Thursday, October 30, 2008

Model Minority's Reaction to "Barack & Curtis"

"Barack & Curtis" is blazing up the blogs. Model Minority is no exception. M Dot's post is followed by a much larger conversation about the film, and I couldn't help but chime in. I've been paying attention to Model Minority for a while, and M Dot has read some of our stuff as well. Definitely check her out.

First, props to LBoogie for getting the ball rolling on this. She is responsible for a lot of the positive changes this blog has made over the past year or more. Of the most important of these, a more concentrated and consistent focus on the centrality of race as it relates to class and to hip-hop, something I was admittedly weak on, at least in terms of coverage. But her post on Hurt was right on and I endorse it to the last letter.

What I'm including here is M Dot's response to LBoogie's piece, as well as the exchange that follows. She is, of course, welcome to comment here as well. She made some good clarifying points to my comments as well as gave me some inspiration to write a long ass response (to which I feel a little guilty about making someone read).

She pointed to a piece she wrote that I had read a while back that I thought was very sharp, called "Close Your Mouth, Open Your Legs". And I appreciate the fact that when referring to women in hip-hop she uses the pronoun 'we', for those who claim to speak for "the objectified" who in turn objectify women that supposedly can't speak for their supposedly no-consciousness-having ass.

Anyway, shout out to the thugged-out, boom bap, feminist.

KOOL DJ R.E.B.E.L. said...

M Dot.

Hey, we've been thinking about this film a lot too, but we're coming from a bit different angle. Let us know how this strikes you.

Also, I feel you on the point about "Where's our narrative?" This is essential to our point as well.

2:25 AM

Model Minority said...

I read your piece and we differ in that I think that NWA provided social commentary, 50 is simply accumulating Capital.

That being said, 50, is more interested in accumulating CAPITAL than he is with providing social commentary.

The sooner we realize this, the better off we will be.

Many of us have this romantisized view of Hip Hop,I did, but I don't any longer.

7:46 PM

R.E.B.E.L. said...

Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it. You bring up some important questions.

While I agree that there is a difference between the two, I think the phrase "social commentary" tends to get overused as a way to falsely polarize "conscious" and "unconscious" hip-hop (not saying that you are trying to do this). For us there is no such difference. Everything is social commentary. I just don't think it helps us to understand the basis for these artists by making these kinds of comparisons.

N.W.A was the product of a different historical development than 50, no doubt. But they are both similar in the sense that they have a basis in reality. 50 does not represent a vacuum in hip-hop. His success isn't inflated by "the industry", but is hinged on the contradictions in material life between barbarism and freedom. 50 is a legitimate expression of the society that we live in that is torn between these extremes and if he wasn't, he would lose all relevance and be dispensed with.

Second, as far as "accumulating capital", N.W.A was just as interested in material success as 50 is today. And they were as emphatically violent and misogynistic. But 50 grew out of post-gangsta rap, post-coastal, bling-bling era of hip-hop. Bling was the outgrowth of gangsta rap that couldn't reconcile itself between its working class hood themes and its crass drive for material gain. Bling as such was a negation of gangsta rap.

50 was an inheritor of this new form, and much of his commercial success is rooted within this vein. But 50's continued relevance has a lot to do with his apparent return to gangsta rap. It isn't the same as N.W.A. in terms of form (Chevys, khakis, Raiders regalia, jheri curls, etc), but the substance of the violence, anger, and rebellion is consistent. And for us, that is indicative of a working class that is struggling to break free of capitalism.

Just some thoughts. I haven't completely worked this out, but the one thing I'm sure about is that 50 is hip-hop, through and through.

1:47 AM

Model Minority said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I call it social commentary because, that is the extent to which I see it as being political.
Many people think that it is revolutionary. Its not, in my opinion. Its social commentary, all of it. I am not doing and NWA vs Common ish. All of it.

Re 50 and money. Of course NWA wanted to MAKE money, but there was no idea how much money there was to be made. Black radio/College radio was still the only vehicle that would fuck with the music. NWA had no idea WHAT could be done dollar wise.
I stand by the notion that there was a pureness to their music because of that.

Whereas 50 has seen Russel, Puff, Dre and Em, a standard has been set. The man had an affair with Kim Osorio/Editor of the Source, in furtherance of his career. Why not, it could only help his career, as it pertained to appearing in The Source, or he could use her to stir beef.

To not take into consideration the way capitalism transformed Rap is dangerous.
Thats like not taking into consideration
how Crack transformed Oakland, Philly, Detroit....

We all live with a tension between HOW much we want to root our art in art and HOW THAT MAY AFFECT OUR CAKE and to assume anything different is asinine. You do it, I do it, 50 does it.

That being said yeah 50 certainly says something about society, but let me ask you this,
If he rapped about Killing White Women, would
anyone buy his albums?
Given the history of Black Men being lynched for LOOKING like they were thinking about a White woman sexually, what does it mean for him to get so much cake off of talk about killing Black men?

