Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 | Round 6
Round 6: Hua Hsu
I'm not saying that hip-hop has not entered into larger conversations on inequality; nor am I saying that it has failed to inspire people. (Isn't this what Jeezy's entire career has been about? Motivating people?) But the idea of “political rap songs” seems to overdetermine what the music is about—and it is music.
Eminem might not make “political rap” (whatever that might mean) but what about when he flies a planeload of unemployed Detroit auto workers to a TV taping in Hollywood? Nobody is going to confuse Lil Wayne for Flavor Unit co-founder Lakim Shabazz but what about the way he carefully overenunciates some of those twisty, windy lines, almost mocking the sound of “proper English.” I love M.I.A. and those moments when she seems to capture the complexities of, say, global capital. But consider the way she dresses, her clothing line, etc: how is she not somehow materialistic, just on a different scale of value? In a way, hip-hop's rise has made it impossible to be truly outsideof the system; it's no longer an oppositional form. Wale (who, I agree, is nice) raps about “Nike Boots” from beneath a tilted Supreme cap. Unless this is some truly perverse form of irony, isn't this just “bling” or namebrand-dropping (or whatever) on a smaller, more segmented scale?
I feel like there's an unfair “representational” burden placed on hip-hop (and, sure, it's something a lot of artists themselves perpetuate). But there's more to it than authenticity and protest. Sometimes that protest isn't literal—it's a protest of form (like Lil Wayne). Sometimes it's a strike against “community,” as with Wayne's unhinged, solitary “I Feel Like Dying” or DOOM's Born Like This. And sometimes it's just masquerade. N.W.A. was angry as fuck—but they were also performing the part of being angry as fuck.
Hip-hop certainly carries a sociological freight. But it's also art, entertainment, performance—whether it's waged in the name of a black president or a pair of sneakers.
Page 1: Alyssa Rosenberg
"On Relapse, the album that he's releasing this week, Eminem's a pill-popping psychopath."
Page 2: Gautham Nagesh
"The days of hip-hop as a 'dispatch from the ghetto' are over."
Page 3: Hua Hsu
"It's a weird thing to acknowledge, the extent to which the rise of the hip-hop mogul facilitated the rise of Obama."
Page 4: Alyssa Rosenberg
"Because they've got a seat at the table, artists who want to make political songs are going to have to identify issues and solutions to them."
Page 5: Gautham Nagesh
"Musicians across the globe are producing hip-hop using indigenous rhythms combined with modern beats. The resulting hybrid seems perfect for the post-Obama world."