Why your view on hip-hop should change
Los Angeles is one of the several U.S. centres synonymous with the American dream, a city wealthy with good weather, great beaches and at the forefront of culture and the arts. However, wandering further into the suburbs of these glorious cities, here we find the undesirable neighbourhoods, of which the rich attempt to mask and even fear, filled with the poverty and hustling of the American reality-a shadow of a fake dream.
The lives of these people emerging from these suburbs set up the platform for the mafioso rap of New York and the gangsta rap of the West Coast, the involvement of dominant red and blue culture in stories of guns and grit, but the novelty of shadows from the suburbs being successful and ‘plaguing the minds of children’ led to hip hop being transformed into a scapegoat, thrown into the lion’s den of political correctness and radio airplay.
Even the gold dust records for the NY hip hop nerd, namely the classics (‘Illmatic’, ‘The Infamous’, ‘Ready to Die’) have been taken apart by social critics in admiration and others by criticism, these critics screaming of how a foulmouth gun-slinger can even be considered to have artistic prowess. How do these disses amount to the poetic ability of Kurt Cobain’s Reading acoustics or even dare to shadow Grandmaster Flash’s golden age of anti-drugs and anti-violence?
My answer, of which I’ll relentlessly stand by, is that artistic prowess, true talent, is not a matter of moral compass, whether the artist is a criminal or a Nobel Laureate, it’s a matter of the reality that they have been immersed in-for example, you can’t expect a man who spent thirty years in a maze to come out and not talk about the maze, right?
People never realised that jazz artists like Miles Davis, hard funk from James Brown and Kool Herc, even The Beatles or Elvis (Chuck D from Public Enemy even stated that he had regretted his previous attitudes towards Elvis in ‘Fight the Power’, citing his respect for Elvis’ influence on the culture) have influenced the way hip hop morphs over generations, and tracing back to the real roots in the 1970s, Gil Scott-Heron, one of the several founders of the culture, was in fact a social critic himself, a political activist, not a ‘gun-slinger’ or what people would have thought was the epitome of gangsta vice.
Even Kanye West, who many would say is their most hated popular celebrity of our time, is a cultural genius, one of the greatest artists to ever do it (in my opinion, sounds crazily exaggerated but there you go). The guy who apparently raps about the most trivial, irrelevant garbage that would take two seconds to write, when at his peak (‘Yeezus’, ‘MBDTF’, ‘Late Registration’), is sampling King Crimson back from 1969 and church Masses. Here is a man who is a victim of hip hop being sectioned out as the wrong way to go, and because he is relentlessly unashamed of being a anti-mainstream figure defending his artistry, he becomes the aim for every paparazzo to target.
Further along the Atlantic, somewhere in East London, an 18-year-old Dizzee Rascal was growing up surrounded by samples of jungle, garage and armed with an ear accustomed to Rinse FM, and in the process made the bar to reach for not only any other grime MC, but for most other UK artists, and of them few could reach the standard of his debut release ‘Boy in da Corner’. His bars were pretty simplistic and blunt, screaming over sharp sonic and unconventional vocals, but he produced an album that was just as electronically sophisticated as any one of Brian Eno’s ambient works. Dizzee Rascal is an example of not just how the most complex content can be found in an urban hip-hop album, but also a mourning for the state of politics, his own insecurity in the streets, his fear for his brothers and sisters, similar to that of some ancient critic.
And of course, Madvillain.
Madlib and MF Doom attempted, and succeeded, in their attempt to make hip hop not only intelligent, but every verse a work of literary genius. DOOM is a sarcastic joker, the master of the right words, and Madlib is his shadow daring to take the limelight at times even though he hates it, seeking to educate the youth with music that he grabs from the abyss of irrelevancy and makes it so relevant. Dumile has gone through as much hardship as Nick Drake and has struggled with his vices like Hendrix, but through Madvillain, hip hop is this wondrous plateau where he can say anything he wants, say it how he wants it and releases insanity that, sure, gets the moral compass doing a full 360 with how immoral he spits, but also is riddled with honesty hardfound in any mainstream-appropriate albums.
And that’s why your view on hip should change.