Thursday, April 3, 2014

Questionable Lyrics #4: Trigger Warning: Robin Givens

In 1989, Kool Moe Dee wrote a very angry record directed at women because he gathered that they were all out to cozy up to him only to later steal his cash. Mind you, he wasn't just out to deflect specific women he perceived to be gold diggers; for him this applied to all women. As the chorus said, "No, I ain't got no girlfriend. No, I ain't buy no car. No, I ain't got no babies. A lot of ladies? Nah, they want money." That's a... strong stance. I mean, that means he's celibate now, right? Well, anyway, it's actually another line from this song, a  small section from his second verse, that stood out to be as particularly interesting:

"I know the game; it's old and lame.
You're holdin' a flame for my name and my fame.
Livin' like Givens schemin' on Tyson;
But she got lucky, 'cause he was a nice one.
But I ain't nice, and I don't play that."

Mike Tyson - the convicted rapist famous for biting the ear off an opponent in a boxing ring, in addition to multiple convictions of assault -  was a nice one? It could be, in the words of McBain, "that's the joke." Or maybe it's just that Tyson was going through a brief period as a hip-hop hero (which I've discussed a bit here, but is probably due for a post of its own). And, after all, this preceded pretty much all of his arrests and controversies (specifically: the cases of sexual assault in 1990, rape in 1992, two assaults in 1998, two assaults in 2002, another assault in 2003, possession in 2006, DUI in 2007, and an assault in 2009), so maybe we were all just a little more naive in 1989.

But the line isn't really about Tyson, it's about Robin Givens, best known for playing a high school student in the network sitcom, Head Of the Class. Well, the reference is of course that she was married to Tyson for about a year (married in 1988 and divorced in 1989, then remarried to someone else years later), backing out of the marriage claiming assault. Apparently Dee couldn't bring himself to believe that Mr. Tyson was the violent type, and that Robin Givens must've been lying and "schemin'" to get him for his alimony.

It's infinitely beyond one line in one rapper's song, though. What's struck me is how many other rappers felt compelled to use the exact same line in their own songs. You thought rappers couldn't stop biting each other's Tinactin references? Wait'll you get a load of this. I spent the last couple nights trying to remember Robin Givens lines, and here's what I came up with:

"So how ya livin'? Like a turkey on Thanksgiving?
Or like Robin Givens?"

That was perhaps the most memorable is Big Daddy Kane's question on "Another Victory."

"It's in my nature to keep robbin' like Givens."

And who can forget the above quote from Rock on "Headz Ain't Ready?"

"Success ain't nothin' without someone to share it with,
Except a girl with a Robin Givens Starter Kit."

Positive K obviously shared Moe Dee's views on "Minnie the Moocher."

"A fat eye, 'cause that's just what I'm givin'. I hate hoes that try to play niggas out like Robin Givens."

Of course, you know JT Moneyhad to get in on this, which he did on Luke's "Movin' Along," the song that reuinited The Poison Clan and also featured Likkle Wikked. I mean, the phrase "I hate hoes" seems to appear in his bars more ofthen than the word "the."

"Like Robin Givens, I'm concerned about your plastic."

Common, back when he was Common Sense, had a little diss song for the ladies called "Tricks Up My Sleeve."  It featured some random female rapper spitting game back to him towards the end of the song, and she tied it all together by also referencing "the head of the class."

"Catch Tyson for half that cash like Robin Givens."

Certainly an unforgettable example is 50 Cent's classic "How To Rob." What's interesting to note is how long after Moe Dee's record came out, this line was still alive. This one dropped in 1999, a full decade later, and it's not even the most contemporary example we'll see.

"Like Robin Givens, skins want to make the big toast."

Maestro Fresh Wes gets in on it for his under-rated underground single, "Mic Mechanism."

"Now you look booty like that bum Miss Givens."

Oh yeah, and LL Cool J took that shot on "Junglin' Baby." It's not about her divorce, though, just her looks.  Is that... better?

"Now you're sayin' I'm missin'
True love, huggin' and kissin'
Like Tyson and Givens, that's the condition."

BWP have some fun by gleefully adopting the persona of a heartless gold digger on "We Want Money," and couldn't resist taking Robin down with them.

"But the bitch was scandalous like Robin Givens,"

MC Eiht jumped on the dogpile on "Can I Still Kill It?"

