originally published February 1, 2012
Today’s seminar will deal with one of the most important poets to have emerged from England since Sir Linchley Hassbrumley of Limerick delivered to the throne his epic Poeme regarding the well-fortuned lad from Nantucket: Craig David. He unfurled this bastion of artistic purity in 2002, lending vocals through his arguably silly-looking jiffy-marker beard, and stunning the world with his viscous lyricsmithery. Behold: the majesty of “What’s Your Flava?”
The opening plea for understanding: “What’s your flava? Tell me, what’s your flava?” speaks to Mr. David’s aching emptiness. The questions are repeated four times, establishing his desire, not only to know his subject’s flava, but to have this conveyed through verbiage, not by any other means. This may seem inconsequential now, but the duality within the forthcoming contradiction is foreshadowed with this sentiment. Mr. David wants us to know a smattering of everything right away, and he’s not afraid to offer so much space between the lines, we can’t help but read there.
On to the verse:
“I met this fly girl in the club
Went by the name of Pecan Deluxe
This ice cream was high maintenance
When I took her out, man it cost me twenty bucks.”
The astonishing array of imagery in here immediately humbles the entirety of Wordsworth’s and Keats’ catalog of verse. Scholars have debated on whether or not the ‘ice cream’ here represents the girl, actual ice cream, or an unspoken wave of nihilistic defeatism that crept into his life like a heavy fog upon realizing that, in a world in which parents are free to torture their children by burdening them with such a name as ‘Pecan Deluxe’, then life has truly lost any sense of meaning.
Why was this girl a ‘fly girl’? Is Mr. David employing the urban vernacular (unlikely), or was she embroiled in some sort of espionage – a fly on the proverbial wall, if you will? What sort of club was this? A Rotary club? A hobbyist’s club? Perhaps ‘club’ refers to a bat, and the ‘fly girl’ refers to a pop fly. Mr. David’s use of metaphors-within-metaphors is well documented. For example, in the song “Eenie Meenie”, the lyric “All of a sudden you be trippin’ when I answer the phone” translates (once the layers of metaphor and symbolism have been stripped away) as a plea for an independent Palestinian state.
Mr. David’s bemoaning the twenty dollars required to execute the aforementioned task, whether it be storing ice cream or diffusing a meticulous spy plot against the United Kingdom, is a powerful remark on the dot-com collapse that had occurred not long before this song was released in 2002. Even his use of the term ’20 bucks’ instead of ’20 quid’ or ’20 bob’, assigns blame for his pessimism on American fiscal policy.
Let us continue:
“Met this chick named Walnut Whip
Nearly made me sick to the point of throwing up
So I called Chocolate Chip with the sweet toffee crisp
And I still can’t get enough.”
Again, we have a bitter lashing out at the then-current state of the American politic. ‘Walnut Whip’, the alleged ‘chick’ that nearly makes him vomit is a substitute for President George W. Bush, known colloquially as ‘W’, which Mr. David clearly employs here as the basis for his guise. ‘Chocolate Chip’ has been thought to be a respectful tribute to future President Barack Obama, however Mr. Obama was not yet holding elected office.
It’s more likely that the latter two lines were in fact a deviation from Mr. David’s thesis, and actually a statement that he was hungry. I base this on both the illogical pairing of chocolate chips having a toffee crisp as well as the uncharacteristically careless rhyme of ‘up’ with ‘enough’.
“You’re what I want
You’re what I need
I wanna taste you
Take you home with me”
Longfellow couldn’t have said it better with a dozen blank pages, a black-breasted Pufleg-feather quill, and a pint of Hemingway’s blood. The ‘you’ that Mr. David speaks of is, of course, the unnamed ‘you’ that represents complete understanding, a higher embodiment of consciousness and an unattainable wisdom. Mr. David himself has said (I believe it was to the Evening Standard or possibly Hizzappenings Magazine) that this is the ‘you’ we find in all his lyrics.
You’ll see the dichotomy I spoke of earlier in this verse as well. He is asking for taste now, for presence – the verbal query posed earlier can no longer be sated with a verbal response. Why is this? From what corner of his super-ego emerges this creeping anxiety, this dismantling of self into sensory isolation?
We move on:
“You look so good
Good enough to eat
I wonder if I can peel your wrapper
If I can be your fantasy.”
Mr. David ends this verse with an abandonment of reality, a hint that he would prefer absolute detachment from the visceral world than to maintain the façade of his everyday existence. This is a bold declaration, one that is augmented by the seemingly arbitrary (but in fact cunningly subversive) line, “better stack cheddar, get more tongue, better than this ice cream” in the second verse.
“What’s Your Flava” seldom gets the respect it deserves in literary circles – even among the scholarly collective of Craig David aficionados. This may be due to its use by the Mattel toy company for their ethically questionable and financially devastating ‘Flavas’ dolls. Pairing great poetry with tween-geared dolls that were apparently designed by researchers who had never actually encountered real hip-hop or actual people was a marketing misstep.
This piece was also poached by American corporation Popeye’s Chicken for a series of advertisements in 2007. This unforgivable act of disrespect (Popeye’s is known as the ‘Poor Man’s KFC’ – Sanders was a Colonel, whereas Popeye was at best a Midshipman) has also helped to paint “What’s Your Flava” in a disingenuous hue.
Fortunately Mr. David employed his thespian skills to bring us a visual performance in video format. The concept is a delightful homage to works of Roald Dahl, a veritable pastiche with more insouciance in its subtext than one might find in the most elevated montage of Eisenstein.
That is all we have time for today. Please read ahead through chapter twelve, and next week we’ll address the expressionistic undertones in Snoop Dogg’s “From Tha Chuuuch To Da Palace.”