Furthermore, your assessment that he belongs, is a apart of, and an expression of society is completely accurate.


Do blog search for my piece on Mobb Deep and Patriarchy and "If You Want to Change Society Close Your Legs" and "Hip Hop Ain't Political" to get sense of my background and my critique of rap.

Its been good chatting with you.
If you respond, I am thinking about forumalting this exchange into an interview.

Its rare that I come across Hip Hop meet someone who loves it as much as I do, and is willing to have a critique or for that matter has the capacity and willingness to go there with mine.

9:26 AM

R.E.B.E.L. said...

You make several good points here.

First is your clarification of the economic divergence between N.W.A and 50. Noted, and well said.

Secondly, you grounded "social commentary" for me. I still stand by my point that all of hip-hop is social commentary, so it isn't a phrase that does us much good. BUT, when you definitively state that N.W.A wasn't "revolutionary" and you do not fall into the "conscious hip-hop" traps that polarize hip-hop, I couldn't agree with you more.

I mean, revolutionary is relative, right? N.W.A was revolutionary to the extent they were on the forefront of creating a form of hip-hop that had not been done. But in terms of the content being of a coherent political character, you're right. Ain't no way.

And this is why Jeff Chang's point that hip-hop or any art can't convey coherent politics is paramount. Art conveys politics, yes. But not in any logical way that is free from the contradictions of our society. This is not art's job, which leads me to my next point.

We are in VIOLENT agreement about the "influence" of capitalism on hip-hop. David Drake, a hip-hop writer, once wrote, "If capitalism killed hip-hop, it was an abortion." It took me a minute to get that, but his point is that hip-hop has grown out of the womb of capitalism; that it was never something external to it. With this said, hip-hop must never be considered apart from its social and historical context.

But we have to be equally careful about the conclusions we draw from this. Hip-hop can't be capitalist; this kind of formulation I don't think is even grammatically correct, let alone theoretically (this is not a shot at you, btw, but to the traditional argument). The only thing that can be capitalist is a society whose mode of production is based on value production. This obviously implicates the WHOLE of society. But hip-hop's historical and continuing "value" (I mean value in the philosophical sense here) is that it reflects the working class's TENSION between capitalism as a legitimate form of society and its daily struggle against it.

The embrace of capitalism we see manifesting most superficially in the drive for commodities and representations of wealth (status cars, bling, etc.), but there is also contained within all this apparent "embrace" a negation of the conditions of such a society. This is the critical point where bling-bling as an independent form broke away from its gangsta rap beginnings. It was a declamation of the poverty element, the street thug aspect. It said that this wealth shouldn't be the privilege of the few, and it did this by decisively breaking with the embrace of the working class ethos that composed gangsta rap.

Before you say it, I agree that this is not enough. We must go further. But the point is that popular hip-hop makes us acknowledge the working class content of its philosophy. How many cats you know these days that wanna start they own businesses? A gang of em right? Me too. This is emblematic of a society that will no longer accept the conditions of capitalism as their parents did. Our parents and grandparents who slaved their asses off day-in and day-out in the factories, fields, offices, and mines were, in the final analysis, no freer and no happier because of it. We saw it grind them down to bits and many of them were fired in order to avoid paying them a pension. This doesn't mean they labored in vain. The generation before us produced some of the most marvelous manifestations of working class and people of color revolt that we have ever seen in the world. But the point is that our generation has broken in many ways with the character and conditions of work today. On the surface, this desire to create independent businesses appears as merely replicating the capital relation, except that we are on the advantageous side of the relationship. But underneath is an instinct that objects tooth and nail to the conditions of work which is a LITERALLY dehumanizing process that robs us of our creative potentialities, it is a partial rupture with the legitimacy of capitalism. So the form with which this very revolutionary content gets expressed is in a underdeveloped and uneven way, but this will necessarily change when our generation begins to move en masse and innovate new types of broad political organization.

So as for what this says about our society is the critical question, M. What it says is that as long as we live under such extreme antagonisms, such violent contradictions, the resistance it produces to it will necessarily reflect this contradiction. BUT, this isn't the full conclusion. What the hip-hop generation lacks is mass political forms to express the revolutionary TENDENCY within hip-hop. But we will create those forms as sure as the Civil Rights and Black Power generations, as the Garvey generation and CIO generation created theirs. These movements had their contradictions as well, but they were able to surmount some of those by creating independent spheres of power. We have yet to do this.

Your example of the white woman reminds me a lot of the whole "black on black crime" thing. This is where I start to disagree with you. There's a white supremacist tinge to the black-on-black-crime concept because it pathologizes, if you will, black behavior. Black folks commit crime not because of a pathology or because of false consciousness, but because of much larger structural circumstances and is related to my point about this generation breaking with the conditions of work. They see the old arrangement as providing no road out of the circumstances of our society, not because they believe in their inferiority or whatever the conclusions of this bogus psychoanalysis are. This takes me back to LBoogie's piece on Barack & Curtis. No one is gonna say that Barack Obama is pathological when he continues to rain carpet bombs on people in Afghanistan who are also people of color. They'll either see it as "justice" or, as we see it, as an inherent part of the capitalist drive for world hegemony. The film is presenting this as something to aspire to!

