Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This just in: Hip Hop is not the "pet rock"(Vibe.com)

Outside of the many occasions I've taken it upon myself to channel great thespians of yesteryear like Marlon Brando and Lawrence Olivier while trying to convince some perceptive female that she was indeed my one and only - the sole achievement on my acting resume was the theatrical tour de force that I gave when I played "Biff Loman" in the classic "Death of a Salesman" in junior high. Yes, my acting resume is actually thinner than Chris Tucker's, but that hasn't stopped daydreams of one day seeing my government name in lights one iota. Sometimes when I stare off into space I envision my screenwriting ambition finally playing out, an overweight, cigar smoking studio head taking a herculean gamble on me and making it his business to get my vision realized on the big screen - then my mind automatically skips a few steps and places me on stage giving my Oscar acceptance speech of all places. Tears flowing down my face as I nervously wave to Kate Winslet in the crowd while telling the actress that I absolutely adore her work, and after thanking the woman who almost died having me and the big guy upstairs who died for all of our sins - I then proceed to take a not too subtle shot at Tyler Perry - admitting that I chose actors who were previously in his movies just so they would have the golden opportunity of washing that subsequent stink off of them. Then I grab the Oscar, confidently walk to the middle of the stage, then begin a series of misguided poses in my toughest B-Boy stance until the commercial break fades my chubby visage to black.

Another daydream I have is being on James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio". As I confide in the Dean of the Actors Studio Drama School while sitting in front of a couple hundred impressionable students, all hanging on my every syllable, the following things are revealed: I matter-of-factly let everyone in on the fact that my writing style comes from years of being a frustrated MC.- I proceed to tell extremely interesting back-stories about all the movies I had written up until that point. - Then, what would turn out to be an accidental youtube moment, I desperately try to suppress the lump in my throat while telling every one within earshot that my father continuously told me that I'd never amount to anything. Hell, I even have the answers to James Lipton's "Bernard Pivot" inspired questionnaire committed to memory. Favorite word? "Douchebag" What turns you on? "Janeane Garofalo's sarcasm, and the thought of phenomenally sloppy oral Fantasia must give" In my head I effortlessly slice and dice through the rather pedestrian questions like a Hibachi chef on adderall, but I've always been rather uneasy about the answer that I give to the question "What profession would you not like to do?" For years "Radio Disc Jockey" has been my stock answer, but it never quite felt right - that was until I talked to my friend Mitch a few days ago.

Mitch is an old friend of mine who happens to be a popular DJ at a local radio station, and until recently we were still friends despite the fact that initially I tried to dissuade him from taking that god forsaken job in the first place. See, Mitch and I grew up together and I know firsthand that he has the same Hip Hop snob capillaries effortlessly flowing through his veins that I do - it was just my sincere belief that spinning records that you secretly loathe would cause a person to do either one of two things: Cause a normally sane individual to slowly slip into madness after a week or so, resulting in the studio walls being painted in decorative brain matter right in the middle of a mid-day Jim Jones segment - or it forces people with usually good tastes in music to do what a lot of folks find themselves doing when their livelihood depend on it, they proceed to wade through the muck and mire of sub par Hip Hop and trick themselves into actually liking the diseased bile that the play. For a while my friend seemed to defy the odds, we still cherished the same Hip Hop and his contempt for the "music" that he played and the people who requested it was at an all time high - he seemed to successfully avoid both self-euthanasia and becoming one of those old school enablers of bad Hip Hop that we historically detest as much as black republicans and women who refuse to give head. So I thought.

Last week, as he found himself on the business end of yet another one of my self righteous rants about the state of Hip Hop, he very casually interrupted me and said "You know, working at the station I've come to the realization that this Hip Hop shit is generational." Hoping that he wasn't going where I thought he was going, I probed further, asking "What do you mean?" He responded, "Listen, its not that the new stuff is particularly bad mind you, its simply a new era. Our grandparents didn't like our parents music, our parents didn't like our music, and we take issue with the music of today. Its just a continuous cycle, a passing trend of sorts - we just have to stop looking at Hip Hop through rose colored glasses." Suddenly the feeling I got when my father flat-lined ushered itself back inside my body, I flashed that same thousand yard stare that appeared on my face when my ex-girlfriend told me to pack my shit because she was leaving me for a monosyllabic MC with the I.Q of most lunch meats. That said, before I could unleash the fury on my good friend who obviously turned out to be lobotomized like so many others by the Clear-Channels of the world, and systematically pick him apart like starving vultures over a fresh carcass - his mother called him on the other line so our conversation was cut unfortunately short.

That's alright, because he reminded me of something I've wanted to address for some time anyway: The commonly held belief that those of us who complain about the lack of lyrical craftsmanship nowadays are just elder statesman ill equipped for the tectonic shift that happens every generation. Equating Hip Hop the same way you'd equate other musical genres, laying out extremely boring and faulty verbal schematics on how the grandparent and the parent and the child abhorred each others music - something that I personally feel has to be flatly rejected once and for all. See, the foundation of Hip Hop music has always been supreme lyrical ability, despite what a plethora of people trying to shame you into liking some top 40 drivel may tell you. That shit never changes. A legendary singer can go an entire career without ever penning one syllable that ever escapes his/her mandible, the beauty of the MC has always been that you at least had to be a serviceable writer - that was the fucking prerequisite. That's sort of why the "sign of the times" argument just doesn't pass the smell test to me. I'm fine with the fashion trends in the genre coming and going, everybody can testify to how slang is always evolving, technology will continue to get more advanced, producers wouldn't be producers if they didn't continue to push boundaries when it comes to what is possible sonically. But the MC's sole job of crafting 16 bars that exhausts the left side of his/her brain and segments of the right will be around hundreds of years after the writer penning this particular piece is dust. Enough of the shame game going on over me and those of my ilk because we choose to repudiate some knuckle-dragger who we wouldn't trust to go past the first round in an elementary school spelling bee. Enough of the lazy enablers, usually someone my age or older who should know better, but they happily fall in line because it simply takes less effort to just go with the flow and not ruffle anyone's sensitive ass feathers. You would never ask a basketball fan to accept blown lay-ups from a player on their favorite team, missed dunks under the rim by their big man, disastrous calls from the head coach. Don't ask me to accept sub par lyricism like its some sort of trend that I better get used to. Not for nothing, but Hip Hop is not the pet rock, or Bellbottom jeans for that matter.


shani said...

".....my writing style comes from years of being a frustrated MC."

Exactly why I am a fan. You share that in common with Ta-nehisi Coates too.

DvusRai said...

Had the same discussion wit a friend recently. Did Rap music leave us or did we leave Rap? After much deliberation we finally decided that Rap music is still strong. Its just harder to find the good music. I think commercial radio is purposely trying to kill Rap. That is why it only plays lowest common denominator crap music, but if u want the good shit. Its still around its just not being played on commercial radio, MTV, and BET.