Friday, July 24, 2009

The Current State of Urban Flava

Ramblings Post #48
There are times when you discuss in a intelligent fashion, with voice modulated and facts clear as to your disagreement, and there are times when you just lean in close to your opponent and make your insults as personal as is humanly possible. I try to stay away from the second, but every now and then, you gotta go there. This is so I don't have to go there with somebody.

I used to listen to a lot of rap music. I mean a lot of rap music. I came up in the golden age of rap music of Sugar Hill Gang, RUN-DMC, Whodini and Public Enemy , when a rapper made his name with what he could do on the microphone. I found quality in the music from the West Coast, which in my opinion was basically the Dr. Dre sound and concentrated more on the weave of music and word than just the lyric base employed by East Coast rappers. And I went to school in the South and enjoyed many a musician who was "world famous" in Florida, and where if the beat was raw enough you could grunt and sell a million copies.

As you can see I've considered the variance in music tastes, can appreciate the difference between a party song and a message cut and I have actually argued the merits of proximity to the major media outlets in gauging group popularity vs. raw talent in minor market making a major splash.

Lately, though, I've had to stop listening to most new rap. Maybe it's age, maybe it's maturity, maybe it's that I've heard it all, but a lot of the new stuff is either a) repetitive, b) simplistic or just c) uninspired.

Rappers....en mass.

By repetitive I mean that how many times can you play the thug role? How many minor variations can we get of performers who tip a hat to the side, put on a white t-shirt, let their pants sag and claim a criminal past? Do we really need another? And since we've been in "thug mode" since NWA in the late 80's, we have to had every iteration. What happened to the likes of another Kwame? Or another Digable Planets? What happened to creativity or style or really anything other than the latest gangster stereotype paraded out with a new coat of paint?

It's way too simplistic for the most part. If you've listened to rap music for a while, you can hear the difference between the new music for the most part and the old classics, in that there seemed to have been more care put into crafting the actual words than today. The current form embraced by a lot of artists today is something espoused by Biggie, in that he didn't write any rhymes he just spoke them. Which is cool if you can do that, but I think if listen to Biggie, the complexity indicates that whereas he didn't write, he did take the time to craft his rhyme. A lot of young rappers seem to believe they can just create on the spot. There is a song the one southern rap artist admitted it took only 30 minutes from the time they decided to CREATE it to get it in the can, I wish I could remember what it was.

The great lyricists of the earlier age - guys like Ice Cube, Dana Dane, LL Cool J and other guys who in course of song could tell a whole story or talk on a whole concept, would actually *cough* wrote stuff down. You still can listen to the songs 10 or 15 years later. When you don't write you get a jumble of musical images tossed together or worse, repetitive lyrics indicating a lack of forethought. Rappers used to refer to their rhyme book in a very real sense.

And how more uninspired can rap be right now? I appreciated Nas with "If I ruled the World" which gave a diatribe about how he would change the world given the chance as opposed to ....well, pick a rapper. You can almost see the game plan in the studio:

>Producer: So, DJ Suka Punc, you ready?
>Rapper: Aight, son.
>Producer: Okay, remember to say something about selling drugs, big rims, reference a Bentley and motorcycle riding, use the term ballin, toss in some unrecognizable street slang and this time go easy on the strip clubs and derogatory references to women, this is supposed to be a love song.
>Rapper: I'm holla 'bout money and my tatts too.
>Producer: Cool. Here we go.

Where are the modern day concepts like "My Adidas" and "My Rhyme ain't done"? Or a something like a Ice Cube's "My Summer Vacation", "It Was Good Day" or Slick Rick's "Children's Story"? Does anyone really think they made up these songs as they went? There a few talents out there, T.I. is one as well as Eminem or Mos Def, but for every guy who obviously sat down and thought about it, there are twenty guys who approach the studio as if they were Parliament Funkadelic on the three day bender, forgetting those guys were trained musicians and most of today's artists are just, well...friends of somebody with talent, family of somebody with talent, or lucked out.

It's a shame but now I listen to most songs for the music more than the words, to get the groove. Every now and then I'll hear a groove with a good hook and a couple of lines that I like and kick it to that for while. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good party song just as much if not more so than the next guy, but the vast majority of rappers today are pure image, a "thugged" out appearance and a cadre of great producers.

I miss rap. I wish it would come back.

Barkeep...Koolaid. Red Koolaid.

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