Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's All About the Music

There's been a lot of talk about rap music lately, especially the gangsta variety. Oprah even jumped in the mix with a 2-day panel discussion that touched on all the predictable aspects of the topic, i.e., why you calling us names, why can't you stop calling us names, why can't y'all understand this is the reality we coming from, and that old favorite, we ain't talking about all women. The industry types came across looking completely ridiculous trying to defend the rights of foul mouth rappers to be foul mouthed, and the most impressive showing from all participants was provided by the group of young women from Spellman College, who weren't buying any of that crap.

Now full disclosure here; I love me some hip hop music. I have since Rapper's Delight hit the airwaves way back when. I practically grew up with the music, listening to everybody from the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Afrika Bambataa; to EPMD, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions; on through Tupac, Tribe Called Quest, and Ice Cube. For those who know, the artists just listed represent a wide range of styles and lyrical content, but as I said in an earlier post, in the late 1980's rap changed from party and/or positive message music almost solely to the glorification of the thug life.

Even with gansta rap as popular as it has been the last 15-20 years, there were still a number of acts that I thought defied the trend, like Spearhead, the Roots, the Fugees, Common, and others. Before anybody says "hey, they cuss on their records too," I already know that. My point is that those groups did not come off as gangsta rap or portray themselves as the hardest mf's on the block. Instead, all displayed a degree of depth and an ability to rap about things other than killing up a whole bunch of folks, how clean their rides are, or how many "ho's" they've got. I for one appreciate that and here, in my long-winded, roundabout way is the reason why.

I spent a good percentage of my formulative years in a city where there were, how should I put this, not very many Black folks. And the one's that were there seemed to have a real disconnect from Black culture overall. To make a long story short, if you went out anywhere to have fun, you basically had to adapt yourself to the majority culture because really, that's all that was there. The end result is that I ended up learning a lot about that culture that I'm not sure I would have got had I been anywhere else. For instance, the music. A lot of the White kids grew up listening to the same music their parents had, groups like Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, the Who, etc., etc., music that was for the most part older than they were when they began to listen to it. And it's not just rock music. Think about it, you can put on records made by Earth, Wind, and Fire, Parliament/Funkadelic, the Zapp Band, and countless other R&B artists and get the same result, a connection across time through the music. I mean, have you listened to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" lately? If not I encourage you to do so. Now.

If you didn't know any better, you would think that song had just been released this year, the content is still so relevant and the music so tight. The same applies to Reggae music, listen to "Mama Africa" by Peter Tosh, or "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley.

Black Rockers can even be included in the mix. Now I know that a lot of us don't listen to Rock music much, if at all, but I'd encourage you to listen to some of the stuff by groups like Fishbone and Living Color. Again, still relevant musically and lyrically a decade and more after the records were initially released.

The fact that the music and the lyrical content from these disparate types of music are still appealing all of these years later to me, clearly illustrates the issue with gansta rap today, namely that in twenty more years which gangsta rap acts currently at the top of the charts will you STILL be listening to? My guess is none. The legacy of great Black music being produced for the ages has been disrupted and/or distorted, in my opinion, by this gangsta rap era. R&B has been marginalized, and other forms such as jazz, reggae, and rock don't receive nearly the amount of airplay or attention. However, there is rap music that has been Led Zeppelinized. I can listen to "The Message" anytime, anywhere, or "Fight the Power." I'm sure you all can think of plenty of others. To me, that's encouraging and should be taken as a lesson. Namely, that good music with good lyrical content lives on forever, while a lot of what's being produced today won't be in anyone's rotation even one or two years from now.

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