Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy isn’t a classic. But don’t listen to me—I’m a hater. I love Rap, but I hate most of what I hear nowadays. I miss the Rap of the era that made me want to be an emcee, and I don’t want to cosign anything that doesn’t bring back that feeling. When Canibus proclaimed, “All I really want is you N!&&@s to be original/ and start spittin’ some lyrical sh!t that I can listen to…” I felt like he was ahead of his time. That feeling was correct, because this couplet has been stuck in my head lately—the incessant earworm that won’t go away, because it’s not being addressed by current music any more than when it was uttered over ten years ago. Of course, back then I could go the the record store on any given Tuesday and find something worth chancing $15 on. All that has changed, now. No music stores, and not much music worth buying…or is there. Maybe it’s my fault Hip-Hop doesn’t seem so pure now as it did then.
I don’t even know what “pure” Hip-Hop is. Never have. And I think therein lies the issue.
Maybe Hip-Hop, the way it’s supposed to be is “underground.” I believe that both Shad and Blu are dope emcees. What happens if either of them starts to sell records will be that people will stop paying attention to them being dope and start paying more attention to how much they’ve changed from when they were underground, and how much “fame” has changed them. I don’t have time to check the underground anymore, it seems. And I definitely am not looking for my next bit of inspiration on BET, where the ignorance has reached a point that I think it would probably be more likely that viewers would get a more favorable view of “Blackness” from watching an Al Jolson marathon. After all, we are merely steps away from all out Minstrelsy.
But back to Issue No. 1—Fandom—It takes me a lot of effort to check in when I’m presented with a new artist unless there is something that sticks with me. If there isn’t something that sticks after first listen, I just let it be. There are folks that I take cues from when it comes to music that help me stay tuned in with regard to some artists. I do my best to listen intently, and try to appreciate, but for the most part, if it didn’t hit, it didn’t hit. Let’s take Murs, for instance (Not a new artist, but I hadn’t previously heard him). I know there is SOMEthing to his music…it’s just not something that I care enough about to keep on listening. It doesn’t make me FEEL anything. Is that bad? I don’t think so. Am I shallow for not feeling what someone who knows “pure” Hip-Hop more does feel?
On the flip side…with, let’s say, J. Cole, I feel the same thing. There isn’t anything overly remarkable about him in the way of lyrics, but there is something that sticks after the song is over that I like. I don’t know if that even conveys what I’m saying. The same goes for Blu. I don’t know why I tend to dig him more than other “underground” emcees, but my opinions are based on the visceral emotions that come with the music they make, and no matter how much I try to intellectualize it, I can’t. This happened to me with the Ghostface album, Supreme Clientele. I was supposed to hate Ghost. I never liked him before, but when I heard that album I liked it from start to finish, and I can’t explain why. He wasn’t any doper than usual, and I can look back at his music and hear some of the same things in his previous songs that I loved on that SC CD. It didn’t change my mind. I liked Ghost for that album, for what he did there, and that’s pretty much all he could do for me. Little Brother I have liked longer, and they go off the beaten path on some tracks, but for the most part I can listen to Phonte spit on almost anything and find something impressive about what he does. Something thought provoking. And the thing is, I know I’m not so simple as to only hear “the same thing” when I listen to music, because I’ll be damned if someone tells me my thought process is “the same” as anything…yet, I’m impressed by some of that “sameness.” “Sameness,” meaning the same thing that everyone in the industry is doing right now, lyrically; aka, what passes for impressive.
