[For those that might be interested, I have a feature in the new issue of Sketch Magazine #36]
I didn't think my last post would spark that much interest but I see I've touched a nerve, both for good and bad.
Today's post will continue the idea that I started and maybe give a more clear view of my thoughts.
"I GOT A LETTER FROM THE GOVERNMENT THE OTHER DAY. I OPENED IT, READ IT, IT SAID THEY WAS SUCKAS!"
Public Enemy changed my world. I was a very young white kid living in a very small town in the midwest so while I didn't connect with the some of the ideas of PE's first few albums (It takes a Nation, Fear of the Black Planet), the music and passion that bled out of every track rocked my world. I was 12 years old when "Do the Right Thing" came out on video and I can't even tell you how many times I rented that movie. "Fight the Power" was forever burned into my brain after memorizing that film which is still one of my favorite movies of all time.
My love for hip hop was already at an all time high when I was was in 8th grade (now living in a bigger city in Tennessee) and on a school field trip to Washington D.C. when it was taken to the next level. We were taken to a little shopping and eating area some where and set free to get some food. I however broke away from the group hunting for the music store. I found it and spent my lunch money on cassette sitting in the new release section.
Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black
HOLY SHIT! While I might have been starving from spending my food money on a tape (which has been a trend thru out my life), my mind was blown by the music I was hearing. I dare anyone to say that there is a beat in the world better than "Shut Em Down". You will grow old searching for one. "By the Time I get to Arizona" not only had a very powerful message that helped teach me what the southern TN school system wasn't, it had an infectious groove that didn't leave my head for years following.
"HERE COMES THE DRUMS... BASS IN YOUR FACE, NOT AN EIGHT TRACK GETTIN' GOOD TO THE WOOD, SO THE PEOPLE GIVE YOU SOME OF THAT REACTIN' TO FACTS THAT I KICK, AND A STICK, UNDERSTAND WHEN I POINT TO THE JOINT... PUT THE BUDDAH DOWN."
I think people familiar with what videos they see on TV today would be shocked to know that "Can't Trust It" (like many other PE videos) were in heavy rotation in '91. This leads me to what I mentioned in my last post about the difference between then and now. Let's take the Jester-like hype man of Public Enemy.
Flavor Flav was the softener that made PE's message an easier pill to swallow. An intentional farse in some ways. I would never think that 19 years later I would be seeing people look like him but taking themselves serious. Flav was a clown that knew he was being a clown. When I see some soon-to-be-has-been with his hat on tilt still dawning the stickers and tag, a giant chain supporting a cartoon size diamond encrusted pendant all while mean muggin' like you better show him respect, I can't help but chuckle. Clowns.
Now, I know that there was bad hip hop then, just like there is great hip hop now. I'm not that tunnel visioned. The difference is that the mainstream was played out much more even back in the day. Let's take Serious Sat. Radio for example. Every genre of music on there has 5 -10 channels. Rock has oldies, classic, moderan, metal, 90's, 80's, and the list goes on. Hip Hop has 3 (I'm not counting the "R&B" Beyonce playing station as Hip Hop) One is old school. And the other 2 play exactly the same playlists of modern "Ring Tone" rap.
The DJ that backs up the MC is gone and replaced whatever "producer" of the moment quickly taps whatever transposed vocal sample is hot at the moment. Again, I know it's not really gone, but it's gone to kids only exposed to the mainstream.
As I grew up, my music tastes expanded to just about every genre there is, so I stopped worrying about if any type of music is "dead". Hip Hop isn't dead. The kind of life Hip Hop enjoyed in the mainstream may be dead and replaced by the "killers" and the "gangstas" (it's funny to think about it in those terms isn't it? They're entertainers that pretend to really be what they're character is. Imagine that after Tom Cruise starred in The Last Samurai he started walked around with a sword and and Samurai garb talking about the Bushido Code.) There are great artists out there pushing the genre in new directions just like there are clowns out there dumbing it down. (we'll talk some of those names in a future post)
For now, we'll end on another PE quote.
"SEE THE TV, LISTEN TO ME, DOUBLE TROUBLE/I OVERHAUL AND I'M COMIN' FROM THE LOWER LEVEL"
p.s. Guys, I know "good" is subjective and all about tastes. But 50 cent is probably one of the worst rappers in the history of it. I'm not even talking about what he raps about. He could rap about saving homeless babies and protecting the planet and he would still be terrible.