Making fun of Chester Hanks, Tom Hanks’s wannabe rapper son who goes by Chet Haze is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. The born-with-a-spoon-in-his-mouth Hollywood royalty has been making a fool of himself, talking in hip-hop slang, and releasing bad rap and R&B videos for the last couple of years. So last week’s Twitter war between Haze, and a former rapper-turned-art dealer, Jensen Karp, was plenty amusing, if not exactly uncharted territory.
The younger Hanks had tweeted:
If u in LA stop by the open mic near fairfax high tonight at 9 ima be there blessing the mic with spoken word— Chester M. Hanks (@CHETHAZE) November 27, 2013
Karp hit back:
Your dad was in Castaway. RT @CHETHAZE: If u in LA stop by open mic near fairfax high tonight ima be there blessing the mic with spoken word— Jensen Karp (@JensenClan88) December 1, 2013
Chet is one of several offspring of big Hollywood icons searching to become the next Tupac or Eminem. Daniel Day Lewis’s son, Gabe Day, Tommy Hilfiger’s kid, Rich Hilfiger, and Bob Dylan’s grandson, Pablo Dylan, are all aspiring rappers.
Coming of age is hard for anyone; figuring out your identity and asserting your independence sucks when you’re a young adult living in the burbs. But it’s even worse when your parents are famous and rich and lily white.
Raps Day Lewis: “Call me Gabe Day and not Gabe Day-Lewis / Cause if you're trying to call me out, I'm going to Gabe Day-Lose It! / I know what my name is and I know what fame is / Judging someone for their dad is just as bad as being racist.”
In Hollywood, we watch female stars enter into adulthood by shedding their clothes and partaking in out-of-control partying ala Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan. But for Hollywood’s sons, white male rebellion often takes the shape of the co-option of hip hop culture. Justin Bieber’s “breakdown” has found the previously squeaky clean teen dream tossing off his shirt, donning oversized baseball caps, baggy jeans, and a scowl in a pantomime of many a rapper.
In just a few years Rich Hilfiger morphed from a clean-shaven, preppy kid into a heavily tattooed, weed-smoking long-haired bad boy. It’s no accident that he dropped the last few syllables of his last name and raps under Rich Hil.
The would-be Hollywood emcees have to try hard. Icons of the genre, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West, effortlessly telegraph cool. They are macho, magnetic, sex symbols—powerful and confident.
To be Tom Hanks’s son is to be none of those things. Hanks is the country’s everyman, one of the most liked stars in the world. Hanks rarely plays bad guys or dark characters. As a person, Hanks is considered a great guy, but no one would say Hanks is cool the way even George Clooney is cool; and “sexy” and “Tom Hanks” is not usually seen in the same sentence.
It must be frustrating, then, to be Tom Hanks’s son. Not surprisingly he took umbrage to Karp’s jabs:
@JensenClan88 so cuz my Dads famous, I can't do what I want to do in my life? Nah, that's just what YOU wouldn't do... Cuz you're basic— Chester M. Hanks (@CHETHAZE) December 2, 2013
Hanks has a reason to be so defensive—no matter how successful he may be, any success he has in any field will always carry a whiff of nepotism and privilege.
Karp is sympathetic. “Unfortunately, if you came out and just were Bob Dylan's grandson, there's a stigma behind that and I think that they are just quick to push it away—quick to almost rebel in a sense,” he said. “Like 'I can't fully be Tom Hanks's son and still rap'. Which just isn't true any more. In 2013 we have all accepted that Drake was in Degrassi High, the TV show.”
Unlike other critics, Karp actually has a leg to stand on. In 2000, after winning Power 106’s Roll Call battles for 45 days straight, Karp nabbed a $1 million dollar record deal as Hot Karl. He made an album featuring Redman, Kanye West, Will.i.am and MC Serch, but Interscope decided to bet the farm on another white rapper you might have heard of, Eminem.
Karp also didn’t try to be something he wasn’t and emphasized what he was: a nerdy, Jewish guy living in the burbs.
Karp’s Tweets—which pointed out basic facts of Hanks’ life “@CHETHAZE I would reflect my upbringing correctly, not pretend I was raised like Mobb Deep, dude. You visited the set of Turner & Hooch,” and “.@ChetHaze U went to private school & talk like you're French Montana. Even saying "swagger" should be illegal for a kid raised in Brentwood”— hit on a central issue important to many hip hop artists: authenticity (and Hanks’s lack of it.)
“For some reason Chester has equated the idea that he has to develop this alter ego in order to rap. And little does he know it feels very inauthentic. For him to imitate a gangster, which is what he's doing, it just feels gross,” said Karp. “When you emulate that, but you grew up in Malibu, and you are trying to portray that lifestyle, it comes across very inauthentic. And hip hop is based on authenticity.”
While it’s true that many rappers have augmented their history to seem more gangsta (50 Cent for instance), they know the truth shouldn’t be stretched like taffy (someone will call them out on it), and they adapt to their new life.
“You can't pretend to be something,” Karp said, citing Nas. “You listen to Nas's first album Illmatic. It's street stories. As he got more rich, he wrote songs like 'You Can Hold My Ice.' He wrote different kinds of songs, and that's just who he became at that point. And that's what the art form of hip hop is. It's about your experiences.”
Indeed, perhaps this current crop of silver spoon rappers would do well to look to a previous generation of Hollywood rappers. In the late eighties and early nineties, David Faustino, Brian Austin Green, Scott Caan, and Corin Nemec dabbled in hip hop, with Faustino and Green actually releasing records. Caan’s group, The Whooliganz, a collaboration with The Alchemist, actually had the respect of rappers like Cypress Hill. What made them different from the current crop is that they rapped about their actual lives—things like “paint-balling things and ice blocking,” said Karp.
Perhaps one commenter summed it up best. In a post about Rich Hil’s record, the poster wrote: "Nostra? this nigga probably grew up on a yatch. Maybe if he was real with it and rapped about polos and boat shoes I'd be feeling it more.”