Tuesday, June 2, 2009

This is not hip hop This is not music This is an embarrassment

I'm sure you're all wondering who I am to talk about hip hop. What does a white suburban Jewish boy know about a primarily Black musical/cultural phenomenon? What the hell can I possible say about hip hop that hasn't already been said a thousand times over by the oldest MCs, breakers, DJs, artists who got started listening to Grandmaster Flash when I still watched Looney Tunes. (Actually, I still watch Looney Tunes.)

This isn't going to be the history of hip hop. I'm not going through all the artists or genres, subgenres, the dancing styles or any of the graffiti. There are people better at expressing that than me. No, what I want to talk about is what we're calling hip hop nowadays. Why we're calling it hip hop.

Aesop Rock is hip hop. The Fugees are hip hop. The Beastie Boys are hip hop. Lupe Fiasco is hip hop. RZA is hip hop. Eric B. & Rakim is hip hop.

Kanye West is not hip hop. Kanye is another goddamn pop-musician who subverts an entire subculture to help sell records and promote his personal brand. Flo Rida is not. FLO RIDA IS NOT HIP HOP - Florida, wouldn't know serious expression if it walked up and pop-locked in front of him with his stunna-shades on.

Ya'll who listen to this shit on the radio - Lil' Wayne, Soulja Boy, T.I. - you don't know a damn thing about hip hop. You consume the music that's force-fed to you and you've been doing it so long you can't even imagine what something real sounds like anymore. What happened to sampling? What happened to the break-beats? What happened to the artistry and poetics? What happened to hip hop being about something?

This is something my friend dropped in my lap a few months ago, and as I've been listening to it more and more, I'm starting to realize it's one of the most genuine pieces of musical poetry I've ever heard. And you know what's sad, in a way, about that? It's a white-guy. A white-guy doing a Black subcultural phenomenon better than their own artists. That's how you can tell when something has lost its way, when the progenitors are no longer the creators, no longer the guiding, driving force of it.

You don't believe me? Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Sage Francis, El-P, DJ Shadow, Edan, all of these guys sport lyrical talent on a level far above what makes it to the charts.

This is not about racism. This is about disappointment.

Read [this article] a few weeks ago, and while dated, it certainly gave me a lot to think about on the nature of hip hop, the music industry, and artistry in general. I guess I just wish people weren't so stupid... but that's about as naive as fuck, as naive as leaving money on the counter and expecting to find it there when you come back...

Anyways, here's a track from the album my friend gave me. It's by B. Dolan. Enjoy.

16 footnotes:

JacqueRoxx said...

You don't sound racist, you sound arrogant like your musical tastes are better than anyone else's. There are plenty of black rappers who have substance they just aren't heard on the radio. Wale, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Q-tip, K'naan, etc. And have you listened to TI besides the songs they play on the radio? He raps about meaningful stuff actually. Those white artists you named are not doing it better. They were inspired and made it their own thing (and their own thing sucks in my opinion).

I do agree about Kanye West being a pop artist, but I haven't heard him referred to as a rapper in a looong time. What about Eminem? I CAN'T STAND HIM. He uses stupid gags and farts and burps on records.

I rather listen to Soulja Boy than Eminem.

Anyway, this is getting long but nowadays artists are forced to make mindless simple music to gain a fanbase and get people buying their albums. Then when you actually listen to the albums there are better, deeper songs. It's all about sales...

Zek J Evets said...

