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"Rock Cocaine" and Whitney Houston.

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A far more powerful sense of Whitney Houston’s “recovery” is found on the simple, direct cover of I Look To You than in that rather leading and insincere Oprah interview. On that cover, Houston looks forward, poised, a little worn out, from a certain angle about to cry, and maybe even in possesion of a bit of a receding hairline, but she’s not rail-thin and rambling or anymore.

Couple that album cover image with an actual listen to I Look To You, especially the fucking jam “Nothing But Love”, a slow-burn electro R & B “haters” song that at least feels sincere, and that’s about all the former Mrs. Bobby Brown should have to say about years smoking “rock cocaine”–not crack mind you, rock cocaine. The ravages of drug abuse are there in her voice, especially that weirdly stirring “shutup, shutup” but it works and the positive’s found in the simple fact that she made a new album and it’s pretty good. Therein lies the hope, alright??

But that’s not enough, so there’s this interview in which she brightens every time she tells Oprah about the how’s, why’s, and highs of drugs, all the while refusing to call the crack she mixed with her pot what it’s commonly called. Instead, falling back on the term “rock cocaine” and for who? Maybe it’s some kind of line she had to draw so that her problems seemed fixable or not too shameful, to never call it “crack”–like heroin addicts that refuse to shoot-up or dudes into piss-porn who look down on dudes into scat porn. I don’t know, but it’s unfortunate.

Maybe it’s some concession to Oprah’s primary audience, middle-aged white housewives, who’ve probably done coke–or are at least married to a guy who did coke, probably off a titty, at a bachelor party–but would scoff at “America’s sweetheart” smoking some crack. What should be a somewhat restorative pop tale gets wrapped-up middle-class pandering, depressing self-delusion, and in an oblique way, the draconian crack law or “black law” as it’s often called. Whitney’s playing the overexposure media game of the aughts too well–talking so much you just play yourself.

further reading/viewing:
-Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, & the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Gary Webb
-”The History of Cocaine Rap” by Kris Ex from XXL
-”Cracking Open” by Michael Short from Washington Post
-A Day in the Death of Donny B (1969) directed by Carl Fick

Written by Brandon

September 17th, 2009 at 7:05 am

Pablo Escobar’s Dinosaurs

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Though it’s apparently been open for more than a year now, Hacienda Napoles, a theme park built on and around one of noted “drug lord” Pablo Escobar’s getaways, has been getting a lot of discussion the past few weeks. A kind of hard-edged human interest story meme. In many ways, Pablo Escobar’s sprawling 200-mile weekend retreat turned into a a kind of cocaine Dutch Wonderland is also a story of hip-hop.

Beyond a quick note about Rick Ross or Nas sometimes calling himself “Nas Escobar”, the coke-hero asshole that Escobar was and represents is a significant part of rap mythology. That Escobar’s estate is now a big, tacky amusement park park isn’t distasteful or even absurd, it’s damned pragmatic and contains some of rap’s weird, half-accidental politicism too. No other way to describe that than as something that’s quintessentially “hip-hop”. The weird mix of outrageous opportunism and shamelessness meeting up with some subtle but totally right there truth-exposing.

Escobar housed hippos–who since Escobar’s murder in 1993, hung around and multiplied–and a bunch of hulking dinosaur replicas and a bunch of smart opportunists cleaned the shits up, piped-in some jungle sounds and atmospherics and called it a theme park that’s charging something around $9 dollars American money to enjoy. That it bizarrely though responsibly, also contains a museum detailing Escobar’s life and exploits, on the place where his big dumb mansion once stood, throws in a important piece of history that’s just a few degrees separated from some heavily controversial shit.

A personal favorite detail about Escobar, comes from Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance in which Escobar is noted as continually referencing a photograph he had of George Bush “posing with Medellin cartel leader Jorge Ochoa”–a photo that Esobar threatened to reveal “at the appropriate time”. Escobar was killed in 1993 and the photo’s never shown up, but whether or not it was real hardly matters. That we’re even discussing the possibility of a photograph (but really, all it’d entail, symbolically and factually) exposes the porous borders between “good guys” and “bad guys” that well, not a lot of amusement parks are really parsing out.