"Takin' over spots like my name was Robin Givens."

Rah Digga kept it simple on "Break Fool." 

"I'm livin' to destroy Mikes like Robin Givens."

Red Hot Lover Tone adds an extra pun to the concept (mics/Mikes) on his single "#1 Player."

"A Brooklyn Queen rushes Russell Simmons?
That's like Tyson rushin' Givens!"

Pete Nice inverts the reference (sort of) on his 3rd Bass hit "Brookyln Queens."

"I bring turmoil like Mike and Robin Givens."

I remembered Erick Sermon had a line about her, but I looked it up online and it was actually a compliment unrelated to her marriage, "more flyer than Robin Givens" ("Bomdigi"). But then I realized that wasn't the song I was thinking of, so I kept looking until I found the above, from "We Don't Care." Even that, though, doesn't push her as an iconic gold digging totem like the rest.

But I knew there was a lot more. Rappers have made Robin Givens into a hip-hop boogeyman, a legendary figure who could appear at any time, in the guise of any woman, to take you for all your money. An evil witch to be feared. So I went google crazy - in the process discovering that Smoke DZA even wrote an entire song called "Robin Givens" - and came up with a ton more.

"Ain't no room for Robin Givens."

Says ESG on "How We Swang."

"Me so blinded, ain't see the Robin Givens in you."

Beanie Siegel dresses down a "crazy bitch" on "Bread and Butter." Notice this Givens thing doesn't turn up on many PC songs...

"I call it Robin Givens:
Flo Rida extort ya, take you Pinto to Porsche."

And speaking of un-PC, you know Flo Rida's gotta have one ("Roll"). I like how he speaks as if he coined something original, too, deep in this long line of the same simile, and his being one of the most recent (2008, twenty years after Moe Dee).

"A lot of women is real, some bitches Robin Given.
I never give ‘em no liquid, no pot to piss in."

Wale and Rick Ross teamed us to bring us that lyrical treat on "Play Your Part."

"Dodging Robin Givens, balling like I’m Roger Clemens."

And Rick Ross dipped into the well again, with John Legend on "Who Do We Think We Are."

"And the bitch who fucks with my cash,
Robin Givens, I'll whip your ass!"

Kid Rock has a whole verse on "Pimp Of the Nation" going at famous women from Rosanne Barr to Tipper Gore, and of course you know who that includes and why.

"And yes I know the rules: never marry Robin Givens."

By the time Lil Wayne got to it on Bun B's "Damn I'm Cold," it was a codified rule.

"And I see them rappers is actors, boy, they so Robin Givens."

Ace Hood adopts it as a standard adjective and applies it to MCs on "Have Mercy."

"I don't know no Robin Givens, plus we can't get that involved."

Chamillionaire's "Playa Status" was just aching for a Givens line, and it got it.

"Scandalous like Robin Givens,"

Kane and Abel (specifically Kane) cite among the "7 Sins" on their song with Master P. P has another Givens reference on a different record ("Watch Deez Hoes" off his Ice Cream Man album), but he goes the Sermon route by having his guest Mr. Serv On dropping another line complimenting her looks, "I ain't trippin if some hoes look like Robin Givens."  I mean, you know, as big a compliment as a line can be that still refers to "hoes."

"Material girl in a material world,
Don't try to play yourself, you only slay yourself.
So when a guy says, 'Yo baby, how you're livin?'

I'm not livin' like Robin Givens!"

Even Ultimate Force shared the sentiment on their song called "Girls."

"First you look at me wrong,
Like uh uh, no he didn't.

Then you turn into Robin,
Only you start to give in.
Get it?"

Oy vey. Yes, Wiz Khalifa, we get it. ...That was from "Friendly."

"Bitch, I got a sister who schooled me to shit you chickens do:
Tricking fools; got a whole Robin Givens crew that I kick it to."

Even Jay-Z threw down on this trend, on the predictably titled "Bitches and Sisters" on the Blueprint 2. He had a related line about Tyson on "Holy Grail," too.

"The Famous story of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens:
The Biggest niggas get beat Senseless by little women."

Curren$y still touting the narrative on "#JetsGo."

"And Robin Givens, she's still tryin' to play me like I'm Tyson."

Bizzy Bone might be expressing some delusional - even wishful - thinking on "Less Fame."

