talib_kweli

Rappers: Where Ya’ Ba**s At?

“Half these rap lyrics ain’t thought-provoked/

Just a lot of beef till they get caught and smoked/”

—GZA, “Illusory Protection,” Grandmasters.

“If I rhyme about home and got descriptive/

I’d make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit/”

—K’Naan, “What’s Hardcore?,” The Dusty Foot Philosopher

Nowadays, nothing seems to annoy this

writer more than the fecklessness and sheer acquiescence of those whom, for

lack of a perceptive fan-base, are considered “Gangsta” or “Hardcore.” This

topic is no new one. For years, the “Studio Gangsta” has hollered tales of past

crime exploits on wax, and for years, those same personalities have escaped

through back doors, snitched on comrades, and softened-up faster than rotten

bananas, when confronted by incidents they previously claimed to have casually partook

in—robberies, stick-ups, chain-snatchings, gun-battles etc.  

But my greater gripe is less about the

foolishness of these fictional characters, and more involved with the

normalized nature of cowardice growing among the Hip-Hop artist community. 

To be sure, the last 10 years have

produced a great deal of commercialized jargon passing for Rap music; but this

fact takes nothing away from the reality that a good deal of quality music was

also made during that time-period. Unfortunately, a sizeable portion of it was

either never released to the public, or stalled for too long, thereby loosing

the appeal it once had. 

Enter: Major Record Labels.

From Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, to Saigon’s The Greatest Story Never Told, to Papoose’s The Nacirema Dream, to The Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury, many Hip-Hop fans have hopelessly awaited the

release of these highly anticipated projects. Their wait has been long and in

vain.   

The only project, out of that

collection, to be released was Hell Hath

No Fury, the follow-up to The Clipse’s strong 2002 debut, Lord Willin’. And after a two-year waiting

period, which consisted of lawsuits filed against their label (at the time,

Jive Records), considerable fury had taken form in the duo’s minds. On the

first single of their 2006 release, “Mr. Me Too,” Pusha T let it all hang out: “These are the days of our lifes/ And I’m

sorry to the fans, but the crackers weren’t playing fair at Jive/.” Their

frustration with the “crackers” at Jive was reprised in a September 2006 Rolling

Stone Magazine interview, in which Pusha T said the following: “I hate

Jive. I hate them motherfuckers. With all my heart and all the passion and my

soul I hate these bitches. It’s about the lynching of every staff member up in

this motherfucker.”    

The reason behind his explosive rant was

soon revealed: “You could ask anyone in here to give you a marketing plan on

Clipse and they could never do it. …It’s like damn, ‘What do you understand

about hip-hop? You ain’t had nobody since Spice 1! You don’t know the fucking

formula. Everybody in here’s like 50 years old!” His plea to Jive was simple:

“Just drop us.” His wish was granted shortly thereafter. 

It was painful to witness that ordeal,

and watch the drama unfold, but the bravery employed by The Clipse should not

simply be shelved and forgotten, flung to the basement of our memories. They

understood the costs involved in striking such a defiant pose at the “crackers”

who define, design, and decide the fates of most mainstream Hip-Hop artists.

Evidently, they had been pushed to the edge of the cliff, and didn’t mind jumping

from it. That is admirable on every level. And if more Rap artists put such

audacity to work in their professional lives, perhaps radio might sound differently today.    

The problem? Most refuse to simply serenade

that suggestion.  

* * *

The 18-year-old Atlanta Rapper Soulja

Boy is an easy target. I’m not too caught-up

on easy-targets. Politicians, bureaucrats, capitalists, colonialists, conservatives,

racists, sexists, xenophobes, and extremists feast upon them. But this

character is fascinating. The fact that he originally hails from Chicago—a city

which has produced such luminaries as Common, Twista, Rhymefest, No I.D., Kanye

West, GLC, Jasiri X, Da Brat, Lupe Fiasco, etc.—baffles the mind. I hate to imagine

what these esteemed lyricists think of their fellow Chicagoan.     

Nonetheless, I invoke Mr. Crank Dat, not

to lend my name to his most-wanted list, but because I think his recent antics

dovetail with the theme of this article—testicular fortitude.  About a couple of weeks or so ago, Soulja Boy

surprised his 1,000,000+ Twitter followers with a series of posts. Appeared to

be aggravated by some requests made of him, he wrote: “Water down my music and

my appearance and make me look like something i’m not… THESE CRACKERS DONT KNOW

WHO THE F*CK I REALLY AM!!! Then I get signed. this is where my dream slowly

died… these crackaz wanna criticize a n*gga. take REAL SH*t and turn it to

trash. Like why? Like really. My music dream was THE SH*t 2 years ago before I

was signed. It was everything I could ever imagine.”

The next morning, however, those

messages were deleted. For one who shot to international prominence at age 16,

through a song which expressed, in explicit terms, crass sexual escapades

(“Superman dat ho,” “Supesoak dat ho”), he seemed fine with watering-down his image and music. In fact, I assumed that the same young man who, last year, took

special time out to “Shout out… the slave masters,” because “without them

we’d still be in Africa,” hence deprived of “ice and tattoos,” would be the

last to lament the death of his “music dream.” (Welcome to reality, partna’!)    

Still, I enjoyed his soliloquy, expecting

to hear more about this new found conviction. 