Not sure the extent of the history provided–most articles see this as simply “wacky” or plain distasteful and nothing more–but it seems to be framed around the slightly more complex than “crime doesn’t pay” message of “crime pays…for awhile”, and well, any kind of discussion of Escobar is wonderfully close to things like the C.I.A’s (alleged) involvement in cocaine distribution, the complex web of relationships between America and South America and the drug trade, and fascinating folk heroes like Los Pepes–themselves drug traffickers and sorta kinda do-gooders. Not a bad way to teach your kid about moral complexity…and he still gets to see some big-ass dinosaurs.

Written by Brandon

July 23rd, 2009 at 4:09 am

Posted in Nas, crack rap, drugs

Beware of the Hand When It’s Comin’ From The Left

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Kanye West Week begins on Graduation day, so tomorrow! Tonight, you get this-

Woooo! Have you seen this shit? A few weeks ago I tried to peep readers to a Democratic City Councilmen wannabe, trying to make his name by opposing a rap concert held in Baltimore. Well, today, thanks to Oh Word’s ever-dependable ‘Around the Horn’, there’s ‘Offended? The Rap’s On Me.’, an article in the Washington Post by Justin D. Ross, a (gasp!) aspiring Democratic politician! If Sach. O’s article didn’t prove to you why Public Enemy is still relevant, I’ll refer to my favorite piece of Chuck D. knowledge: “Beware of the hand when it’s coming from the left.”

The discussion of rap found in Councilmen Ross’s article is the new wave of opportunistic rap criticism. At this point, nearly everybody under forty years old is at least desensitized if not fairly familiar rap and in due time, O’Reilly-esque scare-mongering isn’t going to fly. Rap’s opposition will increasingly come from people like Ross, who will claim an interest or allegiance and preface their played-out, ill-informed criticisms with stuff like “So I’m not just sounding off when I say this”; please, please don’t buy into it.

I’ll begin with Ross’s stance of implicating his own whiteness. If Ross were the hip-hop insider he claims to be, he’d be aware of how the whole “white people buy most rap music” thing is a myth. Hell, you’d think he’d have even read about it Bakarai Kitwana’s wonderful ‘Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop’. There’s an entire chapter called ‘Erasing Blackness: Are White Suburban Kids Really Hip-Hop’s Primary Audience?’! For a politician so concerned with what is “harmful to race relations”, you’d think he’d be aware that communal aspects of the African-American community allow bootlegs, mixtapes, etc. to be easily available or you know, the way most malls and major entertainment stores are located in white areas and on the statistic tip, black people going to those stores would have those purchases chalked-up to the white side. Sure, strictly going on “sales” white people buy the most rap albums but any actual research shows that they are not the primary consumers.

I also want to know why he assumes every white person buying rap (or just every white person?) comes from “comfortable suburban neighborhoods”. Plenty of low-income white people purchase and embrace rap music too. Sure, the music does not “degrade” them but as MC One Man Gangler pointed out in the comments section of this entry…if you’re going to use white people’s supposed majority purchasing of rap music to argue your political points, you cannot also assume that the music does not negatively affect those same white people. At least be consistent.

The only consistency is Ross’s towing of an outdated liberal party-line that still perceives white people as oppressors and black people as helpless victims. It isn’t a surprise, that at least according to the music cited in his article, he listens to overtly political rap (Public Enemy, the Roots, Talib Kweli) and dumbed-down coke rap (Rick Ross, Young Jeezy); the two most grotesque clichés of the black experience. Of course, citing the artists he does may just be further evidence that he isn’t that big of a hip-hop head and just listens to the popular stuff. In 2007, it’s Jeezy, in 1989 it was Public Enemy.

