Figure Eight: Transcendence

Big Daddy Kane “I’ll Take You There” Remix
Del The Funkee Homosapien “Sunny Meadowz”
Digable Planets “Escapism (Gettin’ Free)”
Keith Murray “Escapism”
Pete Rock & CL Smooth “Take You There”
The BUMS “Elevation (Free Your Mind)”
Siah & Yeshua “Cure For Stagnation”
All Natural “The Renaissance”
Hip Hop is a rewarding, welcoming genre. Contrary to the reductive logic of popular belief, rap teems with distinctive personalities. Endearing idiosyncrasies abound even if vapid conformity rules. Materialism and debauchery are counterbalanced by voices that emphasize authenticity or spirituality. The personal and competitive nature of emceeing allows a wide spectrum of perspectives and a veritable cast of characters to emerge.
As rap fans we never want for explicit expression. Even rappers that dabble in contemplative or surrealist poetics deliver their messages with conviction. Rakim’s deadpanned intergalactic voyages on 1988’s “Follow The Leader” foreshadow a generation of rappers who portray themselves as street level metaphysicians. It’s a peculiar, compelling performance exemplified by Nas’ impassioned declaration that he “represents the thinkers” with a stream of consciousness freestyle that’s “floating like I’m on the North 95 Interstate” on 1994’s “One Time 4 Ya Mind.”
Freely associative rapping has long been equated to a mental journey towards enlightenment, a move towards alterity, something beyond inner-city boundaries. Rap’s “visionary strand,” (identified by Robin Kelley in Freedom Dreams) embraces a “politics of escape” rooted in the spacey excursions of Sun Ra and Parliament/Funkadelic and is quite diverse. The “thinkers” have run the gamut from KRS-One’s no-nonsense prophet of rage to the Native Tongue’s Afrocentric partygoers. It is in this spirit that I present today’s Figure Eight compilation, titled Transcendence.
BDK’s “I’ll Take You There” upgrades The Staple Singers’ churchy utopianism into a package more palatable to youths attracted to Five Percenter and Zulu Nation ideologies. In his estimation, the temporary highs of vice cannot compare to the blissful state one enters by attaining wealth logically and responsibly. Escapism is an oddly realist agenda applicable in the here and now. We shouldn’t need Scotty to “beam us up,” via glass pipes when we already blessed with the capacity to build anything we can imagine, right?
Where BDK insists “I’m not playin’ what I’m sayin’ is reality,” Del revels in psychadelic playfulness. Also disdainful of crime and disorder, he remedies apprehensiveness with a voyage to an enchanted verdant wonderland where tranquil open-mindedness cancels out the dreariness of ghetto life. Similarly, the ever-fanciful Keith Murray self-medicates misanthropic bouts with blunted trips to Mars that reaffirm his belief in the transcendent power of the human mind.
Digable Planets embrace the language of psychadelica while locating liberation in music itself. Pete Rock & CL Smooth implore listeners to do the same over a loop of “Rising To The Top” that stays true to its dancefloor-tailored groove. The BUMS find refuge from an unfeeling industry in the very ethics of creative production. Siah & Yeshua consolidate these viewpoints with a Thoreauvian twist, inspired by the real beauty of their native Brighton Beach. Finally, All Natural’s Capital D, in awe of high-brow surroundings in Hyde Park, Chicago and its view of Lake Michigan, is reassured that he has a place in a continuum of cultural rebirth spanning back to at least 1920s Harlem.
Listen up, check it. — Thun

Download “Figure 8 Transcendence” in one convenient file: http://www.mediafire.com/file/iyizmynqzmm/Figure Eight Transcendence.rar

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8 Responses to “Figure Eight: Transcendence”

  1. 5th Sequence says:

    Science dropped! Well written with music to back it up. I couldn't agree more with the theme of this post.

    Thank you and much respect!

  2. mike tyson says:

    posts like these are why this is the best blog on the net

  3. tray says:

    What rappers today are street level metaphysicians?

  4. Thun says:

    Well I don't really consider any rapper to be a "street level metaphysician" but as afar as rappers who portray themselves as such I suppose Lupe Fiasco and Jay Electronica, and at times Andre3000 are a part of this tradition. MURS on that "Science" track. I'm assuming in good faith that you were asking a serious question and not being a baiting-ass faggot. Am i right to do so? — Thun

  5. C.R. says:

    best thing i've read on this blog so far … and that's saying a lot 😉

  6. tray says:

    I was being a baiting-ass faggot! (Though I was also asking a serious question.) And what I was particularly trying to bait from someone, or call attention to, is the fact that all the rapping metaphysicians of today aren't street-level, as your examples clearly show. Well maybe Andre, but he's really a 90s rapper who's still pretty good. And what I worry about people like yourself, people whose taste in and knowledge of 90s rap is absolutely impeccable, is when you venture out into stuff that "sounds like the 90s" and miss the differences between the stuff from back then that was really great and the stuff now that's a poor imitation of the 90s. As I see it, the problem with rap today isn't necessarily that people have gotten away from metaphysics, but more that you now have a huge divide between metaphysics and the street, so that even relatively talented "street-level" rappers like the Clipse are confined to reciting their coke tales over and over without much of a broader agenda, and the would-be metaphysicians have become too abstract and spend way too much time dogging a scene that they aren't really a part of and therefore kinda lack the moral authority to criticize.

  7. Thun says:

    1. I didn't compile the "Sounds Like the 90s" mix.I'm going to guess however, that the intention of the person compiling it was pretty transparent and reflected in the title. It was songs that … sound like songs from the 90s. I'm 100% certain there was no attempt to make any commentary about thematic or poetic continuity.

    2. I agree that metaphysics and the streets have diverged. That's unfortunate. To be honest though, there have always been divides. There were "street" cats who thought De La Soul were faggots until Maseo and Pos stomped the shit out of them after shows for talking shit, for example.

    3. You're venturing into the same dangerous territory you are criticizing. Not every gifted lyricist is removed from the actual street life. Just like not every "street" artist is actually embroiled in the concerns of the urban poor. The same goes for fans. Nearly every person I've ever met in my life who had an ongoing obsession with the most literalized violent rap music(call it "gangsta" or whatever) was a well-heeled 9 to 5er/family person who woouldn't confront a cashier over a pricing mistake.

    4. I'm not nearly as interested in what rappers are as I am in what they style themselves to be. Fallacy and self-delusion are a part of the tradition.

  8. tray says:

    Oh, of course it doesn't matter what rappers "really" are, that's the biographical fallacy. You take a guy like Lupe, for all we know he has quite the street-level lifestyle. Actually I think I've read something to that effect. But you sure couldn't tell it from his music, and that's all that matters. And I'm not saying that rappers can't get metaphysical without maintaining some kind of ghetto image, if they want to rap about growing up middle-class in the suburbs, that's fine too, that's also street-level, it's just different streets. De La did that to great effect. I'm more saying that you can't be metaphysical in a completely abstract way and lose sight of any sense of place, otherwise you're not saying anything. When I listen to rappers from the 90s urge us to go back to the essence, I have at least a vague notion as to what they mean because this idea of the essence, as abstract as it is, was grounded in something concrete back then, but when I hear rappers nowadays talking about the essence or realness, I don't even know what they're talking about. Real big words? Real imitation Premo? There's no there there.

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