda surprised you haven't done that already, Sean, although of course the albums are kind of hazy representations. You need to hit an NHS show next time you're in Canada, which is where it all becomes clear. In the fighting pit.

Posted by zoilus on August 9, 2006 5:13 PM



hmm. i need to hear this. that said, my patience with goofball rap (from Ninja High School to Ugly Duckling) is pretty slim...

i'm, uh, a big fan of gord downie though...

Posted by Sean on August 9, 2006 4:47 PM



My money is on Kim Mitchell

Posted by guy tanentzapf on August 9, 2006 3:10 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson