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« Helios | Main | Bye-bye, Brandan »

Apr 23, 2007


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sean coon

and you followed that statement with:

Public Enemy's Chuck D famously said that rap is like "CNN for black people." Maybe part of the problem is that these days, the best-known member of the socially conscious Public Enemy is Flava Flav, who once rapped about the harsh reality of life in poor neighborhoods but now does clownish "reality" shows on corporate television.

so what exact point were you trying to make? what "realities" are you glossing over with such broad and erratic strokes?

Ed Cone

I'm not quite getting what your question is, Sean.

sean coon

when you say:

"The lyrics and the popularity of the genre aren't happening in a vacuum; they reflect something about the realities of a larger culture that is coarse, consumerist and often violent."

i'm just wondering what "realities" you're referring to. i mean, whenever "genres" of music are referred to -- particularly "rap" -- we're already talking about behaviors stemming from managed, corporate culture and marketing machines, as genres are pure constructs to sell product.

so with examples of "coarse, consumerist and often violent" i'm basically thinking "no shit, this is the entertainment and media industry," while waiting for some degree of detailed position to be presented.

that's all.

Ed Cone

Are you saying you need examples of our society being coarse, consumerist, and violent?

Joe Killian

I talk with Chuck D a few years ago when he spoke at Guilford College and he seemed very down on the state of modern rap music and culture. He said that he felt that black culture was poisoning itself and compared modern hip-hop to a minstrel show.

Unfortunately he is, by far, in the minority among high-profile people in the hip-hop community talking about it.

You've got to respect Russell Simmons for getting that there's a problem and wanting to do something about it -- but fighting a bad cultural turn with censorship seems like the worst possible idea. You have to do with misogyny and ignorance what most youth cultures are very good at (hip-hop especially): make it uncool.

Percy Walker

I think sean coon has been spending too much time ropin' his gopher before his Zack de la Rocha posters in anticipation of this weekend's Rage Against the Machine reunion.

sean coon

no ed, i'm saying that when you make an open ended reference followed by a line about public enemy and flavor flavor flav, you're not being too specific.

and then pointing back to it like you actually said something is pathetic.

great song, jeff.

sean coon

you're giving russel simmons too much credit, joe.

Ed Cone

Sean, if you want to ask a question, ask a question.

If you just want to keep posing as the authentic rap-understanding voice of the street, 'cause this is all so gritty that only a white dude from Jersey who posts lyrics at his blog can really represent, I guess that's fine, too.

Chuck D long ago made the same simple point I'm making -- people sometimes rap about real problems in the culture that are worse for some subcultures, and it's sad that instead of making that point and calling for changes, the most visible remnant of Chuck's fame is making Flava of Love instead.

Jeffrey Sykes

I think Ed's saying move the crowd and Sean is saying I ain't no joke.

Either way, it was better back then.

To quote Rakim directly:

Some of you been trying to write rhymes for years
But weak ideas irritate my ears


Oh, people are going to jump on me.

'Sean' does have a point regarding "managed, corporate culture and marketing machines". Many RAP artists have gotten away from the foundation of using rhythm and poetry to showcase the reality of the urban poor. The genre has been taken over by titillation and sensationalism. That makes money. And interestingly, the market is largely supported by well off teens those with no expenses and disposable cash. Go figure.

I need to think about your statement, Ed. "The lyrics and the popularity of the genre aren't happening in a vacuum; they reflect something about the realities of a larger culture that is coarse, consumerist and often violent." The lyrics, which I believe are founded in what the record companies clearly know is saleable may reflect more on business practices then society at large. This is style, not substance; this is make believe over our daily reality. Wrestling, as you put is, comic book stuff.

Consider this. We have been bombarded with print, audio, and video in the last week surrounding a heinous act--truly senseless violence. You yourself said that you found the stories of the victims of last week's rampage more interesting then the story of the perpetrator. All of the people I spoke with were sincerely shocked and appalled by the violence of this event. Not one person I talked to found this real life violence at all entertaining. And what is more telling about our society is I spoke with a number of people who had compassion for the man at the center. People who hoped that they could be more vigilant to their own friends, families and neighbors not to enact their fourth amendment rights but to offer support and help before another being went down that tortuous path.

Ed Cone

Zhak, I agree with you, one of the things we're seeing here is the commoditization of pathology for entertainment.

