No Trivia


The Real Reason Ignorance Ruins Rap.

Ever notice how only the most “ignorant” of people call people ignorant? Be it some girl at the bar who cuntily scrunches up her face and goes “damn that girl’s ignorant” or one of the many rap haters, “ignorance” is blamed for everything. Yeah, ignorance in its true definition (“lacking knowledge”) or even in the ignorantly-used definition (as “dumbness”), is the reason for many problems in the world, that’s obvious. Ignorance is invoked in relation to rap music to explain why the music is immoral, should be banned, isn’t good anymore, or as some kind of nebulous thing that wasn’t a big deal when it was contained but godammit is now all that’s on the radio and we just can’t party like a rock star all the time…all of them are wrong.

Unless they mean “lacking knowledge” from some kind of 5% Nation perspective, rappers like Young Jeezy or 50 Cent are not ignorant. They do not lack knowledge nor are they dumb; they are very, very savvy. When the hater of recent rap blames ignorance, what they mean to say is rap is creatively closed-minded nowadays. I don’t think anybody could disagree with that. At the same time, why would you expect much out of most rappers or most people in general? Rap has just sort of slowly evened-out into being mostly shitty like everything else in the world.

So, while many bemoan “ignorant” rappers for crowding the airwaves with stupid-ass rap songs, I do not. It seems silly to harp on the crappiness of Jim Jones because he doesn’t have pretensions to anything beyond ignorance. What I do find frustrating and worthy of comment is the way that the few forward-thinking and ambitious rappers that somehow stay on the radio are equally frustrating. While I can respect and understand the recent bizarre production by Swizz Beatz, ponder the cultural crossing-over-and-back-again of Juvenile and Galactic, half-enjoy the stoner-weirdness of Lil Wayne’s ‘I Feel Like Dying’, and find it kinda cool when Kanye samples Daft Punk or commissions a video starring someone as un-hip-hop as Zach Galifinakis, none of it is any more satisfying than the ignorant rap.

What seems to be happening, and is something of a trend for “smart” rappers post-Golden Age, is that the closed-mindedness, the complacency of most thug rappers “real” and fake, leads the other rappers to grow reactionary and overcompensate. Common and Andre 3000 are early victims of reactionary hip-hop, slowly shifting their idiosyncracies into fruitless directions of pseudo-experimentation, which really just meant ripping their interesting personalities out of their music and ripping off Prince or Fela Kuti. The most distressing aspect of those rap “experiments” was they way they smugly eschewed rap altogether, as if giving-up were the mature response to rap’s “corruption”. I remember thinking: Don’t let rap be taken over by these idiots! It is as if these super-talented rappers totally bought into the media’s portrayal of rap as soulless and stupid and that expressing one’s “true self” entailed picking up a guitar or employing way too much jazz noodling…(many have already talked about this, my favorite piece remains Noz’s The Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit Post-Rap Side Projects).

In many ways, things are improving as Andre 3000 is again interested in rapping and now, Common just makes shitty rap albums and not shitty fusion-hippie-hop-jazz-rap-bullshit. My recent examples of rap’s boundary-stretching at least employ rapping but still, something doesn’t sit right about the recent “next level”-ness of Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and others, and it isn’t their clothes. I see their new videos and hear their new songs and my first reaction isn’t to nod my head but to discuss it. That’s annoying. Music or really art of any kind, shouldn’t be first and foremost some kind of intellectual exercise.

I heard ‘Stronger’ and was initially not that interested in it. It has slowly grown on me and it’s a good song, better than just about anything else out there but it’s hardly great. Only when put into the context, when it follows-up the other rap-radio hits, does it stand-out as noteworthy. There’s a lot to discuss and analyze, but not as much to really enjoy. More time is spent trying to read into and understand Kanye’s intentions than is spent enjoying the music. Just because the scope of most rappers/producers is so small, does not mean that simply looping one of Daft Punk’s songs automatically makes you great. It makes for a good blog entry or a ‘New York Times’ article in the ‘Arts’ section about how black people apparently don’t just listen to rap music but I’m more interested in good music than cultural trends and blah blah blah…

My first response to the Galifinakis version of ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ was delighted confusion but it quickly became “this is sort of funny”. Again, if this were a new video from any number of indie rock bands it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. And you know, that’s cool that Kanye’s doing something different than other rappers, especially rappers of his stature, but he’s clearly capable of much more. The video’s tone, a parody of Kanye’s self-serious rapping is condescending, so while it’s cool that Kanye’s okay with being made fun-of, I wish it was towards a more interesting end. The Will Oldham parts are also painful as he’s legitimately unfunny and even embarrassing to watch (and not in the way he intends). So, it’s like this…one part of my brain is like “Woah, that’s cool, something different than what other rappers are doing” and the other part is like “Uh…this isn’t actually that funny and sort of uses an easy target (Kanye’s sincerity) for its jokes and it’s not that much more entertaining that a funny indie rock video…”

Lil Wayne’s ascent from a good and thorough rapper for ‘Cash-Money’ to the psychedelic, stoner rapper he seems to have become is respectable but so far, has made for only a small amount of actually good songs. His output is impressive but is it all entertaining or even listenable? ‘Feel Like Dying’ is all over Sirius radio, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the song and I like it but it’s not particularly good. The songs is “experimental” without losing its edge or rap-ness, the way ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ songs lost theirs, but it’s still kind of gimmicky. Sonically, it’s disturbing and an accurate portrayal of being way too fucking high, but most of Wayne’s stoner imagery is fun but only noteworthy because he’s a rapper. We expect any white musician to be totally aware of such Strawberry Alarm Clock-isms and if employed, they would be dismissed as clichés.

Current rap’s divisive attitude, be it between fans or fellow rappers, encourages all sides to overreact. 50 Cent’s shameless business-man persona is just that, a persona, one he has created and developed as an affront to jerk-offs that criticize him. Andre 3000’s condescension towards rap came from the negative responses to Outkast’s artful experimentation and rather than half-consider what those half-right critics said, he leaped headfirst into artsy-fartsy “experimentation”. Kanye and Lil Wayne’s movement in the direction of rap weirdness comes from some over-ambitious attempt to enter rap hyperspace and end-up light years ahead of their rap contemporaries. What they are forgetting is, that isn’t that hard of a feat and that ‘College Dropout’ was actually a lot more bizarre and idiosyncratic than ‘Stronger’ or all of ‘Late Registration’ and that Lil Wayne was already a stand-out Hot Boy and that totally rejecting that previous persona for a newer, more overtly experimental one, isn’t all that interesting.

Written by Brandon

July 30th, 2007 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Kanye West, Lil Wayne

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