This is Hot Cheetos & Takis. Please watch it.
Okay, good, you’re back. And your mind is probably fucking blown.
Here’s the background on HC&T, which is at its core the best story ever. It’s the product of the North Community Beats and Rhymes Program, which is run by the Nellie Stone Johnson Beacons Program in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If these kids aren’t on Ellen by Labor Day, I’m boycotting dancing.
The first time (okay, dozen times) I listened to this, I couldn’t stop smiling. And then I immediately went and listened to Biggie. It hit me a day later why, but I’ll let Francis Lam explain this for me, because he already wrote my exact thoughts in 2010.
But when I heard him rap about cookies in “Sky’s the Limit,” Biggie Smalls became to me something truly greater than a just a wit and storyteller:
Here comes respect:
His crew’s your crew, or they might be next
‘Look at they man eye! BIG, man, they’ll never try.’
So we rolled with ‘em, stole with ‘em.
I mean loyalty: n**gaz bought me milks at lunch.
The milks was chocolate; the cookies, buttercrunch.
He was bragging about being harder than you, tougher than you, even when he was a child in school. But he was still a child. He loved his chocolate milk. He remembers the flavor of his favorite cookies. The Notorious B.I.G., this spinner of murder rhymes and playboy fantasies, made himself vulnerable. “Sky’s the Limit” is a song about how far he’d come from the street life, but it’s also a song about the innocence he lost even when he was trying hard to never be innocent at all. Under all his bluster, under the killer braggadocio of “Hunt me or be hunted: I got three hundred fifty seven ways to simmer, sauté” (“Unbelievable”), he still had his throat exposed to the world. Usually you couldn’t tell because he was rapping, straight-spittin’, but sometimes, you could see underneath and it was fleshy and soft.
There’s much more in that song — stories of how he sewed fake Izod logos onto his shirts to seem richer than he was — but it was the cookies, buttercrunch, that made me understand food’s potency as a symbol, its ability to bridge enormous gaps between him, his characters, and the listener, whether that listener hustled on his corner or was a Chinese kid from the suburbs. Everyone can imagine the horror of hunger, the anger it can engender. Everyone, no matter how hardened, can remember the foods that defined their childhood.
What it reminded me of was a day when I was five years old and walking with my grandmother to the park. A kid walked by with bubble gum; I can’t remember what kind, but I remember it was bright. The idea of it was so appealing to me that I asked my grandmother to walk over to the kid with me and ask him where he got the gum. He pointed to a store down the street, and I couldn’t get there fast enough, dragging my grandmother behind me.
As it turned out, it was a hardware store that sold no gum at all. The kid lied, for some inexplicable reason. And for about the next two to three years, I became a gum fiend. Mainly Fruit Stripe, some Bubble Yum (never was one for blowing bubbles, though), and a subsequent small army of cavities that my mother was ecstatic over.
Childhood is defined in no small part by food, the flavors and sensations of treats and meals, because you really don’t control what you eat. For the most part, you are either given food to eat or you ask for and hopefully receive it. HC&T exists in that small niche of childhood where you’ve received one of your first tools of autonomy: an allowance. These kids love their snacks because they’re treats, but they lack the all-consuming excess that defines too much adult mainstream hip-hop: their snacks are not what they surround themselves with because their success has led to insane, conspicuous overconsumption; their snacks are what they want because they enjoy them and merely having them is an accomplishment in and of itself.
HC&T takes the vulnerability of childhood and turns it on its ear. Food is happiness. Food that you choose is an indication of independence and strength. My favorite childhood snacks were those little daisy-shaped shortbread cookies with holes in the middle, because I could only get them at my babysitter’s house. They fit on your fingers like rings, and the game was to always see how much you could eat before the cookie fell apart and off your fingers. Objectively, they were crappy, and when I found them years later and bought them for myself for the first time, I ate an entire package of them, slipped over my pinkie, because my other fingers were too big. They were sweet, and excessive, but they were mine.
If only I could have made a video about that.