Ok, so if I remember correctly, in the late 90s the biggest stars in America were an armada of Nordic Supersoldiers. Acts like 98°, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera dominated the charts with their vacuous teen ballads.
Pop music was a future Stepford Wife proto-High School Musical prom afterparty. All the girls were sassy and all the boys had six packs. Then, 9/11 happened.
Americans suddenly thought (and quite reasonably) that we were finally the underdogs. The prosperity of the 90s began to fade, setting a new precedent. In short, things got complicated.
Everyone still wanted to party, but pain was back. Sept. 11 gave us pain for months (years). As we got further away from that day, record companies needed to manufacture gravitaswhere there wasnt any. I solemnly believe that besides the talent of artists like T.I., 50 Cent, Bruce Springsteen, Kanye West, Eminem and Arcade Fire, their greatest asset is their constant triumph over adversity.
Triumph is why superhero movie franchises have been so successful recently. A nerdy frail wimp transforms into a web-slinging smart ass who gets with Kirsten Dunst and saves all of New York City (Ground Zero, ding!). A corporate war profiteer escapes from a terrorist (Al Quaeda ding!) camp and defeats his own greed as well as the powerful traitors in his circle (the White House maybe?). We love to see people over come. Remember that song "We Shall Overcome?" That was a really big hit.
"I Put On"
Kanye Wests production catapulted Jay-Z into solidified classic status all while remaining in virtual anonymity. Next thing you know, he falls asleep at the wheel and gets in a nearly fatal car accident. Instead of wallowing in self pity he, 3H and Damon Dash turned his misfortuneinto the ultimate backstory for a man who was perhaps neither Gangster nor conscious enough to be understood by record execs. Starting with Through the Wire, Kanye built an entire career with two key foci: decadence and perpetual underdoggery. Hes made pop rap songs about vague everyday trials and tribulations (All Falls Down) and continuously assails his doubters to this day (Cant tell me Nothing). Even though, no one really doubts him anymore, it is completely necessary for him to continue this fight against the now imaginary naysayer (remember that MTV Awards bullshit).
The most compelling development in Kanyes trajectory is the tragic death of his mother. She was a victim of the mindless vanity and decadence embodied in many of his songs. I ponder how her death provided real life meaning to the vague conflicts in songs like Stronger.
Either way, all of us, even those of us who werent exactly Kanye West fans, wanted to see him rise above the tragedy and do something really amazing to shut us up.
Curtis Jackson was a chubby, semi-clever, almost gangster rapper from Queens, NY who pissed everyone in the industry off, and no one wanted him to succeed. Perfect. Then, he got shot in the face and his life changed for the better. Everyone rooted for him as he took on the colossal pop monster Ja Rule. Then he forgot that even though every one wants to win, most people dont identify with Mr. Spacely, Suge Knight and Prince John. He became a body building gangster plague, the rap Incredible Hulk, Alexander the Great. That, in my opinion other than his album sucking doo doo balls is exactly why Kanye West Davegoliathed him.
Kings of New York
Many artists thrive off the conflicts, battles and struggles associated with fame. It's most depressing when they reach a place of comfortability and become near stale. Jay-Z and Nas are archetypes of the great warriors with no wars to fight who subsequently become fathusbands. When Jay-Z was attempting to seize the throne of New York rap supremacy, he fought lyrically against such heavyweights as Mobb Deep, the LOX and even managed to attack and revive a practically defunct Nas. Stillmatic Nas most urgent and complex work to date, which he made entirely during his mothers battle against cancer and his own battle against Jay-Z made Jay look like a girl clown. Now, in the post-war period, they grow comfortable and have to invent their controversy (i.e. Nas' Nigger, Hip Hop is Dead), or make no attempt at saying anything important at all (Jay-Z's Kingdom Come, American Gangster). I dont blame them, theyre old. Now we have Lil Wayne.
The real Niggy Tardust
New Orleans ghettos. I would never ever want to live there, and I went to preschool in Kingston, Jamaica. The U.S. treats New Orleans like its our colony that we dont give a damn about. It makes a lot of sense that a little boy who kisses his adopted father on the lips and shot himself at 12 would rise up to rule rap with a withered, drug-addled fist. Lil Wayne pleasantly surprises us everyday he wakes up, alive despite his dangerous affiliations and habits, and continues to out rap everybody at their own game. The true journey for Weezy began with the disbanding of the Hot Boys and his sudden interest in Jay Z. He got all mixtapey and may or may not have enlisted Gillie Da Kid to write the Carter 1. New York continuously fought against a foreigner attempting to impress them with his punchlines. He dumped the ghostwriter, picked up the Styrofoam cup, bought Aquemini again and started out at Guitar Center. Now, the man can play stupid guitar ballads while headlining the premiere hip-hop concert in the land. Lil Wayne is the living battle with the odds constantly shifting favor.
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