Hip-Hop Style Grows Up

Good stuff from MTV on the new mature dress style is hip-hop. Read all three articles and peep the extra pictures and videos. Writer Shaheem Reid does a great job covering this new trend. I plan to keep my eyes open for his other work.

Here are some article quotes:

"The gentleman's movement is in effect," Dre continues. "I think somewhere along the line in hip-hop and R&B, we lost a lot of class. I think it's time to show these boys how to dress, most definitely."
"Jay is like a walking poster child with anything he says or brings light to," Loon says with a smile. "He brought light to the button-ups and getting suited up. People are hearing that and it's starting to register. We got to start cleaning up our act."
"Wearing more adult apparel isn't an entirely new trend. In the 1990 movie "House Party," all the kids looked snazzy as they danced in Play's crib. Who could forget the jiggy explosion that Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy ushered in? People who couldn't even pronounce Versace and Armani were shelling out the dough to keep in step with the labels Big Poppa name-dropped in his music. But in those days, the clothes were more playalistic. Bentley, Kanye and their disciples, on the other hand, are wearing clothes that are truly conservative, even preppy."

But yeah...read the whole thing.

May 1, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hip-Hop Hates Women

There's a new meme that's been bubbling amongst hip-hop blogs this week. The question was posed by Lizelle:

"...on all these hip hop blogs I go to and read, where is the discourse on gender, patriarchy, sexism, etc? Step up dammit!"

Jay Smooth took up her question and challenged us to answer it in his comments section. It's a long read so I suggest you print it out and absorb it all. For you skimmers out there here are some highlights:

Ian said:

"When women stop buying, dancing to and generally supporting sexist hip hop (is that redundant?), I think that'll grab many male hip hoppers' attention and force the issues of sexism and female exploitation & ojectification onto the table for discussion for real"

Later he wrote on his blog:
"In addition though, I think the principle theme expressed in the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" probably applies as an explanation as to why I and other male bloggers don't feel the need to become more invested in discussing or combating the problems of sexism, feminism or patriarchal social systems etc. not just in hip hop but in society in general."

David agreed with Ian and added:

"The question of how and why women like Lil' Kim and her ilk have been forced to participate in their own exploitation is probably the biggest gender issue we've got"

Before this started he had made a post on his own blog about sexism in hip-hop.

Mark clarified that:

"Sexism is in hip-hop but hip-hop is not sexism. Artists like 50 Cent, Lil' Jon, and Wu-Tang are young, sexualized, black men. Knowing that, they would be horrible feminists. Should the reality of their sexism be silenced or even reversed? Is the problem that sexism is in the art? Or is the problem in the saturation of sexist art? Perhaps there's a problem that there's a bunch of counter-sexist/feminist art that doesn't get play/heard/consumed"

There's much more but you just need to read it for yourself.

A few days later Lynne chimed in (by coincidence?) on her blog with a response to an article about the effects of hip-hop's misogynist slant on the kids growing up. She brings up a lot of good points and issues so I won't quote any of it. Just read it all. In her comment section I said:

"Forget what outsiders think of us...where's the voice INSIDE the culture/industry that's keeping us in check? There are too many woman involved in the business side of the music- publicists, journalists, stylists, choreographers, A&R's, managers, promoters, and most importantly the ACTUAL FEMALE BUYERS THEMSELVES for there not to be some sort of awakening concerning the misogyny in hip-hop."

Also, recently Deesha Dyer of Verbalisms wrote about the lack of women at underground hip-hop shows:

"While the females are being fed the 50cent club mixes and remixes, the deep, thought - provoking, true hip-hop is marketed and targeted towards males, as if women don't have the intelligence to be included in this market."

What's my take? I believe that America itself is deeply misogynistic. I could bring up many examples but I'll just stick with this- why was there only one female presidential candidate this year? The Philippines has a female president and we can't even muster two candidates? Hip-hop is a reflection of our flawed values in the U.S., as are other pop culture mediums like movies and magazines. It's just easy for the powers that be to scapegoat rap music.

But that blurs the issue, and I'm not one for letting us off the hook just because we're being attacked from the outside. Like Lizelle, who's complaint started this meme, I think there needs to be more honest critique from the inside, from those who live and love the culture. So here it is and here we are getting the convo started. Hopefully somthing bigger will come from all of this.

