D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Thursday, December 30, 2004

2004: Crazy Year, So Much More To Learn

There is a very simple process to my blog. I read a lot of news columns, peruse the Internet for interesting content as it relates to what we do here and try to engage myself in conversations that will inspire good words. It’s been hit or miss for the most part this year when it came to my writing. Very little of it, as I look back on it, was my best work but I am proud of the efforts MfA has taken to give folks like myself a voice. I thank you all for reading my rambling prose.
Now to the good stuff: Xzibit – yes, that Xzibit – as political freedom fighter? Who knew that Mr. Pimp My Ride himself had that sort of angle with his politics? It’s refreshing, nonetheless, as you can read in this interview with London publication The Independent.

But there again, X to the Z goes on about he wants a return to the days of old when rap music’s messages were less centered around the ass-shaking and flossing fest that it has devolved to in some instances. X, with all of his visibility with the MTV show, could be a maverick in so many ways. As I’ve said in the blog before, these rappers and musical entertainers already have the attention of the world. They could use their powers for good, to borrow a cliché of sorts. Instead, they wait right alongside us fans hopeful that some savior upon a mystic steed is going to smite away the garbage that pollutes the mind and senses of us all.

Inaction of this sort is annoying because you can clearly recognize how it can be eradicated. But we must commend Xzibit for at least doing what he can on the platforms he enjoys. I’d like to see more from him in the future in that regard. Speaking of the future, we need to prepare for it by recognizing the ills of the past. This piece from Eric K. Arnold is a time capture of important events in Hip Hop – although he missed quite a bit and doesn’t seem to be as informed as I’d like folks to be when speaking on this culture I revere so much. Check out the Politics and Hip Hop portion for some interesting thoughts from Mr. Arnold.

I’ve written about Cornel West’s book, Democracy Matters in this blog once before but here is a review from Lester K. Spence and he brings up a point I’ve always raise with academics trying to fuse “youth culture‿ into their essays and critiques. Many of those in academia are so far removed from the grass roots levels of any type of movement, you would be hard pressed to find any of the scholars and intellectuals to reach people beyond their often times haughty circle. This self-contained and selfish right the public intellectual seem to covet when it comes to critiquing culture comes replete with words that miss the lay masses they should also try to reach. Most times, reading intellectuals discuss Hip Hop culture with this unnecessary wordiness just comes off as nothing more than self-serving mind jobs.

I leave you all today with this link about a political Hip Hop movement that fiery rapper Immortal Technique is involved in called the 9/11 Truth Movement. I like what the poster Alex from called the political Hip Hop movement – it definitely could be seen as a seventh element as I include turntablism as separate from the element of DJ-ing.

To all MfA massive and crew, enjoy your holiday weekend and remember that 2005 is all about doing what we started here – and more.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

If We Alright, Hip Hop Gonna Be Alright (c) Mos Def

Before I get into my blog this week, I’d like to offer a top ten Hip Hop listing of my own – since that’s the music I’m typically speaking of. My colleauge DaBookman listed some interesting top releases I'd like to check out later. This is a very quick, off the cuff list. I promise, readers, that in the future installments of this blog that I will do some research and write about other genres as it hits me. Here’s the list:

(Mainstream Releases)

1. Nas – Street Disciple
Nasir Jones takes us through the dichotomous mind of a man who’s trying to find his proper place in this crazy world. The beats aren’t the choicest but Nas makes up for it with well written lyrics and an honesty that immediately makes you forgive his gaffes over the years.

2. T.I. – Urban Legend
Country drawl and standard lyrical fare aside, T.I.’s claims of being king of the south don’t seem too far fetched after witnessing his growth from his "Trap Muzik" LP to this latest disc. Make no mistake, he may be about making the club crunk but there is a true b-boy’s grit to his rhyme approach. It’s good, catchy music and it should satisfy old and new fans alike.

3. Handsome Boy Modeling School – White People
Just like Prince Paul’s "Politics of the Business" LP, most people won’t get the point of this CD. True enough, it’s not as good as their debut but nothing on a major label is currently this ambitious. Give Paul and Automator props for having the stones to do something this daring. Even Dres from Black Sheep shows up on this disc. You have to check it out just for that.

