Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a fake hip-hop icon since at least 2013, when the nickname Notorious RBG went viral, thereby finally informing the venerated justice of the existence of Biggie Smalls. But she didn’t get her big-budget debut single until this past weekend. “Supreme Court’s a boys’ club, she holds it down, no cares given,” rapped a shirtless, chain-wearing Chris Redd on Saturday Night Live, while Kate McKinnon’s imitation Ginsburg shook up a beer from the bench. “Who else got six movies about ’em who’s still livin’?”
The song’s the latest in a resurgent SNL genre: hip-hop parody. The past two seasons have brought “Permission,” a rap about consent; “Trees,”a rap about trees; “Friendos,” a rap about therapy; “Tucci Gang,” a rap about Stanley Tucci; and “Rap Song,” a rap about there being too many rappers. There’ve also been musical skits involving Nicki Minaj (joining Tina Fey in a tribute to the soft rockers Haim) and Cardi B (meeting the superfan Aidy Bryant). Some of these songs aired on TV and some went straight to YouTube; many feature Redd, a writer/actor, and the actor Pete Davidson, who in real life record as the Gooney Tunes. Almost every one of the parodies, on some level, told the same joke.
Again and again: A person (often white) or subject matter (usually nerdy) goes unexpectedly hard, meeting with the aggression, swagger, and raunch of rap. Sometimes it’s rowdy emcees who reveal a sensitive side, as when the “Friendos”—three guys in dreadlock wigs who closely resemble Migos—spill their feelings to a shrink. Sometimes there’s a workaday dweeb powering up, as when the timid Bryant starts okurring like Cardi B. The subtext is that rap as it’s typically known isn’t a place for wonkiness, vulnerability, or acclaimed character actors, except in jokes.