The problem is the business of rap music which helps promote not just sexist attitudes, but homophobia, violence, and other ignorant ills. First off, the people who own and control the music have no respect for it. No, I'm not talking about Dame Dash or Dr. Dre. I'm talking about the guy who's two levels above them both, running Universal Music and pushing the green or red button on what gets produced and promoted in hip-hop. If Universal wants to push ant-women type music this year millions of dollars will pumped into the budget of whatever rapper is ignorant enough to write the lyrics. Sure the artists can choose to make something different. They just won't have the backing that others do who agree to play the game.

Let me use movies as an example. When the big studios want to make a White gangster film they get the best in the business- Scorsese directs, DePalma writes, and Pacino stars. It's violent, but it's art. However, when they make a Black gangster film they find the latest hot rappers to play in it, and a music video director to pull it together. More thought goes into the soundtrack than the script.

Same thing for hip-hop. They push artists to make a quick hit with salacious lyrics and a video to match. They go platinum, then try to do it again for the second album. After that they're done with the artist. They don't want him to get more creative, more introspective, more worldly. Artists on their third album like to step out of the box they've been given, and the record labels hate that. And don't try to ask for a bigger share of the financial pie- no, no, no!

This doesn't happen to White musicians as much. White pop musicians maybe. And here's the problem- all hip-hop is treated as pop music with no artistic value. There's a lack of respect for for our music. The music industry is deeply racist. And I don't say that lightly.

But am I still letting us off the hook by blaming others for what we say? I don't think so. There are plenty of rappers out there who don't objectify women in thier lyrics. They just can't get a deal. It takes a lot for them to find a label who will stick with them past that first single and album. These artists are out there. However, without a good record deal we consumers don't even get the choice of buying their music.

I'm not saying to get rid of the the club bangers, or even the overly violent gangsta rap. I confess- I like it and I buy it. But as I get older I also look for something a little deeper. Not deeper like "positive" or "conscious." I mean deeper like honest and sincere. I find myself turning to reggae and old soul albums for that.

What I am saying is that we need need to open the idea market up. There's 101 non-sexist untold stories that mainstream hip-hop is not touching on. Thank goodness Kanye West has made an album that explores the anxiety he felt trying to finish college. I can relate, and I love it for that reason alone.

If I am downplaying the issue then let me go even further and say that I believe sexism in hip-hop is getting better. Foxy and Kim are out, Missy and Eve are in. The latter pair are both sexy and powerful at the same time. This is an improvement.

What do you think?

March 20, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Advice for Farnsworth Bentley

Farnsworth Bentley, the Black metrosexual who became famous by holding umbrellas over P. Diddy's head and baby sitting the Band is now considering a rap career among other ventures. I think that's a big mistake.

He should continue being on MTV, doing skits on Outkast albums, and dancing with legends at the Grammy's. I hope he succeeds in his umbrella business, the movie script he's writing with Andre 3000, the comedy he's working on for Fox, and the promotional gig he landed with Courvoisier.

But Bentley, leave the rapping alone!

Making an album is the most uninspired idea you've had. Show us there's more than one way to hustle in this game. Leave the stunts to those who don't respect the culture and think we will buy whatever garbage they dump on the store shelves. Even an ok effort on may doom your career (think Madd Rapper).

March 20, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Talib Kweli's "The Beautiful Struggle"

Talib Kweli is soft in the head.

Rough versions of his next album "The Beautiful Struggle" were leaked on the net and a message board fan posted links to it. Talib got angry and flipped on the kid. The positive, pro-Black emcee even threatened to hurt him, saying:

"I will find out who you are and you will be dealt with accordingly. This is no threat."

He should be thanking him instead. Doesn't Talib know that obscurity is a bigger problem for artists than piracy and that downloading has been academically proven to not affect record sales? Talib complains that he's never gone gold or platinum like Kanye West and that this bootlegging will harm his record sales. Of course he doesn't realize that Kanye's album was also bootlegged before it came out and rough versions of unreleased songs were on mixtapes almost a year beforehand. I should know. I copped the mixtapes and the bootleg album. I was so impressed by Kanye's soul sample flipping that I bought the album on its second week out.

So should Kanye be beasting on me for stealing money out of his hands? Talib should realize that the real crooks are at his record label, Rawkus Records. I'm sure he doesn't get more than 12% of the profits from his own work. So let's see him threaten Jarret Myer and Bryan Brater next time.

March 15, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (179) | TrackBack

Respect Sampling

I sometimes wonder (but don't really care) what traditional musicians think about hip-hop's habit of sampling in order to create beats. For those that think it's simple Danger Mouse breaks down how hard it was to create The Grey Album.

For those who don't think it's artistic enough to sample should listen to how beautiful Kanye West's College Dropout sounds or Lyrics Born's Later That Day.

UPDATE: Laze adds some thoughts to this.