So to make the comparison that 50 rapping about killing white women is somehow the same as 50 killing "niggaz" conflates the problem by pathologizing his actions and making it racial when it isn't. 50's relenteless murder sprees is grounded in the same rage as that of N.W.A. This is the red thread between them.

But that's also where this Birkhold dude is killing me. I wanna reach into the monitor and jack his intellectual ass up. Comparing black men in the street to slave masters is disgusting. Black folks in the street are surviving the only way they can, not systemtically exploiting the labor-power of a group of people for profit. And even if one makes the case that drug dealers and pimps are exploiting folks for profit, this in no way compares to the millenial process by which modern industrial society was built (slavery). Street crime is a condition forced on to people who are not given an alternative. This is not to apologize for it (or for the exploitation of women), but to explain it and to make sense of the layered complexity of the working class that does unfortunately feed off of itself.

Again, we need new forms to express this burgeoning, but contradicted revolutionary angst. The Black Panther Party, let's not forget, who originated some of the most militant forms of community organization was made up of the very thugs who we now unfortunately label "minstrels".

This Byron Hurt film is in every way a perfect indication of the backwardness of the Left today. Under the guise of "progressivism", of "social commentary", of "militancy", some of the most racist, knee-jerk politics surfaces. And the reason this is is because they have lost the subjectivity to working people, to people of color. They can't see in their activity, in their self-activity, a different world, even though it is there. They are objects by which the supposed subjectivity of the Left tramples over it and tells it how unconscious and "white supremacist patriarchal capitalist" it is. And in this case they do it by throwing up Barack Obama as some model all people of color should aspire to.

To be or not to be the model minority, right? I think the name of your blog is so dope because it takes up the urgency of this question. The model minority is the real white supremacist patriarchal capitalism's example of what other people of color should aspire to. Docile, hard-working, dilligent, and upwardly mobile. But this is a bullshit approximation of Asian-Americans. Asian-Americans have contributed in every possible way to the militancy, determination, and revolutionary character of the working class. Workers in South Korea are smashing the model minority myth through their self-activity in the form of the labor unrest that has seized that country. Just like it wouldn't make sense to pathologize this in Asian-Americans, we shouldn't do it to black youth or black men (again, this ain't aimed at you).

I'm sorry for my long-winded ass reply. And I still didn't get to your essential point about women's narrative, which is CRUCIAL. Perhaps your interview idea will give us the space to tackle this question. All in all, I think the work your doing on the blog is critical. We don't agree with everything, its all good, you don't agree with everything we say either. But as you alluded to, we share a common appreciation for the dynamism of hip-hop and the hip-hop generation that too many if not all hip-hop intellectuals and conservatives and so-called Leftists will never get. I will continue to read.

Peace and much, much respect.


Who all the autotune haters forgot, but know they bump.

"Oh, but this is different!"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

XXL #109: The Diffuseness of Hip-Hop?

So I looked at the new XXL cover. The first thing you should know is that I'm a cat that likes to think I know a bit about hip-hop. Part of that is having a dynamic sense of hip-hop's history and present, but it also means keeping my finger on the pulse of what's new, what's on the horizon, what is changing, etc.

My initial inclination upon seeing the cover was to wonder if we are getting to a point where hip-hop is becoming so diffused within society that we can never know all of it. While I think that's becoming more and more true (and which certainly makes the whole "hip-hop is dead" slogan all the more ridiculous), after listening to three of these new artists I floated back down to reality.

Anyway, below I posted a few videos from these new artists as well as a brief take on each one.

Blu is obviously rooted in the early 90s West Coast b-boy revivalism. Classic case of "backpacker hip-hop". And if you've been reading us lately, you'll know that I make a distinction between this and the "hipster" rap thing. The "backpacker" tradition is older. Blu is definitely tight; I really like this song, but we've done this already, y'all. We carried it to its conclusion in the late 90s. Regardless, if this music finds a large base (which I highly doubt) it will not ever gain a large footing in the South (which constitutes a large chunk of the hip-hop generation and culture, it goes without mentioning). Rather, Blu will soak up all the leftover Freestyle Fellowship heads.

Wale is a D.C. MC. The beat to "Uptown Roamers" below follows a more Southern pattern with a "screwed" chorus. He's got a lazy flow that is hood, but he was quick to distance himself from the dope game by claiming he never partook. I was less impressed with this song. Blu is definitely the better lyricist of the two, but it ain't all about being the most skilled in hip-hop, it's also about staying true to the sensibilities of the region you represent. Wale doesn't exactly do this in the sense that it doesn't seem to build off the contributions D.C. has made to hip-hop, but neither does Blu. Not necessarily, anyway.

