“There’s some bad in the best of us. A little good in the worst of us. A little freak in all of us.”
—T-Pain as Freaknizzle, the Ghost of Freakniks Past, remixes the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in Freaknik: The Musical.
For much of the multicultural millennial generation, pop—and hip-hop—culture opened our often-small worlds up to the hustling streets of New York via Biggie Smalls and sunny South Central Los Angeles via Tupac. Many of us were too young to have known verbatim lyrics from B.I.G.’s Ready To Die or Tupac’s All Eyez on Me. But we knew them anyway.
We also had no business knowing what Freaknik was and probably shouldn’t have been saying, “I can’t wait till I’m old enough to go” to the ultimate spring break destination for black college students in the 1980s and ’90s. But we said that every year, too. (If Tia and Tamera Mowry, the beloved twins in the ’90s sitcom Sister, Sister, could take the trip from Detroit to Atlanta, well, why couldn’t we?)
Now that much of Gen Y is old enough to go, T-Pain, king of Auto-Tune, himself an ’80s baby, presents Freaknik: The Musical (Adult Swim, premiered March 7 and repeats March 11, 12:30 a.m., EST). With an all-star lineup—T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, Big Boi, DJ Drama, Andy Samberg, Charlie Murphy, and George Clinton, among others, lend their voices—Freaknik: The Musical is like an hourlong cartoon music video, albeit too long for 106 & Park.
It pokes fun at hip-hop culture. (You ain’t gotta have no bread, n****. Just act rich.) The film follows the burgeoning young rap group Sweet Tea Mob as it makes its way to Atlanta to win the Battle of the Trillest at a revival of Freaknik. The group’s biggest competition, The Fruit Bowl Boys, is from the mostly white suburbs. They speak without that Negro dialect Harry Reid was talking about yet wear diamond-encrusted chains and gold fronts.
On their long, winding road trip, the Sweet Tea Mob gets lost in New Orleans and is scared straight by Trap Jesus (Lil Wayne). “You talking about giving up your dreams. I don’t really see no reason to let you live.” (How they ended up in NOLA from Florida is beyond me.)
Between all the references to n***as, b****es, and h*s, my ears bled through much of the musical. There are plenty of scantily clad, cartoon video vixens shakin’ their asses on the tops of cars, in the middle of the ATL streets—an apt depiction of the picnic for Atlanta college students turned road-trip-worthy, weekend bash. (C. Delores Tucker must be turning in her grave.)
Perhaps the only positive female character in the cartoon musical is Big Verge’s mother, who’s seen for about 30 seconds. (“Boy, where you going?” she says. “I’m going to Freaknik, Mama,” he answers. “I’mma make you proud.”)
But it is a cartoon, and it is funny. But what else would you expect from T-Pain, the court jester of the hip-hop industry? (And, of course, the “musical” is complete with Auto-Tune.)
The most compelling part of Freaknik is its exploration of class tensions within the black community—W.E.B. Dubois’ “talented tenth,” or the Boule, as the musical calls it, versus, well, everybody else who’s at Freaknik. That conflict plays out in a subplot in which the queen of the media (read: Oprah) is on a mission to stop the revival of Freaknik. Her committee includes the voice of Charlie Murphy, with an Al Sharpton-esque conk, and an unnamed board member who, in a nod to Jesse Jackson’s infamous off-air comments, just wants to “cut that n***a’s nuts off.”
“Anything that’s freaky and black is going to have some type of controversy,” Carl Jones, a writer and executive producer of the film, told the New York Times. “We can’t write around the fact that people are going to be offended, so it just has to come from an honest place.”
Sound familiar? N.W.A., Tupac, and Biggie were just a few of the rap acts in the late-’80s through mid-’90s who came under fire for rapping about their truths—police brutality, gang-ridden and crack-cocaine-hustling streets. Then, civil rights leaders like C. Delores Tucker were on a rampage to get them to drop the mic.
The musical’s premiere comes just as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigates the possible real-life comeback of Freaknik on April 16-18. It’s clear that a new generation of Freaknik virgins desires a comeback. The official Freaknik 2010 Web site boasts more than 1,700 members, a Facebook page has upward of 6,000 fans, and a Twitter page is stalked by more than 900 followers.
New Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says the city will not be supporting any Freaknik festival of any kind—whether PG or G-rated. Many longtime city residents don’t want to see it return, remembering it for lewd activities, indecent behavior and high(er) Atlanta traffic. But Gen Xers such as your favorite Atlanta housewife, NeNe Leakes, have fond memories, and organizers of the event are determined to make it “a legitimate thing for the city.”
All in all, Freaknik: The Musical is a musical nightmare, so bourgie blacks beware. If you couldn’t stand to watch Precious eat a bucket of chicken, this ain’t for you. But if you’re really like W.E.B. and can appreciate his definition of “two-ness”—an ability to appreciate John Coltrane, Parliament Funkadelic, and Maxwell, but also occasionally nod one’s head to T-Pain or Gucci Mane, or, better yet, rap all the words to Tupac’s “How Do You Want It?” then Freaknik is perfect for mindless (or mind-numbing) entertainment.
Erin Evans is copy editor for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.