@jacque: i don't think my musical tastes are better than anyone else's - just the radio's. i know that i still have a lot to learn about hip hop, but that doesn't mean i can't see what's going on nowadays.

okay, mos def, i'll give it up, because he is good, both as an actor and a hip hop artist - and k'naan certainly, because he talks about serious issues, but... ARE YOU SERIOUSLY SAYING Q-TIP IS MEANINGFUL? i mean, "vivrant thing", "breathe & stop" were some of the popiest pieces of shit i've ever heard. he's fallen a long way since a tribe called quest.

i do agree with you about eminem, which is why i didn't list him. (and i'd rather listen to neither soulja boy or eminem. i'd rather live in silence.)

but all the rest of your "artists" are really lame. wale? he did a song with lady gaga, "chillin'". it's the same kind of lyrical content as soulja boy or flo rida. all about "money in my ride" and all that other nonsense. and talib would be good if he'd change his lyrics. i know he used to work with mos def, so i don't know why he stoops to featuring kanye west or justin timberlake. as for TI, i've listened to his new album, "paper trail", and it sounds exactly like the pop glamour that has been strangling hip hop for years.

i think you should try listening to "those white artists" i named, because even if you don't agree with my opinion on the state of hip hop, they're still really good artists. try "none shall pass" by aesop rock, or "syllable practice (12" version)" by edan, or "party for the fight to write" by atmosphere. better yet, just listen, really listen to the track by b. dolan that i put on the blog.

of course popular music nowadays is all about sales. that's been obvious since the 90s. what i don't like is that the fans let the record-company-establishment convince them that it's legitimate.

and don't even get me started on albums. most artists wouldn't know how to make a proper album if their life depended on it. you don't just throw a mish-mash of songs together, with two or three decents and one really really good one, then call it an album.

but modern music is still good. it's just underground, running along sewer tunnels and forgotten rivers. it occupies dark places men despise, but knows the beautiful truth you can only find via solitude, through the unappreciation that allows you the freedom to pursue your art without fan-based distractions or financial compromises.

p.s. oh, and i did list one black artists who i think represents the best chance of hip hop to regain itself. he's recent too. lupe fiasco. even jay-z likes him, and that's impressive.

emily said...

why do you have such a problem with pop?
if something isn't meaningful does that mean you can't enjoy it?
in my opinion, there's a time for satisfying your intellect and a time to just bob your head and dig it.
p.s. i like kanye west. he's versatile and interesting. and he sampled a steely dan song i fucking love.

TeenCreeps said...

i thought it was funny how you wrote the question "what happened to sampling?" its fucking hip hop like 75% of the artists use sampling.
you guys should check out- Little Brother, Murs,J-Dilla(R.I.P)...hip hop is still alive these are the people making it gasp for air.
MURS is a must!
p.s. Lupe Fiasco is a genius been listening to him alooot these days :]
oh yeah and check out DOOM and cannibal ox

TeenCreeps said...

p.s. and lil wayne is wack!!!!
and i hate eminem and soulja boy is lame...
and i like kanye west
but i loved college dropout and late registration better than graduation and 808/heartbreak....

JacqueRoxx said...

lol, you seem to think I don't know who Lupe is. I know Lupe Fiasco is black I just don't know why you support him so much. I like him, I really do, but he's not all that. You haven't listened to enough of Wale's songs, trust me he does speak on issues. Ok, maybe Q-tip isn't too meaningful but I looove his voice! His songs always put me in a chill mood. Talib Kweli's Beautiful Struggle is one of the best albums I own, so I highly disagree with you on that one. And I did try listening to those white artists and I think they suck. I don't like all that hard core sounding stuff. It doesn't matter what they're rapping about or what race they are if it's not pleasing to my ears.

Am I supposed to know who Flo Rida is? Oh yeah and I forgot to add the Beastie Boys suck as well. They don't rap, they scream. And if anyone is lacking substance it's them.

I have to agree with Emily. She's right. Sometimes I don't want to listen to something thought provoking. Sometimes I just want to dance around and have fun.

And I agree with teencreeps, Murs is awesome! I always seem to forget about him. And I'd say 90% of hip hop is sampled, so yeah that hasn't disappeared.

Honestly it irks me that you believe that white people are taking something black and doing it better. I don't even like hip hop or rap all this much to be typing all this. I just didn't like that idea. They are not doing it better, they are being inspired and making it their own.

Zek J Evets said...

