Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Pretentious Thoughts on Hip-Hop

People that willfully overlook hip-hop culture and music are generally uninterested in the same things that they claim the music lacks - subtlety, wit, meticulous construction and originality. Hip-hop may be artificial in some superficial ways - its use of samples, unified, particular slang and occasional braggadocio step on some nerves - though at its best, rap's social awareness, attention to meter and lyricial attention is unparalleled. Rap's voice came almost by definition from the marginalized of society, acolytes of the music who usually arrived at their standing through their hard work and attention to detail - a fact which lent the genre a weight and honesty lacking in the overproduced music of the time of its inception.

Socially-conscious rappers are keenly aware of their flaws, unafraid to be gleefully silly or fatalistically repentant as the situation requires. Most rap incorporates both a reverence for the musical game and a recognition of the evils therein. As AZ said on Nas' "Illmatic":

"We were beginners in the hood as five percenters / But somethin must of got in us cause all of us turned to sinners."

But what the concerned parents and commercial establishment usually overlook is that rap can be some of the most relevant, genuinely artistic music available. Like much that is controversial or worth experiencing, rap flirts between commentary, irony and experimentation, often moving uncomfortably into new territory as soon as you think you have it pegged down. MC Dälek may have put it best in describing his group's jagged, unsettling sound:

"If you listen to what hip-hop has historically been, it was all about digging in different crates and finding different sounds, and finding different influences to create."

Yes, much of rap has lost its roots and turned into yet another arm of the corporate game, as dozens of samey videos straightforwardly extolling the party lifestyle seem to attest. Still, despite its occasional flaws rap still has a role in our society and its musical landscape. As with any genre, it's the consumer's job to poke and prod at different faces of the music rather than blindly discarding an entire genre to knee-jerk reasoning. As popular as rap remains, and as terrible as most of it is (rap's quality ratio is no different than any other genre), this seems important to remember.

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