Up next is Asher Roth from Philly. A white MC who is definitely on the lyricism tip, but with the added wordplay and irony components. Far be it from me to homogenize all white MCs which is definitely a tired routine, but he does have a bit of the Eminem thing going on. That doesn't have to be bad, but there are some obvious parallels.

So far, I can't say I see anything new. Again, this isn't bad. Most artists don't bring anything highly original (which is usually what their defamed with), but rather root themselves in a tradition. Tradition (not conservatism) is every bit as hip-hop as originality. You can still come with dope beats and good lyrics without trying in vain to be "original". But tradition can be conservative as well. We see this most clearly with Blu.

To summarize, Blu is backpacker, an older West Coast trend. Wale is locating himself within the Southern milieu. Asher Roth is the lyricist and the most developed of the three. Wale will have more of an opportunity to find resonance with the South and the greater U.S. Blu will remain in the coffeehouse. Roth is ambiguous, but my feeling is that he will stay marginal.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hate it or Love it the Underdog is on Top: Byron Hurt's "Barack & Curtis"

Byron Hurt recently released a new documentary entitled Barack & Curtis: Manhood, Power, and Respect. It explores how Barack Obama’s “manhood” is different from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s “manhood.” On the surface, it is a critical survey of current portrayals of black men. In reality, it is a thinly veiled attack on the culture and politics of the hip-hop generation.

The ideas revealed in the documentary are, for the most part, appalling. One person interviewed explains, “Black gangsta masculinity does the work of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism.” Later, he says, “The Black gangsta masculine figure employs the exact same logic as the people who started the slave trade.” What???

Another person reports, “In the black community, masculinity is associated with how many women you have, how much weight you push, how many times you’ve been in prison…”

Really??? Is that a quote from Bill O’Reilly? Sounds like his opinion on hip-hop.

A deeper discussion of gender and sexuality in hip-hop is needed, especially since it's the one sore spot that hip-hop always gets attacked for. But it's difficult to even engage Hurt's film seriously on that note when it has so many glaring problems:

1. Hip-hop is once again the forum used to argue out the “good” black man vs. “bad” black man debate. There’s a class content to this but Hurt wants us to believe that this is just a question of morals, behavior, and choice. If only hip-hop would portray nicer men, less angry men, less violent men; men like Barack Obama. If only hip-hop would encourage young men to dress nicer, go to college, work within the system. Then we wouldn’t have so many angry, out-of-control black men that we have today.

But his vilification of men in hip-hop is actually a rejection of the real life content of class and youth rebellion that gets channeled through the music. The anger and tensions in 50 Cent’s music is an authentic and valid expression of the American (and global) working class. It’s an outlet, albeit exaggerated, for the tensions that people feel everyday. Someone like 50 Cent doesn’t rap about violence cuz it’s his nature or cuz he’s got some behavioral disorder. The hip-hop generation has our eyes wide open and we see the decay around us.

We see it, and hip-hop throws that same decay up for the rest of the world to see. It’s a rejection of the status quo, an affirmation of self and community in the face of constant attack, but because there’s not yet a mass organizational form for this content, it can be difficult to tease out the positive vision offered beyond this rejection. Hence critics like Hurt see only violence, crime, gangstas, chaos. Hip-hop is out of control in a sense, and that’s why Obama and all the other “good” men like him have to distance themselves from it. It’s not just because he’s on the campaign trail and has to appear acceptable to a broad mass of American people. It’s because he sees in hip-hop, perhaps even better than Hurt does, an energy and outlook that reject official society and the status quo and demand new types of social relations.

Herein lies the crux of the “good” black man vs. “bad” black man debate: it demands the hip-hop generation choose, will you be the man that puts your faith in a society that has failed you time and time again, or will you break out of it, rebel against it, express your disdain for it, by any means necessary?

2. The fact that Hurt chose to use Obama as representative of the “good” black man and 50 for the “bad” black man is important. This actually relates to larger issues raised by Obama’s campaign that hip-hop has had many contradictory responses to. Specifically, what does it mean for the hip-hop generation that we will be the first to witness a black president? What does that mean for the struggles captured in our music? Is Obama what all men should aspire to be like? Or are there alternative ideals expressed within the music?

We don’t take 50 Cent as emblematic of every black man in the US. But suppose we interpret his popularity to mean that he is representative of an experience and a sentiment that many young men (and women) can relate to. Then why is that collective experience under attack? Why isn’t it as valid as the experience of the “good” black men and women? Why is the type of hip-hop that 50 Cent is part of so dangerous to someone like Hurt? And who has the monopoly on defining what a good black man is or does?

3. Critiques of misogyny in hip-hop oftentimes depend on white supremacist ideas to back them up. Hence Barack & Curtis leaves one with the sense that misogyny in hip-hop is bad because it reinforces stereotypes that some white people have about black people. If black men would stop being so violent and scary and anti-woman, then they would fit better into society. Then they wouldn’t be doing “the work of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism.” Obama’s “making” it, so the proof must be in the pudding, right?