@emily: actually, what's meaningful is more enjoyable to me. and just because a song is meaningful, doesn't mean it's not fun or danceable. in fact, lots of deep songs are great for dancing to. and for those songs that aren't designed to be meaningful, they do something special/unique/interesting with the music so that it's not just another pop song chord recycled.

just want something better than what i'm being given.

why not just listen to steely dan? he rules without kanye west.

@teencreeps: actually, most billboard chart artists that do hip hop DO NOT sample that much. this is something that's been happening a lot lately because getting the copyright to sample is expensive as fuck. often, what you think are samples are really not. here's an article that explains it far better than i can

gotta give it up for murs though - he's ill like that.

@jacque: well, since you didn't address him, how was i supposed to know? =P i ain't no mind reader now.

not sure what issues you think wale is speaking on... i mean, is there anything you can point me towards specifically? because everything i've heard by him is not worth mentioning.

talib i could give another chance, since he did a feature with krs-one, and his credentials are pretty legit... but not sure if he deserves it. some artists are only good for certain periods, then they fade back into irrelevancy. kind of like green day.

most of those guys i listed aren't in the least hardcore - except maybe the beastie boys, but that's because you never listened to "get it together" - hell, nwa or cam'ron is way more hardcore than dj shadow or aesop rock.

flo rida is some mainstream hip hop artist that lots of knucklehead kids have been listening to.

again, what i'm ranting about is what we call hip hop, especially the stuff that's on the music charts in our country.

if you really listened to the tracks i suggested, and STILL didn't like them, then i gotta say maybe hip hop is just not for you, and that you should stick with straight pop music, or whatever it is you listen to. (you did admit this yourself.)

why does it irk you so much that white people are doing a "black thing" better? would you or i feel the same way if a black person did a "white thing" better? obviously hip hop started as something from the black community, but now it's something everyone does. my observation is that one group seems to be increasing in relevancy and talent, while another obscures its best artists with stupid shit like t-pain.

they're doing it better than what i hear on the radio. i'm sure everyone's got their favorite underground artists. those are mine.

@all: if you want something chill to listen to, i understand, but surely there's something better than kanye west or rick ross? i mean, DAMN. there's so much music out there, why not only listen to the good stuff?

just go out and find it.

emily said...

steely dan = HE?

come on, know your shit better.

and besides, I DO listen to steely dan.

i also listen to kanye because he takes a bomb steely dan song and adds something to it.

don't be mad, but my beef with you is that you think your opinions are 100% and you aren't willing to accommodate anyone else's input. LEARN SOMETHING.

Zek J Evets said...

@emily: haha, i'm not mad, but 'scuse me... my keyboard had issues. meant to type "they", but apparently i missed a couple of keystrokes.

still, dunno how you can make a "bomb" song and make it better. is perfection improveable? everyone's got their own tastes, and i respect that, but it's strange how you're saying i think i'm 100% right all the time... i mean, not only is that a terrible assumption to make (that's easily refuted by pointing out all the entries on here where i say how wrong i am) but it's also strange because i thought if there was one place for me to have an opinion and stand by it, it would be on my own blog.

i do learn something, every day. learning something right now, as a matter of fact - learning about my readers' musical tastes and opinions.

think maybe you should trying taking your own advice too, maybe? give my perspective a try - and i'll use yours. we'll switch viewpoints! swap opinions? trade mindsets? something like that.

and if makes you feel better, i have MANY guilty pleasures for music, stuff that is just trash and i still like it. for instance, i listen to jason mraz, black eyed peas, and pop levi.

i know. so sad =/

JacqueRoxx said...

Ok this is my last comment..I listen to soul, alternative, retro, and retro inspired...and whatever incubus is, and yea sometimes pop. If a song isn't isn't slow or relaxing or "funky" I probably won't listen to it. That's why I don't listen to rap that much. Pretty much anything else is hardcore sounding to me.

Haha! Who are you to tell me hip hop's not for me? Get outta here with that..even if I admit I'm not it's biggest fan you can't tell me what is or is not for me.

