Thursday, November 18, 2010

Am I Allowed to Listen to Hip Hop?

It occurs to me that in my last two betamax posts, I have made fairly showy references to two major rappers in a way that makes my love of hip hop rather conspicuous. It's true that I had a rather torrid affair with hip hop this summer. I discovered that Jay-Z is all of the following (using his words not mine): the "ruler,"  the "best-rapper-alive," an "American Gangster," a "black superhero," a "muhfuckin' renegade," as "real as it gets" (which is why they "feel him in the favelas in Brazil" since as you know "real recognize real"), made "from the cloth of the Kennedys" etcetera, etcetera. Here's a guy who apparently has the President of the United States "on the text" and is not afraid to tell the whole world about it. I have absolutely nothing in common with this giant who is from "the murder capital where [he] murders for capital" and yet I listen to his rhymes nonstop.
Look at that punnum! Best rapper alive, yo! Best rapper alive!

Ahem. Anyway, at the end of the summer I had the privilege of seeing the singular Snoop Dogg close the Rock the Bells festival at the Shoreline Ampitheatre. Snoop played his classic album Doggystyles in its entirety along with several songs from Dr. Dre's 1992 masterpiece, The Chronic. Needless to say, he was easily the best of a lineup that included such luminaries as the Wu Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One and Rakim among many others. His bass lines were sweeter than candied yams on a warm, moonless night.
If Jay-Z is the best rapper alive, Snoop Dogg is the smoothest. Which brings me to whether I am allowed to listen to hip hop. If I have absolutely nothing in common with Jay-Z, I may share even less with Mr. Snoop Eastwood (yes, he actually calls himself that). As a white kid from the suburbs, I am about as far from Jay-Z as you can get. Still, I am fascinated by how Jay-Z has "too much ambition" and "gotta be the best" maybe because I detect a tiny sliver of insecurity behind seemingly endless layers of arrogance. With Snoop, what's crazy is how insecurity doesn't even seem to cross his mind. He just doesn't give a fuck. He is America's stoner par excellence. He can convince you of anything with a playful whisper. He was once a member of the Crips, and he beat back a murder charge. Yet his meditative, laid back coolness would make a zen buddhist monk on the verge of nirvana look like a sweating, drunken Richard Nixon on the eve of resignation. I couldn't be that cool if I was the first man to set foot on Mars while simultaneously making Scarlett Johansson come for a worldwide audience.

Wikipedia sez that gangsta rap has been accused of "promoting violence, profanity, sex, homophobia, racism, promiscuity, misogyny, rape, street gangs, drive-by shootings, vandalism, thievery, drug dealing, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and materialism." Should a nervous paleface such as myself really be allowed to embrace all of this? Maybe not.

But this is America. Who the fuck's stopping me?

PS - I want to highlight one of most philosophically self-reflective moments in all of gangsta rap. Dr. Dre's song "Big Egos," which appears on the album 2001, is a truly trenchant exploration of high self-esteem and narcissism. At one point, after saying he hits switches and makes bitches eat bitches, he adds wistfully "See me grab my dick every time I pose for pictures." One could interpret this as referring to the listener. So is it we who see him grab his dick every time he poses for pictures? I prefer an alternative explanation first proposed by my friend Tommy O'Mahony (who also helped developed the betamax idea that my previous post was based on, credit where it's due). Tommy believes that given the context of the previous line which pointedly uses the pronoun "I," it only makes sense that the next line is also referring to Dre himself. At that moment in the song, Dr. Dre takes pause and notices that in every picture he sees of himself, he is holding his own dick. What epiphanies ran through his mind as he came to this realization? We may never know, but it sure is fun to think about.

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