Diss Lyric Video Will Ruin/Save Your Life: A Review & Breakdown of Jo Fre$h’s “Diss Track"
By Anton Bandano
Anton Bandano here, the interweb’s busiest pop-culture nerd. When I last wrote about new Post-Cover rapper Jo Fre$h, I concluded that “in a world currently locked down due to a global pandemic, it seems like anything is possible.”
I originally said this in relation to Fre$h’s ‘unique’ style of music and his lofty ambitions to tour with Run the Jewels. I did not expect much to come from Fre$h. I assumed he would flare out after a few weeks and the man behind the persona, Joey Litvak, would return a month later with a new personality to promote his Post-Cover concept.
Now, I can see I was wrong. On May 24, Fre$h released a lyric video for his latest single “Diss Track Will Ruin/Save Your Life”.
When you hear “lyric video”, you’re probably thinking of a YouTube video made by some twelve-year-old with the lyrics of a song appearing on a plain background and maybe a few pictures here or there. See this for reference: One Direction - Perfect (Lyrics)
The lyric video for “Diss Track” goes far beyond this simplistic idea and instead features countless photoshopped graphics and text to display the lyrics. So saturated in lyrical and visual references, the video can be overwhelming to comprehend.
Luckily for you, I’m the interweb’s busiest pop-culture nerd so I’m here to break it all down for you. It’s hard to put into words the level of sophistication seen in the video.
To recap, Fre$h creates “Post-Covers”; this means that he takes a piece of art (song, painting, text, etc.) and reinterprets it in new and original ways.
Litvak first employed this concept with Corn Puffians, a Post-Cover band of the Toronto-based Born Ruffians. The band broke up in April and Litvak revived his Fre$h persona, originally created in 2014/15, to continue the Post-Cover idea.
The lyrics of “Diss Track” are themselves unique in their level of deep-cut references and witty banter. Like the name suggests, the song is in general terms a diss track targeting Jo Fre$h’s haters, namely his former Puffians bandmate Noa Bonen and his former best friend Harry Myles.
See this article for a recap of what happened, but to make a long story short, after the Corn Puffians broke up Bonen released a solo track and Myles wrote an unflattering (but true) article on Fre$h. This angered Fre$h beyond measure and inspired him to write “Diss Track”.
In the song, Fre$h recounts the aforementioned acts of ‘betrayal’ by his former-friends and discusses his origins as a rapper. Apparently, Fre$h has been “rapping since the womb” (“womb” is pronounced like “bomb” to rhyme with the preceding line:
“Call me Jo, the creator, 'bout to light a cherry bomb”)
and he sees himself as comparable to such artists as Jay-Z, Kung Fu Kenny a.k.a. Kendrick Lamar (Fre$h also calls himself “Judo Jo Fre$h”), and Tupac Shakur. Moreover, Fre$h even sees himself as replacing Drizzy as the “6 God” of Toronto and boldly claims “I write my own rhymes, so I’m better than Drake”. Fre$h also asserts his Jewish identity, calling himself a “Jew with an attitude” (a reference to N.W.A.’s full name) and often proclaims his admiration for the Beastie Boys.
As lyrics, Fre$h’s bars are unashamedly arrogant and his blatant self-absorption is almost comical; you can’t help but laugh at his preposterous claims of grandeur. That being said, the graphics that accompany the lyrics are of such a high calibre that you have to respect Fre$h’s talent as a visual artist.
Before discussing these graphics, I would like to make one final comment on the musical properties of the track.
The production by new-comer Jean Gerome is top notch, combining a rock guitar riff with a solid backbeat and some ingenious recreations of the Seinfeld bass line and Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song. The transitions to these samples are quite seamless and add another level of sophistication to the track.
Now, on to the visuals:
To start, the video has a “PCR Warning” from the “Department of Post-Covers” in the style of the classic FBI warning against piracy included with home media releases. In the ‘warning’, Fre$h explains that his use of copyrighted material in the video (i.e. album covers, artwork, text, etc) complies with the Fair Use guidelines of the Copyright Act of Canada and the US Copyright Act. Fre$h recognizes the ownership of all of the material that he uses and in doing so legally protects himself from copyright infringement while also making a Post-Cover rendition of the FBI warning.
The next slide shows the title “Jo Fre$h vs. the World” in the text style of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Fre$h begins speaking and tells the listener “Here’s a sentence that’ll ruin/save your life” before the sample of the guitar riff from the Born Ruffians “This Sentence Will Ruin/Save Your Life” starts playing over a beat.
