Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Face of Black Nihilism: The NY Times Goes Slumming and Discovers Chicago "Rapper" Chief Keef

Around the same time Chief Keef, who has spent much of this year under house arrest because of gun charges, threatened the older Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, who in a fit of reckoning the previous week expressed grievous concerns about the younger rapper’s nihilistic music. Keef threatened on Twitter to “smack him like da lil bitch he is.” Again, after an outcry, he said his account had been hacked. Finally, also last month, Chief Keef was relieved of his Instagram account after posting, also to Twitter, a photo of himself receiving oral sex from a woman.

By any measure, this is raw, difficult-to-consume stuff. That it’s coming from one of hip-hop’s most promising young stars newly signed to a major label makes it unusually scandalous. But what’s most surprising about the situation is that it highlights the vast gap between Chief Keef and the rest of hip-hop, at least its mainstream, popular incarnation.
Chicago based crap rapper and hyper thug race minstrel  Dadaesque minimalist emcee Chief Keef has climbed from the obscurity of the Internet and now has garnered the attention of the country's newspaper of record. The music press, blogs, social media, and various internet sites have been talking about Chief Keef for some time. While his video "I Don't Like" has received at least 17 million views, Chief Keef has also become even more noteworthy for his gang affiliations, violent feud with local Chicago rappers (one of which resulted in the death of a young man named "Lil JoJo"), and how he has been condemned as embodying everything wrong with commercial hip hop and black youth culture by such notable hip hop artists as Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest.

Ultimately, Chief Keef reminds me of how I didn't leave hip hop. In many ways, hip hop left me. I still love her.

Let's be honest though: we all age out of youth culture.

At present, the commercial rap which is popular now is a product of a reality TV show Facebook culture where mediocrity is prized and talent eschewed. In the culture of illusion, we can all be famous. Sarah Palin with all of her human mediocrity and white trash populism can be a viable candidate for the highest office in the land. The Tea Party GOP, with its penchant for anti-intellectualism, racism, nativism, and conspiranoid fantasies, are a national force in the country's politics. The popularity of Chief Keef is a product of that same cultural low-water mark. As a member of the hip hop generation (and someone who has also written extensively about hip hop and black popular culture) I find this transition tragic and unfortunate, but not at all surprising.

While every album cannot be as good as the legendary Liquid Swords (just rereleased in a great collector's edition by Get on Down, the latter kindly blessed me with a copy), The NY Times' surrender to a subgenre of hip hop that requires no real melody, rhyme technique, sophisticated use of metaphor, and simply consists of the mouth utterances of semi-literate "street poets" who would be felled in a battle with Rapping Granny, cannot be ignored for what its popularity suggests about the health of commercial hip hop as a genre of music:
Sure, plenty of rap is like this, but rarely, in this era of hip-hop’s full assimilation into the mainstream, does it attract much attention. It’s a surprise that Chief Keef is beginning to gain traction because there’s strikingly little room for what he does in the hip-hop mainstream, which is preoccupied with success and, probably even more impossible for him, melody.
Certainly, the Golden Age of hip hop from 1989-1996 produced many horrible albums and songs. However, what were once considered failures of artistry and craft in that era, would be heralded as visionary triumphs in the current musicscape.

The NY Times expose on Chief Keef is part of a long history where grotesque blackness is given a stage as an object of fetishistic delight and curiousity for white cultural critics. The Black Culture Industry markets blackness to white people while simultaneously selling authentic negritude back to the African American community. We see this dynamic in the hip hop music press and commercial radio, where for example, while hip hop is a black musical form, it is part of a broader popular culture industry that is run and controlled by white people, and sold to a public that is largely not African-American.

We have to be careful in our critique. Chief Keef and other commercial rap artists are no less authentically "black" because of how they present a debased and ugly caricature of black humanity and life. Moreover, "blackness" is both beautiful and ugly. Much of commercial hip hop comes from the "popular"--the lower case "p" of the "folk" and their "real" "living" culture--but it circulates in a media environment and broader social context where the "Popular" serves the interests of a white controlled industry, economy, and Capital.

