By Michelle Garcia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 26, 2005
NEW YORK -- The dance floor throbs to the rapid thump-thump of the hip-hop beat. The deejay, Tha Pumpsta, leans against his booth, and a woman slides up from behind, grabs his narrow hips and rubs hard.
Tha Pumpsta hops onto the crowded dance floor of guys in big T-shirts dangling from slight frames and ladies in short skirts and tasseled boots.
"Kill whitey!" yells Tha Pumpsta into the microphone as he bounces to the beat. "What . . . gonna . . . do dance . . ." he raps to the beat. "Kill whitey!"
The kid by the bar busts out with a break-dancing move. Women drop their booties and the guys slide in close. Tha Pumpsta struts around in an all-white outfit from his headband to his high tops, shouting it again: " Kill whitey!"
Tha Pumpsta, who happens be white, has built a following in the past few years by staging monthly "Kill Whitie" parties in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for large groups of white hipsters. His proclaimed goal, in between spinning booty-bass, Miami-style frenetically danceable hip-hop records that are low on lyrical depth and high on raunchiness, is to "kill the whiteness inside."
What that means, precisely, is debatable, but it has something to do with young white hipsters believing they can shed white privilege by parodying the black hip-hop life. In this way, they hope to escape their uptight conditioning and get in touch with the looser soul within them.
Of course, it also follows a long line of white entertainers, including Elvis Presley, who sought to be cool by emulating black culture. But in doing so, he pioneered something. These newest hipsters aren't trying to be creative -- just ironic. And some think he might be mocking black people.
"I'm throwing this party, and it's obvious that I'm white and I'm kind of appropriating this culture but in an ironic way," said Tha Pumpsta, whose name is Jeremy Parker. The 25-year-old takes his Pumpsta moniker from his high-top sneakers. "Kinda poking fun at myself and my origins and white people in general," he said.
"I'm trying to kill the whiteness inside," Parker added, although his blue eyes, milk-white skin and blond hair might suggest he has some work ahead of him.
A melanin-lacking hip-hop party might be a fact of demographics in a few corners of the United States. But in New York, where hip-hop was born in black and Latino neighborhoods, the all-white parody of black culture can strike a jarring note.
A few months ago, 29-year-old Sharda Sekaran was hitting dance spots with friends when she stumbled into a Kill Whitie party. "There was a bunch of white people acting like a raunchy hip-hop video," she said. "I don't get why that wouldn't be a characterization of black people for the entertainment of themselves."
Sekaran, a native New Yorker from a mixed-race family -- part black, part South Asian -- occasionally works as a deejay and knows all about hipster irony. "That doesn't make it any less disturbing," Sekaran said. "Their attitude is, 'It's our privilege to do this because we're in our own little clique, in our own little world.' "
Booty bass is a product of the Miami hip-hop scene that fused throbbing bass with up-tempo dance beats. It was made popular in the 1980s by acts such as 2 Live Crew and 69 Boyz. These days white hipsters embrace the genre, along with many trends of that era, in a city where that strain of hip-hop is considered a foreign creation.
The dance floor at the Williamsburg club is a pastiche of all that was hip and cool in the past 20 years, including faux hawks (mohawks with a buzz on each side), jelly shoes and short shorts. A few young women have permed-out hair and blue eye shadow a la Pat Benatar and vintage clothes a la "Sixteen Candles." As for the tights and boots combos? Think Madonna version 1.0.
Bianca Casady, a multiply-pierced woman with a scalp divided between long dark hair and a buzz cut, grabs her female friend by the hips and shakes her like a blender. She steps outside, catches some fresh air and talks about the party.
"It's about being nasty, people come to grind on each other," said Casady, 23. "It's like friends being sexual with each other."
Casady was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., but quickly notes her worldliness by listing the cities where she has lived along the trail to Brooklyn. A regular Kill Whitie partygoer, she tried the conventional (that is, non-hipster) hip-hop clubs but found the men "really hard-core." In this vastly whiter scene, Casady said that "it's a safe environment to be freaky."
Tha Pumpsta also moved here from somewhere else -- Cobb County, Ga. He said he admired Martin Luther King Jr. and, at age 15, decided to promote racial understanding by printing T-shirts with black and white interlocking fingers. He keeps one of the shirts stuffed in his closet.
Booty bass entered his life in a big way when he wandered into Freaknik, the annual spring break blowout for thousands of African American students. He came to see himself as part of post-racial Generation Y, for whom whiteness was an outmoded, oppressive idea.
In his hipster world, the credo is to use irony to make light of anything "sacred."
So Tha Pumpsta started throwing Kill Whitie parties about four years ago, piggybacking on the hipster colonization of a swath of the Williamsburg neighborhood on the border between the Hasidic Jewish and Puerto Rican neighborhoods. There's nothing subtle about his advertising.
His street fliers come emblazoned with the words "Kill Whitie" across a woman's backside. Another flier offers free admission to anyone with a bucket of fried chicken.
For Veronica Green, who is white, the irony thing just doesn't cut it. She stood outside the club dressed in a flowing orange and yellow summer dress puffing on cigarettes.
"You wouldn't see this in Atlantic City," Green said, scowling at a white crew of hip-hop poseurs. "You have a lot of black bars and white bars and a lot of diversity. Here, it's white kids dancing to hip-hop."
Step back inside the club, and the pace ramps down from an amphetamine-like rate as Tha Pumpsta spins some old school hip-hop and latter-day classics. The dance floor eases into the rap of Brooklyn-born rapper Notorious B.I.G.
So what's the point of all these white hipster kids trying to imitate black hip-hop?
Direct this question to Mark Grubstein, a 36-year-old artist, and he says the Kill Whitie parties speak to something inside of him. "I make art about that, that's my life," he said. "It's based on the idea that things that are funny are the deepest."
"If you don't see it's funny," he said, "I can't help you."