The problems are real, and they are being glamorized and packaged for profit.

That's the point in mentioning Flav -- the most visible member of PE isn't talking about the problems at all, much less putting them in context -- he's the lamest of corporate shills.

Cara Michele

The only thing better than the comments on this thread is the comments on THIS ONE.


What we are experiencing now, as has happened all through time, is self-expression. True, this expression is pushing the envelope right now in terms of violent language and images, but it apparently has an audience who connect with its message. It is not going to be legislated away or shamed away - the only way we can be rid of it is to neither buy the product nor the message.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of good rhythm and blues, soul, and contemporary artists out there who don't get a minute of air play because they are not "connected" in the music industry. Eventually I think the advent of music downloading and IPOD usage will bring about the real demise of the most offensive hip-hop.

Joe Killian

I do know all about uncool...

sean coon

funny, ed.

i wasn't trying to argue with you previously -- i really was trying to understand what you were saying because we obviously have different life experiences.

i get it now -- when you think chuck d, you see flava of love.

me personally, i can't even begin to describe in a sentence the number of chuck d influences i see in hip hop culture and community in general on a daily basis.

that was the rub.

yes, sometimes it's tough to for me to see the relationships -- i'd even call that "sad" -- but when i open up and stop viewing hip hop through the lens of 1986 - 1994, it does become much clearer, particularly because of the message chuck brought/still brings on a day to day basis.

like with local politics and young, empowered black voices (kevin powell in bk) or internet/hip hop activists following his decade long lead with anti-drm positions (davey d and net neutrality).

but i guess only posing, pseudo-gritty white dudes from jersey can make those kind of connections.

i've been steeped in hip hop culture for a long time, ed, and i'm sorry to disappoint, but i don't wear that as a badge. i also don't write poetry and lyrics to pose.

and yes, i do pimp the lyrics of hip hop artists -- both mainstream and underground -- when i find the timing apropos.

see, i think of my semi-weekly blast of hip hop lyrics as a method of communicating with other hip hop heads that have knowledge of the culture, can dissect the original sub-text and apply meaning for themselves today.

i'm sure most boorish opinion columnists have a hard time understanding that notion.

i believe that lyrics don't have a shelf life and are birthed by something much larger than self. poetry will always be interpreted from evolving perspectives and as life goes in cycles, ill context is birthed with changes in current events, moods, etc.

people without an opinion to defend might view that approach as one that builds upon and broadens chuck's CNN line from years back.

obviously, you needed to own the reference itself to defend an opinion.

i have to thank you for dropping the veil as far as you did, ed. now i know that you consider communication approaches outside your pied-piper pointing, no-skin in the game ruminating and slippery repositioning as something of lesser value.

you being so mainstream isn't a shock to me, but the degree of your arrogance is actually scary.

Jeffrey Sykes

I meant to post this yesterday, but didn't have time to find it. I read this article in the Relish a few weeks back.

I think it is relevant to Ed's point about sales not happening in a vacuum and may actually speak to the culture's tipping point in embracing the overblown glorification of violence.

This writer actually makes the point that most consumers of today's *hip-hop* are white, and as such the industry has shunned Chuck-D and KRS-One and their messages of thought in favor of pure pop (otherwise known as Flava Flav).

More, here.

Ed Cone

Sean, congrats on grokking the mainstreamness of a Sunday opinion column in the Greensboro News & Record that makes a point of referring to its author as a middle-aged white father of two suburban teenagers.

Perhaps it's this very mainstreamness that gave you such a case of the vapors. You approach the subject matter as a passionate aficionado. Most of the readers for whom the column was written do not.

Rap lyrics are in the spotlight. I listened to the top commercial rap tracks of last week and wrote a column for a mainstream audience that made a handful of points -- that commercial rap lyrics do indeed reek of misogyny and materialism; that lyrics may reflect real problems in the wider culture, but that the people cashing the checks don't seem to care much; that audiences react to these lyrics in complex ways; and that the lyrics are neither the end of the world nor easily dismissed as harmless.

I don't see you arguing with these points. To you they may be completely unremarkable; to many of the 100,000 or so Sunday subscribers of the N&R, they may be more exotic.

You write for hip-hop heads. That's great (really, I mean, it is great). But that doesn't invalidate other kinds of writing for other audiences, or more-distant perspectives on something about which you are passionate.

See, this is parody.

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