March 13, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Hip-hop News Sites Suck

On my blog I misspell words and use bad grammar all the time. But this is just a blog, which started as a personal sounding board to work out ideas for future articles. I never intended to have any audience so I don't hold myself to much of a quality standard.

However, unlike my personal blog these professional hip-hop news sites need to be ashamed of the way they report unconfirmed rumors, steal content, and plague users with pop-up ads.

There's a lot of trash out there but I always considered SOHH's news site to be above the fray. Not so anymore. Today I spotted two sophmoric grammar mistakes on the same page. First, Rich Rock in an article about Kevin Liles' departure from Def Jam uses the word "literally" incorrectly. He writes:

"...Liles helped to build the Def Jam brand and was integral in the re-signing of LL Cool J to a new contract when the superstar emcee who literally built the label threatened to leave."

LL may have figuratively built the label, but I'm sure he didn't literally grab his saw and hammer and do work on their offices. On the left side of that same page under "Ya Heard!" it describes Common as a "prolific" artist. This word is commonly misused to mean "profound." Too Short, Tupac, and Jay Z had prolific careers, or in other words they made a lot of music. Period. The word doesn't mean anything else.

I admit these are small slips by SOHH, but dag...they're like the standard of online hip-hop right now yet their writing would only get a B in my English class. I can't wait until my blog fam finally gets this network going. At least then the online hip-hop world will have an alternative to the low quality that's out there.

February 12, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

The Album Review is Dead?

The wonderfully witty Devon Powers of Popmatters.com reasons that reviews for full length albums will soon disappear because people are choosing the digital single more and more over the complete album. Devon writes:

"When 10,000 songs are available in your pocket, why choose one album at all? ...this problem is compounded insofar as, from a listener's perspective, MP3s do a better job of music criticism than music critics do. Why read about an album's significance when you can simply download a couple of songs and decide for yourself? Why not pop those tunes into your iPod and walk around, see if they stick, and if not, erase 'em, never to think about it again?"

Well, she's right but for the wrong reason. I do agree that music journalism will change this year but not because people are ditching the full length album. Buyers still want to buy a full length something whether it's an artist's album, a compilation like the "Now That's What I Call Music" series, or a mixtape. Even when it's digital fans are still buying the whole album. Apple reported that with the iTunes music store "over half of the songs purchased to date were purchased as albums, further dispelling concerns that selling music on a per-track basis will destroy album sales."

So music journalists don't need to switch their focus to the single, as Devon suggests. Anyway...who would actually read a single review that is longer than two sentences? In the same amount of time it takes to read a magazine's opinion about a song I can actually listen to it and judge for myself.

And that's why music reviews will change.

In the past we relied on journalists to tell us if an album was good or not because we couldn't preview it ourselves. But now there's a big increase in ways we can listen to what an artist has to offer before we buy through means legal (album samplers, official web downloads, radio) and less legal (file sharing, mixtapes, Google's keychain).

I recently bought Lyrics Born's "Later that Day." I wasn't familiar with his other material other than a guest appearace on a Blackalious album. So before I bought the album I went to the guy's website to listen to the samples. I heard two great songs from the disc- Callin Out and Bad Dreams. What did I do next? Cop the singles? No, I bought the whole album. But that's besides my main point.

Music writing can stay relevent by changing it's role from telling us what an album is like, to just announcing that an album worth checking out is available. It will become like the television review- useful but just barely. Television is like what music will become- too available to need a review.

In my example above I first was prompted to listen to Lyrics Born samples by an article I read on MTV.com. Actually their website does a good job of overall of giving me enough info to spark my interest in an artist without loading me with an article that's longer than what I have patience to read.

So is this change a good or bad thing? I don't really care myself, though Oliver Wang has lamented the ever decreasing word count in music publications.

January 22, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Predictions for 2004

I never really liked year end wrap-ups so I didn't spit mine out there or read anyone else's (though if I did I'd be sure to follow the 8 simple rules). So instead of looking back, I'll courageously predict the trends that will shape this new year in hip-hop! I seemed to have gotten the reggae thing right, so maybe I'll get lucky again. Let's go-

1. More Hip-hop Concerts and Tours- especially from the midlevel acts who make great music and almost go gold. Expect mid-sized and small venues who have traditionally booked only rock acts to drop their fears of violent crowds and open their doors to roving hip-hop groups. The untold story of 50 Cent's popularity is that he has been touring incessantly since before "Get Rich..." dropped. He went on the road with the Clipse, then Eminem, then Jay-Z, then his own with G-Unit. Journalist dummies- it's not just the mixtapes and Eminem that made 50 so big last year. But even if the magazine writers haven't caught on I'm sure the artists are paying close attention.