What’s worse, Hurt’s critiques of misogyny aren’t consistent. The only idea we are offered about black women is that they should look to Michelle Obama as inspiration, that even though they’re “strong” women, they can still find a good man. In a previous film, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Hurt spends a good deal of time critiquing the “video ho” stereotype in hip-hop, an image he says reinforces low self-esteem among women of color, the commodification of women’s bodies, and women’s financial and psychological dependence on men. Somehow, though, it’s progressive when the film tells women the most important lesson of Obama’s candidacy is how to find a good man. Is this the best that can be offered about the variety of identities, aspirations, and struggles expressed by black women? To really have a productive conversation about gender and sexuality, we need to start by looking at women's (and queer folks) self-activity within hip-hop and use that as a basis for developing perspectives about an anti-sexist, anti-homophobic hip-hop.

4. There is an irony in the way violence gets discussed. The “good” black man like Obama is portrayed as a nonviolent figure, while the “bad” black man like 50 Cent is the epitome of irrational, untamed violence. Yet Obama, among other campaign promises, has pledged to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan and to strengthen military attacks there. Phew, that’s a relief. Oh wait, thousands upon thousands of Afghani people have been murdered since the U.S. invaded in 2001. Whether you like Obama or not, or support his policy proposals, you have to admit that he’s not non-violent by any means. His is just a violence reserved for use by the ruling class. But I suppose that’s an acceptable form of violence, the kind that is ok when it’s “only” killing people of color in other countries.

There’s so much more to add to this, but I’m interested to hear other folks’ respond to the video.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Definition of Bounce

Our boy "Lucky", a fellow student at Delgado Community College where I currently attend and who's been very supportive of the work we're doing there with the Ella Baker Organizing Committee, put me on to a new book today that is set to drop February 1st.

It's called The Definition of Bounce: Between Ups and Downs in New Orleans authored by "10th Ward Buck" who we've already had the pleasure to meet.

For those who have been following the blog, you'll know that we've been giving particular attention to Bounce hip-hop lately. We're doing this for two reasons: one, it remains an esoteric form of hip-hop not known much outside NOLA and, two, it is some of the most dynamic, revolutionary, and democratic hip-hop that we are aware of.

The geography of Bounce fits perfectly alongside writer David Drake's contention that, "hip-hop’s story is regional. Its rise is regional because of how differently it has been interpreted from place to place—from its beginnings in the boroughs of New York, moving across the country—hip-house in Chicago, bay area pimp shit, LA gangsta, and of course the massive conglomeration of styles that worked their way across the south, from Miami bass in Florida to the screw music of Houston and everywhere in between—rap is a highly adaptable music form, and as a result is extremely democratic. You don’t have to follow New York lyrical rules and you don’t have to make southern club anthems; the cultures of each geographical region would completely redefine the sound of hip-hop both at a regional level and, very often, on the pop charts."

You can preorder a copy at at the link above. Shout out to Buck. We hope to do an interview with him about it soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Say what you will about Soulja Boy. This is real talk.

This video is hilarious, yet very precise.

Ice-T fucked up. He fucked up by thinking hip-hop can be "killed", let alone killed by one young artist. But most of all, he fucked up by using a set of standards that don't apply to this kind of hip-hop. You can hate it if you want. I don't particularly like Soulja Boy's music. But for me to try to judge Soulja Boy with Rakim standards is like judging Scarface with Sarah McLachlan's. And that's stupid, right? No one would ever do that. Well, hip-hop ain't homogenous and it shouldn't be treated as such.

I have a lot of respect for Soulja Boy's sentiments. You can take these same words and direct them to the old New Leftists of the 1960s who think they know what young activists and revolutionaries should be doing today.


This piece dates back to June 24, 2005, but it is no less relevant and its words and sentiments still ring true. The author, Michael Miraflor, writes a polemic that while not elaborating the crux of hip-hop conservatism does well to draw out its contradictions.

The issue of "Backpacker Hip-Hop" has come up recently on this blog and has been an ongoing part of our anti-conservative perspective on hip-hop. While there are a variety of terms we've used here: conscious, conservative, backpacker, and hipster and while each term has its own basis in reality, there is a lot of intersection between these manifestations.

What Miraflor does here is locate the inconsistencies in the conservative "backpacker" line and gives us some tactics that will work in a lot of cases, certainly not all. All this aside, in the world of blogging this is an outlook that is seldom seen, and when it is it needs to be spotlighted.


by Michael Miraflor

“That’s not real hip hop.”

“I never watch MTV or BET or listen to the radio.”

“I miss the good old days of hip hop, circa 1994.”

There are those hip hop types who you love to hate. The so called “educated” coffee-house intellectual types that love to talk about the declining state of hip hop music, as if its best days have long past. They talk about current hip hop music objectively because they think they are above it; their iPods are only filled with the “good shit.” You know, old school BEP, Common, The Roots, Talib. The entire Stones Throw catalog. Only revolutionary or obscure cats make their playlists. Holy war to them is the radio mainstream vs. the indie underground. And they still refer to Lauryn Hill as L-boogie.

