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Nick Cannon Defines His 'White People Party Music'

The comedian-rapper-singer explains the genesis of his new album and tells us what wife Mariah Carey thinks of it

April 8, 2014 9:45 AM ET
Nick Cannon
Nick Cannon
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Nick Cannon's first album was a straightforward rap record, and his following two LPs contained only stand-up comedy. His latest, provocatively titled White People Party Music, is filled with tongue-in-cheek EDM and includes everything from a Fatman Scoop-assisted club track dissing people who request songs because it's their birthday to a self-satirical Pitbull song in which the two artists profess their love for a woman named America. It's a spot-on parody, of course, but it's also a loving tribute, and a few days after its release, Cannon – backstage at a taping of America's Got Talent wearing a three-piece suit and leopard-print socks – talked to Rolling Stone about his reasons for making the album, his wife Mariah Carey's favorite song on it and how fond is he of the culture he's sending up.

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So where did White People Party Music come from?
There's so many answers to that question. I mean, I got my over-the-top stand-up comedic answer, I got my DJ answer. But honestly man, I named it that for fun more than anything. I knew it would stir up a little controversy. I knew it was funny – people with a sense of humor would get it immediately. I mean for a black man to make an album called White People Party Music is hilarious to me. But then at the same time, honestly, I DJ all around and in my Serato you name your playlist different things. You got everything from slow jams to trap music to ratchet, 100 bpms. All of this stuff. And then there was a playlist I called "White People Party Music." And I looked in there, and all my favorite songs were in there! I was like, "You know what? Damn it, I'm gonna name my album that."

This was over a year ago, and I just stuck with it. I thought it would be the funniest thing in the world. And I thought, "I gotta release it on April Fools' Day. I'm gonna be in one of my silly characters." I created Connor Smallnut, all of that stuff. I'm a huge fan of everyone from David Bowie to Andy Kaufman to Sacha Baron Cohen. These people who are true artists and not afraid to make themselves part of the art even if it's an uncomfortable situation – to be able to have people question not only them, but their intentions, but then at the same time question themselves and question society.

So as much as I am a silly, over-the-top comedian who would just say anything, satire is very important to me. And to question society – I question everything. I question people's insecurities about race. I question people's differences altogether. And I ask those questions to the masses to make them reflect. So hopefully I – I think I definitely did that on many different levels.

One of the things that surprised me was that the songs weren't all joke songs.
Interestingly enough, because I made comedy albums where it's straight stand-up – I've done parody songs and silly, real, just straight comedy songs on Wild ‘N Out. I've done that for years on Wild ‘N Out. And then I've made real hip-hop albums as a rapper and even songs that are more on the socially conscious side. I was like, "Yo, I want to blur the lines, for a lack of a better phrase, but do stuff that it all comes from a place of fun." But it should truly be good music. Real music. Fun music.

It goes all the way back to everyone from Meatloaf to Biz Markie to the Monkees, people who could make real songs but still have a sense of humor to it and still have fun. Bobbie McFerrin. These are all people that always did great music but were also great musicians and great artists. Being that I am a musician and play several instruments and have been a songwriter and a producer longer than I've actually been an artist, I know how to make good music. Being a DJ in all the hottest clubs in the country gives me that advantage to know, "Alright this is where we are in music right now." I worked with everybody on this album from Afrojack to Rodney Jerkins. And these are cats that make hits. So we made hit records, but they're fun hit records.

How'd you choose those producers?
Honestly, they're all friends. People are like, "Yo, what should you be doing as an artist?" And I go back to when Will Smith was the Fresh Prince making "Parents Just Don't Understand" or Tone Loc was making "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina." That's when I grew up. And we all talked about, "Remember how big those records were? What happened to people having fun in music like that?" And that's what I did, in everything from "Me Sexy" to the "OJ" record to "Pajama Pants" to "F Nick Cannon." All of these things, they're dope records. The song that Afrojack produced called "OJ," that's a dope-ass record. But it's named after  "O.J. Simpson," that's a dope-ass record, but it's called O.J. Simpson, you know what I mean? I think it gives us that opportunity to not be just a parody or a comedy album. It's a real album you can have fun listening to.

