It’s about time climate change became the subject of a blockbuster anthem — we just didn’t expect a guy called “Lil Dicky” to bring it to us. Yet the comedy-rapper, who has built up a YouTube following of more than 4 million subscribers with a collection of absurdist viral videos and so-stupid-they’re-brilliant lyrics, has somehow assembled a bevy of big-name stars, from Ariana Grande to Justin Bieber, for an Earth Day-themed charity single accompanied by a seven-minute animated short film.
Titled “Earth,” the project functions as a “We Are the World” for the internet age; released on April 19, “Earth” racked up 3.5 million views in a matter of hours. That makes sense — and when you watch it, you’ll see why.
The video is embedded above; I’ll wait.
In case you’re still in disbelief, in addition to Grande and Bieber, “Earth” features the likes of Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, and Snoop Dogg, among other A-list celebrities. They all voice various animated animals — Grande is a zebra, for example, while Bieber is a baboon — who sing about their rear ends while advocating for the environmental movement.
“Hi, I’m a baboon / I’m like a man, just less advanced and my anus is huge,” Bieber sings, kicking off a run through the celebrity animal kingdom.
“I’m a disgruntled skunk, shoot you out my butthole,” sings Wiz Khalifa, before aggressively spraying Lil Dicky’s neanderthal avatar.
Not only did more than 30 celebrities agree to participate in the ambitious effort, but Leonardo DiCaprio, of all people, even signed off on it — and lends his voice, too.
With just a handful of singles, Lil Dicky’s has amassed dozens of famous fans. But he didn’t do it without butting a few heads.
The big question many people now have is, “How the hell did this Lil Dicky dude get Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber to voice a zebra and a baboon — let alone Leo DiCaprio to play himself — in this ridiculous song?” The way Lil Dicky tells it, pretty easily.
“You start with your friends and people you have relationships with,” said the artist, whose normal-guy name is David Burd, in an interview with Rolling Stone. “It’s not that hard to say, ‘I need you on this song. It’s all for a good cause.’ ... Once you have five people, it’s easier to go to somebody you are less friendly with and be like, ‘Hey, would you want to get on this song with Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and Charlie Puth where everyone is playing a different animal?’”
Among those relationships is one with DiCaprio, whom Lil Dicky met through a representative of the actor’s climate-oriented charitable organization, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. After the rapper pitched the song, DiCaprio was apparently happy to come on board — so much so that he even agreed to appear in the video as an animated version of himself to declare “Earth” is “the greatest song [he’s] ever heard.”
Fans of the video’s more mainstream artists may have no idea who Lil Dicky is, however, unless they’re well-versed in the comedy-rap music scene — a space often dominated by white men, which is a hierarchy Lil Dicky knowingly profits from by incorporating his privilege into his humor.
He first released work on YouTube in 2013 in an effort to get the attention of comedy bigwigs. Lil Dicky combined his humor with his surprisingly decent rap flow to produce 2013’s “Ex-Boyfriend,” a song about running into his ex-girlfriend’s new guy. It quickly caught people’s attention on YouTube, Twitter, and other content-sharing and social media platforms, reaching 1 million views in a day.
From there, his profile rose quickly: Lil Dicky successfully funded a tour and album, Professional Rapper, on Kickstarter in early 2014, collecting more than $110,000. Snoop Dogg, Fetty Wap, and Chris Brown turned up to perform on subsequent singles and cameo in their videos. Brown, it should be noted, did not appear in 2018’s “Freaky Friday” without blowback — in large part due to Dicky “switching bodies” with Brown in the video and making repeated use of the n-word with provocative abandon. The video also works as something of a platform for Brown to lament “always being scrutinized” by the media for his very public history of domestic violence.
Additionally, Lil Dicky’s cocky persona as a man both aware and unashamed of his exultant white privilege has definitely turned off critics in the hip-hop world.
“At his best, Lil Dicky crosses Big Sean’s goofy wordplay with Larry David’s satirical eye or a one-man Lonely Island with better flow,” wrote Drew Millard of Noisey in 2014, prefacing an interview with the rapper that Millard called “excruciating.” Millard continued: “At his worst, he is a defensive, clueless asshole who, to quote the writer Sam Rosen, is ‘constantly lamenting the fact that he is not black while simultaneously celebrating the spoils of white privilege.’”
Despite generating this kind of discourse, Lil Dicky hasn’t actually released much music. He has another full album on the way, he wrote on Twitter last fall, and an autobiographical TV comedy in the works that is expected to premiere on FX in 2020.
But it’s hard not to be impressed by the type of audacity required to release an 11-minute, partially animated hip-hopera, as he did in 2017 with “Pillow Talking,” which sees Lil Dicky’s anthropomorphic brain sing-rap about needing to relieve itself, all while Lil Dicky argues with his girlfriend about the likelihood of an impending alien invasion. The video was a $700,000 production, which he called one of the priciest music video history.
And at least “Earth” is out there for a good cause. On the video’s YouTube page, Lil Dicky directs viewers to a website where they can learn more about the pollution and other waste that is damaging our planet as well as ways they can lend support. All profits from streams and sales of the song and its video will go toward the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s efforts and associated nonprofits.
Also, the song is pretty funny. Catchy, too.