4. The Roots – Tipping Point
For every fan the popular Roots band may have lost with "Phrenology", they may have gained a slew of new ones with their latest release. Many say the Roots listened too hard to their critics and made an LP to appease their desire and if so, they’ve succeeded in making a solid yet far too short album. The highlights “Star‿, “Boom‿ and other songs are just amazing lyrical displays from front man MC Black Thought - although it is evident drummer/producer Questlove’s masterful vision is what drives this project.

5. Kanye West – College Dropout
OK, so Kanye West may come off like a bit of a jerk and the arrogance isn’t appealing one bit but as far as “concept" albums go (and I hate concept LPs mostly), he achieved his goal and should be applauded. To add, the album is pretty damn entertaining to boot. West as an MC is not hard to take as he’s more than capable, definitely charismatic and knows how to deliver his verses with punch. The beats are, without question, solid work and even the stodgiest backpacker would nod his or her head.

Honorable Mention: Ghostface Killa – The Pretty Toney Album; Erick Sermon – Chilltown, New York; Devin the Dude – To The Xtreme


1. Madvillian – Madvilliany
M.F. Doom, the prolific wordsmith of K.M.D. and The Gas Face (with 3rd Bass) fame, and his pairing with blunted beat conductor and musical genius Madlib is independent Hip Hop’s freshest and most ambitious album. It never stales after repeated listens and just when you think you’ve figured a line out, Doom shocks your senses again. Once you’ve deciphered the thick, hazy vocals of the super-villain, the dusty beats of Madlib will have you stuck on stupid for years to come.

2. De La Soul – The Grind Date
De La Soul has been in the game since 1988 – astounding enough to say the least. The fact that they still sound relevant in today’s microwave Hip Hop scene is a true testament to their dedication to building a legacy and sound we should appreciate for years to come. Dave and Pos sound like they’re having fun and the lyrics aren’t so inside joke-like any longer. They also have a sharp ear for beats and a fantastic cameo from the previously mentioned MF Doom.

3. Ed OG/Pete Rock – My Own Worst Enemy
Boston native Ed OG first saw fame in the early 90s with “Be a Father to Your Child" and “I Gots to Have It" but has stayed around the business with sporadic releases over the years. With this project with Pete Rock (who produced 7 of the LPs 10 tracks), he is showcasing some of what could be dubbed as “good ol’ grown man Hip Hop". Could easily be the best late year release in indie Hip Hop thus far and a surprise at that.

4. Oh No – The Disrupt
Madlib’s younger brother is by far a superior MC than his more famous sibling and his production skills are more dance floor ready than headphone proper, but he’s made one of the sleeper CDs of the year. He’s got a very busy flow ala his fellow Oxnard, California MC collaborator Wild Child of the Loot Pack (which is Madlib’s group). The hooks, just like on Wildchild’s slept on “Secondary Protocol" are stellar and the beats have knock. This should get some burn if DJs had the stones to play the record.

5. Murs and 9th Wonder – Murs 3:16. The 9th Edition
In an unlikely collaborative effort between west coast underground legend MC Murs and North Carolina beatsmith 9th Wonder resulted in an LP that’s just impressive enough to remind you that this wasn’t the best this pair could do. Murs let his hair down so to speak and came from a really honest perspective – possessing a rare humility not seen from many MCs. 9th, often criticized for the sameness of his tracks, even showed some new tricks on his trusty Fruity Loops program

Honorable Mentions: Prince Po – The Slickness; Theodore Unit – 718; Masta Killa – No Said Date; Foreign Exchange - Connected

As you can tell from this editorial piece in the Philadelphia Daily News, the usual suspects again are asked to explain "what's up with Hip Hop". No offense to these so-called experts the journalists seem to dig up but they all say the same thing and seem to be the standard set of usual suspects. And, as I've said before, academics who do NOT participate in the culture on the most organic of levels have no right to speak on the culture. None whatsoever and you can quote me on that. It is a tired, bland question that goes to show you we've become far too used to big selling acts to dictating the pace of the musical tastes of the public. That's not what Hip Hop participation or music is about -- the big sales and media hype. For every Jay-Z, there's a J-Zone nobody's gets to hear and it's the fans who lose in the end.