Black bodies have historically been a source of profit. Consequently, the black bodies and human props of commercial hip hop are part of a long history where the white gaze has objectified black art and culture.

Black artists have struggled to negotiate this dynamic, what some have described as the "sex/race marketplace," for their own (and at times limited) advantage and gain.

In all, Chief Keef and others exist in a Black Superpublic where our private shames, spaces, pleasures, and humanity--and not necessarily progressive, positive, or respectable politics and behavior--are on display for a global mass public. Chief Keef may just be trying "to get his hustle on." He most certainly knows little, and cares even less about, such realities. But commercial hip hop artists are taken by many around the world as a real representation of our humanity and personhood: here black men are reduced to hyper thugs and hoodlums; black women are sex freak deviants who are owned and traded by the men in their lives like so much jewelry or other fashion accessory item.  

In its celebration of his fringe to the mainstream success, The NY Times offers little comment on the spaces, neighborhoods, and limited life chances that are supposedly spoken to, and represented by rappers such as Chief Keef:
Chief Keef serves as a reminder of what’s been whitewashed out of the hip-hop mainstream: a sense of the struggle bedeviling the communities that produce much of the music. For someone whose primary exposure to hip-hop comes from terrestrial radio or BET, and whose idea of a mainstream hip-hop star is Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne or even Rick Ross, who turned darker on his most recent album, “God Forgives, I Don’t,” the single-minded roughness of Chief Keef’s music would be almost wholly foreign...After a long climb that began with a YouTube groundswell, “I Don’t Like,” the collaboration with Lil Reese that’s the defining document of the current Chicago sound — stark, violent, happily unforgiving — has now spent a few months on the Billboard R&B/hip-hop singles chart.
What’s notable about Chief Keef and much of the Chicago music scene that he’s come to symbolize —  known locally as drill music — is how those elements are all but absent. With rare exception this music is unmediated and raw and without bright spots, focused on anger and violence. The instinct is to call this tough, unforgiving and concrete-hard music joyless, but in truth it’s exuberant in its darkness. Most of its practitioners are young and coming into their creative own against a backdrop of outrageous violence in Chicago, particularly among young people  —   dozens of teenagers have been killed in Chicago this year  —   and often related to gangs. (There’s a long history of overlap between Chicago’s gangs and Chicago’s rap.) That their music is a symphony of ill-tempered threats shouldn’t be a surprise.
Chief Keef's breakout single "I Don't Care" is a series of exclamations and declerative statements about disdain, disinterest, rage, and anger. He poses a profound philosophical conundrum: what would a life of joy and hope look like for a young black male member of the ghetto underclass like Chief Keef? Therein lies an existential dillemma, one that young black men in poor environments, surrounded by a culture of death and violence, must address if they are going to survive as spiritually, ethically, and morally whole human beings.

Chief Keef's statements of angst are signals back to Cornel West's seminal and prescient essay on the nihilistic threat to Black America:
...We must delve into the depths where neither liberals nor conservatives dare to tread, namely, into the murky waters of despair and dread that not flood the streets of black America. To talk about the depressing statistics of unemployment, infant mortality, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, and violent crime in one thing. But to face up to the monumental eclipse of hope, the unprecedented collapse of meaning, the incredible disregard for life (especially black life} and property in much of black America is something else.

The liberal-conservative discussion conceals the most basic issue now facing black America: the nihilistic threat to its very existence. This threat is not simply a matter of relative economic deprivation and political powerlessness--though economic well-being and political clout are requisites for meaningful black progress. It is primarily a question of speaking to the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair so widespread in black America...

Black people have always been in America's wilderness in search of a promised land. Yet many black folks now reside in a jungle with a cutthroat morality devoid of any faith in deliverance or hope for freedom. Contrary to the superficial claims of conservative behavioralists, these jungles are not primarily the result of pathological behavior. Rather, this behavior is the tragic response of a people bereft of resources to confront the workings of U.S. capitalist society. This does not mean that individual black people are not responsible for their actions--black murderers and rapists should go to jail. But it does mean that the nihilistic threat contributes to criminal behavior--a threat that feeds on poverty and shattered cultural institutions. The nihilistic threat is now more powerful than ever before because the armor to ward against it is weaker. 
If Chief Keef and other "drill" rappers are to be taken seriously as barometers for a generation's feelings and sentiments--and their music as informal types of public opinion--Black America is clearly in a crisis where a generation has apparently been lost. Can they be saved? And what can be done to counter the triumph of nihilism--in the Age of Obama and its first Black President--over a whole cohort of lost African-American youth?


