Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Is What, Exactly?

I more or less agree with the New York Times review of This Is It. The new Michael Jackson documentary is everything I thought it would be:  rushed and exploitative.

A lot has been said about the legacy of the late King of Pop, his talents and pitfalls. That he was a deeply troubled child who grew up in an abusive household that caused him to hate what he looked like and obsess over youthfulness, drastically altering his outward appearance to conform to some warped ideal image of a pale-skinned, stringy-haired prince. This outward transformation ostensibly dissociated him from his sordid past and allowed him to craft a new persona of a smooth criminal whose suave mannerisms and disregard for authority allowed him to reign supreme on airwaves across the globe. This persona is a stark contrast to the real Michael Jackson, a shy man-child who drowned his inner turmoil in painkillers.

Michael Jackson’s story not only speaks to America’s ongoing social and economic crisis, Michael Jackson is America. Unbridled talent whose outward expression and demonstration of that talent has been mutilated by an obsession with European notions of beauty and the appearance of dominance and vitality, but whose core is rotting, hooked on media distractions, superficiality, materiality, sex, and drugs (including prescription).

And then comes Obama This Is It, a concert so huge and stupendous that it promised to recapture the hearts and minds of people across the globe and introduce the wonder that is Michael Jackson to a new generation. But Jackson collapsed. And what did we get instead? A rushed film that seeks to recoup losses and exploit the Pop star’s demise by forcing a vapid and contrived homage down the audience’s throat. 

The only question is, will America be fooled again by these charades? Initial box office sales suggest, yes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ready to Dizz-i: Biggie in the 21st century

Ready to Die is the best hip hop album of all time, bar none. I don’t engage in these GOAT arguments often since the answer is so blatantly obvious (READY TO DIE!) that it’s not worth discussing. Nevertheless, much like the evolution vs. creationism debate, people like to pretend as though there’s an actual discussion to be had and that their argument has not been thoroughly debunked.

Well it has, Kirk Cameron, it has.

Even if you don’t think it’s the GOAT, Ready to Die is the quintessential rags-to-riches tale, drug lacky to kingpin, Tony Montana to Scarface. It’s a concept album with a cohesive narrative that chronicles Biggie from the humble beginnings as thief to a drug lord—and all the trials and tribulations that come with it. The album ends with “Suicidal Thoughts” a track that illustrates the self-loathing that Biggie hid behind his fa├žade of guns, girls and drugs and that prompts him to kill himself.

This could have been the final word in the then 4-year old “gangsta rap” movement. Biggie showed that the shallowness of the thug lifestyle will inevitably reveal the self-loathing that fuels it and will ultimately cause it to self-destruct. I guess niggas and rappers forgot about Biggie’s warning since, after RTD, all rap fans got from most mainstream rappers was more than a decade of “One more chance” and “Big Poppa” rehashes with rappers ignoring the demise of the gangsterism as foretold by Biggie. (This isn't to say that there wasn't a lot of good music in this era, just that rappers shamelessly regurgitated a theme and style that Biggie had already perfected)

In 2009, however, Ready to Die is not so easily ignored. This summer, Ruff Ryders (Jadakiss, DMX and friends) released their banger Who’s Real”--an attempt to salvage the diminishing significance of being real (aka hood). 50 is also slated to release his fittingly titled album Before I Self-Destruct. (I don't hate on 50 because he's talented and consistent, but even he recognizes his slipping relevance). And, as if to lend a voice to the collective seppuku of gangsta rappers, Jay-Z rhymes on “Thank You”:

I was gonna kill a couple rappers 
But they did it to themselves 

I was gonna do it with the flow 
But they did it with their sales 
I was gonna 9/11 'em, 

but they didn't need the help 
And they did a good job 

them boys is talented as hell 
Cuz not only did they brick 

they put a building up as well 
They ran a plane into that building 

and when that building fell 
Ran to the crash site with no masks and inhaled 
Toxins deep inside their lungs 

until both of them was filled 
Blew a cloud out like a L 

into a jar then took a smell 
Cuz they heard that second hand smoke kills 
Niggas thought they was ill 

found out they was...ILL 
And it's like you knew exactly how I wanted you to feel

The gangsta/bling era was cute, but it has taken itself to its logically absurd conclusion that is transparent and self-defeating. 

We should have seen this coming though. Biggie called it.  

Sunday, September 27, 2009

African-American Studies 0009: Introduction to Hip Hop

This will be my blog. A place where I talk about hip hop. I strongly dislike the term "hip hop." I prefer "rap"...although that's not as accurate of a term (since instrumental hip hop isn't rap)...but if you insist on the term hip hop--like white people some people in our country insist on the term "African-American"--then I will use it. 

So, this is a hip hop blog.

But not just any hip hop. This blog is for people who don't care what Nas means by "Hip Hop is Dead" or how great conscious rap used to be in the days of BDP and Public Enemy. 

No No. 

This blog isn't about being an uppity hip hop listener sipping chai tea whilst musing about DJ Premier's novel use of polyrhythms and layering to convey the [insert bullshit about inner city life here]. 

This blog is about appreciating hip hop for what it was created to do: Make You Feel Good

That's Right. Did you forget that while you were rambling on about Souldja Boy?

I want to feel good..and if that means I have to project myself onto the "life" of a rapper as he slaps bitches, pushes fly whips, sells crack and makes it rain, then so be it. (according to Jay-Z, we're off that, I will be too). When I was little I ran around the house with a towel tied behind my back pretending I was Batman (yea...I was an odd one). If someone ever stopped me to say "You're not really Batman" I would look at that individual sideways and say "I know that, nigga. It's called make-believe." So, If I want to pretend I'm a G--or have a pimp's dream--in my 1988 Honda Accord DX Hatchback while bumping vintage Biggie from my blown speakers, why the hell would you stop me if I'm feeling good?

What's that you say? By doing that I'm participating in the cultural (re)production of internalized racism, misogyny and homophobia??

So begins our introduction to Hip Hop Studies. A field where dilettantes and heartless manipulators make waste of hip hop by using it as a platform for their post-structuralist, feminist and philosophical critiques of society--hip hop is a vessel to them, an artifact, an anthropological specimen far removed from the experiential core that hip hop thrives off of. The fact is, You Don't Know Hip Hop unless you experience hip hop. And in order to experience hip hop, you need to imagine yourself to be: a Pimp, a gangsta, a black leader in your own mind, a pothead, a CEO, a frat boy, an etc. Hip hop gives voice to all perspectives. It's a way to experiment with different ways of acting, thinking, and being (or, to use a two cent academic term: different modalities) in order to create, do, or be something that has never been seen before.

That's my manifesto, and that's why I love hip hop.

So, here we blog on hip hop with which I will provide you with ongoing criticisms of the best and worst of our culture.