Friday, September 28, 2007

The great hip hop debates

This week was a week of the great hip hop debates. First, there was the special Hip Hop vs. America, and then there was also the Congressional Hearing on hip hop. I haven't had a chance to see the BET special; its on the BET website. I did see the Congressional hearing on hip hop, which though it didnt accomplish much, was very interesting.

One thing about these debates was two artists who were prominent in the debates; Master P and David Banner. Master P has been written off by alot of writers who want to prove how "down" they are as somebody who is more or less irrelevant and washed up. However, in the Congressional hearing I did like how he emphasized that all the music he put out in the past that was negative he was sorry for; he realizes the responsibility he has as an artist. Though his popularity is questionable, I think that he is by default the only person who could represent his stance; I dont really hear or see any other artists making such a claim. Good for him.

David Banner was also at the Congressional Hearing and I thought he represented really well. He's at the forefront now of the "Dirty South" music scene, and he is known for straight strip club music, songs like "Like A Pimp" and "Play". I say that he is known for that; you'd have to hear all his music to know what he's about; he does note the conflicts of his genre in some of his songs. These conflicts came out in his testimony; that of commerce vs. positivity.

Many of the politicians were very judgemental of David Banner; its like they want so badly for him to put out a "positive message", but then he tried to say that he's got pressure from his fans, record execs, and then there is the issue of making money. The politicians I feel needed to get off their high horses, after all, they can be brought like David Banner can be brought; and their actions are far from clean, as much as David Banners actions are far from clean.

Though David Banner's music may leave much to be desired morally, I really dont think its the politician's place to urge David to make "positive" music. Dave made a good point,clean the streets and we will make clean music. But the moral conflicts that affect David Banner's choice of the music he makes are no different than the moral conflicts that pervade the politicians and their choices.

Whatever the solution to the "problem" of hip hop lyrics, what I took away from this long and drawn out hearing is that though there are lots of interesting and colorful theories and opinions that hip hop feminists, conservatives, intellectuals and psychologists can bring to the table, there simply isn't and will never be a political solution to this issue. These politicians have no place in dictating or influencing culture. Period.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hip Hop Activist Beat Down By Police on Capitol Hill

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, was attacked by six capitol police yesterday, when he was stopped from entering the Cannon Caucus Room on Capitol Hill, where General Petraeus gave testimony today to a joint hearing for the House Arms Services Committee and Foreign Relations Committee on the war in Iraq.

After waiting in line throughout the morning for the hearing that was scheduled to start at 12:30pm, Rev. Yearwood was stopped from entering the room, while others behind him were allowed to enter. He told the officers who were blocking his ability to enter the room, that he was waiting in line with everyone else and had the right to enter as well.

When they threatened him with arrest he responded with "I will not be arrested today." According to witnesses, six capitol police, without warning, "football tackled" him. He was carried off in a wheel chair by DC Fire and Emergency to George Washington Hospital.

Rev. Yearwood said, as he was being released from the hospital to be taken to central booking, "The officers decided I was not going to get in Gen. Petraeus' hearing when they saw my button, which says 'I LOVE THE PEOPLE OF IRAQ.'"

Rev. Yearwood is expected to be charged with Assaulting a Police Officer this afternoon.

Stay tuned for more on how this case plays out. All we can say is, is this really what democracy looks like?

For Future Generations,
The Hip Hop Caucus

Thanks to Davy D for getting this out!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Jay Eff Kay-America Suicide Notes Vol 1

Political and "experimental" rap is not easy to pull off. Wise Intelligent and Public Enemy do it well with their firm black radical/Nation of Islam/5% beliefs. Other rappers like Talib Kweli and Mos Def are political but don’t put their music out in such a way that makes you think they are. The problem with political rap is that it can be boring. Hip Hoppers don’t like to be preached to, and its like pulling teeth to really get something like voting or protesting done if the audience doesn’t give a damn in the first place. Back in like the early 90’s or so there were groups like The Consolidated, The Goats and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, which put out good albums and did good shows, but they produced nothing more than a collective yawn from hip hoppers. The reason they were not successful was not that the music wasn’t good, it was just too serious, and nobody but a very small audience cared. Presentation is everything, and rapper Jay Eff Kay raps and reflects on politics and life in the crazy suburbs and shows and proves that you don’t have to be from the hood to be wild and crazy; Middle America is crazy enough!

Jay Eff Kay is wild, and he’s what I would describe as Eminem if he only had a brain! When I heard Eminem’s song “Mosh”, hyped up to be such a political song because it was anti-Bush and was supposed to coincide with the 2004 presidential election, I was disappointed by how mediocore it was! Jay is somebody who did everything he thought he was supposed to do. He went to college, got a job, but then he got fed up and decided to rap. Jay had a high paying job too, but rather than beating the crap out of his boss, he uses music to unleash all his rage that experience produced. He can talk political, but Jay doesn’t just talk politics. His album is divided into the 3 acts: the superego, in which he talks about politics and current events; the ego, which has some personal reflection on who he is and where he’s been, and the id in which he goes wild with songs about sex and wanton violence.

Jay Eff Kay has metaphors and tons of punchlines and a wicked sense of humor. I’ve listened to tons of MC’s, but Jay is one of the rare instances of a rapper so in tune to current events, who can spit it all out in one song and make it sound interesting. He touches on the religious right, immigration, Amy Fisher, Facebook, paranoia in the age of terror, and everything that defines living in post 9/11 America. My favorite song has to be one called “Den of Rats”, in which Jay raps about the corporate takeover of the world. He makes the point that the political parties are all the same and they are owned by the same companies and people. Though I like everything Jay raps about, the music is good but the production is alright. With every change from id to ego to superego, the music changes and fits his every mood.

