Every hip-hop fan has a moment when he or she embraces the culture's vulgarities.
For me, it came in late 2005 at the Georgia International Convention Center during the ill-fated Dirty Awards, when I saw D4L perform "Laffy Taffy." With metaphors such as "Girls call me Jolly Rancher/'Cuz I stay rock hard/You can suck on me for a long time, oh my god," "Laffy Taffy" is one of the filthiest No. 1 pop hits in history. I hated the song, but I was amazed at the sight of several thousand people, stepping in time and cheering, as D4L chanted the chorus.
Over the next several months, a contentious and contradictory dialogue formed among rap fans who accused D4L of dumbing down music. The group became a scapegoat alongside hook-heavy Southern dance acts such as Dem Franchize Boyz and Yung Joc. At the same time, those fans touted "cocaine rappers" such as Clipse and Ghostface Killah as the vanguard of the art form; and dismissed politically aware artists Talib Kweli and the Roots as old and corny.
Now the chickens have come home to roost. Political malcontent Al Sharpton is waging a campaign against corporations that support gangsta rap, and the NAACP launched a "STOP Campaign" against racist and sexist language. Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey recently held a controversial two-day "town hall meeting"; several Spelman College students, widely admired for their protest of Nelly's orgiastic "Tip Drill" video, appeared to express frustration with ubiquitous catchphrases such as "ho" and "bitch."
In some ways, the debate rages over aesthetics. One can argue, with some justification, that rap is just a product of society, so why shoot the messenger? As presidential hopeful Barack Obama said recently, "We are all complicit ... let's not just single out the rappers."
But the fact is, we've done a piss-poor job of cultivating positive hip-hop. For years, we celebrated the unreconstructed black man, a Bigger Thomas who could express his dementia without evolving past it. We slid into good ol' American crassness, making a soundtrack for teens humping each other in hot tubs on MTV shows and police officers who maul and torture suspects on prime-time cop dramas.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, the home of crunk, radio stations such as V-103 (WVEE-FM) and Hot 107.9 (WHTA-FM) play T.I. and Young Jeezy all day every day. My beef isn't with Young Jeezy, however, but underground DJs who profess to love "real hip-hop." They won't spin records by critically acclaimed artists such as Madlib, Little Brother and the Roots; nor even local acts such as Psyche Origami and Collective Efforts. Instead, they stick to a boring set list of early-'90s golden oldies, furthering the impression of a moribund and decaying genre.
No one wants to spend the time and energy to find good music. In packed and sweaty nightclubs, they submit to that moment of capitulation, happily dancing to songs about killing niggas, selling drugs, smacking bitches and fucking ho's, and allow themselves to be brainwashed. Then they wake up the next morning and start complaining again.
Sounds funny, right? But if people didn't buy Snoop Dogg's records, then he wouldn't have a career. I am not arguing that Snoop Dogg should be banned from the airwaves, nor demanding that V-103 play songs by the Roots. But we construct our own realities.
CD RELEASES: Indie electronic quartet One Hand Loves the Other issues its self-titled debut Friday, May 4, at Drunken Unicorn. The Skies We Built and Kate Meyers open. ... Singer/songwriter haven Eddie's Attic celebrates its 15th anniversary Monday, May 7. Patrons can join in by purchasing drinks at 1992 prices. ... Metal band Becoming the Archetype drops The Physics of Fire Tuesday, May 8, at the Masquerade. With Blood Comes Cleansing opens.
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