For the next five minutes, the lyrics appear in different fonts across various photoshopped images that reflect the references in the words. When Fre$h says “Been on a mission since Corn Puffians”, “mission” is stylized like the Mission Impossible logo.
When Fre$h says “You know the order”, the words appear in blue (“you”), red (“know”) and yellow (“the order”). In the next line, he then explains that “Blue comes before red and yellow”, mirroring the order of the coloured words in the previous bar.
Blue is a constant colour throughout the lyric video and reflects Fre$h’s time with Corn Puffians in which each member embodied a different colour; Fre$h was blue, the bassist Noa Bonen was red, and percussionist Maia Harris was yellow. These colours were a nod to the Born Ruffians album Red, Yellow, & Blue.
There are countless other shout outs seen in the video and unfortunately I can’t break down each one. I’ll highlight a few of my favourites right now and at the end of the article, I have provided a detailed explanation of each reference to aid your comprehension of the film.
When mentioning his comparison to N.W.A., Fre$h begins by rapping “Now I’m no doctor but I got something to say”. A photoshopped copy of Dr. Dre’s Chronic album art appears with a picture of Fre$h in place of Dre and the lyrics pop up in the same font as the original cover text.
Next, Fre$h calls himself a “Jew with an attitude” and has an edited version of N.W.A. 's Straight Outta Compton album cover. In Fre$h’s copy, it says “J.W.A.” and “Straight Outta Toronto '' with pictures of Fre$h replacing the original photo of the N.W.A. crew.
A few lines later Fre$h claims that his former bassist Bonen is “late to the game like Lauryn Hill at her concerts”. The cover of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill appears with the reworked title The Miseducation of Jo Fre$h and a crude sketch of Fre$h replacing the original drawing of Hill carved into a school desk.
Beyond just musical references, Fre$h also incorporates deep-cut film shoutouts.
When he raps “Rhyme, rhyme, jump from rhyme to rhyme, just one, do one at a time”, the words appear in quick succession in red, blue, and white. This is meant to replicate Jean-Luc Godard’s jump-cut editing style; as well, the words are in Godard’s typical typeface. I have to respect Fre$h’s nod to the leader of La Nouvelle Vague (or “French New Wave” en anglais).
Later, Fre$h’s long-lost “brother from another mother” Lil Ryan a.ka. Baby I¢e-T makes an appearance near the end of the track. Before his feature starts, there’s a record scratch and the video becomes a screenplay. Fre$h and I¢e-T engage in a dramatic reunion scene (having been separated for seven years, apparently) and their lines appear as pieces of dialogue in the script.
Baby I¢e-T then begins his verse and his lyrics are in a variety of fonts from iced tea brands like Arizona, Nestea, and Snapple.
He raps “I’m so fresh & so clean/ You might be wondering what I’m doing here, but it’s simple/ Makin’ the song of the year” and the lyrics pop up as song titles on a carefully-edited CD case.
At the end of Baby I¢e-T’s segment, there’s a recreation of the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme and the “HBO Original Programming” intro of a fuzzy TV screen appears. However, it reads “Jo Original Post-Covers” and then fades into a photoshopped Curb Your Enthusiasm Season One DVD cover reading “Jo Your Enthusiasm” with pictures of Fre$h replacing pictures of Larry David in time with the beat. It’s hard to express in words the level of detail in these lyrical appearances and transitions.
For each verse of the song, the words come on screen in perfect time while the music and each new graphic has multiple layers of reference to both the lyrics, general pop-culture, and Toronto culture. The time and effort that went into this video must have been monumental and it comes through quite clearly.
Fre$h may not make it as a poet, but he definitely has a future as a graphic designer and filmmaker.
Below is a breakdown of every image in the video. I first included the lyric being discussed and then described the visual that accompanied it. But do yourself a favour, and watch the film. You won’t regret it.
