And finally, this last bit of awesome started appearing in my Facebook feed — at the time, my friends were worried that an Internet injustice was occurring. The arena was the Picture Battle, a rap tournament in which the contestants had to write around pre-set images. The amazing Lauren Flans was the underdog in the final battle against The Computer Nerd. As you can see from the clip, Flans blew the Nerd out of the water — but because he already had an Internet following, the Nerd was ahead right up until the end.
It took sheer grassroots Facebooking, but YouTube justice was finally done, pushing Flans over the top on the last day of voting. I loved her clever lyrics and amazing flow, but I was also impressed at how well Flans shook off Internet haters. So I e-mailed her. Want a quick interview with your new queen of rhymes? Yes. Yes, you do.
Picture courtesy of Lauren Flans
AfterEllen.com: Can you tell me a little more about your comedy and/or rap background?
Lauren Flans: I lived in Amsterdam for 3 1/2 years because I had this amazing job performing at an English-language improv/sketch comedy theatre called Boom Chicago. And we used to close the stage show with this really great bit where we would interview a guy or a girl in the audience and then freestyle rap to them about the information that had come up in the interview. This typically involved rapping about all of the very specific ways you were going to have sex with them via graphic, funny puns and wordplay about where they were from, what they did for a living, etc. So that was when I started rapping on a regular basis, and I found that not only did I really, REALLY love it, but it was also something that I was good at (I think largely because I am obsessed with words/language). Then I moved back to L.A. and became a company member of this sketch/musical comedy group called Lost Moon Radio that is hands-down the best thing I’ve ever been involved with creatively.
And because I had kind of fallen in love with rap in Amsterdam and learned that it was something I was good at, I asked the head writers if I could write and perform original, funny rap songs in our stage shows. So I started doing that, and it went over really, really well with audiences, and so I started getting asked to do comedy rap battles and stuff, which was amazing and awesome. And then a buddy of mine recommended me for Picture Battle, and so that’s how I came to be involved with that. So I’m really lucky that that friend recommended me and that the Picture Battle crew took me on, because a lot of the competitors were well-known on YouTube or in the rap scene, whereas I am not really well-known anywhere except around my apartment, where I am VERY popular on account of it’s just me and The Bunny I own, and I’m the one who feeds him.
AE: But you do have a new album out.
LF: Yes! It’s called 6 Rap Songs That Changed History, It’s six songs that I wrote for Lost Moon Radio, who produced the album.
Cover Art by Dan Oster; Graphic Design by Benita Kim.
AE: So tell us about battling your way to the top.
LF: In terms of me actually winning the whole thing, that was like a MAJOR coup, because the guy I was up against in the finals (who is a very nice guy by the way; we met at the taping) has a HUGE online following. So he had this built-in fanbase of voters that I didn’t have. But I have this amazing friend/colleague/longtime collaborator named Dan Oster (same guy who did the cover art for my rap EP), and in kind of the final hour he created this Facebook event for the contest that allowed my friends to in turn invite their friends, etc. etc. etc. So at the last minute, he got, like, hundreds of new eyes on the video. So not only did I have AMAZING support from my own friends, I also ended up getting a lot of votes from strangers who were turned on to the competition in a kind of six-degrees-of-separation way.
As for Picture Battle itself, the way it worked was that for each round they’d give us these random slides and the beat we were going to be rapping to, and we would just write whatever we wanted based on the pictures that they provided. And so what I tried to do with each rap I wrote was create a narrative that I told through the slides, because that was more interesting to me than just dealing with each picture on a slide-by-slide basis. And then as the competition went on and the YouTube comments got more and more personal (and nasty), I started addressing them/responding to them in my raps because I wanted to be like “hey, jagoffs; I’m reading what you’re writing.”
The fact that people have anonymity when they comment on YouTube makes them feel like they have license to say the most GODAWFUL things, and I wanted to try to somehow hold people accountable for hiding behind that anonymity, because I know I’m not breaking any new ground here, but I think it is insanely cowardly to sit alone at your computer and say TERRIBLE, VERY SPECIFIC, PERSONAL THINGS about people, especially when you know there is a decent to above-average chance that they will read those comments. I mean, I am TOTALLY bitchy and snarky on Twitter and Facebook and whatever about celebrities and pop culture and all kinds of things, but not in a forum where anyone who I’m being HILARIOUSLY bitchy about will ever see what I’ve written. And, honestly, this whole experience has made me reconsider doing stuff like that in general. At least until the next time a famous person does something dumb or a commercial is annoying. I mean, I’m not a saint. Jesus.