What I got in return was an article,

titled “Money F*cks You Up…,” written a couple of days after the incident, in which he tried to make

amends for his remarks by placing them in proper

context. In his short essay, he affirmed the age-old truth: “Money f*cks you

up.” The fortune, fame, and felicities of success got him “twisted,” he

explained. And just to ensure his “cracker” anecdotes weren’t misinterpreted,

he concluded with the following: “sorry to all my white peeps out there. I’m

not racist :) But I guess time will heal all wounds…”

So, there you have it: A young man

speaks his soul, and tries to come to terms with the notoriously nefarious

nature of the music industry, but is reminded that Black self-expression is

limited in the context of White supremacy. The Hip-Hop artist will never be

faulted for championing Black-on-Black violence or Misogyny or Materialism or

Minstrelsy; but the moment rich White folks, especially those at the helm of

the industry’s engine, are complemented with equal amounts of attention for the

damage their actions have wrought on Hip-Hop music, wounds must be healed through public apologies and

retractions. 

I

wonder how many apologies and retractions it would take to remedy the countless

lives lost in gun-battles stemming from glorified violence in commercial Rap

jingles—funded by the “crackers” Soulja Boy and The Clipse are displeased with.

* * *

Canadian Rapper Drake might not have

been shot 9 times, but his ascent is being compared to one Curtis Jackson’s.

The attention he has seized amongst Hip-Hop’s elites, surrenders his name in

the pages of importance. This former “Degrassi: The Next Generation” (Canadian

sitcom) actor’s rise to Rap prominence has been helped by female fans who would

swear Drake was referring to them—and them only—in his latest single, “Best I

Ever Had.”

While he remains popular among the

ladies, and there’s certainly no wrong in that, most of his fans might do well

to also know that the sexually-charged content his music is today dominated by,

was nowhere to be found three years ago.   

In Room

for Improvement, a mixtape released late 2006, the young Drake is disgruntled

with the world, refusing to settle for the lackluster values being promoted

through society, culture, and music. He is poignant but not preachy, casual but

not caustic. Room for Improvement is

poetic, philosophical and, even, didactic. Somehow, Drake finds a way to minister

to the emotions of the listener, without engaging in the sophomoric banter many

Rappers his age (22) think amusing. In plain terms, it is enjoyable. Southern legend DJ Smallz is comfortable in the

background, unsuppressed by the need to declare his name every 15 seconds—unlike

many contemporaries.

In fact, I venture to say that this

mixtape, if released as an album, would have had no trouble being qualified as

a 4-star project, perhaps even a near-classic. The lyrical richness of Room for Improvement takes on a new

context, considering that it came from the mouth of a 19-year-old.

On “Do What You Do,” a humble Drake is

“satisfied with a little, why you haters want it all/.” In addition, he is “cutting

his records without getting weeded”—which might confuse those who’ve heard “Ransom,”

a song featured on his 2008 mixtape, Heartbreak

Drake Mixtape (The Best Of Drake).

“Make Things Right” establishes Drake at

his finest and most sincere. To all the girls “with the aspirations/ Of being

in the background with your assess shaking/ Hittin’ clubs and skipping out on

the class you’re taking,” he asks “you to have some patience.”   

“Get in my Slick Rick mode… I’ma tell

ya’ll a story real quick,” he says, as guitar riffs fall under the impression

of a gentle drum loop. “Video Girl” has begun playing. Drake crafts a narrative

of a Video Vixen, and avoids playing into the simplicity Compton rapper The

Game was unable to discharge himself from in “Wouldn’t Get Far,” the third

single from his sophomore project, The

Doctor’s Advocate.

He, instead, is perceptive enough to

submerge himself in the problems many Video Vixens are faced with; doing so, he

urges that each “Respect yourself/ Don’t be convinced that these tricks will/,”

though adding that his “cousin who can’t speak know the lyrics to tip drill/.”

Drake doesn’t want to “generalize” all Video Vixens. His call to “better”

themselves is rooted in “love to see my Black women strong, single,

independent, doing their thing—without

popping their booty in some Rapper’s video.”      

It’s sad to report that the eloquence

and candor put forth in his official mixtape debut has unsuccessfully made its

way into recent projects. The same rapper whose social commentary on “S.t.r.e.s.s.”

and “Try Harder” is nearly unmatched for its wit and wisdom, can now be heard

wishing to “f**k every girl in the world.” How ironic is it that a mere two

years after Room For Improvement, the

hook of his second most popular song goes as follows: “I want the money, money and the cars/ Cars and the clothes, the hoes,

I suppose/ I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful/ I just wanna be, I just

wanna be successful/.”

I’m not sure Drake fans are any aware of

these circumstances, but it would do them well to pay closer notice. The lad is

still young, and only recently did he sign

a recording contract (an unwise move for one who had managed his

independent career so successfully hitherto), so all hope remains recoverable;

but if he refuses to stand up to the suits and soothsayers of the music

industry, two years from now his music will be in worse shape that it currently

is.

* * *

For all their posing and posturing,

rappers sure rival marshmallows in battle of the softest. “It’s not a word to be claiming just ‘cuz it sound

cool/The game so twisted today for lack of ground rules/”

—Dead Prez Feat. Styles P, “Gangsta Gangster,” Pulse of the People.

Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic and a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com. He can be reached at Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.

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