Invisible Man said...

See now this is what I'm talking about Brother DeVega, this is a lot more real talk that shilling for the Democratic Party 24/7! Brilliant analysis!

What can be done? Why don't we start by telling the truth, which you hit upon. But that New York Times article exposed nothing

I saw it last Sunday and almost throw my Count-Chocula Cereal!
The writer who penned this article is what's wrong with Hip Hop. He provides a specious commentary that will be accepted and unquestioned by the masses. Hip Hop doesn't get produced in a vacuum. Chief Keef gets so much play (as you noted) because the largely white male record industry ( like the big bankers who ruined our economy) are not interested in long term investments in Hip Hop Culture, the quick money is in promoting the most dangerous acting/being young Black males who happen to have a microphone. Pitch Fork is a perfect example. They are based in Chicago so they now about the pandemic of violence in the Black community last summer. And what was their response? Pitchfork's Editor-In-Chief Mark Richardson, came up with a "brilliant" idea, to send Chief Keef to a gun range in New York to buck off some shots for the camera while being interviewed for their promo. Richardson canceled this "promo" ( after bad publicity) stating it was "rushed and should not have happened" Needless to say he personally didn't take blame for it. Meanwhile, Female hip hop artist Psalm One( also from Englewood) and others like Mr. Green Weedz, Tone B. Nimble, Bobby Lovelock,Crucial Conflict,Pugsley Addams. etc struggle for recognition, which is why so many real Hip Hop artists leave Chicago, Denizen Kane, Qwel Li, Qwazaar,Offwhyte, etc. And Common( from Chicago) rapped about having to leave Chicago for New York to get famous. So the message is to brothers in the street, you wanna get famous? You need to get a felony Class X that relates to a gun. The more violent, the better. A Raw Burst of Change? Please, that would have to start with the white record executives.

chaunceydevega said...

@IM. I go where my heart and the moment takes me. I have 2 more posts on this and a review of the Liquid Swords album remastered to do too. Was just timing. There is a real tragic element to what Kief and Jo Jo represent about the state of nature war zones that are their communities.

I avoid these topics because it is a bit too close to "work" so to speak, but every now and then I broach the topic.

Mr. Green Weedz is cool people btw.

Invisible Man said...

Yea Thrasher, something about these white liberal news outlets, that always manages to fail on the important nuances. Cause they will never hire no real black folk willing to tell it like it TIS. But the NYT's is certainly better than Chicago's WBEZ. they had the temerity to drop The Cornel West & Travis Smiley Show for being critical of Obama.

Invisible Man said...

Can't wait to see the Liquid Swords Review DeVega, and I'd like to know what the work is that you do? I'm down with Mr. Green Weedz so that should count for some credit on my link card.

And let me ask you something else, Brotha while I got ya ear. You correctly and clearly state that Black America is "clearly in a crisis where a generation has apparently been lost."

I'd argue that we have lost at least three generations. I mean we got half rotting away in a prisons( making billions for some one else as part of the prison industrial complex) and the other have six feet under. and you ask
"Can they be saved? And what can be done to counter the triumph of nihilism--in the Age of Obama and its first Black President--over a whole cohort of lost African-American youth? "

Now I've been following your blog in another manifestation for a couple years now, and you've always been super pro Obama. You've never pushed him to do more in the hood. Don't you think conservatively he could have had operatives in the Black community working to counter some of this insanity, some sort of pipe line of resources and idealists to deal with his own people? he could have appointed Cornel West to run it as a covert mission.I don't particularly blame him more as I blame US. I guess I feel that for the last three years you've done more cheering and I've done more shouting about a squandered opportunity. Now if seems like Black folks are finally making demands, but in the 9th inning when it's impossible to do any thing. Just asking, yo.

chaunceydevega said...