There’s an audience for this music, and if given a chance this album could do really well. For anybody who’s ever been pissed off at the system, or anybody who’s pissed about everything going on in the world today, this is for you. Vulgar, cynical and sarcastic, this is good music.

Check Jay out on his website. He's also on Myspace!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jay Eff Kay at The Tank, NYC

Monday, September 03, 2007

Public Enemy:How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?

I think it’s the truest thing to say that this hip hop generation, which was born when Public Enemy first came out in 1987, looks at Public Enemy the way that people my age (I started college when PE’s second album came out) used to look at the Last Poets. Despite Flavor Flav and his antics on the VH1 channel, I think the kids today would listen to PE and have that reaction when I first heard the Last Poets and think “What Is This?” I couldn’t accept this brand of rap at first even though it was a major influence on Public Enemy and many other artists of the time. Rap has changed in many ways, but when you listen to this album you realize that Public Enemy has not changed.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I started listening to Public Enemy back in 1987 when their classic album Yo! Bum Rush The Show came out. At the time, this album and the group was the cutting edge of hip hop. Chuck D is quick to remind people on this album that they have been 20 years in the game. In 1988 they dropped the bomb on the Hip Hop nation, “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”. This was hands down the most influential record in rap history. So much changed after this record came out, and it ended a lot of careers of artists who came before. Of course I had to buy “Fear Of A Black Planet” the day it came out. That was in 1990, and I remember they did a memorable concert that year for the Howard University Homecoming.

Then along the way PE started trying to “expand” their audience. They had always put rock music in their music like Chuck D’s favorite rap group RUN DMC, but with the record Apocalypse ’91, they took things to a whole other level. I like rock music, but I think going on tour with Anthrax was okay, but they just got swept up in all the commercialism that went with that. Also, the crowd that liked PE started to change, and a bunch of people wearing “X” caps to advertise the Malcolm X movie would’ve sat well with me if I knew that these kids really knew who Malcolm X was and weren’t following some fashion trend. It was starting to look bad; the fall of PE was inevitable.

After Apocalypse ’91, shortly after I graduated from college; and moved on to focusing on buying into some of the newer stuff that was coming out. I didn’t buy the next album; I hated the title and the first single. I didn’t bother buying the next album, or the one after that. I got the “He Got Game” soundtrack from a friend who gave it to me. So this album is the first PE album I have brought(through Emusic) in like 15 years.

This is my impression of this album. It sounds like PE was in a time capsule for like 10-15 years, came out and released an album. The old days of the Bomb Squad production team and their layers of sound on top of sound is long gone. Now, the production that is used includes simplistic funk music sampling used by rappers in the early 90s, rock guitars (of course!), generic rap beats and tracks and even some techno/industrial sounding stuff. Maybe the emphasis is their message, or maybe it comes down to the simple fact that anybody who is still listening to PE doesn’t really care about the production; and it’s a given that PE wont be calling Timbaland or Jazze Pha for ideas! My problem with this approach is that for me, it simply doesn’t work!

What about PE’s politics? PE has not strayed at all from what they used to say in the old days of rap. The black male is still under attack, black men are still part of the prison population, and PE is still harassed by the Feds. Maybe there is some things I don’t know about this album, but why does PE seem so oblivious to the realities of 9/11 America? Why say the same old things when its not the same time or the same situations? Then there’s Flavor Flav. He raps as though “Flavor of Love” never happened. Maybe this album was made before “Flavor of Love” #1, but I thought before I listened to this that Flav had some explaining to do, but I heard nothing. Flav is a very good rapper, and he has some classic songs under his belt, like “911 Is A Joke” and “Can’t Do Nothing For Ya” from the House Party soundtrack. I would’ve loved to hear something like that on this record.

But on a lighter note, one thing can be said about PE’s aging pro-black message. Even if you’ve grown and you aren’t thinking about these type of issues PE addresses like you did in the past, PE is still here to say that all this is still relevant and important. That’s why I could stick with PE; despite the mistakes Chuck and Flav have made, you will still have to respect their conviction. Some might say that especially Flav is phony and a one man minstrel show, but I really think that these guys are for real.

So who will buy it? I think that there will always be a market for PE; aging rap fans who remember when listening to PE was “cool”. Most of these people can’t like today’s rap no matter how much they try; for them T.I. might mean “Totally Ignorant”. There’s many other types of PE fans, and there will always be PE fans all over the world who, despite the simplicity and inconsistency of their music, message and actions, will always want to hear PE remind everybody how messed up things still are for black people in America.

Favorite songs: "
How You Sell Your Soul...
" sounds like that ol'school PE I was used to, one of the better songs on the album
"Black Is Back"great to hear a James Brown sample being used, and its great to hear a rapper say Black Is Back; I havent heard that in a long time.
"Harder Than You Think" I like the guitar and the soulful feel of this one
"Amerikan Gangster"liked the guest rappers flow
"Escapism"-like the funk sample in this, Chuck does a spoken word routine where he touches on the Iraq War, black males being under attack, and knowing your history.
"See Something, Say Something"-favorite beat on the album, Chuck raps about the Panthers and black politics of back in the day and how PE fits into that and its relevance for today. He also gives an interesting twist on what a "snitch" is.
"Eve of Destruction"-great song that wraps up the album; kinda sounds like a techno/industrial/rock spoken word piece.
Download off EMUSIC, or buy from Amazon. Check out Public Enemy's site.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

This week....

What I hope to do this week is complete my personal project of doing reviews of three albums; the latest by Public Enemy, Wise Intelligent and Jay Eff Kay. So check out this week as I review the albums of these three prolific, political yet entertaining artists.