A Hip-Hop Post I’ve Been Sitting On For A While

I like hip-hop. I’ve never been ashamed to say that I like hip-hop. I’ve even gotten into arguments with people who insisted that it was garbage (with stinging retorts like, “No, YOU’RE garbage!”). I’d do my very best to explain the value of sampling (NOT equivalent to stealing) and rapping (NOT just a poor excuse for singing), even though it often fell on deaf ears. And yet, I almost never buy or even listen to new hip-hop records. Fiddy versus Kanye? No thanks. Any number of people with the word “L’il” in their names? I’ll pass. Soulja Boy? I have a feeling that, like me, all the other “not crap” enthusiasts are baffled by that clown.

First up, this needs saying: Kanye West should stick to producing. I’m sick of his voice. Dude is a terrible writer. If he was actually good at anything but making tracks, then I’d understand the bragging, but he’s not. It’s like someone’s little brother gets to play with the big kids and gets one jump shot that wins the game and instead of saying, “Hey, that was really good, maybe we’ll let you play next week,” everybody gives him 7 million dollars and an NBA contract. And Kanye, the word “dyke” implies a pretty butch gay woman. Someone who DOESN’T LIKE MEN. Not someone who’d get with you. Mr. West should take a break and go back full-time to putting tracks behind people who know how to write. Proof:

Talib Kweli – Good To You (Buy It)

But Kanye isn’t the problem, he’s just one of the symptoms.

I realize that none of this is an especially original thought — it might even read like every cliche from any number of other “Gee, hip-hop today sure is commercial and crappy…” blog posts. People have been complaining about the integrity of hip-hop since the day after Kool Herc played the first break-beat. The Roots (God bless ’em) have made a career from it. My point is that I’m not interested in most hip-hop being produced today. It’s not even about social consciousness. I don’t dislike a song just because the lyrics are about dealing drugs. I won’t refuse to listen to an artist if they don’t talk about Iraq or whatever. It’s not so much about content — at the core, it’s about innovation: who’s doing something exciting, something different, something worth perking up your ears for. And that’s sorely lacking. Mediocrity (like Kanye) shouldn’t be rewarded if the art form is expected to move forward.

I don’t want to pretend like I’ve got some encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop, or that I’m really scolding anybody. I’m just a bored fan and I want something I can listen to without falling asleep or hating right off the bat. And I do understand that most consumers do not have the same taste as I do. The majority of people buying music today will always go for the Soulja Boy’s over the Lyrics Born’s any day of the week. Of course this is true for all genres, not just hip-hop. That’s the nature of the music industry writ large: produce mediocre crap for mass consumption. Now that hip-hop is fully part of the mainstream, it would make sense that the lousy-but-easy-to-sell stuff would rise to the top.

Then there’s Jay-Z and Ghostface, who both have new albums out and are reliable for solid material. I don’t think I’m stepping out on a limb when I say that the two of them have produced some of the best music that the genre has to offer. I’m a fan of both dudes, but I’m underwhelmed with the albums. Both have genuinely amazing tunes on them, which have been on repeat around here:

Jay-Z – Success (feat. Nas) (Buy It)

Ghostface Killah – Yolanda’s House (feat. Method Man and Raekwon) (Buy It)

But again, neither album seems great. Truth be told, I haven’t bought either one, and probably won’t. American Gangster because a lot of the production sounds generic or recycled (even to the point of using that “Between the Sheets” sample from “Big Poppa” on “Ignorant Shit”) and Big Doe Rehab because Ghostface sounds bored half the time — and he’s supposed to be the enthusiastic Wu-Tang member. The songs above are so solid, with that great organ line in “Success” and Nas actually sounding hungry, with some hilarious and intricate storytelling from Ghost and crew on “Yolanda’s House,” but I’m not convinced.

There’s also the new Wu-Tang album, coming out tomorrow, which you can read a summary of over at our pal floodwatchmusic. From the samples you can hear there, it sounds pretty sick. Maybe it won’t disappoint too much. And there’s always Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx II, which is turning into the hip-hop equivalent of Chinese Democracy (much-hyped, infinitely postponed) somewhere on the horizon. And who knows, maybe Kanye will go back to just producing … a guy can dream can’t he?

So, to sum up: Some hip-hop good, some hip-hop bad. Some music good, some music bad. New hip-hop isn’t great, but there’s always the old stuff. And every once in a while something good comes out and knocks you off your feet. Hopefully, it’s around the corner soon…

posted by Adam

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