Though hostile nations surrounded me, I destroyed them all in the name of the LORD.
-- Puff Daddy, "Forever (Intro)"
The music itself is halfway awesome but allway fascist. The holy+confrontational pose Did assumes on the cover extends to every track. It's the 2-minute choral intro from "I'll Be Missing You" in extended play. But instead of mourning Big, he's extolling himself as some kind of bedeviled Messiah -- an "Angel with a Dirty Face," to quote one track's title. Granted, this was de rigeur in late-90s rap: 2Pac started it, Ja Rule did it (of course), DMX did it. But when you aren't actually a troubled soul -- Puff was a Howard business major and record exec straight enough to date Jennifer Lopez at the time -- then your self-immolation is mass manipulation.
The skits take some legitimately funny premises from No Way Out, like the Mad Rapper, and blatantly appropriate them. He even steals from every other rapper ever by doing a weird impression of Scarface. Classic fascism. While the skits weren't bad, highlighted by the hilarious "ad-lib Puff," retreading everyone's favorite tropes was cynical as hell.
And, of course, there's Diddy's favorite weapon, the sample. Whenever rap touches into fascist territory, it is inevitably coincident with excessive sampling, like Puff or Will Smith. "Best Friend" will knock your socks off, whether or not you know it's basically a note-for-note sample of "Sailing." He's appropriating the powerful creativity of others for his own gain; pure fascism.
Finally, there's the repetitiveness. While Forever is actually kind of a good album, its droning nature -- within certain tracks, not track-to-track -- is its worst quality. Would-be hits "Do You Like It... Do You Want It," "Fake Thugs Dedication," and "Angels with Dirty Faces" are undone by repetitiveness, but the nadir -- and one of the most droning songs of all time -- is the actual hit "P.E. 2000." The song was 99% terrific, including that weird lady hypeman, but the 1% killed it. GET OFF THAT NOTE!!!!!!!!!!
In this grim and bizarre image, Cube is styled as a top-hatted (!), cassocked ruler of a dystopian hellscape. A tank rumbles through the smoky ruins of a city, presumably commissioned by Cube to polish off the survivors. Cube, meanwhile, is insulated from the madness in some kind of iron structure that nonetheless boasts the ornate trim befitting a ruler of some kind. Cube holds a staff, crucial for the works he'll conduct as leader of this post-apocalyptic world, and with his right hand offers some sort of Illuminati salute. To top everything off, this CD cover is "3D," in the late-1990s sense of "tilt this CD back and forth, and you will perceive motion." In 1998, this packaging was neither modern nor particularly impressive, but it was expensive and maximalist. You wouldn't be crazy to consider this to be "peak CD cover."
Ironically, Cube's persona on the album is the opposite of this totalitarian figure. The same bleak, fascistic atmosphere prevails, but Cube's role is that of a quasi-revolutionary on the run, working shadowy angles to defeat his enemies. With the dubiously valuable assistance of his sidekick Mr. Short Khop, Cube talks surreptitiously on cell phones, gets crippled by an assassin's bullet, and eventually slinks around the United States attempting to avoid extradition. Sure, he enjoys good moments smoking marijuana in the Hotel Niko sauna and owning "a mansion and a yacht," but he is not the solemn power figure of the cover. Maybe the cover is meant to represent Cube's successful fate following the events of the album. If so, it's a poignant reminder that deposing fascism often leads to nothing but more of it.
Certainly, this record label's overproduced, sweet-and-salty blend of pop and rap, ostensibly fronted by a largely anonymous man called "Flo Rida," is unit-moving Big Music of fascist character.
But what really fascinated me was the album title: "R.O.O.T.S.: Route of Overcoming the Struggle." Generally, and especially if you want to harken back to Alex Haley's book and "We Shall Overcome" (i.e., black Americans' struggle for civil rights), struggles are efforts toward some goal. But here, mind-bogglingly, the struggle is the thing to be overcome! It could have been "Route of Overcoming Through Struggle," which would have made more sense as a civil rights-y title. But I think Flo Rida's handlers made a conscious choice to suggest that Flo Rida was not interested in overcoming hardship through struggle; rather, their front man wanted to avoid struggle altogether. Once you have overcome struggle, what's left? Endless dancing, champagne, big DMC chains, and tighty-whiteys on blast. To advocate this vacuousness in lieu of a meaningful life, and to twist civil rights language to push this poison, is fascist. Keep the masses brainless and entertained. Flo Rida is a master of it.
A counterargument might be that "The Struggle" is defined in the bizarre family tree on the album cover, and as thus defined, the term is indeed something to be overcome. But ordinary definitions matter, and when they match the civil rights references slathered all over, it's more of a "struggle" to ignore them in favor of the nonsensical diagram superimposed upon Flo Rida's gleaming torso that says the three paths from "Provide" are "Death," "Recession," and "Survival."
What is fascist music?
In Dave Marsh's 1979 review of Queen's Jazz, he wrote, "Indeed, Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band." No other word so neatly expresses supremacy of the powerful and devaluation of the individual.