Ross simply adopts that outdated “white people are the primary consumers of rap” argument among a few similarly disingenuous arguments because they fit. You’d think he’d be above such a purposefully simple-minded understanding of a word like “nigga” and of course, how it is indeed, quite different from “nigger”. The O’Reilly-like move of referring to rap’s complex use of the word “nigga” as simply a “racial epithet” is a cheap shock strategy and pretty offensive from a supposed lover of hip-hop. To bolster his argument and to get some additional hip-hop head “cred”, Ross cites his early embrace of Public Enemy. He has a good point in subtly contrasting their 1989 popularity with 2007’s significantly less-refined rappers, but he dismisses it all with safe jokes about his embrace of the group: “Before I graduated from Kenmoor Middle School, I was ready to “Fight the Power” because Public Enemy told me to (even though I didn’t really know what that meant).” Ross doesn’t want to take Public Enemy’s revolutionary raps too seriously because it would make him look absurd and bring up images of “co-opting”, so he laughs it off, which totally messes up his thesis. So, as long as people mindlessly follow “positive” rap and not “negative” rap, it’s all okay? Spoken like a true, Puritanical liberal…

Will you be removing those hateful songs from your iPod, Mr. Ross? When did it suddenly hit you that some of the rap you were listening to was “degrading”? I have a feeling it was pretty recently, you know, when every other no-name politician, pundit, and talking-head, decided to use rap music as a springboard for mild political fame.

Written by Brandon

September 10th, 2007 at 4:15 am

leave a comment Article: Rap & Country More Alike Than I’m Willing to Admit…

“Kelefa Sanneh’s article ‘It Takes a Tough Man to Tell a Bad Joke’ contrasts the serious attitudes of most rock stars with country singers who are more than willing to joke around: “While rock stars often try their best to make audiences forget they are professional entertainers, country singers have often been happy to celebrate the fact.” (23). Sanneh invokes Brad Paisley’s love-song ‘Ticks’ (“I’d like to check you for ticks”) and Toby Keith’s ‘High Maintenance Woman’ containing the chorus “A high-maintenance woman don’t want no high-maintenance man” (1). I know, I know… this isn’t, it’s but bear with me…”

Written by Brandon

June 27th, 2007 at 6:29 pm

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The Crack-Rap Conundrum.

I received this e-mail earlier today and my response got a little long. I thought the initial e-mail and my response might be interesting enough to post here. Plus, I haven’t posted yet this week, so anything is better than nothing…right?
“hey man, cool blog you got goin’. i’ve commented on at least one (a couple?) of your posts so far, and since i noticed a link to what you thought of Jeezy’s Inspiration album recently i figured i’d see what you thought on somethin’ that’s been buggin’ me ’bout dude’s music lately.

like you, i find a lot to like ’bout The Inspiration in terms of beats, hooks, the way Jeezy carries himself — i’d go as far to say it’s one of my favorite recent albums. however, there’s this kinda white-boy guilt that keeps naggin’ at me when i listen to it. i know Jeezy ain’t the first cat to rap ’bout drugs, but whereas other rappers — take Jay and Biggie just for the sake of example — have shades of complexity that can be pointed out, the way Jeezy does things strikes me as borderline (if not outright) glorification of the lifestyle, which irks me. if he did more excellent tracks like “Dreamin’” i wouldn’t feel uncomfortable ’bout it, but the fact that a _lot_ of his album has him mentioning selling coke and material gain in the same breath, and in easy-to-understand terms, is troubling.

i know the standard defense is that it’s just music, but when these guys go on ’bout how “real” they are and are bein’ listened to by kids who can’t grasp music in the same way we do, i can’t help but wonder if kids in poor urban communities are gettin’ bad signals from this stuff. i would like to think that everyone’s just takin’ it as music that’s fun and purpose-driven, but i’m not so sure that’s the case. and Jeezy’s easily way more popular than any cat who’s ever rapped ’bout drugs as explicitly.

kinda outta the blue, but might make an interesting blog post. just seein’ your thoughts on this.