Those who have encountered such hip hop righteousness know not to get into any sort of philosophical argument, unless they are well equipped to do battle. Remember, these are the cats who probably wrote their college theses on the historical importance of Run D-M-C and the postmodern brilliance of Madlib. They never ever back down and make you feel like shit for copping the new Mike Jones album. So how exactly does one prepare for such an encounter with a backpacker?

Let him or her take a couple of easy jabs at you. Make them feel like they’re winning. When they ask you what kind of music you listen to, say reggaeton and 50 Cent. Better yet, say your favorite joint is the reggaeton remix of “Candyshop.” At this point they’ll think you’re an easy target. When they ask where you cop your music, say you only buy CDs at Best Buy and regularly download the Top 10 ranked hip-hop songs off iTunes. Sensing blood, they’ll next ask you who your favorite MC is. Answer this unacceptably, and they’ll pounce all over you and try to “educate” you on how little you know about “real” hip hop. Wait until they start to salivate and raise their eyebrows in anticipation. Then calmly and confidently say the name that automatically breaks a backpackers will: Kanye West.

The Louie Vitton Don is an anomaly to most backpackers. Someone who transcends the boundaries of what is mainstream and what is conscious simply cannot exist. It defies hip hop physics. How can someone from a major label like the ROC get his inspiration from A Tribe Called Quest? Be street and culturally conscious? I mean, did you see the “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” video? Straight killed it son! Kanye has the rare ability to make a political statement without sounding preachy. The teachers and the kids love Kanye.

Then go on the offensive. Remind ‘em that the self proclaimed “first ni**a with a Benz AND a backpack” makes beats for both Jay-Z and Common. Dare them to say that Big L, B.I.G and Nas should not be respected for their lyrical prowess, regardless of their lyrical content. Have them admit to watching BET uncut at 3 in the morning like everyone else.

Once their guard is down, break bread. Remind them that hip hop was never meant to be stagnant or one-dimensional. He’ll admit that he loves grinding at the club as much as the next man. She’ll admit that her favorite jams are “Hollaback Girl” and “My Hump.” After a few laughs, have them listen to “5 years from now” off the recently certified platinum Who is Mike Jones?, and ask them if that was not the most poignant and relevant shit that they have heard in the past 6 months. Even Common himself didn’t directly address issues like Iraq, voting, and taxes on the critically acclaimed-but-yet-to-go-gold Be. Admit that album sales aren’t the issue, and that Mike Jones’ rise to the top should be celebrated along with Common’s return to form. Because at the end of the day its all one family, one love, one struggle.

Then go home and write Kanye a thank you letter, for restoring faith in another lost hip hop soul.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A late note about the film "ATL"

During the blog redesign, I had the idea to include a list of films that have been influential to us and that are significant representations of our generation. ATL was picked for a lot less conspicuous reasons.

When it came out, a friend of mine in KC had dismissed the film for the seemingly valid reason of "poor acting". Granted. But a cat like C.L.R. James always had the ability to draw out the implications of the most trivial aspects of popular art and literature (romance novels, for instance) and attach to them an import that was reflective of either the disgust of the routine and degradation of capitalist society or a desire for absolutely new relations among human beings, regardless if it had any great value in and of itself. He had to locate it in the real relations and struggles of our society.

From reading a few reviews by non-critics, I get the sense that the value of the film was its more modest portrayal of contemporary black life. Instead of "Menace II Society part 26", to quote from a viewer, what it did was depict better the tensions in American cities between making an "honest living" which offers quite a dishonest reward and gaining a slice of the pie by the only realistic way possible; dope peddling and other illegal means. The assumption here obviously is that not everybody is a criminal, even if the inclinations and compulsions to turn to crime are daily present. The burden of working jobs that we saw our parents give life and limb for no longer have any legitimacy for us. The feeling of laboring in vain is ever-present. This is not guesswork. This is spelled out clearly all over our attitudes as well as our cultural signposts.

ATL is a film about the sensibilities of the Southern hip-hop generation. What we see take place in the skating rink, a gathering point of ordinary black folks, is as compelling as any highbrow performance art, but none so removed and pretentious. It is located in the heart of Atlanta where young folks rally to express an individuality not found in any workplace (even if that has been a point of revolt for several hundred years).

This form does not exist alongside the recognized hip-hop arts, but this isn't the point. For every time the attempt is made to formalize such informal mass culture, the regular people who give it its basis leap beyond what's official. The b-boy has been bypassed, just as the ballet dancer. Each has their historical origin. Each have their dissolution. No one form can continue to suffice for the changing nature of our existence. The b-boy worked for the death of large-scale working class revolt, for the newly unemployed factory worker. It does not work for us.

What we see here is a completely new charisma and temperament being inveighed into what was once convention. Roller skating has been given a new meaning, at least for our generation as they are in the South.