@IM. Lover of food and women is my title, more the former than the latter. Lots to think about there. Obama and the hood? Barring urban renewal and finishing the half started programs from the Great Society that have been lied about and misrepresented in the corporate media, there is nothing Obama can do to help these communities. He would have more power as an alderman setting up street fairs.

That is the paradox of the Imperial presidency--Obama is limited by his blackness and cannot help black people directly because that is "racist." He has more power abroad with killing folks and trying to alter arrangements of global power than in his own former neighborhood.

We need local organizing, business start ups, and men to take it to the street, armed, and clean up their own neighborhoods from the ign't classes. Every non-black group of people and ethnic blacks from abroad can make money in 'the hood; the denizens there often enable it.

In this economy and where the Brothers once called "George" are now Pookie and Ray Ray, who want to post up on the corner and live some ghetto dystopian fantasy I fear much is lost which cannot be recovered. Neoliberalism plus colorblind racism equals a semi-permanent reality where race and class intersect to the perpetual disadvantage of black people.

What do you think?

Black Sage said...

For the past three or four years, listening to Hip Hop has come to almost an abrupt halt. I pretty much stopped listening to rap because it’s has gradually become more excruciating than ever to listen to and decipher what the hell most of them are rapping about. These days, rap is empty, just as empty as kicking an aluminum can down the sidewalk that has been emptied of its nutritious contents.

My, my, my, how I long to hear new music from conscious rappers of old like Chuck D, 2Pac, Ice Cube, Kam, D Nice, KRS One, Pimp C, Sister Souljah, Big Daddy Kane and Brand Nubian. However, I also like to hear Common, Nas and Lauren Hill as well.

I’ve never heard of Chief Keef until just a few minutes ago. He’s not really saying much and most of his beats are pretty much the same. I don’t see the value of his music, just like most of the rap music of today that constantly valorizes violence, degrade women and rap incessantly about bling bling, selfish nonsense.

Obviously, a lot of today’s young rappers don’t realize the power of having a microphone to essentially speak to the entire world and give them a glimpse of what’s truly happening in this country. CNN, MSNBC or Fox News aren’t going to tell the world because they are part and parcel to the problem. I hope young rappers begin to rap of meaningfully, conscious situations affecting their communities instead of being utilized as a commodity tool to color an entire group of people in the most demeaning manner.

To put my theory to the test, let us see how quickly Chief Keef’s White executives would distance themselves from him if he’d begin to rap about social matters, racism and oppression targeting Black communities in this sh$t hole of a country called the USA. Hell….., I’m almost certain it’ll be quicker than a New York minute!

Razor said...

You all have got to check out Jasiri X hailing from Pittsburgh and Killer Mike ( a misnomer to his content ). Particularly Jasiri X...smoking social, cultural and political content...who can rap for real.

Bruto Alto said...

@Black Sage/chaunceydevega/ Invisible Man

I gotta call BS. I can compare ANY rapper of ANY time with todays rappers. I compare these comments to guys who rate the NBA but haven't played Basketball in 20 years. "I also like to hear Common, Nas and Lauren Hill as well.".....Lauren Hill's one album? really that's your love for hip hop really?

We got old it's ok to not like what cool now. Your parents hated what you listened to when you were young. Danny Brown is ODB today. ASAP Crew and OFWGKTA are the early stages of the Wu. Kanye West is the arrogance of Run and the talk of Special ED mixed with Rick Rubin. Nas said rap was dead then finally made his best album. It only took Kelis/divorce and Marvin Gaye.

Again I gotta call BS. See I am Hip Hop (if you don't know what that means then just stop) Step out of mainstream radio and Hip Hop is live and well. Yeah Keef is crap and will be another one hit wonder but so was Amhad, (back in the days) or Gravediggers. Hip Hop has layers some good (Childish Gambino & Killer Mike) some bad (Keef who by the way is on West's Cruel summer crazy enough) but it what it is. Me I enjoy XV, Currency, ASAP Rocky, and Tyler the Creator. Each is totally different and not all are positive but I love it all.

Black Sage said...

@Bruto Alto, to each his own!! Again, the vast majority of today's rappers are small in comparison when juxtapose with conscious, old school rappers. Old school rappers are incomparable for the most part!

