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Recognising the social issues behind Big Shaq’s ‘Mans Not Hot’

ByLouis Walsh

Jan 4, 2018

‘Mans Not Hot’ has been inescapable for the last few months. It’s an almost ubiquitous track for clubs up and down the country but still manages to generate the same manic response every time it’s heard. In fact, Michael Dapaah’s parody of UK drill is quickly becoming an era-defining anthem to the mid-2010’s, a song that will connect teenagers and twenty-somethings together in a decade’s time. It’s a tune that will transport you back to sweaty nights in Hive when you’re 70 and take too much pleasure from fig rolls and electric blankets.

Since it was first aired on Charlie Sloth’s Fire In The Booth show back in August, ‘Mans Not Hot’ has been certified silver in the UK, become the most watched grime music video of all time on Youtube, and garnered attention from a plethora of international stars, including DJ Khaled and Shaquille O’Neal. No other UK rap or grime has had this kind of instant, far-reaching cultural impact before, something that is made all the more surprising by the fact that ‘Mans Not Hot’ is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of UK drill.

‘Mans Not Hot’ has managed to cross the barrier into mainstream conversation, with newspapers, TV shows and even politicians referencing the song. However, it’s unlikely that the majority of public figures parroting ‘The ting goes skrrrrrraaa…’ actually understand the lyrics. For example, the song contains numerous references to guns, from pump-action shotguns (‘Hold tight Asznee/He’s got the pumpy) to .44 calibre pistols (‘Hop out the four-door with a .44’ and ‘When the ting went quack-quack-quack/You man were ducking’). ‘The ting goes skrrrrrraaa’ itself is a reference to automatic gunfire, the ‘ting’ being a gun and the ‘skrrrrrraaaa’ an exaggerated version of a common ad-lib to UK drill: a rapidly developing fusion of grime, Chicago drill and gangsta rap that is the target of Big Shaq’s parody. If the BBC understood the lyrics of the song, they probably wouldn’t be using it to advertise Mark Lawrenson’s Premier League predictor column. And therein lies the problem.

Everything is open to satire, and rightly so. UK drill is an often explicit and confrontative window into inner-city dysfunction and violence, yet it raises significant and urgent questions about how our society addresses systemic problems such as racial and economic inequality. Groups such as 67, the most obvious inspiration for ‘Mans Not Hot’ and the creators of the anthemic ‘Lets Lurk’ from which the instrumental for ‘Mans Not Hot’ was taken, are at the forefront of this new genre. Their music is filled with references to violence, drug dealing and weaponry, things that the mainstream media finds abhorrent and is quick to condemn, yet will laugh at and trivialise when given the opportunity.

Despite the inherent glamorization of dysfunction, 67 importantly provide an otherwise ignored snapshot of the realities that face a sizable chunk of our society. Dapaah has every right to parody UK drill, but do we have the right to laugh and look away from the issues it is pointing at? For the privileged, it’s easy to ignore and dismiss criminality as immoral, resulting in a total lack of engagement or will to address the root causes of crime, which are almost always due to a societal failure to provide for those in need. In order to enjoy ‘Mans Not Hot’, we should acknowledge the inspiration and reality behind the satire, hopefully making it a catalyst for change.


Image: Simon Law via Flikr

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