This week the bloggasfear/internets produced some great articles on rap, just as many that were less than great, and a few that inspired me to respond. Details after the jump.
Dr. Seuss, Rap, and Racism – g already spotlightesd some of the absurd claims in this article, but I wanted to point out that not only is Run DMC’s mention of Dr. Seuss not an acknowledgement of influence, it isn’t even a wholly reverent allusion. “Now Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose both did their thing / But Jam Master’s getting loose and D.M.C.’s the king” is probably polite shorthand for “our rhymes are cooler and better and the kids will dig them even more, step aside.” Polite, but not admiring, and certainly not praising Seuss as a model rhymer. Plus, Dr. Seuss is more frequently mentioned in a disparaging manner in rap lyrics, either as the author of unchallenging, childish, soft rhymes or as X-Clan flips it on “Ooh Baby,” a symbol of homogenized white American banality: “I read Scott-Heron, FUCK Dr. Seuss.” I’m not anti-Seuss but he’s not a direct influence on rapping. Neither is Bob Dylan, btw.
Rappers And Firearms: Self-Defense Or Ticket To Jail? – Alvin Blanco fosters alarm over trends and connections that do not exist in a reality that is external to the one he conjures for the sake of writing his article. If I had to make a guess about his methodology, I’d say that he compiled every possible reactionary critique of rap music ever spewed in the last thirty years, e.g. the idea that rap lyrics are to be interpreted as literally as possible or that rap lyrics about violence beget real violence, and shoehorned them into an anti-gun invective specifically aimed at rappers.
The result? He argues that simply being a rapper and owning a gun is inherently problematic. He interprets a string of rappers getting arrested for gun violations as indicative of a larger trend, something more insidious and far-reaching than just the carelessness and ignorance of a few knuckleheads. He might have entertained the idea that these incidents have no real connection, or that a very large number of non-rappers are arrested for gun charges in the U.S. every year. But such thought and preparation would not have allowed for the crafting of an ominous rhetorical question headline or a convincing case for immediate alarm. There would be no story here, unless Blanco wished to argue that everyone from every walk of life is a potential violator of gun laws, and that everybody should be wary of purchasing firearms. But that would have nothing to with rap music, now would it?
Blanco implores us to “Name one rapper that can say their firearm actually protected them from harm.” Putting aside the fact that the burden of proof in this instance logically falls on Blanco, his implicit claims could be easily refuted with a list of gun-owning rappers who have never been arrested for gun-related crimes. Since his arguments are too speculative and his conclusions too spurious to fill out a whole article, he grasps for straws wherever he can find them.
He even has the gall to mention rappers who were slain by gunfire in a random aside, for no good or logical reason other to stir up an emotional response to a non-issue. “Too many times the line between reality and fantasy are getting crossed which can lead to tragedy,” writes Blanco, ignoring that rappers getting arrested for violating gun laws is merely a case of reality intersecting with legality. The fantasy of rap lyrics has nothing whatsoever to do with it, which means that Blanco’s plea for popular rappers to write anti-gun lyrics as a form of community service is silly and misguided. Unless of course, he thinks that writing about gun crime is akin to committing gun crime, which is only one inductive leap and a sprint back to Tipper Gore’s 1989 away from his current stance.
Lupe Fiasco – Lasers [Review] – In response to Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said” DuB writes “Political rap at its best. The first line really catches your attention, ‘I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit.’ ” DuB adds “I respect the fact he decided to speak on his political views.” Wait, this is political rap at its best? Put aside the problems that are inherent in defining “political rap” and concentrate on the line in question, which is cited as an adequate representation of the depth of the song’s political commentary (this is correct on closer inspection of the song). “I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit'” – this is what passes for profundity in rap (or any medium) in 2011? Is this a holy nugget of insight that the world has been blind to for the past decade?
As fans, are we so cynical that we feel compelled to give a rapper props for merely expressing an opinion, even if the opinion is trite and the execution is shaky? Is Lupe’s condemnation of the “war on terror” a more salient or expertly delivered observation than Chuck D’s “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,” or Sadat X’s “The welfare state can’t create a black father,” or Cee-Lo’s “Your hesitation to learn the truth will be your extermination”? If we restrict the discussion to the most recent music (the mark of a true phillistine, but I’ll play along), is “Words I Never Said” really more compelling, inspiring, or thought provoking than Pacewon’s examination of the uprising in Tunisia on “Can you Hear Me,”, Malcolm and Martin’s plea for Black and Latino solidarity on “Heritage,” Toki Wright’s condemnation of anti-immigrant fervor in Arizona on “By The Time I Get To Arizona 2010,” or any number of anti-establishment songs recorded by Skip Coon? Just stop.
EXCERPT FROM NAS INTERVIEW (1999) – Since the author of realniggatumblr occasionally writes like someone who wants his work to be perceived as something more substantive than a gimmick,1 it’s only fair that I respond to his latest outburst the same way I would for anyone else. Citing an interview from 1999 in which Nas throws a characteristically inarticulate, humorless jab at A Tribe Called Quest, realniggatumblr feels compelled to describe his own longstanding displeasure with Tribe. Employing about 10% of the cleverness displayed by whoever writes that fake Ghostface blog, he explains in so many ways that Tribe is just too corny for him, and that he is resentful of their “sneak dissin’ West Coast rappers at Hip Hop forums and conventions.”
There’s no evidence offered for this secret campaign of discrediting West Coast rappers, though. Perhaps he’s referring to the by now debunked myth that Q-Tip once dissed “West Coast niggas” on a mixtape, when he was in fact dissing “West Coast haters.” Or maybe he is referring to comments Q-Tip made in magazines about his displeasure with certain kinds of violent content, which were never coastally-specific. It doesn’t matter anyway; these claims are just baseless extensions of ill-informed message board gossip. Calling Tribe “soft” but forever extolling the virtues of Mobb Deep and Nas is a losing endeavor considering that the most critically acclaimed work of these artists, i.e. the songs and albums that are almost always considered to be their “hardest” material, were accomplished in direct collaboration with Q-Tip.
I’m not opposed to lightheartedly talking shit about rappers. They aren’t above it all. But at least do your homework and make sense if you’re going to be lazy about being funny. And just in case anyone is misled, let’s be clear: none of Tribe’s albums, including their much maligned The Love Movement, contain songs anywhere near as cheesy, soft, or ill-conceived as the worst Nas tracks of the last decade. Not even close. — Thun
- I have praised him the past on the rare occasions when he has dropped his juvenile shtick in favor of a more readable style. [↩]