One of the new writers on the hip-hop blog Mostly Junkfood, a lady by the name of Kara, recently posted an article called “‘Bitch Bad’ is real hip-hop, but so is everything else” criticizing fan reaction to Lupe Fiasco’s controversial “Bitch Bad” video. Kara was bothered by what she called the “hip-hop police” and what she saw as their elitist view of hip-hop music. I suggest you read her article; it’s well written, short and to the point.
Basically, her whole argument was that there is no “real” hip-hop and “fake” hip-hop – it’s ALL real hip-hop. And she’s right; everything from Rick Ross to Public Enemy belongs to the hip-hop genre. I also agree with her that there are some examples of “socially conscious” messages in mainstream hip-hop, even today. But for me personally, the rest of the article was flawed because it seemed to miss the point. It was mainly the parts about what we should respect and value in music that made me write this post.
To begin with, she quoted the following YouTube comments as “irritating”:
“I listen to all other mainstream rappers but I get so sick of hearing them rap about money, sex, and guns all the time.”
“Lupe is making intelligent hip-hop while everyone else is making ignorant garbage.”
“It’s nice to hear a song about actual issues instead of how much money a rapper has.”
The most obvious conclusion one can draw from this –and Kara did indeed mention it—is that many hip-hop fans are tired of the lack of diversity in mainstream rap.
She then asked: “Why is hip-hop the only genre of music that is expected to have some sort of political or social message behind it?”
Well I don’t actually think it’s always expected – it’s just naturally admired when it does happen. That’s in part because of hip-hop’s roots and in part because of human nature. It’s natural to admire someone exploring “nobler” ideas. But with the exception of a few songs here and there, Biggie, Big L and Big Pun were never particularly political in their music but I don’t think there are many heads out there who would question their status as hip-hop legends. Why? Because all three were incredibly gifted technically, as emcees. If there wasn’t always a noble message to admire, there was always the skill.
The “elitists” don’t make these “irritating” comments just because they are tired of “sex, money and guns”, or just because they don’t like “dance songs” – no, they also make them because from the very birth of this genre, rappers have prided themselves on skill, and in turn they have made the fans appreciate that skill when they hear it. But the truth is, guys like Soulja Boy just don’t have skill like that. Who can honestly tell me he is a good rapper? Please, show yourselves, so I can have you taken away by men in white lab coats.
Ask yourselves why the image on the left is instinctively more impressive to us than the image on the right, and why do we see An Oriental Beauty as the greater artistic accomplishment.
The point is, I can’t appreciate what Soulja Boy does as much as I appreciate what Nas does. I can’t appreciate the level of “skill” that goes into a stick figure drawing like I appreciate the skill that went into creating the Sistine Chapel. Rapping is a skill just like guitar playing is a skill; Big Pun made jaws drop with his insane verses the same way Jimmy Page blows minds with the guitar. There’s a reason fans argue so much about who is the best emcee, and why rap battling was created in the first place and why it continues to thrill us. Like Rakim once said, “95% of hip-hop is competition”, and we admire the artist with more skill.
Kara goes on to try to convince us that all music and lyrical content should be equally respected, but respectfully, I just can’t agree. It’s like claiming a philanthropist and Scrooge McDuck are equally worthy of respect in human society. They’re not.
“Look, you’re allowed to feel however you want about “Bitch Bad” or any other song for that matter. But don’t tell me that it’s somehow more real or authentic than other songs. Don’t tell me that Lupe Fiasco deserves more respect because of what he chooses to rap about.”
But it is more “real” to speak about poverty, relationships, or society than it is to listen to Rick Ross sing about how he lights his hundred-dollar cigars with his hundred-dollar bills on his private jet. Most people don’t have private jets. Most people do have relationships, sex, and many are poor. In our world, it’s just more real.
And the fact is, Lupe does deserve more respect for what he chooses to rap about. Not just because he’s infinitely more skilled, as I explained earlier, but also because saying something profound about the human condition or society, will always be more admirable than a song promoting crack dealing or an instantly forgettable club track that is basically a three and half minute commercial for a brand of vodka. It’s all real hip-hop, it’s all music, but it’s not all equal. It’s all art, but some of it is greater art.
No society on Earth is going to value the artistic merits of “Troll 2” more than “Vertigo” or “Lawrence of Arabia”. No sane society will value Twilight over the works of Tolstoy and Hemingway. One is a short-lived fad for kids, and the others are timeless classics that will go on influencing human thinking and art for generations to come. It’s the difference between getting one hand-job from some drunken chick whose name you will never even remember, and being with the love of your life. The quickie is fun, for sure, but it can never mean as much to a human being as the real relationship can. Great art, like great love, lasts.
A song that helps people get through a rough patch in their life, or even saves someone from committing suicide is clearly worth more than a song like “Gucci Gucci”. What exactly does a song like that do for society? Or for me as a human being? I’m not saying it has to do anything, but it can’t be as valuable as one that does.
People make those “irritating” elitist comments because it’s natural to value courage, intelligence, and the ability to touch people. If teaching is a noble profession, then an artist who aims to teach or inform has to be more noble than an artist whose sole goal is a club hit to make him rich. Both are perfectly acceptable and necessary, but the first is more admirable. And honestly, isn’t it best when an artist can do both like Lupe can?
Ask yourselves again, if all hip-hop is equal, why is there a consensus that some emcees are in the running for “the greatest of all time” while other emcees would never even be mentioned in such a list? Again: it’s because some artists are greater than others. That’s the truth.
For those thinking I am an “elitist”, all I can say is you can find every genre in my library and I enjoy songs about everything from buttsex to politics – sometimes it’s actually the same song. You’ll find all kinds of sounds in my iTunes, from hip-hop, to classical, to gypsy punk. Look at this blog, and you’ll see that we like all kinds of hip-hop styles and artists. But don’t ever tell me Mozart and Spice Girls are just as important or equal. It’s just not deserved.
This attitude can best be summed up as “hip-hop political correctness”; a fear of offending all the lesser skilled and/or one dimensional artists out there, which is completely illogical in a genre and culture that value competition so much. If a wack rapper wants as much respect as Rakim, then he or she should step their game up, not attempt to lower the standard for everyone else.