The eternal sacredness of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car
Last week, Nicki Minaj @’d Tracy Chapman. You read that right. This decade’s most prominent (and spiky) female rapper used the internet’s trolliest communication channel to make a public request to one of the last century’s most-respected and dignified artists.
Like everyone, my ‘unexpected news’ threshold is pretty high nowadays, yet this still threw me.
The story goes that a beat on Nicki’s delayed-again new album, Queen, is from one of Tracy Chapman’s songs.
So, where’s a modern day rap mogul who desperately wants to dethrone Cardi B and reshape the royal seat back to her own ass groove to go? Apparently, Twitter. Because of course.
Nicki’s request is up against two main challenges:
- Tracy Chapman rarely approves the use of her music.
- Tracy Chapman is not actually on Twitter.
Still, it did get me thinking. I like Nicki. And I love Tracy. So why did my face slightly scowl with discomfort?
Is Tracy’s music simply too sacrosanct to be sliced and diced, even with her permission? Which song does she want? And who is ‘one of the best rappers of all time’ that is apparently featured on the track?
But Nicki knew that we’d think all of that, which is why she asked no-one-in-particular-but-actually-everyone on the social media platform where that is the norm.
Then I remembered. Fast Car, the very most sacred of Tracy Chapman (and perhaps anyone) songs was already pillaged by some random dance dude named Jonas Blue a few years back.
When I first heard that song, I was like – no.
Actually, when I heard En Vogue’s Don’t Let Go (Love) used and abused as a dance cover a couple of years ago I was like ‘No’.
With the EDM-v2.0 of Fast Car, I was more like ‘absolutely god-forbiddingly NO’.
I was 7 years old when I first heard – and loved – Fast Car. On paper, I should have been too distracted innocently ‘pushing it’ to Salt n Pepa while Mum brought in my corn flakes on a Sunday morning.
But Tracy wasn’t like the other black artists at the time. In fact, it’s hard to think of another black woman who has played in the space of such pure acoustic folk music. Or black man, too, for that matter. Certainly not at that time.
The other black artists in the charts at the time (aside from S n P) were Natalie Cole bouncing around a Pink Cadillac and Whitney Houston looking all glam and singing pretty much straight up pop music.
Tracy Chapman wasn’t just not like these women musically. She looked different, perhaps to anyone I’d ever seen before in my young small town Australian life. She had short-twisted afro hair and looked more androgynous than feminine.
My love for Fast Car obviously wasn’t because I was distracted by the shiny things she wore or showed off in her video. It was just Tracy, her casual clothes and her guitar. It struck a different kind of chord.
Just like Baby, Can I Hold You, the Promise and her other songs, there was something sincere and special about her music that transcended genres, ages and expectations.
Tracy Chapman may have even been my first real exposure to politics and social commentary. Although I originally thought Fast Car was a beautiful love song and didn’t realise until later that it was about breaking a cycle of poverty, I also loved Subcity as a teenager. And with lyrics like “we can’t receive any government relief … give Mr. President my honest regards, for disregarding me”, there’s no way for mistaking it for any kind of romantic ballad.
Sometimes when I’m wanting to be provocative I say that Mariah Carey’s Fantasy is the best song of all time because I know most people won’t agree. Full disclosure, there’s a very big part of me that does honestly think it could be.
When I’m feeling like less of an asshole, I say Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car is the best song ever.
I’m yet to meet anyone who doesn’t agree with that. It has endured these years and never not for one second been tiring.
Do kids today know it? If not, play it for them. If they don’t like it, just swap the kids for new ones.
Just as I was going to make some grand statement about hoping that Nicki Minaj does something amazing with whatever song she wants to sample, I just read that Westlife covered Baby, Can I Hold You in 1997. There aren’t enough extended variations of ‘no’ for me to do my feelings on that justice.
I suddenly feel ok with Nicki getting the track. But that’s up to Tracy, of course.
Maybe Nicki could have sent Tracy a meaningful, private letter. Like these ones that Greta Gerwig sent to Justin Timberlake and Alanis Morissette asking to use their songs in Lady Bird.
Or at the very least, find her on Facebook, send her a friend request and then slide into her DMs like a normal person.
Here’s Fast Car, for old time’s and forever’s sake.