Bruto Alto said...

What really? any examples (Chances they consigned on someone today to carry their skills)

chaunceydevega said...

@Bruto. I appreciate the spirit of your comments. You are hip hop. I am hip hop too. And yes I get the reference.

I have/was/am a DJ (worked in clubs too, had offers to open for some big names on occasion), did radio for several years (and was offered regular spot as a pro and money in it), have written and taught about the subject, conferences with folks like Davey D and folks like that, networked with and interviewed the Bootcamp Clique, other rappers you likely know too, folks from Loud, Duckdown, and other labels, etc. etc. etc. And yes, I still listen to the music and love some of it still. Just not crap that passes as "hip hop" or even "rap" today that you hear on the radio and elsewhere.

For the record most conscious and underground rap ain't too good either--and it never has been.

You are right in thinking about how youth culture changes. Absolutely--thus my allusion to that fact of us aging out. However, we can talk about how aesthetics have changed over time, how gatekeepers and mentors are very important in terms of shaping how commercial hip hop (and other varieties too) is presented, the impact of sampling laws and how quite literally much of the music that we grew up on cannot be made, and the overall health of hip hop as a culture in the U.S. As I said above, our culture is also in a moment where anti-intellectualism is prized.

Lots of these young emcees we are talking about are barely literate, certainly not well read, and do not listen to a range of music. Their worlds are profoundly limited so they make dumb music for similarly culturally impoverished people.

Notice, I don't talk about hip hop in its entirety. I am very specific in my reference to commercial hiop hop meaning what you hear on the radio. That is the sub-genre I was focusing on. As a self-described hip hop head, even you must concede the obvious--what you could hear on the radio even ten years ago, nevermind 15 or 20 years ago was much "better" and "diverse". The response is not to deny that fact, but to ask "how" and "why?".

Alternatively, if you disagree then marshal up some evidence--for us being artists and song lyrics that we can develop a framework to evaluate.

chaunceydevega said...

Part 2

One point though. Gravediggaz for all of the mess that was "horrorcore" or whatever it was called, is light years ahead of Chief Keef. There are other points too regarding gatekeepers, digital media, and crap rappers can bypass the cyphers, underground clubs and battle contests (not that they always produce great emcees) and DJ's like Red Alert who could then put someone on.

Now, these crappers go to Youtube or put out some bad mixed tape (to date myself I remember using analog mixers to multitrack back in the day to sound like Dirty Harry or Lazy K) and the plebes, who have no sense of hip hop artistry or history eat it up. I was on a panel over the summer and I described current commercial hip hop as what happens when you have 40 year old men making music for 12 year olds. I stand by that observation.

I get your sense of love and trying to give some blessing to the younger heads. But, we do them no favors when we lower standards in order to elevate them. Childish Gambino, by any measure, is a subpar emcee who would have gotten laughed out of the room when hip hop was healthy and at its height.

Kanye is no Run or Special Ed. And I liked all three of them.

Ultimately, there is a crisis of hip hop literacy. Older heads are stuck in nostalgia for the good old days which produced lots of crappy music too--my room is full of those one hit wonders as I imagine yours is too. But, the younger generation is in a moment of such diminished standards and accomplishment they have come to take it as normal.

A quick story, rock heads know their classics. I am never disappointed when I ask college students who are into rock music to list the classics--they nail it every time.

The self proclaimed hip hop heads I have met (fakers inmao), because the music has become so utterly disposable, rarely even know who Rakim is. Nevermind Tribe, OK, Kool G. Rap, etc.

I also give my students lyrics to read in order to get a sense of process in writing, context, and to try to get them to actually think about what they are listening to. Compare the written lyrics of the sway rappers, trap rappers, or the "drill" mess coming out of chicago to even someone like Jay Z, never mind Midnight Marauders/Low End or OBFCL, they are stunned. One student, really into Southern minstrel crap rap said "that stuff is hard, I don't want to think that much."

Is there a more perfect description for what our culture has wrought?

Pathetic. Take Lupe Fiasco--horribly overrated by the way--and his not knowing the lyrics to Scenario and then not being embarrassed about it, and you see how deep the problem is.

