If you’re not familiar with the song Ghetto Cowboy, by the group Mo Thugs, which was an offshoot of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, you may as well put a shotgun to your head right now. I suppose you haven’t seen Gone With The Wind either?
Because I haven’t.
Ghetto Cowboy is a narrative driven rap song in which several characters conspire to rob a bank in the Old West era.
This is slightly more absurd than the typical horrorcore content of which Bone was strongly associated, in which guys mostly rapped about being psychopathic mass murderers in present day America.
During the 90’s, most rappers devoted at least some portion of their content to explaining how they were a committed murderer indifferent to human life, from Ice Cube and Dr Dre’s Natural Born Killaz to basically every song by Mobb Deep and a large portion of Tupac’s catalog and so on.
Ghetto Cowboy was released in 1998, in the wake of the murders of Tupac and the Notorious BIG.
People were starting to question the whole gangster rap thing.
Firstly, it was encouraging a culture of violence so deep seated that it manifested itself in the murder of the two biggest stars in hip hop, but mostly it had been incredibly corny for many years and was getting really old.
It had turned into a sitcom in its final season, the plot lines becoming zanier and more implausible, more pratfalls, just more ridiculous overall.
It wasn’t just ‘I killed a guy in gang violence’, it was like I am the literal Son of Sam, and it was cheesy as fuck in the mind of a twelve year old.
You could also take the opposing view and theorize that the violence in hip hop became so much more cartoonish so as to separate itself from the very real violence in the streets.
Maybe that’s why Ghetto Cowboy found itself taking place in another era.
Similar occurrences have happened in film: When AIDS hit in the late 80’s it really freaked everybody out. From that point on, until the scare began to die down in the mid nineties, there was hardly ever casual sex in movies set in the present time period. It made audiences uncomfortable.
To get around this, Hollywood began making more and more period pieces chalk full of harlots and bootblacks having dirty sex, because you couldn’t get AIDS before it existed.
Audiences were growing weary of gangster rap, but what are gangsters anyway, if not modern day cowboys?
And bang! A horrible post modern idea was formed.
No song characterizes the fledgling state of hip hop in the late 90’s better than Ghetto Cowboy.
Ghetto Cowboy tells the following story, over a beat mixed with a harmonica riff, a horse snorting, and a chorus featuring the lyrics “Giddy Up Let’s Ride” and “You better count your money” in homage to Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler:
A character named Krayzie “Big Bad Ass” Bone, voiced by Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, gives a first person account of how he is headed out West on horseback because he is wanted in the North for stealing a bunch of gold and cash as well kidnapping, of which he claims innocence because the woman (the mayor’s daughter, obviously) went with him voluntarily, although it is unexplained why she is no longer accompanying Krayzie Bone at this juncture.
(The golden rule of thumb, anyone who refers to themselves as a badass is not. Krayzie Bone further tags himself as “Outlaw fuckin’ Leatherface”, which marks a series of confusing references to pop culture or use of modern day vernacular. Leatherface is the antagonist in the 1974 cult horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Why would a character in the Old West be referencing a movie from the future? Also wouldn’t Krayzie Bone be a really weird name for a guy in the Old West? Were stylistic spellings common back then? Is anyone even named anything Bone? I know there’s a Ken Bone, but come on.)
Krayzie Bone then hears some rustling in the bushes and grows concerned, but is soon relieved to discover the culprit is none other than Thug Queen, a self proclaimed “horse stealer” who is also on the run from the law. She informs Krayzie Bone that she is “down for whatever”, and Krayzie Bone offers to bring Thug Queen along with him on his mission because he could use an extra hand.
(He also refers to her as “Hotter than the barrel of fire.” While barely a metaphor, this could either imply that she is hot as in wanted by the police or hot as in attractive, which would serve to convey a potential romantic interest. It is also gross to think about because she clearly wouldn’t have showered in weeks. Still, she has a hot chick voice, and unlike every other rapper in the song who tries way too hard, Thug Queen makes absolutely zero attempt to sound western and sounds more like a chick wearing a revealing outfit at disco bowling in Sherman Oaks, although she does compensate for this by making multiple references to saloons, moonshine, and other such western things.)
Krayzie Bone then explains to Thug Queen that his mission is to rob some banks, as he has a partner in Tucson, Arizona, who has all of the details of the plan.
(I just noticed that, reading this synopsis, Ghetto Cowboy seems no more absurd than the Cliff’s Notes to The Tempest or Beowulf and might actually be better than both of them.)
Thug Queen agrees to come along, and explains that she has an extra horse for Krayzie Bone’s partner to ride (because she is a horse stealer) and also has as a sawed-off shotgun.
