The moment I opened up the Bandcamp page for I need some good rap music for my car.? I felt as if I was encountering something much more than a collection of tracks compiled in some pseudo-organized system on a screen. There was something fortress-like about its presentation, as if artist $3.33 (real name Celia Hollander) was providing the listener not with a simple gift for the purposes of sensory pleasure, but a puzzle to be decoded, a jumbled cultural pastiche compressed into a Rubik’s Cube. I realized (with the fevered delight of someone who found academia’s indulgent navel gazing pleasurable rather than futile and exhausting) that $3.33’s new release felt less like a mere musical release and more like a text, to be close-read with the intensity and care that one would attack a literary enigma like Pale Fire or Tristam Shandy.
First there are the song titles, haphazard questions with even more haphazard punctuation seemingly culled from Yahoo Answers or a similar ultra-egalitarian and ultra-collaborative educational forum, questions that all seek the same thing: the perfect rap song for a particular situation, be it courting a girl, or driving around, or just evoking a sense of the “powerful.” Seeing them all together, one after the other, really brings out their desperate absurdity. When reading a question that asks “What is the coolest song ever (rap song)?”—as if there is one answer that will forever put the seeker’s soul at peace—one feels that classic mean girls retort bubbling up internally: “What does that even mean?”
And, in a way, Hollander’s tracks seem to pose that very counter-question. They are distorted, stuttering, echoed, muddied, intoxicated, cyborg versions of the car-radio music that these Yahoo users are looking for. In the same vein as Ryan Trecartin’s work, the tracks seize mainstream culture by the throat and shake it around until it becomes a strange dreamlike representation of itself. And the strangest part is, that dream begins to feel more real than the original narrative that we all consider (or considered) normal. The songs on this record begin to feel like a more accurate summary of listening to Top 40 while driving through Los Angeles (Hollander’s place of residence), than the actual Top 40 songs themselves. They represent not the media, but the actual experience of listening to it, a translucent, dynamic time lapse that never sits still long enough to define.
Hollander also includes a Beyoncé-esque bonus of five music videos to complement her tracks; each one deals with a different popular representation of “cruising,” be it in a virtual car in Grand Theft Auto, from the outside through the eye of Google Maps Street View, or from the inside, in the form of video selfies taken by a handful of white female teen passengers singing their heart out with appropriated sass to the latest Nicki Minaj or Chris Brown. Like the tracks, they seem to point again to our desire to organize the vehicular popular music experience and present it to ourselves and others in a way that is appealing—and against the foil of Hollander’s tracks, they remind us again that this endeavor just might be futile and ridiculous. Might. Because despite the fact that Hollander is looking at all of this mess from the outside, she is also engaging with it in a way that suggests not disdain or alienation from it, but identification, an understanding of how this weird intersection of culture and transportation affects her, too.
In fact, Hollander places at the very bottom of the Bandcamp page for this release perhaps the most compelling aspect of this work, a pitched-up monologue (set to more driving footage) called “How To Write A Press Release For Your Hip Hop Record.” In it, she admits: “I have spent the last decade of my life sitting in a car, listening to Power… I’m not even listening to this, it’s playing through me as seamlessly as it plays through the speakers of my Corolla.” This easy-to-miss yet crucial epilogue to I need some good rap music for my car.? expresses with explicit deliberation the very vibe one gets from listening to the record itself, that this cultural foundation being explored is, in fact, “an abstraction already from its origins, perverted, dispersed, watered down, packaged, background music, for white college girls driving to lacrosse practice.”
I need some good rap music for my car.? is available now via $3.33′s Bandcamp.