Polyrhythmically speaking, TLC’s “No Scrubs” is a frisky bundle of joy, but words-wise, it’s cheerless as can be. Designating an entire class of low-or-no-income guys as deadbeat “scrubs,” the song obsessively reinforces the bleak notion that designer commodities and the financial wherewithal to ac quire them constitute the ultimate measure of a man: “I’m looking like class and he’s looking like trash.”
Now there’s an answer record. “Representin’ the so-called ‘scrubs,”‘ says the sticker on Sporty Thievz’s single “No Pigeons,” and although they’re brandishing champagne glasses in the booklet of their Street Cinema CD, the Yonkers trio aren’t playas. In the “Pigeons” video, they dress like casual, neighborhood B-boys, while their track “Cheapskate” adopts a proud-to-be-tightfisted stance in defiance of con temporary rap’s ethos of conspicuous consumption.
Basically a cover of “No Scrubs” with new lyrics, “No Pigeons” savagely mocks women who front like they’re high-class by, say, wearing a designer outfit for one night then returning it to the store. What makes “Pigeons” more interesting than the opportunistic novelty hit it’s already become is the smarting sense of wounded retaliation underneath its high-spirited surface.
BET has edited the “Scrubs” and “Pigeons” videos together into a single “sick mix”; if this were simply a straightforward battle-of-the-sexes à la UTFO vs. Roxanne Shante, the Thievz’s jeers about dirty Victoria drawers and mustache removal would be plain misogynist. But class animosity gives the tussle a different inflection, and an edge. It even hints faintly at some dim-and-distant end to the name-brand-fetishizing, it’s-all-about-the-Benjamins era. In the interim, maybe it’s time for specter-of-Marx concepts like “reification” and “false consciousness” to reenter the lexicon of hip hop critique.