Derek Erdman is an artist in a post-Pop, ironically retro mode who dispenses $20 portraits of people who send him a photo of themselves; he has offered to give a free painting of Carol Channing to any citizens of his hometown, Seattle, Washington, who send him proof of their residency. He is also a lifelong prankster—among his many other cheerfully adolescent inspirations is his offer to send “burger bombs” (genuine hamburgers) through the U.S. Postal Service to the recipient of your choice for $14.98.
He has also found a way to use his prankstering creativity for fun, profit and possibly even the greater good: his doppelganger, Rap Master Maurice, will write a rap and deliver it personally—well, over the phone—to anyone whom his clients are mad at and want to alert to the fact. To date, believe it or not, he’s done about 2,000 revenge rhymes—”they don’t take long to make”—and at $17 a pop (though he charges more for friendly raps!) has now reached the stage where they’re paying the rent on his apartment.
Now I have heard, and I know it’s true
The whole thing started a few years back, he told the BBC World Service the other day, when the sister of a college friend of his was being harassed at work by her boss; Derek’s friend asked his phone-pranking pal if he could find a way to tell the boss to back off “in a firm but not serious manner.” And so the revenge rap was born, with titles like “If Being Lame Was Food You’d Be a Buffet” and “Your Brain Is Blocked by Your Gigantic Hair.” Maurice’s own favorite is “Sublet Your Ears,” delivered to a overcharging rental company about their “slumlordin’ ways”; the woman who answers the phone asks him to do it again and puts him on speakerphone so the whole office can hear it (though he admits that their slumlordin’ ways did not appear to change subsequently). My preference (among those I listened to on the site) is for “About as Loving as Genghis Khan”:
Now recently your wife’s car broke down
And she was stranded in the rain and had a bit of a frown,
Your reaction was to stay home and watch Tron,
I’d say you’re ’bout as loving as Genghis Khan.
Revenge: best served in a kilt
To disguise his Derek Erdman identity, Rap Master Maurice has a special outfit for delivering his rhymes: a strangely housecoat-styled frock in black and gold lamé that a guest once left behind at his house—”I don’t call it a dress; it’s a revenge kilt”—along with a baseball cap bearing a dollar sign and sunglasses. He says that while some recipients (like C.J., the object of “Genghis Khan”) have hung up on him, others have called him back and even riposted with rap replies of their own. It would be hard to get really mad at him, though—there’s something almost endearing about his old-fashioned reproof and sense of fair play. And he ends every phone call with “Peace.” It’s the way we live now.—TAMARA GLENNY