Just being thorough one hip hop head to another.

chaunceydevega said...

meant "Swag" rappers.



chaunceydevega said...

@Blacksage. Many of those old school rappers stunk up the place too. But again, the most mediocre of them was likely better than the most mediocre of current commercial hip hop emcees.

We have to be careful of nostalgia coloring our assessment of skills. X-Clan for example is/was laughably bad. But, in that moment, they symbolized a certain energy of style over substance that resonated--which is why they are fondly remembered today. I like great emcees and great story-telling. I will take a smart, entertaining, and great story about killing folks, sex, and being a badman over some didactic crap that is just someone trying to teach and preach who is weak on hip hop fundamentals and skills (Mike Franti for overrated, good politics just not a good emcee). Others have a different set of rules. To each his own.

I remember Chuck D said that they got over because of the Bomb Squad, their energy, and sound. PE was making great music first and foremost. That helped with their teaching and why they are hall of famers. Unfortunately, lots of conscious rappers forgot that lesson.

Cavoyo said...

The problem with conscious rappers is, who wants to hear about things are bad for black people for an entire album? It's like, here's a rap about a black kid that got beat up by the police. Here's a rap about a black man that got killed by the police. Here's a rap about how Philly's ghetto sucks. Here's a rap about 3 little girls that got killed by the police. Hoo boy is that entertaining! I really want to play that at my next party, I'm sure that's just the things my friends want to listen to while they're having a good time.

The other thing is, if your life sucks, you don't need someone to tell you that your life sucks. Racial oppression isn't exactly a secret to the racially oppressed, and it's no fun to be reminded that society hates you. Nonblack people might benefit from listening to conscious rap, but they don't want to because they don't care about black people. They also benefit from the illusion that poor black people enjoy their lot. So every race has an incentive to listen to ghetto-trap-gangster-fantasy rap and ignore conscious rap.

CNu said...

The Blackest Man on the Internet, him say - Chief Keef Leads 17 Million In War Against Bitch Niggas & Snitch Niggas • Advanced Memetic Counterinsurgency • DV University • Fall 2012

Bruto alto said...

Now I see where we part.

A few years ago Wale, Kendrick Lamar,J. Cole, Big Kritt and 9th Wonder didn't exist to the mainstream world. They made popular culture listen to them and became "commercial hip hop". Organized noise and The Native Tonges did it the same way. As TI said "it will get played if your girl wants to dance to it" Now the only problem is that groups like LiveNation are using the internet as metrics for talent.

"the impact of sampling laws and how quite literally much of the music that we grew up on cannot be made"
I don't think so..The easy answer is 9th wonder and the Neptunes. The best answer is Big Krit and Just Blaze. Producers who can read sheet music and don't have to sample to make classic music.

"what you could hear on the radio even ten years ago, nevermind 15 or 20 years ago was much "better" and "diverse". The response is not to deny that fact, but to ask "how" and "why?"."

In the Chi? In NY? In Miami? atlanta? LA? Music has changed, kids today don't listen to their local stations. Internet radio, i-tunes, and sites like DatPiff made attention spans shorter and choices of region huge. DJ's are now part of labels and push their artists. I think it's great todays rappers don't have to grease DJ's palms any more to get their stuff played. Radio has been a joke for years. If you want "better" and "diverse" it's out there. It's on your phone or in the very computer your typing this from. I enjoy XV and he's from Kansas. Take Drake..please take him...please Octobers Ones Own was a great album is it hip hop mainstream when it came out. HELL NO, but now it is. He changed the game. Remeber Big boi and Dre before they were Big Boi and Andre 3000.

Last thing comparing the written lyrics is only good when you compare apples to apples. if you take out the greats Biggie (Jay-z still takes his shine), Pun (Fat Joe still takes his shine), Big L (Camron still takes his shine) and they all learned from Kool G Rap, then I can compare any rapper alive or dead including Pac.

Bruto Alto said...

"So the message is to brothers in the street, you wanna get famous? You need to get a felony Class X that relates to a gun. The more violent, the better."

