I'd like to welcome motherfuckers to the back of the mind of Bill
See I'm for real...
That's the first line from MOP's "Cold As Ice." I always thought it captured the essence of that particular id-venting hip-hop that we discussed yesterday. I've heard that heavy metal offers a good parallel, but I don't know the music well enough to endorse that view. Anyway, I love that line because that's exactly what that kind of rap is, it's the venting of the "back of the mind," the recesses of the soul, and all those nasty, animalistic fantasies that we keep pinned up.
This is the sense in which so many rappers stress the "real" or as Bill says "I'm for real." It's the idea that this is the soul unmasked and unvarnished, all the things you think at night. Now, there are real problems with that, problems that we've discussed before that I'm not really interested in rehashing. But I do think that for the elder who doesn't quite get all the "bitch," "fuck," and "I'm gonna kill you" talk littered throughout the music, it may help to understand that you're hearing a kind of macho temper tantrum, not a coherent ideology.
I think it helps to understand how this kind of hip-hop struck us kids, because that's the point where we were really imprinted. Teenagers in our society are, necessarily, repressed. There are all sorts of awful thoughts that run through your mind as your body changes, and you move into adulthood, and yet, in the company of adults, you're expected to not express them. All of that is multiplied when you're talking about young black boys in urban America--it's the standard macho angst of young boys everywhere, but with this extra layer of race, class and geography. A particular strain of hip-hop is an outlet for all of that. It feels good to say, as Nas did, "Whenever frustrated I'ma hijack Delta."
Awhile back, I had the pleasure of interviewing the writer Tracy Sharpley-Whiting. She took a moment to discuss her favorite DMX song "What These Bitches Want From A Nigger." And she talked about how guilty she felt saying that, but in point of fact, there were days when she woke up. and put up on DMX because, indeed, walking out the house she felt like, as she put it, "What ya'll bitches want from a nigger!" I don't say that to invalidate the important work Tracy has done on gender, or to invalidate charges of misogyny, so much as to discuss how an ugly sentiment may actually capture something we actually feel.
I generally don't give much truck to hip-hop as politics, or the argument that it should be more
"positive." Public Enemy embraced black nationalism, but what fuels It Takes A Nation Of Millions is virtually the same angst that would later fuel gangsta rap. The music is often angry, because we're often angry.
And despite hip-hop's rather limited (to say the least) take on gender, the feeling sometimes crosses gender lines. The first time I heard MOP on Jay-Z's remix of "You Don't Know," I thought to myself, "Kenyatta's gonna love this." Now you have to understand. Kenyatta is about the sweetest person you'll ever meet. Exceedingly kind and generous. She's the sort of person who, literally, volunteers on behalf of battered women. But inside of her, like all of us, is a kind of smoldering rage that hip-hop often speaks to, and MOP does a great job at venting.
What's weird is how some of it sticks to you even as you grow old. I can't take Straight Outta Compton anymore. But when I walk through Harlem, I'm frequently rocking Smoothe Da Hustler's "Fuck What You Heard." It's pretty ignorant, but whenever I hear this part:
Your title don't concern me, You learn in order to burn me,
You gotta get open, cause I close deals like A&Rs and attorneys.
Without the delay, no replay
In rap divisions, I hold more records than my DJ.
No relays, I'm running marathons
Put Jerry Lewis with the clique, now he sell tapes at his telethon.
Bring your illest niggers, your realest niggers, your fieldest niggers,
And I'll send 'em back to his Bruce Willis niggers,
saying "We got to kill this nigger."
Ewww. Sends a chill right through you. And yet, you can find me, on my best days, repeating that verse to myself, all ego-ed out, mocking my opponents to myself, and mumbling ("I'll send em back to his Bruce Willis niggers, saying "We got to kill this nigger.")
How wrong is that? The self-aggrandizement, the violence, the trash-talking...I don't know what to say to make that right. It's a part of me, and it's how I sometimes feel. This is my pact with Satan...
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