-(name witheld until I get permission)”

Thanks for the comments and interest. I appreciate the personal email as well, that’s real.

It seems that we like Jeezy for many of the same reasons. Many of them almost seem to be in spite of him or out some kind of begrudging respect. He WORKS on his albums which is more than I can say about many of my favorite rappers. He has a sonic consistency and something like a vision for his album and persona and that’s really cool.

The contrasts between Jeezy and Jay and Biggie are apt because they work so well. Certainly, on the surface level they are unfair because Jeezy barely even raps and Biggie and Jay are two greats but it works. See if this makes sense…

Pardon me, if I’m being too pretentious or appear pedantic, I’m not trying to, but as my blog mentions, I’ve begun a ‘Film Studies’ program and we read an essay by ‘Taxi Driver’ screenwriter, Paul Schrader in which he discusses the importance, art, greatness and everything else of Film Noir. Film Noir being, American crime movies of the 40s and 50s noted by dark lighting and even darker, cynical stories and blah, blah, blah.

Well, Schrader contrasts the sophistication of Film Noir with other “genres”. He calls Westerns moral[ly] primitive[]” and adds that the Gangster movies of the 1930s, which preceded Film Noir, contained “Horatio Alger” values. Horatio Alger, was a late 19th century writer for young teens, his big book was ‘Ragged Dick’ about a raggedy orphan living on the streets, who through his own might and gusto comes to be wealthy. Hmm..sound familiar? What Schrader was getting at with old Gangster movies and what I’m getting at (and you too) with Jeezy which is, an intellectual problem. He presents the story too simplistically, too melodramatically, he skips over the rotten details. Jay-Z and Biggie are Film Noir; Jeezy is the 1930s Gangster movie. Of course, it says something about the current rap climate that the change is a devolution not an evolution as it was in “filmmaking”.

In terms of sophistication, there’s a change but in terms of influence I don’t know how much that really matters. The easily-influenced are easily-influenced by everything, not just super-obvious crack-rap, but more complicated crack-rap as well. Young Jeezy gives you a super-clear melodramatic version of the life that is therefore easier to grasp. Sort of.

I say “sort of” because I think his music contains some complexities and in a way, those complexities are even more subtle than Jay or Biggie’s. They can be found in his vocal inflection, and his dark and disturbing beats. This of course, flies over the heads of the people listening to the music. This, I find exciting but it is also disturbing because this subtlety is in-line with or right next to Jeezy’s super obvious coke-referencing. While Biggie and Jay-Z rapped about coke, it was often hard for a typical listener to grasp or pull-out the “sell crack, get rich” message that both of them, in their own ways, also espouse(d). Jeezy’s message is clearer because he just chants it at you for an hour straight.

At the same time, I’m not sure how much more obvious Jeezy’s rapping about coke is to that of Jay or Biggie’s. Jeezy’s rapping is more obvious and therefore the subject matter more apparent but I would say his production is more bizarre and strange; It blows my mind that these songs are on the radio. Jay-Z and Biggie rapped more subtle, more nuanced crack-talk but over very catchy and digestable production. Whose the true or truer “pusher”? I don’t know.

All of these dudes glorify the lifestyle and all of them, in one way or another, show you the downside. Jeezy works more in the super-obvious and in generalities, that is to say, his rapping is not detail-oriented and is more like a Hollywood version of the crack game. However, as I go back, do Jay or Biggie really give you any more detail? Do they glorify it less? Compare their crack rap to that of Raekwon and Ghostface and Jay and Biggie end up in the Jeezy spot.

