This is an image of a fictional hip-hop video posted on a fictional YouTube, as captured from my screen moments ago while I was viewing it on the real YouTube. It's from the opening scene of the video for Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat," a song that plays a central role in the most important hip-hop story of the decade.
I'm sure you've heard the song. It reached the point of near ubiquity over this summer; the simple steel drum beat could be heard coming out of every 5th speaker in the United States of America at any given time.
The video can be seen as a modern triptych that illustrates each of the components in our weird new media celebrity landscape.
Panel 1: The opening scene is set in the "Collipark Residence," the offices of a record label (named after a region in Atlanta called College Park) famous for breaking many of the big "crunk" acts from the past several years. Mr. Collipark sees his kids dancing and singing Crank Dat and looks up this new phenomenon on his computer. After seeing that Soulja Boy has developed a web-based meme, he instant messages the artist. Soulja Boy responds: "meet me at my crib." The message here being, get out from behind that desk, industry man. We've got something cooking over here. This stands in huge contrast to the launch of an artist like 50 Cent, who was famously depicted being bionically enhanced, packaged, and delivered by his gatekeepers, Dr. Dre and Eminem.
Panel 2: Kids are seen watching the Soulja Boy video on a variety of devices, including laptops and cell phones, and Soulja Boy logs on to see a number of fan-submitted dance videos thriving in the wild, without distribution help from Mr. Collipark. Come see me at my crib, indeed.
The presence of cell phone videos is also very interesting. It's the most significant announcement of the arrival of "convergence culture" I've seen yet. The future is here and its distributing itself very quickly.
Panel 3: Soulja Boy dances under very good lighting and wearing expensive clothing. He signs a record deal and gains acceptance into mass culture.
But there's more.
This video was engineered by his record label and it's interesting because it uses the mythology of a fan-generated web buzz to benefit the rise of the artist's mass culture career. Hip-hop culture navigates the borders between authenticity and manufactured celebrity much more precisely than many other underground cultures and this video is a good example of old school marketing and promotion techniques being given a new birth on the web.
But in this case, the fanbase is very, very real. Let's take a look at part 2 of this phenomenon: the fan videos.
Superman plays a part in the original Crank Dat and the superhero motif is where the second round of fan videos began.
Observe, Crank Dat Batman
Crank Dat Spiderman
Crank Dat Aquaman
Crank Dat Iceman
Crank Dat Robocop
Crank Dat "Jugganaught"
Crank Dat Wonderwoman
Crank Dat Silver Surfer
Still with me? It gets deeper. Sensing that most of the A-list comic heroes have been taken, the next generation of Crank Dat remixers begin to wade into geekier waters.
Crank Dat Pacman
Crank Dat Megaman
Crank Dat Transformers
Then we see a new wave of more general pop culture approaches.
Crank Dat Peter Pan
Crank Dat Lion King
Crank Dat Urkel (Brilliant use of the Jeopardy theme!)
Crank Dat Holy Ghost
Crank Dat Homeless Man
Crank Dat Howard Dean
Crank Dat MIT
There's more out there; look around for them. And now I want to do one. (Thanks to ComPromise for the research.)