Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reports of Hip-Hop's Death Still Greatly Exaggerated

Pierre Bennu proclaimed the death of Hip-Hop way back in 2002 in his article Fuck Hip Hop: A Eulogy to Hip Hop
The art we once called hip hop has been dead for some time now. But because its rotting carcass has been draped in platinum and propped against a Gucci print car, many of us have missed its demise.

By this point, hip-hop had seemingly metamorphosed from an original and vital art form to a crass cartoon populated exclusively by "hos, guns and money"-fixated, gang-bangin', ho-pimpin' Republican rappers. My view, at the time, from this article:
Proactive “ghetto” entrepreneurs are selling us bogus black culture like a dodgy timeshare in the Costa del Crime. Cheap holidays in other people’s misery flogged by bogus tour guides in bandannas and dungarees. Peddling cartoon versions of recalcitrant criminality, misogyny and stereotypical representations of “ghetto life” is the new Black and White Minstrel Show (for the benefit of Casa del ionesco's non-UK readership: the B&WMS was an excruciatingly patronising "light entertainment" show, aired on the BBC from the late 50s until the late 70s. It "harked back to a specific period and location--the Deep South where coy White women could be seen being wooed by docile, smiling black slaves. The black men were, in fact, White artists "Blacked-up.""), but this time the patronising scam is perpetrated by authentic Harlem hucksters and Compton carnies, such as P Diddy and Suge Knight, rather than whitey. Hence, it’s characterised as “indigenous African-American culture” and must be protected like an endangered species rather than hounded out of house and home like some socially inept dinner guest who keeps grabbing his crotch during the hors d’ouevres. Johnny Cochrane, Snoop, Dre, Mike Tyson, O.J.Simpson, Diddy, Biggy, So Solid Crew et al are at the vanguard of the new consciousness, mining a rich vein of criminality both real and imagined. These playaz are pimpin’ that ghetto vibe while simultaneously dealing from a deck heavily loaded with race cards.
By 2003 even Spike Lee, director of the incendiary, Public Enemy-propelled, hip-hop-infused Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, was saying:

"I've always felt you can feel the progress of African Americans by listening to their music," Lee said. "Some of this 'gangsta rap' stuff, it's not doing anybody any good. This stuff is really dangerous."
When NWA burst on the scene in 1988 with Straight Outta Compton, "Gangsta Rap" was vital, visceral and transgressive, but, even that ground-breaking crew, in a prelude to the demise of the entire genre, quickly turned into a lame parody of themselves.

In 1992, ex-NWA alumnus Dr. Dre rejuvenated the form, shrewdly repackaging "Gangsta" as "G-Funk", with his mellow, souled-out, groovealicious album The Chronic. Of course, like Carlito's Way's "Benny Blanco from the Bronx", he was merely "refining his operation"/ safeguarding his supply: smuggling the same ol' sociopathic, sexist shtick into the mainstream via a new slick, sugarcoated supply route.

1992 is ancient history in a world where "old school" is the nanosecond before now, but as popular culture expands exponentially, and memes evolve, metastasise and perish in rapidly accelerated life-cycles that make the Mayfly look like Methuselah, hip-hop continues to churn out the same tired old clichés.

It's almost 2006, and talentless Neanderthals such as 50 Cent (another Dre protégé), and a plethora of wearisome wannabes, continue to act tough and talk dirty for the delectation and delight of a voraciously voyeuristic white audience. Hip-hop has become a facile, formulaic MTV-mediated parody of itself. Commercial rap's reductionist "algebra of need" elevates "dead presidents" over art and an omnivorous bottom line compels the substitution of the pop pusher's placebo for uncut rap. Inevitably, an unholy cartel of ex-drug dealers, organised crime, opportunists, big business and mainstream media gravitated towards, and refined, this seductively simple modus operandi. An infernal alliance, of a kind not witnessed since the botched hit on Castro, annexed the production and distribution of the ubiquitous opiate we call "Hip-Hop." Dre is the Simon Cowell of the rap cartel: a shrewd, telegenic manipulator with a preference for malleable newcomers over established artists.

Playlist-shackled, bottom line-fixated, myopic media pimp the product, and in collusion with risk-averse major record labels, create and satiate a market of indoctrinated dilettantes eager to exchange their cash for an intravenous injection of off-the-peg cool courtesy of the Ghetto Glitterati.

Let's take a Walk on the Not-So-Wild Side, sample the Lifestyles of the Rich, Fabulous, Inarticulate & Tasteless before hitching a ride in the latest faux-gangsta supastar's conspicuously-consuming, gas-guzzling Pimpmobile (Everyone's a "pimp" these days: from Iceberg Slim wannabes to mild-mannered accountants: a term, which formerly connoted transgressive criminality/the exploitation of women, has been assimilated by the mainstream and rehabilitated as "hip" sales pitch from corporate whores peddling shallow materialism masquerading as youth "culture"). Uncool kids the world over are eager to hang wit' the hoes and homeyz poolside at Half Dollar's Hamptons' crib; hoping to passively smoke (though, perhaps, not inhale) some vicarious gangsta ganja and sample a few counterfeit beats from the ersatz Heart of African-American Darkness.

Greg Tate, in The Village Voice, wonders if hip-hop's 30th birthday is a cause for lamentation rather than celebration:

I remember the Afrocentric dream of hiphop's becoming an agent of social change rather than elevating a few ex-drug dealers' bank accounts.
And yet, reports of hip-hop's death continue to be greatly exaggerated. Dre's commercial instincts are as sure as those of George Soros, and his lightness of touch, as a producer, resists convenient recategorisation as "The Dead Hand of Dre." The Game's "The Documentary" is a microcosm of the macro-malaise: Dre refines his aesthetic with consummate skill, but the unimpeachable beats merely confer a palatable patina to the neophyte rapper's boring braggadocio. Even if Dre is clearly culpable of the elevation of Eminem's (admittedly lyrically dextrous, but dismally sexist/homophobic/parochial) "trailer trash aesthetic" into an pop culture phenomenon, this prodigiously talented innovator, producer and annexer of the airwaves, can hardly be blamed for the plethora of vultures who now devour the carcass of the calf he fattened.

Evidence of hip-hop's continuing vitality is to be found far from the genre's formulaic façade, away from the mainstream media's myopic sightline and well below Republican Rap's reductionist radar. Underground, authentic, independent hip-hop continues to evolve and artists such as Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, Aesop Rock, Hieroglyphics, DJ Shadow, The Coup, Cannibal Ox, Rayzd, Immortal Technique, Quannum MCs, Latryx, and countless others, ensure hip-hop's obituary notices are still premature.

As it's the season of post-mortems, panegyrics and prizes, "Casa del ionesco's 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Tracks" will follow, in 4 installments. The list is utterly capricious, completely meaningless and has been compiled with "extreme prejudice."

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