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Elon Musk’s Harambe rap is an autotuned ode to weed and dead primates

“RIP Harambe” sounds simple — but what if it’s about a lot more than a dead gorilla?

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

In a testament to the weirdly enduring power of 2016’s mightiest meme, Elon Musk decided over the weekend to turn his attention away from disrupting stuff (perhaps in the mythological sense) and toward memorializing Harambe, the dead gorilla who became immortal on the internet.

The tech scion dropped the track “RIP Harambe” on Soundcloud Saturday night, because if there’s anything 2019 really needed, it was Elon Musk rapping aggressively autotuned lyrics like, “We back in the zoo, thinkin’ about you,” and, “Where my gorillas at?” (Not to mention the recurring theme laying out an unsubtle homage to one of Musk’s favorite things in the world, weed, a.k.a. “strong hay.”)

After tweeting the link, Musk added, “I’m disappointed that my record label failed.” This is an apparent joke: Musk has never had a record label, though he did consider forming his own streaming label; the track was posted to a Soundcloud account for an “Emo G Records.” But is anyone else upset about Musk’s failure to disrupt the music industry? Actually, signs point to yes: The track has been listened to nearly 950,000 times since it was posted — pretty high numbers for a Soundcloud drop — and the notes are full of comments like “this slaps” and “ af pls take me to mars.”

That’s fitting for Musk’s status as a dual figurehead of the tech world and internet culture. Of all Silicon Valley’s most well-known entrepreneurs, Musk is the one who most often straddles the fine line between tech innovation and self-aware hubris, with a side order of social media trolling and problematic behavior — all of which have kept him mired in controversy and perpetually in the spotlight. In fact, as the song made the rounds on social media, so did complaints that it was reviving a racist meme. The Harambe meme got its start in 2016 within black social media communities as ironic social commentary — so there are a few layers to unpack now that it has found its way into the hands of an ultra-privileged white male tech guru.

Is there a greater meaning to Musk’s foray into rap?

To those more familiar with the Tesla billionaire’s controversial business decision-making, his late-night turn to rap may seem out of step. But this is actually an unsurprising, if still inexplicable, move — the ever-eccentric Musk has always been a lover of memes.

So does this mean the Harambe meme is in play once more? Or is Musk just now getting around to the 2016 tribute of his dreams? We can understand if it’s the latter case — what with sending Teslas to Mars and fighting the Securities and Exchange Commission and Azealia Banks and his own employees and all, it’s possible he’s had “rap about Harambe” on his long to-do list and has only now been able to check it off.

I’ll admit here to having a “maybe there’s more to this” moment and going down a brief, far-flung rabbit hole about a possible connection between Elon Musk and Cincinnati, in order to parse why Musk might have his sights set on Harambe at the moment. Here’s my best shot at a Muskspiracy: You may recall that Harambe resided in the Cincinnati Zoo — the now-infamous location where the veteran gorilla was shot after a toddler climbed into his reserve, in one of the most controversial moments of 2016.

Cincinnati is also home to the University of Cincinnati (UC), which has gone all-in for the past few years to build a prototype for a Musk invention called the hyperloop. The hyperloop is a concept for a magnetically levitating, tunnel-bound high-speed train — theoretically designed to zoom across the nation at 760 mph. Musk first proposed the hyperloop theory in 2013 and open-sourced his plan in order to get an “all scientists on deck” thing going. In 2016, the UC team managed to create the first actual levitating hyperloop train pod. But while they got their hyperloop pod to levitate, the team ultimately didn’t win Musk’s international contest to produce the fastest machine.

Still, Cincinnati’s dedication to the cause of the hyperloop is so firm that the region’s urban planning agency is involved with a Midwest consortium hoping to make the city a major stop along one of several different proposed “loops” for the hyperloop, which are currently being developed by various companies. The loop would be the network of magnetic tracks that versions of the hyperloop could theoretically run on throughout the US. The consortium is working with a company called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies to develop a route for the train that would run between Chicago and Cincinnati in under 30 minutes. (That would shave half an hour off of a plane ride and four hours off a drive.)

Is there a hint that Musk is thinking about the city’s potential as a hyperloop destination point embedded in this otherwise bucolic ode to Harambe? Or am I just, in the immortal words of Musk, “sipping on some bomb hay”? Given Musk’s track record for randomness and trickster shenanigans, the world may never know — but he’s undoubtedly given us plenty to contemplate. Harambe would approve.