What Did You Think of “Freaknik: The Musical?”
Last week, the long-awaited Freaknik: The Musical finally premiered on Adult Swim. Comedic and controversial, the feature-length cartoon has had heads talking since its debut. Find out why after the jump.
***When it was announced that this hour-long cartoon special would be airing, I viewed the previews and made a preliminary judgement that minstrelsy would ensue. I later said that I would wait until after I had viewed the program to make such a statement. Here goes.***
This animated hood-toon was co-executive produced by T-Pain (who incidentally plays Freaknik, the central character) and features a slew of celebrity cast members which reads like a list of presenters at the Source Awards. Rick Ross, Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Cee-Lo, Kelis, Sophia Fresh, Lil’ Jon, DJ Drama, DJ Pooh, Affion Crockett, Big Boi, Kel Mitchell, and plenty of others all lend their voice-over talent to the project.
Here’s the story (if you haven’t seen it, beware of the plot-spoilers which follow):
A few teenagers are at a house party (at which the only people enjoying themselves are Kid n’ Play – voiced by the real Kid n’ Play). A creepy, elderly, wheelchair-bound old man – voiced by Lil’ Jon – shows up and begins to reminisce about Freaknik, describing it as “people so inspired by positivity, they just got butt naked on top of their candy-colored cars.”
The people join hands in a seance and bring Freaknik back from the dead. Freaknik proceeds to take over Atlanta, with the “booty levels rising” (and literally, there are mounds of rumps shaking all over the place). He gets the word out about the “Battle of The Trillest” – a talent show held during Freaknik which boasts prizes of money, clothes, and (you know the rest) for the winners – by way of a clever and well-animated DJ Drama cameo:
After that, we are introduced to the Sweet Tea Mob – named to pay homage to their hometown of Sweat Tea, Florida – composed of Virgil (Young Cash), Light Skin (Cee-Lo), and Big Uzi (Rick Ross). Virgil, the group’s frontman and leader, tries to get the group to head to the battle. They refuse unless their “weed man,” Doelaman (voiced by DJ Pooh) agrees to come with them. He does and they head off for destiny.
We are next introduced to the Boule, or the “ten-percenters” (a spoof of the talented tenth) who were founded by W.E.B. DuBois to keep the remaining 90% of ‘down.’ The members of the Boule are spoofs of Oprah, Jesse Jackson (who continuously threatens to ‘cut Freaknik’s nuts off’ – similar to statements the real Jesse Jackson made about then-candidate Obama), Al Sharpton (voiced by Charlie Murphy), Russell Simmons, and Bill Cosby.
The Sweet Tea Mob makes several stops, detours, and wrong turns on their way to the ATL. Meanwhile, Freaknik introduces himself to the world. He expresses a less-than heartfelt concern about the way women are treated, saying “If my heart pumped blood, it would boil right now… but it don’t. Ain’t nothin’ but blueberry vodka in these veins, baby!”
Due to marijuana consumption, the Mob gets lost in New Orleans (on their way to Atlanta). They are held up by a thug (played by Snoop Dogg) who brings them to his boss, Trap Jesus (played by Lil’ Wayne). The group is disgruntled and second-guess their dreams of winning the Battle of the Trillest. Trap Jesus tells them they have no reason to live if they refuse to follow their dreams (and his crew prepares to kill them), prompting the group to hurriedly renew their faith in themselves.
President Obama is not free from the spoof treatment, either. He comes to Atlanta and hands over the presidency to Freaknik (what would Joe Biden say?) in a speech that ends when the president exclaims, “Let’s get this motherf***** crunk!”
The Sweat Tea Mobsters soon arrive in Atlanta, reaching the Battle of the Trillest and facing the Fruit Bowl Boys – their lookalike rivals who were introduced during an earlier sequence in which Rick Ross (the former corrections officer) does a verse about the horrors of prison life and getting ‘shanked in the shower.’
The Boule has one last trick up its sleeve – the Permanator, a killing machine made in the likeness of a newly-deceased Al Sharpton. It is designed to kill Freaknik and goes about bombing the place. The Sweet Tea Mob performs and gets the crowd to party amidst the destruction, reviving Freaknik, who destroys the Permanator. The Mob is then awarded the prize and crowned the winners of the battle.
Virgil tears up the check, saying that material things don’t matter. He begins to ask Freaknik to come back every year when “The Mothership” arrives (complete with Bootsy Collins and George Clinton). They take Freaknik away to other galaxies which need his ‘positivity.’
As the credits roll, the Sweat Tea Mob can be seen taping their check back together.
According to one source, the cartoon was two years in the making.
That’s the story. Reactions range from extremely pleased with the cartoon to utterly offended. Here’s my take.
First of all, let me say that the toon did have its funny moments.
However, we see nothing but stereotypical Black people from beginning to end. Weed-smoking, fist-fighting, and cussing. Every other word is b**** or n****. The drug trade is referred to as a lucrative business by Trap Jesus. The pastor grabs his liquor and ushers everyone into the multi-purpose room. The cartoon is grossly irreverent towards W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (with Freaknik misquoting him as saying, “There’s a little good in the worst of us, a little bad in the best of us, and a little freak in all of us.”)
The Talented Tenth, whom W.E.B. Du Bois conceptualized as the leaders of the Black community who seek to enhance themselves and their community through education, are portrayed as overbearing “haters” and party poopers. Women are objectified. Once again, we portray ourselves as the ignorant, illiterate, shiftless, overly aggressive and sexual, and materialistic – as if we can do nothing other than fight, curse, clown, rap, sing, dance, shake our behinds and drink. In a nutshell, we degrade ourselves (again) as the world watches, reinforcing stereotypes with a cartoon.
I don’t expect cartoons to be socio-politically poignant (although Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks does a great job of pulling this off). However, I do believe there is a bare minimum of respect that we should show for ourselves regardless of the medium chosen for expression. Instead of exploiting ourselves and confirming what so many people (including many within our communities) already believe, why can’t we do something different? Something that is comical without being degrading or derogatory?
There is no reason for us not to showcase our dignity in all things. Until we choose to, the joke is on us.
Just in case you missed it and would like to judge for yourself, the episode can be found (for a limited time) at http://video.adultswim.com/freaknik/freaknik-the-musical.html
Main Image: Access Atlanta