(This is the second reference to a sawed off shotgun in Ghetto Cowboy and approximately the one billionth in all of 90’s era hip hop. Krayzie Bone also makes it known that he exclusively carries a sawed-off shotgun earlier in the song. You would think a sawed-off shotgun would be incredibly cumbersome to carry on horseback, and I’m also pretty sure sawed-off shotguns didn’t exist in the Old West. Without knowing a lot about weaponry, it would seem an idiotic choice to carry a sawed-off shotgun instead of one or two pistols, in my opinion. Perhaps a reader can offer further clarification.)
The narrative then switches to a first person account of Layzie the Kid (Layzie Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony), who is in a saloon waiting for his partner Krayzie Bone to arrive.
(It is unclear how Krayzie Bone would personally know Layzie since he had never been out West before. Now that I think about it, it is also unclear why Krayzie Bone has such a heavily pronounced Western accent since he is from the North. Shouldn’t he sound like Donnie Wahlberg?)
While waiting in the saloon Layzie the Kid eyes a menacing looking young man. Layzie surmises that he better calm the guy down, because if Krayzie Bone encounters him and there’s any sort of confrontation, Krayzie Bone is likely to just kill him (because he’s krayzie.)
The rowdy patron identifies himself as Powder P, a gun for hire, and agrees to accompany Krayzie Bone and Layzie the Kid on their bank robbery.
(The character who identifies himself as Powder P is voiced by rapper eponymously named Powder P, one of the many tragic white rappers of the 90’s. (I assume his name is based on Powder, the movie about the hairless albino directed by the pedophile which came out three years before Ghetto Cowboy. Powder P was a member of Mo Thugs, and you have to assume one of the senior thugs assigned him his fairly deprecating and fairly racist rap name.))
Krayzie Bone, Layzie, Thug Queen, and Powder P all then exchange greetings, and, in an anti-climactic conclusion, set out on their horses to rob the bank (Powder P does not have his own horse, so he will have to ride bitch with someone, I presume.)
This song is fantastic in the How Did This Get Made? sense.
Where to start…
Regarding the Kenny Rogers aspect, the actual lyric from The Gambler is “You never count your money…” as opposed to Ghetto Cowboy‘s “You better count your money.” Perhaps they cleverly changed it to avoid copyright infringement. Or maybe it’s just a mondegreen, such as wrapped up like a douche another runner in the night.
(Regardless, I’m siding with Mo Thugs on this one. Why would you not count your money? Especially when you are sitting at a poker table. What shitty advice The Gambler had.)
While Mo Thugs didn’t technically sample The Gambler, nothing could be more 90’s hip hop. Ghetto Cowboy represented the culmination of a gradual shark jumping in more ways than one.
Puff Daddy, also known as who gives a shit, had already bastardized most of the good artists of the 80’s such as Sting, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Duran Duran, and countless others to make his crappy bubblegum jams laced over with rap. Sampling is one thing, bad karaoke is another.
By this point there were hardly any good songs left to lightly reconstruct.
Nas was down to The Eurythmics.
Puffy was busy rearranging Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder. For some perspective, this is Matthew Wilder.
It’s ironic that many of the songs and artists Puffy and the like were appropriating were, for lack of a better word, gay, and that this wasn’t seen as a conflict of interest given the heavily laced homophobic themes of that era of hip hop. The word faggot was thrown around on Bad Boy records all the time. Whatever dude, I’m not the one rapping over a Matthew Wilder track.
Anyway by the late 90’s there just weren’t that many 80’s songs left, and Mo Thugs hit rock bottom by incorporating The Gambler, a cheese dick song performed by Kenny Rogers, a wax figurine who owned chicken restaurants.
Perhaps this was the last straw. The death knell. There was nowhere left to go.
I picture some assistant running into Puff Daddy’s office at some point in the late 90’s. He screams with excitement, “We got the rights to Tommy Tutone!” Puffy ponders the news and with the stoic manner of Michael Burry in the closing moments of The Big Short, gets up from his desk, knowing he won, and calmly walks out the door for a long vacation.
What is the point of Ghetto Cowboy? Is it a Back to the Future scenario? Is this how the Mo Thugs think white people act in those mechanical bull bars? Is there some deeper point they’re getting at?
Who the hell knows, but this might have been one of the driving factors leading people to favor more authentic hip hop. Real guys talking about their real lives.
Enter Kanye West in his stupid sweater. He rapped about dropping out of college, not about being an insane gang member or a psychotic clown or a mortician. He may have been a nerdy theater kid, but he wasn’t running around pretending to be a gangster like Tupac.
There’s a natural flow to art. Terrible art leads to artists pushing back against what is terrible, which in turn leads to great art, which in turn leads to hacks bastardizing the great art, which leads to terrible art and so on.
Maybe Kiss led to Nirvana which led to Nickelback. Maybe Rakim led to NWA which led to Ghetto Cowboy.
Like when the President of the United States is a ditsy reality show host, it becomes obvious when its time for a change.