New Zealand’s fourth-most-popular folk duo has made a career out of writing send-ups of easily recognized music genres: the power ballad (“I’m Not Crying”), a sexy pop effort (“Business Time”), a Bee Gees worthy outing (“Ladies Of The World”), futuristic tracks (“The Humans Are Dead”), even Bowie songs (“Bowie”). While so many of these creations by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are exemplary, the duo’s rap departure “Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros” may be its finest effort thus far.
The “Vs.” in the title is deceptive, as the Hiphopopotamus (Clement) and Rhymenoceros (McKenzie) only have each other on their side; in their rap battle, they’re not battling each other, but a world that doesn’t want them to rap about their nana’s tea party. They portray rappers who lack both women and money (says the Rhymenocerous: “”If you rap like me you don’t get paid / And if you roll like me you don’t get laid.”), the extreme opposite of the typical rap song. Meanwhile, they take on other rappers who systematically disparage them. (“Why, exactly?” “Be more constructive with your feedback, please”), as the Hiphopopotamus fumbles his first time out. (“I’m the Hiphopopotamus / My lyrics are bottomless/ [Silence.]”) Although he then boasts that his rhymes “are so potent I made all the ladies in the area pregnant”, he immediately backtracks for being sexist.
By the end of “HVR,” the Conchords have dismantled a variety of rap-song tropes, against a background that’s catchy as hell to boot. There aren’t many rap songs that sound best on acoustic guitars, but that’s where the duo created the effort, and the live version offers a special (and especially painful) freestyle section. The Conchords’ hilarious dry satire layered on top of hook-heavy pop songs has been missed since the pair’s HBO series wrapped up a few years ago, making us extremely grateful that the duo has announced a new tour for this summer.