AE: Can we talk about the unnecessary flak you got, or would you rather not?
LF: You can definitely talk about that; I think it’s important. Like I said above, I started addressing people’s shitty comments in my raps because I wanted them to be held accountable for the stuff they were saying, and I also felt like I had this cool opportunity to be interactive with the people who were following the battles. So as the competition went on, my raps became more personal and more about what people were saying online than about the pictures themselves. By which I mean I was using the pictures to enhance what I was saying about whatever was going on in the competition itself at any given point. And then it just really came to a head with the rap I wrote for the final battle, which was, like, almost entirely about what people were saying about me and also about YouTube culture in general. I was actually surprised the first time I watched it because I was like, “wow, I seem angry,” whereas in the other ones I think I came off as more having fun with what I was saying. I didn’t realize that I was, like, “rapping angrier” when we were shooting it, but I guess that’s just what kind of came out. I mean, we literally did one take where I was like, “guys, this is the cumbucket take,” and we joked about how that entire take was for the guy who had gone online and called me a cumbucket after the last battle. Which I secretly kind of love because it’s so awesomely descriptive, and I was a creative writing minor.
The other thing that I did to try to hold people accountable was that I started replying to some of the nastier comments that people were leaving on the videos, again just to indicate “Hey, I know you think you can say anything you want because you’re anonymous, but just so you know, I’m reading this.” I mean not the generic ones just saying they didn’t like me or the ones that were criticizing something specific about my performance or whatever; the comments I would reply to were the ones where people would say stuff like “you’re ugly” or “you seem like a bitch” or “you’re a monster,” all of which were actual things that were said. On ones like that, I would either write some funny reply or just something like “OMG THANK YOU!!!!!!!!” which I felt like at least gave me a little bit of power because to me it was kind of like saying “Hey, douchebag, I read this and it didn’t bother me.” Which is of course total bullshit because comments like that TOTALLY hurt and you TOTALLY take them personally even though you know you shouldn’t. But I think it’s important to try to take away the power from the people saying the nastier stuff, and if I have to pretend I’m not bothered by it to do that, then that’s what I’ll do. But to me it was always preferable to respond in the raps themselves than by commenting back. Incidentally, I thought it was interesting that not a single person who I ever replied to online ever replied back, which to me totally indicates an “Oh, no! I got caught talking shit!!” response. I mean, I commented back on some of the nice comments, too, and some of those people replied, but none of the people who called me an ugly bitch monster™.
[Update: Lauren e-mailed me a few hours after this to say...]
LF: FYI, I stand corrected — one of the hate commenters I’d replied to literally just wrote me back! It just took four days. She/he had written “this ugly chick is weird” to which I replied “OMG thank you!!!” And then a couple of hours ago they wrote back “no problem.” Which I have to admit is pretty funny.
AE: Anything else you want awesome feminists/aspiring female rappers to know?
LF: OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO MUCH PRESSURE!! I feel like I pretty much addressed anything I would say in this vein in the above chunk where I talked about how I handled all the crap people were saying. But I guess one thing that came out of this that was cool was that a lot of people (both friends and strangers) gave me a bunch of credit online for “fighting back,” and I never really thought of what I was doing as fighting back; I was just like, “Oh, you said something terrible about me that hurt my feelings, so I’m gonna respond by saying something funny and clever and acting like it didn’t bother me.” I mean, that’s grade school stuff. That’s how, like, 90% of us get through high school. So to me that was just a knee-jerk response, but it was really cool to see how people responded positively to that because I guess maybe a lot of people would just ignore the nastier things that people were saying. Which is certainly an option, but for me it was more powerful to address it, because ignoring it lets it slide but rapping about it or commenting back was my way of calling people out. Also, if you ever do anything on YouTube, DON’T READ THE COMMENTS DON’T READ THE COMMENTS OH MY GOD, DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. I mean you are totally going to anyway just like I did because it is next to impossible to have that kind of discipline when you know they’re out there, but just…just don’t. If for no other reason than they will give you a grammar aneurysm. They will give you a grammarysm. You’re welcome.
Have a great weekend. Get out there and have a blast doing what you do best.