Matson on Music
How are we feeling about rapper Kirko Bangz's name?
If you are uncertain how to pronounce the stage name of young Houston, Tex., rapper Kirko Bangz — consider he is named after Kurt Cobain. Bangz has risen from the underground in recent years and has a hit song on mainstream radio right now, the Drake soundalike "Drank In My Cup."
I'm not a Bangz scholar. But to my ears his music has nothing to do with Kurt Cobain or Nirvana. As far as whether or not his nom de rap is clever, I think not. But to Bangz's credit his real name is Kirk Randle, so at least there is some correspondence to reality. And the last name "Bangz," derived I assume from hip-hop parlance meaning to "bang"/"go hard"/make deep and immediate impact, is apt enough if you squint. "Drank In My Cup" is a soft tune but has enough thumping bass that in the right sound system it could be said to bang.
Personally I am irrationally against Bangz' naming decision because he didn't consult me first. I grew up in the Seattle area and went through puberty as a big Nirvana fan while the group rose from local fame to worldwide megastardom, my hormones raging while listening to "Hormoaning." Because of hometown pride and the fact that the anger and release in Nirvana's music changed my life, I feel some kind of bogus ownership over it. I'm trying to let that go.
Besides that personal baggage, Kirko Bangz's name shocks me into re-realizing Kurt Cobain's currency in the hip-hop world. Few modern rock heroes are so exalted in the genre. For several years after Cobain's self-inflicted death in 1994, rappers lazily name-checked him in a reference to suicide, with plenty tasteless "blow your brains like Cobain" rhymes. Really awful rappers still use punchlines like that. But almost 20 years since he died he has been memorialized more appropriately as a folk hero, a parallel figure to Scarface (a major deal in rap) who came from poverty and made it to the top. It helped that Cobain's music was anti-mainstream like Public Enemy and N.W.A. And in his meteoric rise, he embodied the "keep it real" ethos which both rap and rock value, covering cutesy Vaselines songs because he liked them even though they were soft and sexual and the rest of '90s rock was hard and sexless; more famously, he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with "corporate magazines still suck" scrawled on his t-shirt. I first realized what a big deal Nirvana was in hip-hop when I watched Nas karaoke "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at KUBE 93's Summer Jam a few years ago.
Which is to say Kirko Bangz is involved in a culture where Kurt Cobain is unavoidable and his name means something other than what it did when he was alive. It's a symbol now that invokes uncompromising power. Why wouldn't anyone want to be associated with it?
Sometimes your heros become someone else's heros and you have to deal with that. And sometimes Seattle music figures become pop icons whose image and name are used questionably. My mind flashes to the "Jimmy Hendrix" t-shirts I saw for sale recently at Forever 21 (that's not how you spell his name, BTW; don't ask me what I was doing at Forever 21). Regarding Kirko Bangz I would say this is a mild example. Even as I write this blog post I am calming down, not caring so much. Seattle has a rapper called "Masheddy Vedder." Am I worked up about that? No.
What do you think about Kirko Bangz's name?