Country Star Eric Church Hates Your Hip-Hop Hat and Sagging Jeans

Categories: Strum & Twang
On occasion, All Shook Down gives a listen to the music that is to real America what brine is to a cucumber. This is one of those occasions.

Eric Church, "Homeboy"


There's a fine bit of bullshit in Jay-Z's Decoded, that tony slab of image-sprucing book art in which the man who once bragged about leaving condoms on Nas' baby seat makes so nice that he got invited to chat with Terry Gross on NPR. (He charmed her and probably moved some units.)

Discussing "99 Problems," his bone-crushing masterwork, Jay-Z claims that there's no misogyny intended in the line "I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one." Instead, it's a tweak to his critics, he insists, a challenge to anyone who would ever assume presume Jigga might stoop to calling a woman "bitch." The bitch in question is only a police dog, Jay-Z says, and I'll agree that maybe it is in one of the verses, but sweet baby Jesus, that's a lot to swallow.

Still, there's something fascinating about a pop musician insisting that what's reprehensible isn't the lyrics that he spits but the lyrics the audience hears.

I expect a switcheroo like that might make Eric Church still feel like a good person despite having co-written and belted the new single "Homeboy," which pretty much denounces stereotypical hip-hop/gangsta behavior as the antithesis of everything good about small-town American life.

ericchurch2_h.jpg
Eric Church
The first lines ridicule a small-town loser for his "hip-hop hat" and his "pants on the ground." The second verse assails this schmoe -- the narrator's brother -- for thinking the "fake gold" in his teeth has "the hood here snowed." Then Church calls him "homeboy" -- pissily, the same way people say "Sherlock" after "no shit" -- and reminds the homeboy that "there ain't no shame" in living "a small-time story" out at the lake with "a blue-collar forty."

There's a book's worth of cultural studies gold to be mined from that last signifier: How is one cheap-ass piss-swill malt liquor pure and "blue-collar," while another is the choice of wannabe gangsters? And there's a tweet's worth of lyric-writing criticism to be dug from it too: "Hey, homeboy, 'forty' don't rhyme with 'story,' @ericchurchmusic."

That detail suggests a truth of America too rarely acknowledged: When it comes to poverty, or to drug running (which the song implies), or angry young men turning on their families, the difference between small-town and big-town, between meth and crack, is -- at best -- demographic.This problem perseveres wherever boys face too little real opportunity.

Church's song draws a casual equivalence between homeboys' crimes and homeboys' hip-hop affectations: as if one necessarily follows the other.

But then Church lets himself off the hook. The final verse drops the antihip-hop talk in favor of specific complaints that anybody could get behind: "Homeboy" should be helping out on the farm instead of worrying his family and running the risk of jail time. He should be helping take care of aging parents, one of whom seems touched with Alzheimer's. He should "come on home, boy," as Church sings, cutely, patly, and -- to be fair -- somewhat memorably. It's turns of phrase like that that endear country music (and musical theater) to their audiences.

Still, it's a "99 Problems" switcheroo. Technically, the song isn't about a conflict between what we think of as black and white culture. It's about one particular ne'er-do-well in one particular family. But there's a gulf between a song's avowed intentions and the way that song is likely to be received, and in this case there's no way around it: "Homeboy" certainly sounds like a white dude laying out the rules for how it is that white dudes should dress.

Oh, yeah, there's music too. Bizarre music: first an earnest acoustic Southern rock riff, then plinkety banjo and pizzicato strings that swoop in from an XTC record or some damn thing, then electric power chords and a "November Rain" guitar solo and a general sound like someone thought to mash up the Verve and Hank Jr., just by playing both at the same time.