When discussing the topic of crack-rap, there are two arguments/ideas, running next to one another that barely ever intersect. The first is, for lack of a better word, the rap fan’s perspective, and that primarily relates to an appreciation of lyrics and beats in all of their complexity. The second, is some kind of sociological or cultural studies perspective relating to the impact of crack-rap on poor “urban” kids. I’m sorry if I appear facetious but we all know what one means when they talk about crack and its effect on urban communities so I think it would be better, although less politically correct, to just say black kids. If country singers sang about selling crystal-meth, we’d be concerned with its effect on poor whites or even “rednecks” not poor “rural communities”…

Either way, the real issue you raised is the artist’s responsibility. I find the “it’s just music” argument weak and disingenuous, and I think all who use it know it is. However, they use it because if they don’t, they’ll just be shutup because this is some really complicated shit! Jeezy or whoever can’t jump on television and drop some kind of hyper-complex thesis on crack-rap and its positive and negative and in-between-ative aspects so they just blow it off with “it’s just me expressin’ myself” because it shuts people up and the shit sells so it isn’t going anywhere.

From a rap fan’s perspective, I like Jeezy; I don’t love him but his album is pretty damn good and for me, as a thinking person, like yourself (NAME), can reconcile these good qualities with the apparent bad qualities and (I don’t know if you’d agree here) I think Jeezy’s music does hint at and emote some of the negative aspects of hustling even if it doesn’t do it through subtle or conventionally artistic means. ‘Bury Me a G’ is an amazing, amazing, song, powerful, cinematic, emotional, everything. I said this in my little review, but I think if Jeezy’s album ended with ‘Bury Me…’ and ‘Dreamin’ it would have been lauded as a complicated address of the crack world.

From a sociological perspective, I totally differ from you and that is okay. I understand my opinion here is flawed and maybe even dismissive, but I’ve yet to find a “better” opinion I can feel comfortable having. We differ in that I do not believe in the transformative qualities of art. That is to say, I don’t think the art or even popular culture of the world truly does affect people for good or bad. There have been plenty of wars since Picasso painted Guernica. ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ didn’t end cocaine problems. People will sell and deal crack way after Jeezy’s albums are relegated to discount bins. Does that make it right to perpetuate it? No. But if it does perpetuate it, as you and others suggest and I totally see why you would say that, I do not think better-wrought or more complex raps about crack perpetuate it any less. So in that way, Jay and Biggie are equally guilty.

As a cultural trend or oddity however, the thinly-veiled coke stuff is weird. Weird the way popular songs that are really about blowjobs or other “subversive” stuff is weird. I think this is seen as stranger and more problematic because it is crack-dealing and not only dealing, but a perpetuation of the worst cliche being pushed in the ghetto (next to stop snitching): sell crack, make money. While I want to believe in tiers of suffering, that is to say, Jeezy is worse than Paris Hilton because Jeezy is affecting impoverished, mind-bogglingly fucked-over black youth, I have a hard time lying down with that idea. Primarily, because I find it simple-minded and in favor of victimization which I generally have a problem with… but more so than that, I find the “this negatively affects poor blacks” argument condescending towards the black youth. A black youth that myself and so many others claim to be concerned about. To suggest these kids and teens don’t understand the moralistic issues of crack-dealing is a bit condescending. This is the problem with D.A.R.E and other stuff like that, it assumes that these kids dealing are stupid which they are not. They know what they are doing is not a good idea but they do it anyway. That is unfortunate. That is sad, even tragic but people do things they know are wrong everyday. Most murders are thought-out to some extent, and just like a murderer who in some way, accepted or embraced his fate, those selling drugs have accepted the fate that may fall upon them for dealing. Now, many do not see the full implication of this choice and misinterpret the positives and that is unfortunate, particularly because so many choose crack-dealing out of decision that it is the best of the worst choices they have access to, but still- the issue remains more complex and morally ambiguous than Officer Friendly wants to admit or consider.

More complicated because I don’t know if dealing drugs really is that bad. It’s bad because it is criminal. It is bad because you’re leading to the destruction of others. It’s bad because it will get your ass thrown in jail, especially if you’re dealing crack and not cocaine and especially if you’re black and not white and all that good stuff we already know…

Sorry about the length. haha. I guess that’s a blog entry??


Written by Brandon

June 21st, 2007 at 5:10 am

Posted in Young Jeezy, crack rap