Friday, July 31, 2009

Hip-Hop: A Toast

Rewind life to 1997 –
Puff said there was No Way Out but Big left for heaven –
Missy Elliot was rockin garbage bags in videos with Hype –
Wu Tang was forever, and New York was bumpin Uptown Saturday Night -
Master P had the world sayin UGHH and Jay dropped Volume 1 –
Em took second at the Olympics, two years later the album’d come –
The Hootie phenomenon was dead and No Doubt was hot –
Gwen wasn’t dressin like Eve and Fergie wasn’t hip-hop –
Loud Records had shit on smash and SNL was funny –
Napster was still two years away from stealing all the industry’s money –
Princess Diana died, the Marlins won, Bill Clint re-up for round two –
But I ain’t Mad Skillz, this ain’t the rap-up, I want the Nod Factor, so where were you? –
I was up in Media Play buyin Mase singles like “Feel So Good” –
Listenin to old Pac shit that was new to me, froze me where I stood –
That experience brought me here now, to this stage, in these clothes, with these spits –
And through all the long nights, wrong chicks, Yeungling kegs in between that we’ve kicked –
I finally realize I can’t step out my lane to flip what I don’t know –
I hate hip-hop fashion, chains, wack lyrics and Obama was not my choice, but yo –
Before you boo me all unrulily for something I said up here truthfully –
Listen close to the punchline one time cuz the shit to me is beautiful, see –
The reason and season of 97 was one when ignorance was bliss –
When bloggers were DJ’s and most A&R’s actually knew their shit –
Hip-hop was fresh then, and dope was a word I learned the day before last –
Honed my craft writin raps and passing them around for feedback between class –
See, our views might differ and on another day we’d argue till we’re blue in the face –
But here in this moment, under these lights, on this stage, in this place –
We’re about hip-hop and unity in a time when really, we need it –
So… everybody out there in the audience – hold up two fingers as one and believe it –
And say hip-hop…
Say music…
Say love…

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kids Seek & Speak Truth For Hip-Hop

Something I wrote after watching the video embedded below. This was originally posted on my blog at but was removed from the database when DJ Vlad relaunched the site.

New York, NY (July 30, 2008) – We base a lot of what we do in our life on faith – relationships, the value of a dollar, technology. For some, it's faith in a higher power. But for most of us, the best example of how we live our lives is the faith we have in ourselves. It's odd to think about it that way, but self-esteem allows us to make choices, to help us understand that the quality of life we might obtain really depends upon our decisions to mix with certain external forces, like money, like God and so forth. You can argue where it comes from until you're blue in the face, but in the end, your own free will enables choice.

That fact makes us a community surrounded, guided, perhaps even confined, by the limits of our faith in the external. It exposes both the selfishness in people and also why we're so emotionally bound by a need for community at the same time.

Two important examples of how we divide up our faith are politics and personal satisfaction. How, you ask? It's called intrinsic value. Economics classifies intrinsic value as the following:

"The actual value of a company or an asset based on an underlying perception of its true value including all aspects of the business, in terms of both tangible and intangible factors."

For our purposes, in politics, there are certain issues that affect us on an emotional level, issues like equality, abortion and war. How much the issue gets under your skin and translates into action might not capture what non-economists think of as intrinsic value the same as say, a baseball card from your grandpa or an old ring, but the emotion is born from the same kind of economic force – "an underlying perception of it's true value."

Personal satisfaction, or music in this case, identifies more with the concept of intrinsic value that we ARE familiar with: a free will, faith-based belief that something is worth something, despite what the market (anyone else) says. While it's just as much an emotion as our views on equality, abortion and war, we characterize music as a tangible intangible, something we can recall and attach a memory or specific moment to. This sort of intrinsic value doesn't have a price tag associated with it, partly because we have faith that our music won't be exploited. Yet in today's day and age, that's exactly what has happened. More and more, hip hop has lost its identity in a sea of thongs, paper rain and rims.

And it's not fucking right.

Our culture of hip hop now is not the same one that was beginning to develop an identity in the late 60's and early 70's. It's not the same one that found a home in the fun-loving 80's or the blackness of PE, soul of Pete Rock and gangster of Tupac in the 90's or Eminem's angst that went deeper than his skin color on into the aughts ('00s). Truth be told, it shouldn't be the same. It's supposed to change, to evolve. But the surge of great music from those artists and artists like them came to life because there was passion. A value associated with the music that went beyond bitches, cash and glory. It's that element of authenticity that our greatest artists have and the rest aspire to achieve. Passion is a dying trait among today's artists, and to go further, maybe even in those listening. But it also begs the question: if you're not born with passion, does that mean you have to fake it?

According to today's market, yes, you do. And we've allowed that to be OK.

You can arrive at a million reasons why the mentality of our artists and community is fucked up, but that does nothing to provide a solution. And that's what we need: a solution. No more talk, but action. In the name of entertainment, Hollywood, TV, comedians, porn stars and baseball has all faked it. Yet we still consume it. Most of us understand that dinosaurs are extinct, Las Vegas CSI isn't THAT busy, life isn't THAT funny, she doesn't like it THAT much and Barry Bonds is a bloated cheat. But with music, it's different. Music is supposed to be an outlet to connect, something that comes from inside the rawness of ourselves. It gives us a platform to funnel a wide range of emotions into one concrete form and spit it back out a thousand different ways. Music was there in the beginning and has developed over time, taking on the power to elevate, to heal and even to change.

I'm not naïve enough to believe that all music has to be like that. But our music, hip hop music, is supposed to be a medium where we reflect the times, not create a one-dimensional, delusional version. Our music is supposed to be a blotter where the ones who fake it aren't remembered. And yet in our music, we more-and-more have a cinematic blend of fantasy with only hints of reality. It's numbed our senses and given rise to stagnant, complacent and formulaic expression. The worst part is, we're fed today's music and content by the pop machine and made to believe it is ALL FACT!

And THAT is where I have a problem with today's hip hop. Not with the wack dance songs or lame beats or shitty lyrics. When you spin something as fact that is not, you lose the distinction of impression derived from authenticity. It's one thing to call a kettle black… but it's another to act like it's the only shade out there.

Fortunately, there are still movements supporting true-school hip hop. One such voice, a dude by the name of Lavoisier, recently went to a middle school to talk with the very ears consuming today's music: kids. Whether you think he's dope or not is beside the point (personally, I'd probably bump his music). This video was originally posted at Real Talk NY, and in it, Lavoisier poses a series of questions to the students around a central theme: is it OK for rappers to be fake? The majority of the kids said NO! But yet they still consume it! So now… if our kid's generation… has been taught that it's OK to be fake and that rap is just entertainment… our culture has some VERY dangerous questions about authenticity and future implications that need answers immediately. Kids put FAITH in their elders, their role models, their politicians and their parents to do right by them, but by continuing to push a phony agenda across the airwaves, we are contributing to the delinquency of our own children.

And that is not fucking right, either.

I'm left to wonder at the end of all this: If hip hop is the most powerful, influential tool we have to reach out and connect with our kids today… what exactly are we doing?