I like the music of the Native Tongue because the rappers, producers, and associated personalities in the inner and outer circles of this loose collective have never acted like insufferable, promethazine-addled, “I’m not a rapper I’m a hustler,” douchebaggery-driven, subliterate troglodytes.
Now, if this statement somehow offends your delicate predilection for all that is jiggnorant, unintelligible, and decidedly Dixie (or bombastically Bompton), step away from your Soulja Boy mousepad, exhale, and count to ten. Thereâ€™s no sense in firing up WordPress and banging out a jargon-laced and yet effusive knee-jerk response just yet.
Donâ€™t get it twisted â€“ the main reason to listen to ATCQ, De La, The JBs, and the others is to enjoy their music. Unlike half the acts that manage to trend in Twitter these days, such basic enjoyment of the Native Tongue discography is entirely possible before one tries to intellectualize the content of their songs. Even if decades of questionable praise from smooth jazz enthusiasts looking to rescue hip hop from its supposed iniquities sickens you to the core, the combined discography has something in it for you, even if you’ve spent the last half decade attempting to convince your peer group that Juelz > Rakim. Trust.
This is not to say that their legacy is entirely untarnished by mediocre output or questionable artistic decisions, or that their aesthetic cannot wear thin. Iâ€™m sure there are legitimate reasons to suggest why the Native Tongue as a whole are overrated in the grand scheme of rap. I am not so smitten by their greatness that I refuse to consider the possibility that others have improved on their formula. I readily acknowledge that some of their stances towards coarser forms of rap are problematic. And if someone simply prefers something that is harder-edged, at least in terms of lyrics, so be it, to each his own.
However, I believe that the legacy of the Native Tongue is secured not only by their excellent musical output, or their by now safe metropole-boho aesthetic, but also because they just seemed so easygoing and cool. Without coming off as licentious, nihilistic, or greedy, they reveled in all that was earthly and pleasurable. Their beats were pulsing, warm, and entrancing. Their deceptively simple â€œtalkyâ€ style of flow hinted at worlds beyond comprehension in a manner so effortlessly appealing that the words barely mattered, even though many of their verses are damned near perfect.
In retrospect, they were all so â€¦ human, I guess, in a way that most rappers post-ATLiens simply are not. Self-indulgent yet playful, verbose yet affable, vaguely mystic and yet down to earth. Their more ethereal songs feel a bit aimless, almost to the point of being annoying, but rarely do you feel as if these guys are projecting massive insecurities out onto their audience for kicks. Regardless of what their real life personalities were like, you always got the sense that they were being themselves on record (an artistic self, perhaps, but a clearly defined self nontheless) and that they were having fun navigating the gulf between populism and polarization, flirting with widespread rejection. While such existential tumult has driven other talented rappers into premature obsolescence, the artists in the Native Tongue seemed to possess a healthy sense of humor about themselves. Their music has aged beautifully, and they have not been shamed by pink-suit videos or unlistenable R&B collaboratons.
Many thirtysomething rap fans pray daily that in lieu of an actual reunion, a new Native Tongue movement will spring out of todayâ€™s pool of young talent. Such longing is sort of superfluous given the sustained relevance of the posse’s musical contributions in the face of a musical cultured that is debased beyond recognition and a reception culture driven by questionable agendas. Rest assured, I am similarly disgusted by the overcompensating praise for prometha-sambo marble-mouthed mongoloids that is all the rage in the blogosphere.
But at the end of the day the discography of the Native Tongue (which continues to grow with the continual discovery of unreleased gems) is here for all of us to rediscover and pass on. And every time it is revisited or shared, the participating listeners will encounter personas that are easily likable. You know, the kind of cats you wouldnâ€™t mind inviting to a family cookout, friends that you donâ€™t feel compelled to go to absurd lengths to justify, good all-around folks. And that’s all that’s needed sometimes. –Thun