Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gordon Gartrelle says: A hip hop mixtape for Zora (no Slow Jams on this one)

It’s not that kinda party.

Long ago I vowed that I would not to try to “legitimate” hip hop for those who don't understand it. I cringe whenever I hear Dyson or Russell Simmons begging people like Bill O’Reilly and Oprah to accept hip hop.

I place these hip hop defenders in the same category as those who plead with classical music snobs to recognize the complexity of jazz or prog rock, comic book fans who offer non-superhero graphic novels to as evidence of the medium’s “serious” or “adult” sensibilities, or black people who use black military service as proof of our historical loyalty and patriotism.

All of these groups seek acceptance by adopting the terms and frameworks of ignorant, but more powerful or influential people. Their efforts are Sisyphean, and their insecurity and need for external validation are pathetic.

I’m breaking my vow for you. I’m giving you this mixtape not because I seek your approval, but because I know that you’ll appreciate it because you are a critical thinker. Your inaccurate beliefs about hip hop stem from a lack of exposure and an ideological bias, not an inherent antagonism toward the people who produce it.

When you “school” me on those genres you defended, you’ll likely tell me to look beyond the clichés of sci fi lit (as a well-read negro, I am quite familiar with Ms. Butler) and zombie movies to appreciate the underlying social and political commentary on such topics as consumerism, conformity, memory, otherness.

Please take your own advice when listening to this mixtape*: go beyond the surface; pay attention to how the following songs use the language of rap to deal with transcendent questions concerning life, death, suffering, human nature, mind, matter, free will, God, and time.


Organized Konfusion—In Vetro

Eric B and Rakim—In the Ghetto

Pep Love—Trinity Lost

MF Grimm—Words

GZA—I Gotcha Back

Aceyalone—Thief in the Night

Cannibal Ox—Scream Phoenix

Madvillain—Shadows of Tomorrow**

*Don’t think that this kind of content is limited to “underground” hip hop; this just happens to be some of the stuff I have handy. The same approach is evident in the works of more popular artists like Outkast, Scarface, Nas, and even Jay Z, the epitome of mainstream corporate rap.

**Some rappers even draw inspiration from Sun Ra. How's that for insularity?


Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thanks for the flashback with the Eric B and Rakim, I've gone back to the Follow the Leader album recently. Like every other genre of popular music, the hip-hop that makes its way onto the radio is mostly shite (don't even get me started on the Eagles-lite that passes for country music these days) apart from Outkast and assorted others. I've been into hip-hop recently because I think the best hip-hop artists are more interesting and innovative than anybody else out there. Modern guitar rock (the genre I follow most closely) has run out of ideas, it's just become a rather tired attempt at re-inventing the some old wheel.

Zora said...

Gordon, thanks for the mix tape. (Alas, it does not contain any "slow jams" -- I longed to receive one of these back in high-school; you would have been my first.) I fear that you've misunderstood me. I don't dislike hip-hop -- on the contrary, I think that it is one of the world's most significant contemporary music forms. It's just that I do not feel that it has a place on our galactic calling card -- as a genre, it is not comprehensive in its representation of us as black folk. It says a lot that the artists you listed are either from "back in the day" or are underground. I'm looking at the genre as a whole, not at the exceptions. Even you have to admit that what is being given to us as "hip-hop" today is largely narrow-minded crap. Perhaps this is why your first suggestion was Sun-Ra?
P.S. I am not a music snob -- certainly no Wynton Marsalis. My Ipod includes everyone from Jay-Z to Papa Wemba to Gal Costa to Shania Twain (yes, absolutely). There is, however, a time and place for everything.