The visuals of the film, the music, the aesthetics are as precise as any contemporary film on hip-hop and is a good a revelation of the artistic maturity of the hip-hop generation as any other. It wasn't as penetrating as a Hustle & Flow, but neither was it Boys In The Hood 17.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We, the Hip Hop Generation...?

R.E.B.E.L., myself, and two very talented, sharp women we've been working with are organizing two film showings at Delgado Community College here in NOLA. The films are great and the discussion afterwards is sure to be even better, so if you're in the city, come check us out!

Jay Z's "Minority Report"

I've been trying to keep track of all the hip-hop songs that have been written in response to Katrina. I imagine years from now, these tracks will be like a historical record, to help us remember and re-interpret how folks today have been affected by and responded to that experience. Jay Z had a song on Kingdom Come called "Minority Report" which I had heard of but didn't realize until now that there is a video for. Check it out and tuck it away into the archives:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It must be makeover season.

Just to give y'all a heads up, we're playing around with our page a bit, trying to do something different. But don't get excited about what you see now because it's subject to change, for better or worse. Alex at Rebel Frequencies has just made over his blog which looks great and G at Grandgood flips his shit up like every week, but always with something fresh.

We're also working on a few blogs that will hopefully be up soon. No promises. Ideally, we'd like to post every day and give Tony's Kansas City a run for his money (that man must do nothing but eat, sleep, and blog), but we're students, workers, as well as activists (as much as we hate the term) and that occupies a lot of our time.

There have been very important things happening lately that we have neglected to enter into on this blog, especially as it relates to the elections and to the economy. It isn't that we don't have a perspective on them, not at all, but these things sometimes require more articulation and elaboration than a lot folks may be willing to read on a blog. Plus, these things have to be anchored in the aesthetic and outlook of hip-hop and no typical take on them will do. We're working through it though and want to have some fresh posts on these topics up soon.

What is important about our contribution to hip-hop, I think, is not what we say about this or that new development because these will come and go with the tide. What is important is our method which we've gleaned from our own independent political activity and study and it is this that will hopefully give whatever we write about a longer shelf life. So perhaps we never post more than once every two weeks, but perhaps also each of these posts are worth more than the particularities they touch upon.

It should be no surprise that our perspectives grow, refine, or change the more we think about these things. Since LBoogie has come on, the blog has shifted away from pure political analysis and propaganda. This is due a lot to her influence as well as that of other folks on the periphery of this project. At times, it has taken the form of personal writing, especially after C.L.R. Odell had taken a hiatus from the blog. But we like the direction it is going now, our only complaint would be frequency and, of course, appearance, but we're working on that!

We really, really appreciate the support we do have from y'all and hope that we continue to remain relevant, small and insignificant though we are in the larger blogosphere.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Backpacker Hip-Hop 101"

Artifacts' 1994 debut "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" was a classic of b-boy revivalism

My boy Mike in Chi-town sent me an email today asking about the origins of backpacker hip-hop. On top of that, my other Chi-town chum Alex over at Rebel Frequencies responded to a comment left by "Karim" on the Hipster Rap post from a couple weeks ago and has subsequently written a solid post about it that merits further discussion.

In a lot of ways, the conversation on backpacker hip-hop precludes this hipster rap discussion because although they are different, there is some overlapping. It got me thinking about what classifies this trend and what set it in motion. Note that my use of the term could be presumptuous and that others might have different takes on it. I'll be happy to hear any disagreements, suggestions, or additions to this brief exposition.

Without further ado, here's my short set of theses that characterize backpacker hip-hop.

1. "Backpacker hip-hop" is really a post-"backpacker hip-hop" phrase. What we think of as backpacker hip-hop today isn't really what it considered itself when it was dominant.

2. As far as I know, it was a b-boy revivalism within hip-hop that began around 1992. A new generation of hip-hop heads that were loyal to the totality of the art form in terms of breaking, writing, DJing, and MCing, wore backpacks which usually contained spray cans, markers and art books. Sometimes it was shoes, records, or music equipment. Either way, it would later come to signify this generation and the portability and wholeness of hip-hop culture.

3. As said above, it was a revivalism. By the late 1980s, hip-hop had drifted from the multiplicity of street arts that had underpinned it. For one, rapping more and more became the center of hip-hop, whereas historically it evolved from the DJ. As a corollary, it became more skilled and developed. Hip-hop music began to take on other musical influences, e.g. House, which set in motion a new era of "hip-house" songs like Nikki D's "Daddy's Little Girl" and Queen Latifah's "Come Into My House". Rappers were doing songs with R&B artists and would do guest spots on R&B songs. Usually, however, R&B artists would sing the chorus in between the verses of hip-hop cuts. Although in the winter months of breaking, cliques of West Coast Asian-American youth had appropriated the dance and kept it going, b-boying as the standard was all but dead. "Hip-hop dance" had superseded it and it typified the style of dance that we'd see after episodes of In Living Color as embodied by the Fly Girls. And as El Da Sensai of the Artifacts said, "graffiti had died." But the most significant part of the change in hip-hop was the death of the black and cultural nationalist hip-hop and the rise of West Coast gangsta rap.

