So, after hearing the title of Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”—a single from his new album Lazarus, which debuts June 8—a sigh or two would not be out of order.
Indeed, at first, the lyrics don’t seem to deviate from the norm. McCoy, like his fellow rappers, only wants fame and fortune:
I wanna be a billionaire so fuckin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had
I wanna be on the cover of Forbes Magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen
But “Billionaire,” surprisingly, isn’t merely another glossily superficial litany of wealth or women (ahem, Lil Wayne); rather, it eschews the money-women-sex banalities in an unlikely meditation on munificence. What? Generosity? But that’s anathema to rappers!
It’s true. McCoy himself tells MTV that the song, which has a laid-back slowness reminiscent of anything by Jack Johnson, endeavors to “open up the question: if you were in a position to do something with a decent chunk of money, what would you do?"
As for the singer himself?
I’d probably pull an Angelina and Brad Pitt
and adopt a bunch of babies that ain’t never had shit
Give away a few Mercedes like here lady have this
And last but not least grant somebody their last wish
And get this:
I’d probably visit where Katrina hit
And damn sure do a lot more than FEMA did
A philanthropist and humanitarian? Have we met the Nick Kristof of the rap industry?
Well, kind of. The whole song is a proposition—notice that “I would…” and “I probably” qualify each of his brazenly idealistic dreams. And, sure, it’s also a self-serving magnanimity—a wave of satisfaction comes over him as he says, You can call me Travie Claus minus the ho-ho—but McCoy’s message is still a massive improvement over Lil Wayne’s lame sexual innuendos.
The song’s music video, according to McCoy, comprises “vignettes where unfortunate things happen to people and I happen to have the anecdotes for their particular misfortune. If you listen to the lyrics…a lot of it has to do with helping people out, a lot of selfless things. Overall the vibe is real summertime, but there’s also a positive message.”
On the track, McCoy is joined by Bruno Mars, who departs from the traditional rap fare exemplified on his recent hit “Nothing on You” to provide an sonorous melody for this uplifting beach ballad. It’s a song with a simple guitar chord and drum beat—which favorably compares to the auto-tuned-to-death nature of an increasing number of pop and rap songs. It’s a perky song of human imperfection, even in the best of us—he avariciously wants to “buy everything” despite his philanthropic motivation. And, set in an economy barely dragging itself out a recession, it’s a song of creating dreams, outlandish dreams we will never realize, dreams to keep us going, the Aston Martin picture on my teacher’s wall.
Mars delivers the last lines, I wanna be a billionaire/so fuckin' bad, with a delightful resignation, ones suffused with a lush languor and an uncanny genuineness—so much so that the clean version (sans f-word) seems bowdlerized, seems false. Even budding rap stars will never have billions, but McCoy and Mars know this. As the song ends, the singers smile wide in acknowledgment of the blissful impossibility of their supposed goal—but every time I close my eyes…
-Shaj Mathew, Guest Contributor, incoming freshman at Penn