Also, indie groups such as Atmosphere and Blackalicious have sold thousands of units and broke onto MTV through the buzz their live shows created. So in 2004 expect your favorite rapper, underground or otherwise to hop on the bandwagon, literally.

2. The "Regular Dude" is Born or The "Backpacker" Returns - People are buzzin about Kanye West's College Dropout album not because of his flow (which sounds amateurish half the time) or his soulful beats, but because of what he's saying on his debut. He doesn't talk about guns and selling crack, yet he's not a usual "positive" or "conscious" rapper- Kanye admits to enjoying fast cars and going to strip clubs. But he's no p.i.m.p. either. Instead, he has a song about Jesus and lines that confess that he and his industry counter parts stunt not out of confidence but insecurity. He's a regular dude, like me and you. And expect to see more of them signed by record companies this year. Common has already ditched his neo-soul persona and girlfriend and plans to return to his "Can I Borrow a Dollar" days on the next album. Joe Budden was marketed as a hip-hop "everyman" by Def Jam who saw the light on this emerging trend a months ago. Yeah, Joe didn't do well in sales but that was because of his lackluster beats and inability to tour (see prediction 1) due to throat problems.

These guys and others will spark the "regular dude" trend which will resemble the anti-glam, grunge trend in rock years ago. The press will mislabel this as backpacker rap, but it's not.

3. The Mixtape Will Rule- With the album format dying due to digital downloads of single songs, expect to see a (continued) rise in the popularity of mixtapes and bundled hits like the Now That's What I Call Music! series. The first music download store to offer the ability to create your own mixes to share (like Amazon.com's Listmania) will be blessed.

My only hope is that DJ's will get away from the dominance of the DJ Clue style exclusive mixtape and get back to the thematic mix of songs like P Cutta's Street Wars series and Green Lantern's Throwback Classics.

That's it. So what are your predictions?

January 3, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Jin's "Learn Chinese" Video

Jin, the Asian rapper who landed a record deal with Ruff Ryders while becoming a battle champion on 106th and Park just dropped a new video for his single "Learn Chinese." Oliver Wang posted his thoughts about the video on his weblog. And so begins the culture critiques that will mark Jin's career more than his musical talent.

Oliver aka O-Dub doesn't mention whether the song is any good or not. "I do find the video fascinating," is the most we get. The rest is a break down of the socio-racial implications of what Jin chose to write and display in his first ever video. Yikes. I hope the kid has a degree in something because he's gonna need some learnin just to read his own album reviews!

Here's a part of O-Dub's post that I find kinda funny:

"That said, the video for "Learn Chinese" is rife with problems. One of the biggest and most obvious is Jin's gender politics - women figure in this video like they figure in most rap videos: sex objects desired for nothing more than their bodies."
Rife with problems? When did sexy women in a club, happy-happy video become a problem? I think O-Dub, as an Asain hip-hopper himself is asking too much from the young kid.

But I understand what's up. When Jin's album drops he'll become the resident hip-hop pundit that will represent the voice of all Asian rap fans out there. Who needs a quote from Oliver Wang or Jeff Chang when you got a Ruff Ryder ready to speak? I'm not saying O-Dub is jealous, but I certainly understand if he's scared. I'm a conservative leaning Black man who has to deal with the stupid things Stanley Crouch writes three times a week. Trust me, I understand.

So even though O-Dub says Jin's video is "disappointing and generic" I think he needs to watch out for the same traps in his own reviews. (And I like his weblog, so don't beast.)

December 18, 2003 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Reggae is on the Rise (Update)

Forget about Reggae/Dancehall being on the rise in America. It seems like this new trend in urban music is already here. So good riddins "neo soul" wannabees and Southern rap flavored dummies. Your local A&R is probably now looking to break an act that has at least some Carribean influence in it.

Peep the proof:

The latest cover of Vibe magazine has Sean Paul's face all over it, and features a pretty lengthy article about Dancehall's currently platinum top shotta. See?

And Baz Dreisinger of the Village Voice (the same guy who wrote about hip-hop changing pop culture) mentions the influence Reggae is having on hip-hop/R&B, including Beyonce wearing a red, green and black wrist band during one of her videos.

So the chatting and riddims are here...again. I think that hip-hop may just be able to break down the language barrier and present a mixed form of Reggae the average buyer can relate to. Really, that's for better or for worse.

** Thank-you Eric, Micheal, and Lynne for the helpful comments on the original post.

November 3, 2003 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack