Monday, September 18, 2006

Bringing Sensitiveback: An Essay Part 2

I'm sure many of you are wondering what Part 1 could possibly have to do with Pound for Pound. I can't really say for sure what it will mean for this site, although I do hope that there will be a clearer sense of committment to my city, cities, causes I believe in, that my readers believe in, an attempt to work against the very soundtrack I provide at times.

Which leads me to part 2 of this essay. I am a proud member of the hip-hop generation, born at its outset, raised on its sounds, it has been the soundtrack to my biggest moments and memories. I consider it the foundation of this site and its aesthetic, from the early hip house sounds and Miami bass to the New York shit of the 90s (Wu, Mobb Deep, Gang Starr) to the Southern ascendancy (Three 6, Screw, Bun and UGK, crunk, snap). Over the past few years, I feel like there has been a growing number of voices expressing disgust at present-day hip-hop, centering on the misogynistic and money-obsessed lyrics and videos.

Having finished I Don't Want To Talk About It, Terrance Real's exploration of male depression, I want to put forth a new reading of rap music. It isn't perfect and is overly reductive, but what theory isn't? I want to people to see rap as a reflection of a traumatized generation of young men, men and boys raised in violent surroundings, enduring suffering at an early age, forced to be tough and never experience pain or show weakness. Is it any wonder that the songs are about inflicting violence and disrespecting women and enemies and about the glory of money and cars? I would argue that it fits perfectly with the expected reaction of men in this society, where boys are told to never cry and to be the strong, silent type. To find meaning in their work and the rewards that go with that.

Let me make clear that this is not intended as an excuse or rationalization for these demeaning lyrics and offensive images. It's not. It's partly an effort to put this into context. From there, I want to ask some questions, which I don't really have any answer to yet. What can we do as a hip-hop community or generation to change this scenario? To move beyond the easy course of misogyny and hate towards something more open.

I don't know and must add that the music I find myself most attracted to is the stuff that I am talking about now. I love the cold, mechanical beats and the stories of killing and sex and asses. It's the aesthetic of this blog, from Miami bass to electro to Three 6 Mafia to New Order and Joy Division (the coldness moreso in those last two cases). I just want to be clear that I have as much to answer as anyone, and I don't have any answers.

The best ways I can think to escape this are the inclusion of more female voices to the critical reception of the music and to this blog, bringing a real critique of the music from a perspective that I cannot have. I cannot experience what sexist lyrics do and how they effect me. That would be a start.

It's a start, but it would still leave a long way to go. I fear that female critics would be silenced as outsiders, attacked as men-hating feminists or whatever other tactic reactionaries use. No, the real change will need to come from within. Is there a way for hip-hop to open itself up, to engage rather than intimidate? I'm not certain, as clearly this isn't the shit that I'm listening to and posting about. The one way out that comes to mind is Pharcyde's "Passin' Me By," one of the greatest songs ever. For starters, it's a banger, evidenced by the fact that this is a staple of Low Budget's sets, as anyone who has been at 700 Clubs on a Thursday night will attest. More importantly, it's a song about unrequited love, about being rejected, passed by. It's one of those rare moments in hip-hop. It's a song about love and vulnerability and it makes people dance and put it on their iPods and mixes.

What do you think? Are you offended by hip-hop? Do you feel like this is much ado about nothing? Is hip-hop being held to a higher bar than other art forms? What about the music of the Stones or rock's sexist past and present? Should hip-hop be seen as fantasy, a projection and even transgression? Does this post seem to new-agey and psycho-analytic? Is the future I know that there are quite a few women readers (Ladies Love Pound for Pound, FYI) and I really would love to hear their thoughts and critiques of the music I post. I don't have answers, but in some way I think that this is best. I think that this is a topic that should lead to discussion and potentially more understanding from all involved.

For those who made it to the end, here's some music that was mentioned in the past two posts. Nothing you don't already have, but figured I needed to somehow make up for all of this pontificating.

The Pharcyde, "Passing Me By"

Bob Dylan, "Like A Rolling Stone" [live]

The Smiths, "I Know It's Over"


Chief said...

I wrote on my blog (which is mostly a series of rambling incoherant thougt) that the purpose of art is to provoke introspective thought. Clearly you know your music and it has forced you to think introspectively about the world around you, and how you interact with it. That's good. I think that if society as a whole take this approach to music and life in general we will be more honest with each other.
With regard to the violence and mysoginsm in ALL music (not just rap), its really just a reflection of societal values. If you watch TV or see the advertisements in most magazines, society objectifies women, which is terrible. But mif music didn't reflect that, it wouldn't be honest. Just as it isn't honest for every video on BET and MTV to be about money, cash, hoes because that isn't honest either. There needs to be ballance.
I think there is a time and place for everything, but there should definately be more focus on the positive, progressive artists with a strong message behind their art.

Papeuss said...

I just read the part 1 and 2, so I'll make just one comment here. First, I totally agree about the stuff you said on the city. i feel like the city has the perfect "scale" to do things thats counts, that matters. Most of the time, political issues involve so many different factors taht it's easy to say "I don't have the power to change a thing". And that's the worst behavior ever because in fact if you think that you won't do anything for sure. Your city is a place that you know, you love and something you can act on pretty strongly.
Now about lyrics in hip hop music... i think it's a huge mistake to consider all the rappers as artists. I explain myself: I'm french - as you can see while reading - and it's eaven more obsious here to see that many rappers only copy stuffs that work - so if saying "bounce your ass" and "lick my balls" make more sells, well let's just do it. I think the real question is "why people want to here this stuff?" and as to me it's because this false reflection of reality - I'm talking about the movie clips for instance - suits them more than the reality itself. Rap at the beginning was focused on the tough life in some neighborhoods, in the street... and now you see P.Diddy in a huge house, with huge cars and thousands of cheeks around. People are fed up to hear about problems, they want to hope, and for example thinking that through music they can get all those things.

Anonymous said...

Let's say that rap/Hip Hop is what Chuck D said it is: the black man's CNN. Yeah right. So why hasnt anybody talked about Aids,the War, Black on Black crime, etc. you know real issues affecting the hood. It's like their heads are in the sand and all they can see are pimping bitches, bling, money, and of course weed. Because if you aint smoking weed you aint black. Is that what life is all about? Don't call it a culture if it doesnt cultivate. Dont call it a community when everone is shooting and killing and fighting each other. Look at the Game and "Fitty Cent". What the F@#K!!
In the end the poor dark skinned people will suffer while some white guy makes all the money because you were too caught up with pimping your hoes to read your contract with a lawyer present.
Looking at you DMX.

Macia said...

Nice posts. You should check out Bell Hooks' 'Will To Change', as well. Another great book about male conditioning and how one can begin to reverse it. It was recommended to me by a woman I respect greatly and changed the way I think about things.

Also, it would take a lot of courage for a successful rapper to start talking about the problems in the world, more courage than anyone seems to have at the moment. When Pharcyde recorded "Passin' Me By", there was very little at stake financially, for them or their label. But also, what you said in your posts is correct. If you stop thinking of rap as CNN and more as parable or morality play, then you can begin to engage with the music on a level beyond the surface. Blah blah.

Just sayin'. Keep thinking.