This is so out of touch it's crazy. Not one "radio rapper is a kiiller right now. Ross (worked at the jail) Jay-z (might have stabed Un over C.B. but beat the case) T.I. (Felon but not violent) Wheezy (Felon but not violent) Jezzy/Lil John/Luda (Worked in music as A&R's or DJ's but no record)Kayne/Lupe/Pusha T/Nas (Nothing) That makes up the top 25 radio singles. If it helps think of gangster rap as the same as Alice Cooper or Ozzy. They are selling you a story nothing more.

chaunceydevega said...

@Bruto. ""So the message is to brothers in the street, you wanna get famous? You need to get a felony Class X that relates to a gun. The more violent, the better."

Do you think the young brothers know this? And those other folks, who don't know real black folks in the real world, are not influenced by this charade of hyper thug nonsense?

I am not against crossing over and getting paid. I also don't think that black artists--or any artist for that matter-has an a priori obligation to the politics of black empowerment. I don't want to hear Jay-Z rap about political economy. That doesn't mean that popular culture does not impact politics or public opinion.

When I talk to colleagues and share my work and thoughts on this issue, many who worship the myth of how conscious and underground hip hop were/are so "great" get mad when I explain my position--make good music, get some money too. Art and profit can coexist. Many black cultural workers feel the same way.

Just Blaze, 9th Wonder, I like. Talented in any era. What could they do if they had access to the samples of yesteryear? Art is very much of a function of available technology. Lots of the hip hop today sounds like crap because it is made by folks who are not musically literate, using basic beats for a public that has not been exposed to a range of art.

You are spot on in terms of the decline of radio--especially regional radio and talented hosts with the rise of corporate consolidation and now the free jack mess. There is stuff out there online...absolutely.

Drake? Meh. Sorry, can't cosign. You can also keep Wale, Kendrick Lamar,J. Cole, and Big Kritt.

You are right on lyrics. As such would you want to take those folks and compare them to the hot mess that passes as talented emcees today? It would be the short bus kids versus the Harvard Law Review.

Sadly, given how dumbed down the music has become--and our culture too-the former would win 'cause the latter make their "heads hurt."

Make a list of the top ten emcees of the last few years and compare them to the top emcees of the golden age or even the 1990s or early 2000s, who would you want on your all time greats team? Which bench is collectively more talented?

fred c said...

It's remarkable for me to recall just how positive early Rap was, I'm thinking of Grandmaster Flash and other early practitioners were. Later, when the anger thing got rolling, I thought that it was a fine thing to give voice to righteous anger, I'm thinking of Public Enemy. I'll bet that the Four Tops were angry about lots of things too, but they couldn't show it in those days. The permission to be angry, I believed, was progress of a sort.

I also understand economic considerations, I am very forgiving and loathe to judge people's efforts to make money, even if they steal cars for a living.

But this more recent, rougher Hip Hop, is an ill wind. The only good that it works is to enrich a very small number of people. The harm that it does, to Black Americans' image of themselves and to other peoples' image of Black Americans, is just a shame.

Black Sage said...

@Fred C, I feel you! My comment above damn near mirror your statement. Most of today’s young wayward rappers are the contemporary version of Step’n Fetchit. A mini minstrel every time one of them steps on the stage. Mean while, the image of American Blacks in general will continue to suffer not only domestically, but internationally as well.

Cavoyo said...

@Black Sage

Black Sage said...

@Cavoyo, thanks for the link. i've never heard of Jasiri X, however, his video brings home my point: most of today's contemporary rappers are a bunch of dumb-asses! I'm not saying that an entire album should be devoted solely to conscious rap, but it surely beats that minstrel show nonsense.

Bruto Alto said...

@ CDv

"You can also keep Wale, Kendrick Lamar,J. Cole, and Big Kritt."

Why? all of these men play music, two are college grads and three are their own producers. Each speaks on black issues and helped to change radio. (The issues you have with mainstream rap I thought)

SMH Rap the moral compass of black music. Muddy, Berry, and Richard would have been too dirty with a crappy message (some songs) even today. Yet you wonder how we lost the kids. Some of this sounds like
church sillyness. I love Rick James, James Brown, Issac Hayes, and Curtis Mayfield. Did they have perfect themes of black strength? Did they rep pimps, drugs and women in their early days yep. Now can't the same growth happen for the kids in the game? If you think Shucking just got to Hip Hop then you need to take off the rosie colored glasses.