"99 Problems" crushes it.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Alan Scherstuhl at @studiesincrap, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

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20 comments
1tymcablerunner
1tymcablerunner

Yeah hes talking about the lake and ice cold beer, but to most people that doesn't mean a forty ounce. The reference to blue collar forty is about working if you actually did your job you would have listened to the song, read the lyrics and had a clear understanding of what Church, who is an amazing musician by the way, was saying before you made a complete ass of yourself. Nice job tard.

charles.umberger
charles.umberger

Typical city boy, talks out his ass without knowing anything about what he's talking about. Alan's probably never worked a real day in his life...so I guess we shouldn't really expect him to make the connection on "blue collar fourth" Stick to your garbage Jay-Z crap and leave real music to those whom it's meant for...people who actually contribute to society.

Steve
Steve

it's a blue collar forty, as in a 40 hour work week of blue collar labor. Read the lyrics first shithead

cmz
cmz

You thought Blue collar 40 was alcohol? Undoubtedly he is talking about a job.  Also, this is a song with music that he wrote, not samples from other musicians (rap);  but to each his own, you can have 99 problems and I'll take homeboy any day

John T. Castle
John T. Castle

Leave it to the Village (Commisar's) Voice to try to shit on a song about redemption and non-conformity just because it rightly levels a finger of disapproval at criminality and self-abasement. Way to live up to a stereotype of your own, SF Weekly.

Ericchurchisbadass
Ericchurchisbadass

The writer of this article is an IDIOT. Maybe he should stick to things he knows about like "Jigga" and pop music and leave the country music to the normal folks. Anyone comparing Jay-Z to Eric Church obviously NOTHING about music. Jay-z's music isn't music, it's crap. Rap and hip hop serve no purpose but to spread the gospel of violence, drugs, and other crime. And by the way, "Blue Collar Forty" means a forty hour work week YOU SCHMUCK!!! I swear, people like you shouldn't be allowed within 5 miles of a computer.

Troy24091
Troy24091

wow the lyrics to this song went totally over your head didnt they?

Knivogt
Knivogt

you assume the song implies drug running, hypocrite. Doesn't say anything about that.

Bobthebuilder
Bobthebuilder

A good man never speaks of women like Jay-Z does in that song. Misconstrued lyrics or not, I know Eric Church wouldn't dream of writing with such words. It's hard to hate on songs about hard work and family values, isn't it? Better luck next time. America.

Pimpdaddy
Pimpdaddy

Forty hour work week, knuckledick!

just listen to the music...
just listen to the music...

Country music isn't intended to be very thought provoking or hard to comprehend. It is "three chords and the truth". Listen to the story, understand the story, and that is what he is talking about.

Tylerprice30
Tylerprice30

Im not going to attack, or be vulgar as I wanted to be when I first read your story. COME ON MAAAAAAN! As a blue collar working in the weather (heat and freezing conditions), I'll stick by MY HOMEBOY ERIC CHURCH. No doubt 99 problems was a banger back in the day, but where is this comparison even coming from?

just sayin
just sayin

Did you ever think 40 might mean money, like as in a salary... a real job.

Aaron
Aaron

When he says a blue collar 40 I always assumed he was talking about 40 acres of landAs in I'm heading to the back 40 to go hunting

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

Yeah, of course. But he uses the term in a chorus about sitting at the lake with beers in a song called "Homeboy" that includes references to gold teeth. That's intentional ambiguity from Church, who at times seems to want to be the white Bill Cosby.

ECfan
ECfan

A "blue collar forty" means an honest 40 hour work week. Listen to the song carefully before writing an empassioned article on why you dont care for it.

A Real Country Fan
A Real Country Fan

Sorry Alan, but he definitely means a 40 hour work week, ya know a nine to five. Ain't no shame in a blue collar forty means there is nothing wrong with job on a farm or factory or any other kind of low/middle income job. He also says I can keep ya pretty busy with a hammer and a nail, ain't a glamorous life, but it'll keep ya outta jail. Nothing wrong with honest work. I normally don't reply to this kind of stuff, but ya gotta listen to the story in the song...

40HourWorkWeek
40HourWorkWeek

Country Fan nailed it. How could the author miss that?

Dwayne
Dwayne

Yup. He totally missed that and just made an assumption.

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