The big story is how political rap is making a quiet and steady comeback - thanks due in part to the efforts of sites like ours and movements like the P-Diddy spearheaded Citizen Change. But was poltical rap music a really big thing? Questlove of the Roots fame makes a good point in the above linked editorial. Was Public Enemy that popular? Perhaps because Chuck D's politics were so pointed, it felt bigger than life and he certainly carried a torch many were relunctant to help hoist then - and has kept up his end of the bargain a variety of ways. What scared the MC away from speaking up? Where is a voice in Hip Hop as angry as Zach De La Rocha's? Who's going to take that new weight? That's a better question to ask than what's up with Hip Hop. Hip Hop, as noted by all those releases above (and the many other decent offerings of the year), is doing just fine - with or without a political message.

That said, I do want more rappers, to quote Boston's Ed OG, to start "sayin' somethin'" we can apply to our lives in a major way.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Not At All Politically Charged, These Rappers Need To Be Politically Barred

There is a fine line between asking an artist to altering his or her content and censorship. There also exists an almost arrogant tune in suggesting that the said artist should be considerate of those they may offend – the reason being is that the easiest retort an artist can use is to recommend to the listener that they do not expose themselves to their content. Easy enough, right? I don’t think so. Music in this digital, fast-paced world is expected to come fast and often. There isn’t much time to catch your breath from one hot single, regardless of the genre, before another comes along to invade the far reaches of your mind. Like any other public figure, we expect to be satisfied by the output of their thoughts and perhaps think they owe us the consideration to give us nothing but their best.

As a consumer, you have the choices of buying the product from that artist or not. Nobody is putting a weapon to your head demanding you do anything. You are driven and drawn to seek out what you like. Whether that is indie rock, Hip Hop, soul, blues, R&B and so on, music fans are inundated with a lot of that artist’s thoughts and – sometimes – that person’s personal politics. Case in point, take Harlem New York’s wildly popular super group of Camron, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones and Freaky Zeeky – otherwise known as the Diplomats and affectionately known as the Dip Set. Talks of gang warfare, healthy amounts of misogyny, showing off of wealth, raps about material gain, guns and sex are the hallmarks of the group – with an occasional “positive‿ message here and there. Make that very occasional. Still, they enjoy one of Hip Hop’s most loyal fan bases and they’ve the good fortune of having a very solid in-house production squad known as the Hit Makers. Recently on this popular message board, a topic was posted about a blog entry from Kris Ex that, in some ways, takes the Dip Set phenomenon head on. As Ex explains, there isn’t a whole lot of thinking you have to do with their rhymes. They are usually simple, void of any type of complexity and all the while you can’t stop listening to it. But does that mean its fine to do so? The Dip Set, at one time (and I’m not totally clear on this), were said to have a mini-crew known as The Taliban. There was also a lyric from one of the crew members that vaguely seem to praise Mohammed Otta (in fact, prefacing his name with "the great") – he being the leading terrorist to drive a plane into the World Trade Center in 2001.

It echoes my point that there is indeed a false marriage between Hip Hop and politics – clearly the Dip Set cares nothing about being politically charged although the charismatic Jim Jones (and I realize the irony of that) likes to be considered a freedom fighter. But realize for a second the power that they and other popular rappers and entertainers have. If any of these men had the compassion of, say, Dr. Martin Luther King or the true militancy and grit of Malcolm X – which was eventually tempered with a deeper inner peace – what heights could they achieve? What kind of mountains could these people move?

Large ones, I’ll tell you that. But they will counter – as Talib Kweli and Nas will definitely say – that politics as they are have little to do with the people in the streets. I hope one day those two and many others will see the folly in their words and that isn’t to say they’re off base. It’s just that men this powerful could be leaders if they just turned the heat up on the facts of this nation. They’d be much more effective than any blog, website or media program could ever be.
The sadness remains in the fact that there isn’t many popular – and I mean of the MTV/BET ilk – that are choosing to make such a move.

Keep struggling and keep fighting.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Music And The Message: Hip Hop's Potential To Change Remains Strong

At my most jaded, I tend to forget that Hip Hop music had a time where messages mattered just as much as the beat. And while I don’t believe that resurgence is coming just around the corner, I’m always encouraged to witness when an artist takes the honorable position of being a vocal soldier against oppression. Wu-Tang Clan’s Remedy is one of those soldiers I speak of and, from the past music I’ve heard, he is good at what he does. Of course his country’s plight and the suffering of his people in times past does give him a wealth of content, but he could do it the easy way and ignore the serious politics of his messages. He doesn’t balk from his past and that alone is one of the reasons Hip Hop remains important to so many people – it is not just music; it is also a vehicle for expression and change. I hope many follow Remedy’s ideal and try to dive at a subject with the same fervor and tenacity as he has.