Backpacker hip-hop was largely East Coast influenced, but it was not limited to East Coast. The Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief, Del the Funkee Homosapien, et al. were co-existing with the dominant Gangsta/Pimpin Rap of N.W.A and Too Short on the West Coast. They tended to be more the exception than the rule, however. Hip-hop revivalism on the West Coast eventually grew to such an extent that surpassed much of the East Coast that had splintered off into a pseudo-intellectual, hyperlyrical, paranoid, introverted hip-hop in the late 90s.

The Native Tongues, which stills exists today though only as a shell of its former self, was comprised essentially of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and the Jungle Brothers, and later included Leaders of the New School of which Busta Rhymes was a part. This was in many ways the flagship of the new hip-hop and it took the place of the staunchly political hip-hop that commandeered the late 80s and early 90s.

Early on, it was pronounced by its "boom bap" sound, which was sampled drum breaks that were re-patterned to hit in a series of hard and simplistic kicks and consistent snares. This was East Coast hip-hop in the early 90s, but again, there were exceptions such as Cypress Hill whose DJ Muggs produced unmistakably East Coast beats for West Coast MCs. However, by the late 90s, boom bap was dissolving and was replaced by non-traditional drum patterns ranging from loops to the most complex of chops. Company Flow's (Indelible MCs) "The Fire In Which You Burn" was a break with the old way of boom bap producers, but they were entrenched within the backpacker milieu.

5. When it emerged, this hip-hop revivalism was a legitimate, but only apparent return to hip-hop's origins. I stress "apparent" (and I know I overuse this phrase, y'all!), because the MC continued to be center stage, lyricism was forefronted, and the substance of the lyrics was not the sing-songy happiness (usually) of early hip-hop. But what it did was set in motion an explosion of creativity that was a sometimes explicit, other times implicit opposition to popular West Coast hip-hop. What it did was replace the spectator with the participator. Many folks, like myself, who loved and admired West Coast gangsta rap could never emulate such music because it emphasized a locale and a lifestyle unknown to them. With this other wing of hip-hop, folks found that they could make it their own; they could become the new b-boys and graffiti writers etc. because they made it seem that hip-hop was about the art, not about the street. The catch phrase was the classic Rakim line, "It ain't where ya from, it's where ya at." There were exceptions to this rule, of course, since this new form straddled the line between the streets and the arts.

This roots hip-hop was not in any way the rabid hater of popular hip-hop that typifies today's backpacker hip-hop artists. They did not see what they were doing as the only valid form. While a growing divergence was emerging between East Coast and West Coast styles, hip-hop artists from both coasts were doing projects together and when they weren't, they were biggin each other up. Sure, some dissed others, but it would seem as though the first "commandment" of backpacker hip-hop today is Thou Shalt Hate Southern Rap.

7. Backpacker hip-hop today is the tried and true backpacker hip-hop. If b-boy revivalism back then had any validity at all, it was because it spoke to a desire in the hip-hop generation for more universality. It had to go further than West Coast gangsta rap. And while gangsta rap was in every way an autonomous expression of black youth in the 80s, it was not the totality of what could be expressed. This does not mean that Southern hip-hop is the end all be all that there is no place for other forms of hip-hop. The point is that hip-hop has gotten to such a place that while there is room in it for a variety of other forms (forms that we're seeing all continents innovate, forms that queer folks are finding concrete expression i.e. Bounce, forms that exist predominantly in white trailer parks and hoods i.e. Twizted, ICP, and Tech N9ne) it is showing that there is no room for conservatism, for a hip-hop that wants to take us back to a time that wanted to take us a back to a time. No, that was not a typo.

Talib Kweli is a perfect example of the death of backpacker hip-hop. An excellent lyricist by any standards who, avoiding the most trivial and superficial of backpacker symbols, exists lockstep in that tradition. He is an actual member of Native Tongues. This trend has no independent existence other than to be a negation of what is "wrong" with hip-hop.

Hipster Rap may exist, but it is not backpacker hip-hop. The Cool Kids, Kidz In the Hall, or Kid Sister cannot be classified as such because they only take the appearance of 80s rap. These artists are modern in every substantive way. Out of the late 90s East Coast splinter which gave rise to intellectual hip-hop, a form evolved consisting of mainly white, mainly upwardly mobile, New York, new money who literally take the appearance and actual content of 80s rap and make records doing that. This does not speak for the majority of white youth in hip-hop who mainly embrace Southern rap or other forms of working class white hip-hop. This has a purely class basis. As such, the "Kids" trend nor the mainly white forms in hip-hop cannot be considered hipster rap or backpacker hip-hop.

We'll be posting some economy related stuff in the next few, so check back y'all. Peace.