Who’s Going To Be Laughing The Loudest At ‘Man Don’t Dance’?

Last year, UK Rap accidentally found itself, after decades of trying desperately to legitimize itself in the eyes of not only listeners at home but across the nation, found a surprising crossover success that resoundly won people’s appreciation and became a household name. Was it an artist from grime such as Skepta or the godfather of road rap in Giggs? Maybe it was the surprising rise of UK Drill as a strange parallel universe to the US incarnation? No, the UK MC that managed to finally break past the ‘tea & crumpets’ jokes on twitter and earn himself massive chart success was none other than comedian Michael Dapaah and his roadman persona ‘Big Shaq’. The infamous bars, initially taken from a freestyle performed for members of the group 67 (who’s own record “Let’s Lurk” had initially popularized the instrumental he rode) and then later done over on Charlie Sloth’s BBC show slowly went viral, until they eventually became the smash hit “Man’s Not Hot”. Currently the record is reported to have assembled millions upon millions of views on youtube and is certified platinum, thus unintentionally making it one of the (if not the) most successful UK Rap records of all time.

A little under a year since the initial rise of “Man’s Not Hot”, Dapaah has released his first proper single & accompanying video “Man Don’t Dance”. Featuring MTV UK presenter Snoochie Shy among other celebrities, it’s in many ways a follow-up to many of the ‘greatest hits’ of Dapaah’s press run as a meme since the initial rise of “Man’s Not Hot”. To be honest, that’s what’s interesting about Big Shaq is that deep down all of his audience isn’t invested in him as a rapper but as a peddler of jokes. In some regards, he’s the UK version of the Cardi B rise to success; an engaging social media personality ends up transferring their fame into a completely plausible and accepted musical career that exceeds the fame of the majority of the ‘proper’ rap scene they never quite belonged to. However, while Cardi’s musical output and growth did occur over the course of some years, Shaq “the rapper” was a deliberate joke that somehow managed to extend so far past it’s goals that now it’s defined Dapaah’s career for the foreseeable future.

In short, “Man Don’t Dance” isn’t fun. You could excuse all the musical flaws such as Dapaah’s more deliberate rap style replacing the off-the-cuff charms of “Man’s Not Hot” with the simple fact that the song is ironic. But a year in, and we don’t have any properly new jokes or ideas that suggest that “Man Don’t Dance” will succeed as a follow-up or that there’s much of a reason to keep checking in on any new singles from Big Shaq. And that’s fine! But the unfortunate problem is that in elevating the career of Big Shaq as far as we have as an audience, we’ve unintentionally undermined the careers of anyone who has been trying to achieve his success off the merits of their music without the boost of becoming a meme. One thinks about Giggs trying his best to finally pierce the US resistance to rap after his feature on Drake’s More Life was met with cruel antagonism only for all of his work as a top tier MC to fall to the wayside of a bunch of sound effects. Likewise 67’s biggest success with the Giggs-featuring “Let’s Lurk” was a triumph for the flag-bearers of UK Drill to establish themselves as a serious commercial presence and put themselves on the map, but it’s successes have effectively been lain to waste by what’s essentially a parody of the movement they’ve pioneered. Unintentionally, Dapaah’s clowning has been made at the expense of UK Rap at large.

None of this is the fault of Michael Dapaah for managing to catch lightning in a bottle with his comedy, nor should his successes both already achieved and further down the line be taken away from him. Yet his creation has managed to succeed in ways that limits him and diminishes the achievements of the many whom he’s playfully ribbing. There’s something unfortunate in the fact that the UK music scene with as much unquestionable talent it has to offer in so many genres and styles witnessed one of it’s biggest achievements of 2017 be a joke. Perhaps the unintended benefit will be the opening of many potential eyes and ears whom were generally ignorant to the scene that Dapaah may not belong to but draws influence from, and maybe international success is not far for some UK talents. However, in the coming days, let’s hope that one day the world will outgrow the need for Big Shaq to represent that scene, and learn to engage with the UK on its own proper terms.

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Published /
June 15
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Features