Like pretty much everyone else, some members of Canada’s hip-hop community are not sure what to make of Joaquin Phoenix’s latest career move.
The “Walk the Line” star announced earlier this month that he was quitting acting to focus on a rap career. Phoenix then followed that with two moves that immediately achieved YouTube immortality.
First, he showed up at an L.A. club with a heavy beard, dropped a lacklustre verse then promptly fell off the stage. Next, he sulked his way through an appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman” under a pair of dark sunglasses, which prompted the venerable host to crack: “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”
So, is Phoenix being genuine or is this bizarre new direction part of an elaborate hoax?
“I have the feeling it’s some kind of stunt,” said London, Ont., rapper Shad Kabango, who performs under his first name. “That’s my initial impression. It’s just a little too weird, you know? I don’t know exactly what the point of it is, but it’s kind of fun and interesting, I guess.
“Maybe it’s about artists taking themselves seriously and doing things? I don’t really know what the joke is.”
Calgary-based rapper Ricca Razor Sharp – a.k.a. Jonathan Stoddart – says that even if it is a put-on, it’s a cringeworthy one.
“If it is an elaborate joke, it’s still pretty embarrassing,” said Stoddart, who grew up in Clark’s Harbour, N.S.
Phoenix, however, insists that his pursuit of a rap career is very real.
“There’s not a hoax,” Phoenix told The Associated Press. “Might I be ridiculous? Might my career in music be laughable? Yeah, that’s possible, but that’s certainly not my intention.”
The fact that Phoenix’s brother-in-law, actor Casey Affleck, is filming his every move has added to suspicions that the whole thing is a joke.
Even if the new career move is be taken at face value, Phoenix’s prospects appear bleak.
“If it was serious, the odds of him being good are pretty slim,” said the Vancouver-based Kabango, who will perform on the Warped Tour this summer. “It’s not the kind of thing that you decide to try out one week and it works out for you.
“(And) just the track record in general of non-rappers rapping, it’s not very good. You know, from actors to pro athletes. The track record in general is not very good.”
Stoddart, meanwhile, points out that sometimes hip-hop can be exclusionary. He says he doesn’t subscribe to that way of thinking.
“I’m not of the school of thought that only one type of person can make a hip-hop album,” said Stoddart, who will release his second album, “Causeways and Seatrains,” on June 12. “So if Joaquin Phoenix wants to exercise his right to make a hip-hop album, he can go ahead. But certainly, the public has the right to ridicule him mercilessly.
“I mean, I think he’s going to make Kevin Federline look good.”
Kabango compares Phoenix’s rap persona to Robert Downey Jr.’s character in “Tropic Thunder” – a self-serious actor who undergoes skin treatment therapy so he can play a black character – suggesting it’s meant to mock the pretension of artists.
He also points out that if Phoenix were to turn to a rock career instead of rap, “people would be kind of genuinely interested.”
“If it is a joke, the fact that it’s hip-hop music is important to it,” Kabango said. “Because if he was doing Tom Waits covers like Scarlett Johansson did, people would take it a lot more seriously.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen with rap.”
Adds Stoddart: “If it’s a joke, somebody on YouTube will blog about how it’s the most cunning and awesomest thing since Andy Kaufman, and someone else will say it’s a privileged actor that stuck (his nose) where he shouldn’t have, and I would personally tend to lean towards that second camp.”
But of course, no one knows for sure.
“The thing is, he’s an actor, right?” said Toronto rapper Famous, whose real name is Ashton Bishop. “So even if (it’s fake), he’s definitely making me believe him.”