Wale - "Kramer" (I think that's what it's called)

LOL and what exactly is a white thing that black people can do better at? Eating mayo? Swimming? Country music? Anyway even if it was switched around and it was black people "doing a white thing better" I'd still say it's not better , they're making it their own.

But whatever keep your opinion about hip hop because that's all it is.

Zek J Evets said...

@jacque: haha, okay, then this will be my last comment too.

when you say "hardcore", how are you using the term? because hardcore could be an ENTIRE SUBGENRE of music - or just something that's really intense. what sounds "hardcore" to you, could actually be very relaxing and/or funky to someone else.

liking your spunk though! throwing my suggestions back in my face, hah. maybe i should've said, "guess this hip hop is just not for you, because your musical tastes don't skew that way."

i listened to that song, and are you serious? a rap about using the word "nigga"/"nigger"? i mean, that's deeper than bitches, rims, and alcohol, but it was just recycled argument. didn't see any originality to it, though the beat was decent. the middle half of the song is him just saying the word over and over again.... maybe i just don't "get" wale like you do.

don't you read the boondocks? white people like cheese! not mayo, haha. but anyways - a white thing that black people could do/can do better:


'cus tiger woods is the shit.

and i will keep my opinion, thank you very much! hah, that's part of the whole point of having a blog is it not? i mean, if i can't stand up for my perspective here, then where?

aristotle said, "the mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

think we both qualify for that, certainly.

emily said...

1. he didn't make it better, he just made it different. now i have two versions of steely dan to love, riiight?

2. ok, you don't think you're right all the time. i guess it's just that sometimes i get this little feeling that you are thinking that, and then i get all worked up. hahaha.

3. i'm glad you admit to guilty pleasure music. but don't feel guilty, mmk? there's a valid reason you like the things you like!

4. i can't wait to continue this argument with you in half an hour over an alcoholic beverage, chyeahhh.

Jasper said...

I read the orginal post, most of the comment discourse, and wanted to shoot myself.

All art is made of lies, and Hip Hop is no exception.

"why does it irk you so much that white people are doing a "black thing" better?"

I'm going to remember you said this.

"most of those guys i listed aren't in the least hardcore - except maybe the beastie boys, but that's because you never listened to "get it together" - hell, nwa or cam'ron is way more hardcore than dj shadow or aesop rock."

"when you say "hardcore", how are you using the term?"

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Zek J Evets said...


1. okay, fair enough.

2. no worries. it happens. i get worked up sometimes too.

3. i embrace my guilty pleasures! but i understand the "valid reason" that i like them has nothing to do with their musicality or lyrics. it's all personal.

4. our continuation of the argument/conversation didn't really last too long, haha. but it was good. gotta do it again sometime.

@jasper: let me preface this with a quote, "artists use lies to tell the truth..."

so, yes, all art is made of lies, in that it is contrived, made-up, created, but that doesn't mean it isn't also made up of truths, and that it can't reveal truths. but to define art is a subject longer than this blog or my comments section can handle. many people have tried - and failed - to define art. i'm curious as to how you justify your assumption.

why are you going to remember it? was it particularly offensive? i was genuinely curious as to why it would irk her.

i'm getting the impression that you're outraged at my comments... can i ask what the fuck is wrong with you?

the way i'm using the term "hardcore" is similar to hardcore music, in that what i call "hardcore" sounds hard, edgy, up-front and intense.

i mean, i know you know more about hip hop than me jasper, but if you're going to come in on a discussion, you don't need to be harsh about it.

maybe you should try explaining your position, instead of attacking mine? i'm pretty sure you've got something to add to the discussion.

Jasper said...

Please disregard my last post - I don't know where my mind was last night. I took the time to reread everything and realized I had made a false assumption.

Lots of viewpoints here. I have nothing to add to this discussion.

Apologies, again.

Zek J Evets said...

@jasper: haha, that's cool man. no apologies necessary. what false assumption did you make?