Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This Is Not My Rap, My Rap Was Good

Growing up, I listened to your standard fare for the mid-80s/mid-90s, city-dwelling American adolescent. Stuff like Tesla, Metallica, and Guns 'N Roses existed in a magical cultural limbo alongside N.W.A., Public Enemy, and The Geto Boys. Kids like me heard little difference between wicked riffs and phat beats*.
Axl Rose and Bushwick Bill; separated at birth? Only the headscarf shopkeep knows the truth.

Adults back then were scared. Scared that listening to rap music would turn their kids into uneducated, violent thugs. Sure, some of us turned out that way, but in those instances I'm wondering a bit about inevitability. See, most of the kids who stole car stereos and dealt dimebags of weed while listening to

"Step in my path, your ass is void
Cause I'm an aerodynamic, satanic, schizophrenic android"

were bored, felt misunderstood (even in the suburbs), and wanted to belong to a group of like-minded outcasts so they could feel important, feel a part of something. For the ones who went too far in emulating their favorite gangstas, I'd have to draw the parallel between that and some kid who shaved his head, slapped on a pair of Doc Martens and suspenders, and beat up black kids while listening to 'white pride' bullshit music. Some kids are shitty individuals for whatever reason, and if they're going to be troublemakers, the only element in question is what they'll use to justify it.

I listened to my share of ho-slappin', cap-peelin', cocaine-slangin' rhymes, and I have never:
  • slapped a ho
  • shot anybody
  • or dealt drugs
Why? Because I:
  • don't know any hos
  • don't own a gun
  • and don't like retail
Rap is more easily singled out by concerned parties*2 because, as a genre, the emphasis is on bragging about what you're willing to do/have done/can't stop doing*3. Rappers create conflict, court controversy and cash in on condemnation*4. Of course, being singled out is exactly what fans of hip-hop are craving. Being noticed is the new American dream, whether it's for a good reason or because you entered somebody's pet chinchilla into a wet t-shirt contest*5 (condescending edit: a 'wet t-shirt contest' is/was slang for being shot. wet=bloody. if you figured that out already, I'm sorry for my lack of faith in you.).

"Break yo' self, fool!"

Somewhere along the line, in the process of growing up, I realized that I don't care how tough the people who make the music that I listen to are. I also realized that at this point in the life of rap music, continuing with the same themes, same brags, same 'portrait of an inner-city youth, crawling up through the dope game' narrative is no better than recycling beats and remixing your song fifteen times. When PE said "fight the power", they were opening eyes to the fact that there was 'a power' to fight. The people who took that to heart have been fighting for a long time to open peoples' eyes to the fact that rapping about hustle and including one 'I love my family' tearjerker on your album is like wallowing in filth and then complaining that you stink. The gangsta rappers of today (the authentic ones, anyway) took the message of N.W.A. and used it as a blueprint, when they should have been using it as a warning.

Who'd have guessed that Professor Griff would be the second-most damaging person in this picture to PE's legacy?

While not much has changed in the rap game in twenty years, there are some signs of truth breaking through, little by little. I'm pleased to say that there are some cracks showing in the pimp facade of rap*6 (thanks to Blender*7):

50 Cent is a big, hungry tiger who should not be taunted

Un-hip-hop is the new hip-hop

When's the last time a rapper publicly acknowledged the slim chance he stood in a fight (especially regarding another rapper), or copped to liking a smart, skinny white girl*8?

I think I've heard a Lil Wayne (right) song, but I'm not sure. If I did, it didn't grab me. But, regardless of what I think about his music, and even if he shoots a prostitute in the face with a bullet made out of cocaine tomorrow, I'm glad in this instance that somebody said something unexpected, out of the ordinary and hip-hop.

?uestlove from The Roots (left) having a realistic exchange in a magazine is not surprising to me, but he, and they, damn sure need more recognition.

I'm not saying there's no place for Petey Pablo's crunk party raps, because there is (I'm looking at
your stripper pole, Team Awesome). I'm just saying I'd like my rap to have grown up with me, and started being honest about who we both are and what we want from each other*9.

* I mean kids who were tone deaf.

*2 Haters.

*3 anything/everything/murdering people

*4 A lifetime of reading about Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, and Wally West has readied me for attempting alliteration anytime (see?).

*5 Gaining recognition for killing a chinchilla is only the
good kind of recognition if said chinchilla is breaking into your home with the intent to hurt your family.

*6 So-called 'Nerdcore Hip-Hop'/'Geeksta Rap' doesn't count. Music mags can talk all they want about a geek revolution in hip-hop, but from where I was sitting in 1989, it was
all geek music. Cool for liking rap? Tell that to my friends and I as we sat in the basement, listening to Dopeman, playing the Marvel Superheroes roleplaying game, and avoiding intramural athletics.

*7 Yeah, I read Blender. It's a looong bus ride. Wait, you know what? I don't need to apologize to you! You got a problem with me readin' Blender? In the words of Dr. Dre:

"I'm hot like lava
You got a problem?
I got a problem solver
and his name is revolver"

*8 Who was dead wrong about the Democratic primary, by the way. Just ask Tracy Morgan.

*9 Don't expect me to wait forever, Rap. AltCountry is a really good listener.

*10 Note: I do not, in fact, have a problem solver. If you have a problem, I'll be happy to try and work something out.

1 comment:

Meat Bikini said...

Keep your greasy eyes off that stripper pole...