The artist’s dilemma—this may be my issue…
I don’t know how to be a fan! Maybe, since I consider myself an artist, I only know how to feel; and I can’t even be sure if I do that properly. A lot of underground sh!t is just wack to me. Nothing I can do about it. Does that make me wack because I can’t feel it? A lot of “different” (as in other than “same”) sh!t is wack to me, too. Different for the sake of being different never really made me want to listen. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is definitely no Aquemini. Aquemini is a classic (to me, at least). What I mean is I can hear what other people might like in some of this Rap. I can respect what they say and how they are saying it, I just won’t play it when I’m listening to the stuff I want to listen to. Same goes for some “wack” sh!t that I like (Young Dro’s Best Thang Smokin’ got regular play from me, right alongside my Common and Jay-Z or whatever else I was listening to). I gave Big Boi’s new album 5 fair listens. I have a connection with his music that I haven’t given up on based on what Outkast used to do back in the day. It took me a while to build up the courage to buy it. I have already given Kanye’s new joint 2 listens, and lord knows he threw me off with that 808’s BS. I listen to a Common Market, but I don’t get enough of a vibe from them without knowing what to listen for. It’s White Noise (no pun intended); does that make me a bad fan of Hip-Hop? I liked Pitch Black, Zion I, Strong Arm Steady and countless others…I even rocked with a couple of the Slaughterhouse joints…Nothing really stuck for me with any of them for one reason or another (though to this day I still dig that Drugs, Basketball & Rap by Strong Arm Steady). I have been pondering this for a while, because I don’t feel bad about it at all. I try, and that’s more than I can say for most of the people I talk to about music.
Enthusiasm goes a long way, and when I’m enthused about a project someone is working on it gives me hope that music can be better. But then, what about the fans? Music fans are the people who suck just as much as the sucky music makers. They’re fickle. They don’t know what they want. All they know is they don’t want it to be popular. Or if it’s not popular enough then they can’t listen—on some “who is this supposed to be?” type sh!t. You can’t win. I personally know n!&&@s that can outrhyme most of the (signed, popular or underground) rappers I have ever heard. So what? Nobody has ever heard of them. The Roots have less credibility now that they are on the Jimmy Fallon’s late night show. But isn’t that the point? Are rappers rapping to get the message out? And doesn’t the message constantly change?
When I recorded Writer’s Block I had one thing to say, and now that I’m working on Cold I have another thing to say. What’s wrong with having a different message? Did I sell out? Or will I be a sellout when I go on Oprah talking about my educational intentions behind my project? Will the fans feel differently (if there are fans) when they hear that the music does still talk about drugs and people being in/on the streets? What if I make a jiggy song? Will that make me Nas? I am an alcoholic. If I talk about that will I be DMX? If I get money and get tired of telling rappers how much better I am than them ASIDE from the money I’ve made, will that make me Jay-Z? Will these things make me less ill? Will I ever really be a fan of Hip-Hop the way I thought Hip-Hop deserved fans when I was a fan and I thought I knew what “pure” actually meant? I don’t think so, because fandom has made me hate Hip-Hop how it exists now. It’s just as confusing, misleading and fleeting as what it means to be a “real” emcee. As a fan I might know a lot, but I don’t listen to—I don’t “feel”—the right kind of stuff. As an emcee I might be able to spit, but I don’t talk about the right kinds of things. My punchlines may be allusions to things far beyond the scope of what anyone is listening to in the world of Hip-Hop, but if I’m popular, I’m pretty much on some same shit…or am I? If I’m underground (unknown) and clumsily fumble around literary/poetic elements in verse, I’m dope, but it’s the people who just don’t get it. N!&&@s got wack senses of taste…that’s what it is. The industry got customers thinking they really like Wocka Flocka…that’s why n!&&@s don’t feel my raps…they all been brainwashed to like something other than my brand of dopeness. But what about what that music makes them FEEL? Is the way they feel any less viable, any less visceral, than the way you or I felt when we knew Black Star was dope? Or when we knew Jay-Z could spit? Or when we knew Em’s flow was crazy? And if so, then what are we doing to teach people how to FEEL better…because that pedagogy isn’t in a book…
Kanye’s album is better than anything out right now, but it’s no classic. It actually doesn’t even compare to College Dropout OR Late Registration. But what do I know? I hate this new brand of Rap. Put the dope back in the Cola and maybe that’ll make it Classic like it used to be, because calling this new formula by the old name is just making me hate what you call it. The contents don’t deserve the title. And though you’re allowed to fell whatever you want, don’t ask my opinion. I’m not a fan, and I’m not sure if I ever can be again. Fandom is what ruined Rap Music for me. And now I have nothing to listen to, and that’s all I really want.