Intro: PCR Warning
Starts off with a reworked “FBI Warning” usually seen before home media releases (i.e. DVD or VHS)
Jo Fre$h Segment:
A rousing applause is heard as the warning fades into the first image: a reworked version of the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World cover art to read “Jo Fre$h vs. The World” using the Corn Puffians colours of red, yellow, and blue
“I got a vision: Kanye 2020”: A Jo Fre$h version of Obama’s ‘Believe” graphic
“Been on a mission since Corn Puffians”:
“Mission” stylized like the Mission Impossible logo
“Corn Puffians”: A collage of every single Corn Puffians art print appears including photoshopped versions of the Seinfeld logo, the cover of Wowee Zowee, the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign poster, the Netflix logo, the Blockbuster logo, the cover of Talking Heads: 77, and the cover of Velvet Underground & Nico
“You know the order”: The words appear in blue (“you”), red (“know”) and yellow (“the order”)
“Blue comes before red and yellow”: Follows the preceding line and explains why the first word “you” was coloured blue, indicating Fre$h (blue) is always first
“Toronto’s my city, caught it on my camcorder”: Camcorder footage zooms into the CN Tower and cuts to Drake’s Views album cover
“Started at the top”: A puffin with corn coming out of its posterior appears, to reflect Fre$h’s former band “Corn Puffians”
“I’m the 6 God”: Drake prayer hands pop up and the lyrics are written in the text style from the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late album cover
“Droppin’ a bop”: Cut to a Bop It
“I’m Like Jay-Z”: 4:44 album art but with 4:16 in reference to Toronto’s 416 area code
“They call me ‘Judo-Jo-Fre$h’”: Reworking of Better Call Saul logo to read “Better Call Jo Fre$h” complete with the original phone number, but with the 416 area code
“Like A$AP Rocky but I made it my own”: Words appear in the font from A$AP Rocky’s Testing cover art
“Now I’m no doctor but I got something to say”:
The Chronic cover with Dr. Dre’s picture replaced by a picture of Fre$h and “Dr. Jo” in place of “Dr. Dre” with the words “Now I’m no doctor but I got something to say” replacing the “Chronic” text
“Jew with an attitude: J.W.A”: Referring to N.W.A.; the Straight Outta Compton cover appears but it reads “Straight Outta Toronto” and “J.W.A.” instead of “N.W.A”
Instead of the members of N.W.A. staring down at the camera, there is a repeating picture of Fre$h
“I’m melting Ice Cube”: Picture of melting ice cubes with Ice Cube’s face superimposed
“Drinking Ice-T every day”: Pitcher of iced tea with Ice-T’s face superimposed
“50 Cent’s what it cost/ Sounds like a rip-off”: A handful of screenshots from headlines alleging 50 Cent stole lyrics/ripped off producers accompany the lyrics “Sounds like a rip-off”
“You got the Rza, the Gza, and the ODB”: Lyrics appear in the style of the Wu-Tang Clan logo font
“‘Cause I’m a Badass”: Badass is written in the Joey Bada$$ style with the next slide showing Bada$$’s 1999 mixtape cover art but with the year 1997 (year of Fre$h’s birth
“Call me Jo, the Creator”: Lyrics are written in the font from Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin cover and appear over a photoshopped version of Tyler’s Wolf cover featuring photos of Fre$h instead of Tyler
“‘Bout to light a Cherry Bomb”: Cherry bomb from Tyler’s Cherry Bomb cover comes in over the Wolf picture
"'Cause my dad's Slick Rich": Image of Fre$h's father with Slick Rick logo edited as "Slick Rich"
“Yo, Meme Latifah, wanna put me in a casket?”: Screenshot from an Instagram commenter (Meme Latifah) that said “Put Joey in a casket” during the Corn Puffians-hosted Corn Puff Records Instagram livestream festival
“Eat Shit, I did it, guess the poet can Jam!”: “Eat Shit (We Did It)” is a song by the Born Ruffians and “The Poet (Can’t Jam)” is a song from the Born Ruffians’ latest LP Juice
“Got a hit on my back from an ex-band member/ I heard she sang a new song, heard she had a new style”: Noa Bonen’s solo single album art appears with “Noa” crossed out in blue marker and the words on the original cover are replaced by Fre$h’s lyrics
Seinfeld bass theme plays at the same time with the words “Jo Fre$h” stylized like the Seinfeld logo in the top left corner
“You're late to the game like Lauryn Hill at her concerts”: Reworked cover art of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with the title “Miseducation of Jo Fre$h” and a crude sketch of Fre$h replacing the original picture of Hill
“This is a diss track so get ready for just deserts!”: Album art from “Diss Track Will Ruin/Save Your Life”
“Harry Myles betrayed me, that shit’s just not funny/Back in the day, he was my uh huh-honey!”: Cut to the horses and desert scenery from Kanye’s “Bound 2” music video with Fre$h and presumably Harry Myles superimposed
“I got one thing in common with all the greats”: “Common” stylized to be like Common’s Like Water for Chocolate album cover text
“You know I write my own rhymes, so I’m better than Drake:” The lyrics appear in the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late font and the video cuts to the “Hotline Bling” cover art with the words “1-800-JoFre$h” instead of “1-800-Hotline Bling”