Are you friends with DJ Class? I wasn't expecting to hear his name.
Yeah, he's a good friend of mine. I think he's somebody that gets it, too. Whether he's in the club, or he's actually on a record, he knows how to have fun. That record he did with Kanye – the "I'm the Shit" record – that's just a hilarious concept, you know. That's probably one of my favorite records ever. That's definitely "White People Party Music."

We got together, man, and we're actually working on more stuff right now. Probably going to put out his album through my record label, because I feel like he's one of those people that doesn't get the credit he deserves for his impact on our culture.

So what was in that original "white people party music" crate?
Man, you want to know, honestly? Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," "Sweet Child o' Mine," "Never Gonna Give You Up." Man, but so much stuff. Young MC's "Bust a Move."

Wedding music.
That's the thing – if it makes your drunk uncle get on the dance floor, that's "white people party music." You know those songs, man – "Livin' on a Prayer," all that good stuff. "I Love Rock 'N Roll," you know how that stuff goes.

But that music's great. It's timeless; it's fun. Stuff that started off as hood, black people music ends up being white people party music. Like Montel Williams's "This is How We Do It"? Nah, that's white people party music at this point. All those types of things. You know what's crazy? Even Eazy-E's "Boyz-N-the-Hood" is white people party music at this point.

What do you think the factor is that make those songs white people party music?
Sing-along factor, as well as nostalgia. We all come from this Eighties baby, Nineties culture thing where any song that was popular then kind of gets everybody going now. Then there's some stuff that's even timeless, like Motown, or like I said, Joan Jett. Those are the types of things that are like, "Oh, wow, this is the type of thing my parents listened to, but you can't get away from it."

Switching it up, is there going to be a third season of Real Husbands?
Yeah, yeah. We got a lot coming with that. And it's funny, man: I don't even think of that as a TV show because that's just me hanging out with my friends and acting silly. But the success of the show has been incredible, and obviously, you know, Kevin [Hart] is on fire. For us to get to hang out, act silly, and keep our frenemy beef going on is a lot of fun.

Is that real life, the frenemy beef?
I mean, he's probably one of my best friends in the game, but the competition is real, you know what I mean? Even in the comedy clubs, we would always try to see who could get the better set. From there, it was like, who could get the best development deal at a network?

Ever since we started, we always saw each other as marker points: "All right, what did Kevin get? All right, I need to go do that." "What did Nick do?" "All right, I need to go do that." It's kind of that healthy competition where two brothers keep going back and forth. So we kind of throw it on his head and exaggerate it on the show, but it's definitely real.

Going back to what you were saying earlier, the show has that Andy Kaufman element where you're not sure what's real and what's a joke. Where or how did you come up with the concept for that?
It was natural, you know. Real Husbands started when Kevin hosted the BET awards, and he wanted to do this skit with this Mariah joke – because, obviously, I got Mariah's name scrawled across my back, almost like a Cholo tattoo. Everybody's like, "That's crazy; why would anybody get a tattoo that big?" And Kevin wanted to make a joke out of it and put her name on his back and I was like, "Let's do it!"

And we went there, and it was the talk of the entire awards. So it went viral, and they went, "Yo, we should do this show for real." I kind of put it like, "Kevin, if you do it, I'll do it." Then, we did it, and it turned out to be a huge success.

What does she think of the album? I have to ask.
She thinks my music is … silly. I'll just put it like that. She actually does love one track on the album called "Unbelievable," because it's a song I wrote about her. She really likes the song. She knows that I'm a good artist; she doesn't understand why I always make silly music, but that song she's like, "Yo, that's a great song." She actually helped my ad-libs at the end of that. She can tap in when she needs to, but she's so focused on her stuff. Like, "All right, you go and do those cute little songs, I'm gonna continue to make these mega-hits."

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