"I hope you more like Anita Baker than Robin Givens.
No, I don't know that lady, so let me quit it."

Forced rhyme aside, Andre3000 gets about as fair as anybody's prepared to on John Legend (his second appearance on this list!)'s "Green Light."

"Don't diss me, 'cause I'm the reason why you livin'.
This ain't Mysonne and Ness, nigga; this is Tyson and Robin Givens."

Of course there can't be a stupid lyrical trend with Royce da 5'9 saying "me too!" The song is called "Y'all Must Of Forgot," although the correct expression would be "must have forgot ...ten."

"Niggas in Compton'll make your ass see sparks like Robin Givens."

MC Ren represents both NWA and Mike Tyson on King T's "2 G's From Compton." I think. I don't actually get why Givens would've seen sparks.  I get he means gunfire for Compton,  Someone help me out here.

"They momma said,
'Only fuck with niggas that's paid,'
On some Robin Givens shit."

Ho-hum... Bishop Lamont also said the same shit every in rap has else said, on Reality's "Look At California."

"You can take a lot from this mic like you Robin Givens."

Fred the Godson copies Red Hot Lover Tone's punchline mic/Mike pun on "One Time."

"Hey yo, we fuck the mics up like Robin Givens."

And so does DJ Drama's Willie the Kid on "Desire Washington."

"You think you livin',
Tryin' to dress up like Robin Givens."

With Kool Keith, it's hard to tell if he's just being perverse or what here on "Sideline," but I'm pretty sure he's basically just accusing another theoretical girl of adopting the same role everyone else is referring to when they cite Givens.

"The punch line king, on the run from Robin Givens."

No, Lloyd Banks, you can't have the Punchline King title with tired lines like this from "They Love Me In the Hood."

"Getting money like a bitch - um, Robin Givens."

And of course Lil Wayne just had to come back for seconds in order to use it in that shitty, sentence then subject punchline style gimmick that was never cool on the Rich Boys song "Bigger Than Life." Ugh.

There's two aspects of this rubbing me the wrong way here. One is the whole "He Man Woman Haters' Club" feel to all of this. And I'm no Robin Givens supporter - I don't follow all this celebrity gossip junk and I don't think I've ever been particularly impressed by her as an actress. And it's also not like I'm shocked to see a little misogyny expressed in my rap music; I don't even necessarily mind it in most cases (music is art, after all, not an instructional guide). But it's so relentlessly unanimous. How about a little diversity? I mean, do rappers making the reference today even feel like they have a particular insight into the Tyson/ Givens marriage, or a serious opinion on it at all? Or do they just say it because everybody else says it, and tumblr has replaced critical thinking in the 2010s?

Then of course, there's just the plain old, basic "every MC is writing the same damn punchline" issue. Like, how do you feel like you're any kind of pop song writer, let alone a poet contributing to the art form, when you're writing the fifty billionth punchline where the gag is that Robin Givens is a gold digger? Do you really believe your competition is gonna be shook as you're etching that into your book of rhymes? Even if the worst is true about Givens and you loved the line when you heard Kool Moe Dee drop it, this has still turned into a creatively bereft lyrical garbage dump where everyone's biting even the most useless fodder.

For once, I'd like to see an MC take a slightly feminist stance and use Tyson as the negative reference and give respect to Givens for getting out of a frightening, abusive relationship. And before anyone says it, no, I don't know for sure what happened in their marriage behind closed doors, and if Givens' allegations - or Tyson's counter-allegations - are true. But neither do any of the MCs taking Tyson's side, so why not one person show a little guts and suggest the alternative (and seemingly much more likely) scenario?

Or just stop stuffing all their rap verses with vacuous celebrity references in the first place.  Someone could do that, too. But what the hell, at least it was fun brainstorming all these examples. So congratulations if you made it to the end of this monster piece. And god knows how many I missed (please post 'em in the comments!). But before you give up on humanity entirely, let me close out with two nice Robin Givens lines, both from The Wu camp:

"I love my black women, from Erykah Badu to Robin Givens."

Prodigal Sunn on The Sunz of Man's "For the Lust of Money/ The Grandz."  And:

"It was amazing, I seen Robin Thicke and Robin Leech,
Robin Williams, Robin Givens and Meryl Streep."

- Shawn Wigs describing his ideal of "a real award show," on Ghost Face Killa's "White Linen Affair (Toney Awards)."

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