Rapper Wiz Khalifa is a mere three years my junior. What this means, perhaps of more importance than any other similarity, is that he and I shared a significant adolescent infatuation with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
None of us were immune.
Turtle action figures were a mainstay across many a basement rec-room, and every kid I knew found a turtle personality to attach themselves to. (Interestingly, Khalifa has claimed Donatello, though his weed-centric persona suggests more of a Michelangelo affinity; the lack of self-awareness in the square kids who claimed Raphael or the introverted kids who claimed Leonardo always seemed so strange to me.)
This means too that Khalifa, in all likelihood, had a cassette of Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" from 1991's TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze soundtrack, and likely played it until it was unplayable. But here's where Khalifa, as he has in almost every other way, has surpassed me: He snagged the honor of recording the modern incarnation of Ice's track, the Juicy J- and Ty Dolla $ign-featuring "Shell-Shocked."
To be clear, "Ninja Rap" is a terrible, terrible song. "In it to win it with a team of four," Ice raps at one point, "Ninja Turtles that you gotta adore," and your already-wincing face mutates into something well past a grimace. But I'd be lying if I said there wasn't something in that "Go ninja, go ninja, go!" chorus that doesn't hit me in the kid portion of my brain that's remained immune to ironic distancing, or that the "funky" easiness of the rhymes isn't mildly pleasurable, like really nailing the Junior Jumble word game in the newspaper.
The problem is that Khalifa -- a good if perhaps not great rapper, with a keen sense of what makes hooky ear candy and by all rights the perfect person to record this generation's "Ninja Rap" -- kind of phones it in. The older Juicy J, who has the pleasure of rapping the first verse of "Shell Shocked," seems to get the stupid-fun nature of what's to be done here: "You know I got your back, just like a turtle shell," he says, and it's dumb and funny and perfect all at once.
But when it gets to Khalifa's verse, he's rapping about his brothers being by his side. That's a vital element of the Turtle ethos, I guess I'd agree if you twisted my arm, but shouldn't the dude be talking about pizza and shit? The chorus -- "knock, knock, you about to get shell shocked" -- reads like it might be as good as Ice's, but in practice it's tepid and dull, a little too chorus-by-committee. I can't see any kids rocking this the way that "Ninja Rap" had taken a near-permanent residence in my tape player.
All of this is, of course, far more thought than such throwaway entertainment warrants, and I'm willing to allow that my preference for the much-worse rapper's track is revisionist and wrong. But I maintain that Khalifa's verse on "Shell Shocked" should've gone to the shredder.
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