Juicy Retrospective: The American Dream

As is my custom, with my morning cup of java I flicked on the television, watched NY1, and then clicked over to MTV3. Akon faded off the screen (that dude is in everything) and to my surprise the virtual VJ tossed on Biggie’s Juicy. From the moment that “F**k all you hoes—Get a grip motherf**a” was bleeped out, I was hypnotized and glued to my seat, as it dawned on me how this song (and the video) has aged so well. Biggie still has a lot to teach.

People consider Juicy to be a, if not the, Hip-Hop anthem, celebrating the old school with a lyrical skill that excels most modern rappers. That’s hardly debatable. But what stuck me was the narrative that Biggie creates.

The two greatest criticisms leveled at Hip-Hop is that it either celebrates an immoral materialist culture or disrespects its roots. Juicy, on the surface, seems to do one and not the other. I don’t need to quote the lyrics; you know them probably like you know the back of your hand, or the curve of Buffy the Body’s posterior.

But what makes this anthem timeless, almost historical, is the way that the narrative Biggie provides elevates above his lyrics. This isn’t just a shout out of “old school” or a celebration of Biggie’s riches. It’s an allegory for Black development since the Civil Rights movement. It’s a statement of our development and maturation. His praise of old school isn’t so much praise as it creates the setting of his plot, and the outcome is ‘livin life without fear…” Substitute the foundations of Hip-Hop music for the foundations of the Civil Rights movement and this could be the story of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or Barack Obama. Instead of being “up close and personal with Robin Leach”, they’re keeping pace with Tim Russert. Same thing, different people.

But what does this all mean in terms of where Hip-Hop is at today? Well I think Juicy highlights the strong narrative that’s missing in Hip-Hop; and, as Odeisel mentioned before, it’s exchanged that story for obtuse and flat characters. Modern day Hip-Hop is like Wolverine menacingly flexing and popping his claws in front of a mirror, but fighting nothing. There’s no anchor to the past, and no foundation to build upon. The myth is dead. MIMS talks about why he’s hot, but he’s hot “coz I’m fly.” The circular reasoning boggles the mind.

When you take Hip-Hop back to its roots, and I mean it’s real roots in Africa with the Griot tradition, the magic is the story, passing on knowledge and dreams to their legacies. Juicy is part of that tradition, and because of that it’s a part of Americana, a standard that’s as much a part of our Nation’s fabric as A Catcher in the Rye, Angela’s Ashes, Black Boy, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Yeah, I know that last statement may seem grandiose, but that’s exactly what Hip-Hop should be: a form of expression that shapes destiny that’s grounded in history and envisions the future.

The Wolf runs a blog on political matters at www.wordofthepeople.blogspot.com. His first novel, The Intellectual Prostitute, will be dropping this Fall.