Inward or outward, build or destroy. “It’s nation time!” versus “Da Inner Sound, Ya’ll!” If you’re lucky enough to have a record deal and you desire immortality you claim a movement through liner notes. For those of you just tuning in ,this is like a precursor to a Facebook group. Or think back to how the average nobody does the same through a yearbook caption or presses a sharpie onto the cheap vinyl of a schoolbus seat.
Chuck D. imagines an improbably continuum of dynasties blending into each other through a seasonal series of bloodless coups marching from new school to the nextest. Everyone is a self-annointed crown ruler, the heir to the throne of a nation not visible on any of his maps. There are no in-betweens here. No soda jerks, no drywall installers, no city job underlings, no secretaries or cashiers. Only kings, queens, gods, earths, lords, grandmasters overseeing principalities carved delicately out of the tawdry, bustling blocks of NYC and all outlaying counties.
Our legacy is stolen and obscured sixty six trillion times over, so we figure we have a right to locate our origins. Recolonization. Africa speaks to us coherently through James Brown’s grunts but having exhausted that arsenal we are now ready to whisk ourselves away to the futurist technojungle of Afrika-Akebulan-Asia. This realm haunts us like a Freudian motif, we see it everywhere and point at it like madmen hallucinating. It’s in the [obviously European styled] button down shirts with the psychcadelic prints, it’s in the low hum emanating from the Jeep Wrangler safari, it’s in the way she winds to the reggae cut, processed hair flailing to and fro.
Insanity, for certain, but insanity as a response to greater insanity is nothing new. Frantz Fanon once wrote at length about the absurd commercial relationship between the enslaver and the colonized, but we gloss over that part of the book. It’s time to bedeck ourselves in finery – red, black, and green to the extent that Roy Ayers would blush at our get ups. Thrown in the blues and purples and yellows we’ve been racking from the sportswear plantations and for a brief technicolor dreamcoat moment we think we are not co-opted, that our culture is in fact our freedom.
We are a garish horde, driven by consumption, making Benetton ads look positively homogenous. Some of us start cultural awareness clubs at school and like NYOIL have to defend such choices later. But it was the coerced norm within our comfortably fragile bubble of celebrated otherness, and when that norm popped, it popped for good. Soulquarian lounginess, spoken word patchouli wafting, “Yes We Can!”-ism – none of that shit ever came close to matching the gaudy stylistic intensity and spacey optimism of ’89/’90. How it slipped through out fingers is anyone’s guess – it’s not like the shit really went Hollywood, it just floated on or dissipated.
Like some nearly narctoic dream, in which we were the soul controllers. Where every drum machine, sampled composition, and metered verse was stitched together by pure Nubian sprites, and not a devil in sight. We can peek into this moment from time to time but it never feels the same, it seems so quaint, so contradictory and capricious. Never mind that the youth return to the brutal color combinations and impossible hopefulness every once in a crescent moon. We see and hear the obvious parallels but resist them like bad medicine, as if saying “fuck the youth” is as profound as our former inclination to say “fuck everything except the youth.”
In our ears, they get it but they don’t get it – there’s something about Q-Tip’s lazy but focused repetition “fallin skies babe, open eyes babe, can’t you see what lays inside babe” that must be transcendent and unique, right? And if it’s a little whimsical or silly for today’s youth, so what? You got Brother J’s matter-of-fact call to nationalism on “Raise The Flag” where he delivers a decidedly youthful and daringly happy style, never to use it again. A moment of youthful expression never quite rekindled by the Grand Verbalizer himself, so how could some kid today ever pick up the torch, and build the tribe, keep the colors alive, etc?
We jam this shit in 2009 like it’s going out of style, the iPod guaranteeing musical anonymity, insularity. We could all be brave like Shawn Taylor and flock to mass transit rocking the same Zubaz that Q-Tip and company rocked in the ridiculous “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” video and try to get these youngins to groove to the boom-bip. Or don a jumbo ankh and a walking stick and preach to the wayward souls of Washington Heights like X-Clan. But it all seems so fragile, so pointless. Do we have the presence of mind to locate a single YZ among the meretricious masses of today? Or was that bubble even weaker than we thought?