@Fred C
"It's remarkable for me to recall just how positive early Rap was, I'm thinking of Grandmaster Flash and other early practitioners were"

"Don't push me cause I close to the edge I'm trying not to lose my head" Really the anger he felt about his Bronx in the Message was positive rap "the Broken Glass everywhere" was happy. TRY AGAIN

My team Kane, Mc Lyte, Biggie, Ghostface,Tech 9,Em, Pun,

fred c said...

@ Mr. Bruto

Forgive me, I admit that I'm not very familiar with the entire genre. I'm much more familiar with Little Willie John, Little Walter, Little Richard, and Little Jimmy Scott, than I am with Little Wayne, so to speak.

But "Don't push me . . ." etc, isn't that a positive message? More factual than angry, don't you think? That's the way that I had felt ten or fifteen years earlier, when I was young, and I still felt that way quite a bit, and still had a Buck knife in my pocket, although I was thuggish only when circumstances absolutely demanded it.

chaunceydevega said...

@Bruto. With love. Have you been reading anything that I wrote? Don't paint me into the box with those old timey what are those immoral kids up to today with the their Rock N' Roll crowd.

My claims are not based on some high minded regarded for "conscious" rap or that all hip hop needs to be didactic or something.

I also don't have an uncritical view of the golden age of hip hop--there was lots of really bad music made then as there is now.

I have many more styles in my dojo than that. I just don't think the artists you mentioned are particularly talented or compelling. Nothing more than that. They could have post-grad degrees from Harvard and I would say the same thing.

As I said, I would take good storytelling and wordsmiths who are talking about sex, drugs, nihilism, and being the badman like the murder blues artists of old over some bad let me teach you something mess. I would take Rick Ross on average over some trying to be substantial and falling all over themselves conscious artist and saying nothing emcee any day of the week.

Bruto Alto said...


Cool, I really do get where your coming from. I sometimes forget in the defense of Hip Hop that not everyone shares in the same taste or quality of music.

I can't get my friends into the Black Keys, Fiona Apple, The Dap Kings, The Honeybears, Bon Iver, or Frank Ocean. Why? not because they aren't good but because it's not "black music" Oh well what can you do other than play what you like and hopefully someone finds someone new in it.

Thanks that was fun and well needed.

FirstTimer said...

Your post is excellent, but I'd point out the NYT reflects the grotesque simplification of the coverage of Keef.

I'd argue his status as the face of young Chicago hip hop is an insulting by product of white media hysteria and othering, in particular hipster racism (how Gawker and Pitchfork led the narrative here).

Keef isn't the only hip hop act under 30 in Chicago, the only (or best) practitioner of drill, nor are all drill lyrics and beats the same.

Most articles briefly mention other artists, but say little about content except that Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard have more diverse lyrics (an observation so oft repeated one wonders if writers listened to anything or merely echoed another article).

These articles do not place Keef in context with other young acts such as Kids These Days, or Rockie Fresh, and the class and neighborhood issues involved. Nor do they present a full economic portrait of Keef's home areas, Woodlawn and Washington Park.

Keef is a convenient poster boy of nihilism serving Chicago media's general narrative about poor black areas. In their view, it's all barely contained armies of Keefs shooting each other and preparing to flash mob the rest of the city.

That even the most marginalized areas include a range of incomes and hopeful to nihilist types, that the violent faction is allowed to make everyone else miserable might imply civic responsibility.

Keef's music may have been popular, but he's a sensation largely to a reductionist narrative which omits any kid who doesn't sound like Keef. It even glosses over the hopeful notes of Keefs own career - his first producer being a Japanese immigrant who met Keef when Keef's uncle found him an apartment.

Kids (and grownup) who find Keef interesting don't necessarily agree with his worldview. But as you point out, they should be made to realize promoting that art at the exclusion of others has an effect on culture overall. And this includes the grownups at the NYT, Gawker and Pitchfork.