The observation that crack has repeatedly informed and shaped rap music is pervasive and admittedly difficult to contest. Rap’s treatment of the subject shifts just as often as the slang, practices, and legal terms associated with inner-city cocaine sale and usage. Long-time rap listeners witnessed instances of both celebratory indulgence – think of the early ’80s when monikers containing “ski,” “blow,” or even “coke” were the norm – and inflammatory denunciation – X-Clan’s all-star posse cut, “Close The Crackhouse“ comes to mind immediately. A middling zone of ambivalence emerges as well.
K-Solo "Tales From The Crackside"
K-Solo “Tales From The Crackside” [Listen]
Within rap “crack” (and the exhaustively explored network of synonyms and puns revolving around “dope” and “base”/”bass”) is the instrumental punctuated by insistent snares (Schooly D “The Crack”), the flow that accompanies such a beat, the racket that most closely approximates the rap game (Nas “Halftime”) or even the fully stylized rapper persona (Juelz Santana “I Am Crack”). Depending on the messenger, the crack epidemic is a conspiratorial assault on urban order and potential (Public Enemy “Night Of The Living Bassheads,” Nas “What Goes Around”), or the kind of dirty business one must exploit, emulate, transcend, and subversively flip into safer, more progressive ventures (Eric. B. and Rakim “Paid In Full,” BDP “Drug Dealer,” Jay-Z “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” etc).
In recent years, critics have assailed rap lyrics that appropriate drug slang or liken a recording career to a former corner hustle. Some have gone so far to claim that the popularity of such slang and imagery can be cited as a cause of the epidemic itself. Which brings us to today’s actual topic – rapper K-Solo and his song “Tales From The Crackside,” a narrative so arbitrary and unintentionally hilarious it appears to anticipate the lunacy of recents debate surrounding rap’s social impact, while positioning itself outside of both the neatly polarizing and morally ambiguous stances.
K-Solo is neither the first nor the last rapper to depict crack through horrific or nightmarish imagery, but his effort here is commendably bizarre. One of K-Solo’s principle claims to fame is his supposed conveyance of authenticity, whether it is the brutal realism of wrongful incarceration (The Fugitive) or the milder annoyance of an imperious future mother-in-law (“Your Mom’s In My Business”). On “Crackside,” (which appears on his 1990 debut Tell The World My Name) he chooses to retain his usual gravitas while framing the song as an unironic cautionary fable in spite of its surrealist elements. Which is great for those of us too jaded to locate a practical or even poignant social statement in all this madness.
The seemingly well-adjusted narrator begins a “regular day” by attending to his personal hygiene. By the third verse he is charged with attempted murder, 2nd degree assault, and rape. The actual verses confound more than they illuminate. After embarking on his new found dalliance at the insistence of a friend, the narrator writes a rhyme that comes to life and runs buckwild, committing the aforementioned savage acts. Or at least that’s the story he relates to the understandably skeptical authorities before lucidity suddenly prevails and he owns up to his drug-fueled culpability.
The audience is given precious little information to determine if his crack binge caused him to hallucinate, or if his reported vision is merely a ruse to pin his vile actions on an art form. And we’re surely not sure what to make of the implications of such a gesture in the real world of controversy and contending ideologies. The strangeness of its details and its deadpanned narrative renders it useless as a serious warning against peer pressure or drug abuse. However, the song can be credited with providing a glimpse into rap’s great creative potential — not to mention its occasional bouts of inarticulateness — in the face of a seemingly incurable social catastrophe. Well, that and an imaginary rhyme-turned-rapist dressed as Santa Claus. No, seriously. Great stuff. — Thun