Chicago rapper Capital D – also know as David Kelly – is a proud Muslim and rap artist who seems to have taken a stance by bucking trends and offering his side of being black, Muslim and American – all while being prideful in all three aspects of his being. This article from Anna Johnson of the Seattle Times showcases that rappers who embrace Islam are going to find difficulties ahead but the dedication to getting those messages that matter out to the public do seem to take hold. Again, the current state of Hip Hop is indeed bleak. However, this proves that if you want to find gems, you just have to dig deeper and elsewhere.

It is an emotional week for me as everything I’ve read has moved me on some level. Author Adisa Banjoko truly captured a sentiment I’ve shared amongst friends about judgment of character and the merit of one’s actions. We need to take people on at their best and let that be the determining factor. If the world were to judge us by our current administration’s gaffes and follies, they would have right to assume that Americans are low individuals who lack the very compassion we’re supposed to uphold. As Mr. Banjoko illustrates, we’ve gone too far with assumption and allowed them to become law. To inject a bit of my own personal politics into this discussion, I’ve always strived to deliver freedom, justice and equality to all human families of the planet Earth. I can be frank enough to say that I would only give that energy to those who deserve it. The opportunity to do so has been infrequent but as I see changes coming on our political landscape, we must expect the impact of societal changes just as ardently.

Author Raquel Cepeda has released an anthology of Hip Hop related essays and narratives. I’m interested to read what Ms. Cepeda deemed important enough to share with the world. But in this brief Q&A on the Vibe website, the author seemed to have that annoying distancing thing many do with Hip Hop once they’ve grown tired of it. The thing about Hip Hop culture, just like life, is that it has many often-ignored layers. We tend to focus on the sexier, louder parts of the culture and scene thus we miss out on all the goodness the culture still is in possession of. I believe that the political aspect of Hip Hop music needs help and definition but I don’t think that the culture itself needs fixing or to be ignored only to be appreciated later.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Silence Is Golden, Action Is Platinum

I think one of the more frightening instances you have as a person that shares their written thoughts with the world is the fact that once you release it to the public, you have the burden of hoping that what you say has weight and merit. I think about that often when I take on the task of blogging because they’re more than just web-logs for me – they’ve become both outlet and sounding board. I’m not going to say I’ve been the most observant person in speaking on the faltering marriage of Hip Hop and politics, but I will say that what I’ve written here over the months has been the most honest writing I’ve done in some time.

There is a simmering rage that has been building in me since the day after the election and it stems from the lack of faces that I hoped would be just as prominent in defeat as they surely would have been in victory for Senator John Kerry. Nas, who’s just released a new double disc called Street’s Disciple, takes a shot at the political Hip Hop movement by going as far as saying “we got f*cked" even while rallying young voters in high numbers. His feelings are indicative of what the apathetic most likely deem as a tangible basis for not being active in politics. And as I said in a recent blog, this push from the Hip Hop and “urban" music (read: black, rich and powerful) sector came just a few months too late. The sincerity was always under my steady microscope – and I wonder now if I was a bit harsh on the different organizations and groups. I may have been but I promise you I cannot let up for one bit. That means that whatever criticism that will come my way for everything I say is definitely welcomed.

Although it isn’t related to my usual fare on the blog, I ran across this interesting piece from the Socialist Worker website. Anthony Papa’s story is riveting and I encourage you to visit his website mentioned in the end of the article (Big respect to the ISO DC branch and Dave Z; I haven’t forgotten you guys). There are definitely fresh and radical ideas of challenging the structure coming from the left and I welcome them. I want to see more of an intelligent and focused approach – not fashion. That is for the eyes that wander looking for candy. We’re past those times without question. The levels in which we can analyze the triumphs and faults of organizations such as MfA and other related groups can be limitless. How we chose to express ourselves and organize will always be under a possibly uncomfortable level of scrutiny. How we combat that is by not quitting. How we remain relevant is by continuing to forge relationships with the people who thirst for a change. Why remain silent when there is so much more to say? Why is there such inactivity when there is so much more to be done? We cannot be afraid of the detractors any longer.