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

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Red, White, Black & Blue

If you’re a fan of the mammoth Hip Hop collective Wu-tang Clan, then you must’ve heard word of the latest venture by Wu mastermind and producer, The RZA: the release of the Wu-tang Manual. I’ve read the book and I can admit that while much of what he discusses doesn’t read like bombshells (since I’ve been a rabid Wu fan myself), it is well-done and far from a campy attempt to cash in on a name that is fading in many circles. What better way to make yourself relevant than to actually do something compelling enough to be deemed as such.

Not to turn this blog entry into a RZA love ode, but this strengthens the widely held opinion that the Wu was the most innovative rap collective ever assembled. But isn't it amazing how RZA seemingly dons the dubious cap of world ambassador for peace? Read this following quote from this MTV report from Jennifer Vineyard:

"One of my goals in life is basically to represent righteousness," he continued, "but also to break down the barriers we all put up on each other. I'm not trying to be Martin Luther King and all of that, I'm not going to fight for civil rights or nothing like that, but I think it's just a misconception of religion and cultures that's got us all boggled with each other. Let's at least know about each other, and then if you want to smack me after that, then all's fair in love and war."

Pretty heady stuff from the man who invented the pimp-smacking, beat-making hardheaded alter-ego of Bobby Digital – representing the “wild‿ side of the Wu-tang Clan’s “abbot‿. The shame in the success of the Wu book is that many a rapper will try to mimic the literary formula -just as so many have tried to do in the rap world. I highly doubt anyone can match the effort and care taken to present a book worthy of the praise surrounding it.

These are curious times for rap artists – most especially for mainstream artists such as Kanye West and Jadakiss for tackling topics that aren’t rooted in common themes of partying and bullsh*t. But for indie rap acts such as Sage Francis and Dalek , the backdrop to paint politically themed works isn’t as discouraged or nonexistent. Both of the acts embrace unconventional methods of music – opting for less steady rhythm and quirkier and sometimes noisier fare. Then you have an MC such as Mr. Lif who can rock over the traditional straight rhythms but easily ride a chaotic El-P track with the same tenacity – all with topics ranging from the ills of the world to the hypocrisy of the Iraq War. Is this a return to the late 80s and early 90s – when rappers of more “conscious‿ dealings shared the spotlight with Mr. Mainstream rapper as well?
I haven’t said anything focusing on Black History Month because I’ve never embraced this so-called mystical month of black accomplishment and celebration. I’m proud to be of the hue and race I am. Yet I feel this so-called celebration is trifled by the fact that there is so much of a rich history in black people or Americans of African descent in this county, only to be sandwiched into the shortest month of the year. There are many clichéd programs available about this time – yet there are a good amount of television and cable programs that don’t seem to bastardize and commercialize the experience of black achievement. That said; enjoy this piece from Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewing Columbia University professor Manning Marable. It’s a pretty good discussion on MalcolmX – one of black history’s greatest stories.
Hopefully you’ll learn something.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Have We Given Up The Right To Fight?

It isn’t too often when I’m impressed with an academic’s take on Hip Hop culture and the political angle it’s taken on over the years. I’m usually uncomfortable witnessing men and women who aren’t entrenched as deeply as I or my peers are dissecting the worth of something we cherish dearly. Perhaps I’ve grown an obsession – possibly a false claim to the rights of what it is to be political and still considered part of the Hip Hop circumference. As I do before I sit in front of my PC and write my weekly entry, I surf the Internet for interesting news items and I most times hit jackpot. I came across a piece from Columbia University professor Manning Marable (I really enjoy his written work) about Hip Hop and politics. It was done in 2002; well after the shock of Bush stealing the first term. The ideas were still being discussed and fresh – people seemed still eager to fight.

Now here’s what’s disappointing – and feel free, readers, to correct me if I’m wrong – but I’m not seeing any type of unified front like we did that first time. There was a decided amount of outrage because clearly nobody wanted George W. Bush in office. The youth voter efforts I conducted in 1999 and 2000 were my proof – every young person I registered to vote (and I didn’t sway anyone as law dictates) all said their votes were going to Al Gore. Apparently this was the consensus nationwide and we still got stuck with Dubya. And now, we’re still stuck with him, albeit it’s a little frightening now when you think of how narrow the popular vote was this time. People are getting out there now in force. There exists young Republican and conservative movements just like the Democrats and liberals have undertaken for years. It has the makings of a type of jihad – a holy war.

The challenge with the political Hip Hop movement is how we all can sustain the tenacity of before. And unlike before in 1999-2000, the efforts for this election came way too late from people like Sean Combs and others. Professor Marable’s piece reminds us that there is still a large divide between the passionate and dedicated fighters in the Civil Rights movement and the politically active Hip Hoppers (I don’t quite like that word, but it fits). Narrowing that gap has been a passion of mine for a while but I need those haughty academics to meet me and my people halfway. But there is also another issue at hand – and I say this with a measurable amount reluctance. We have to be more inclusive now as our country isn’t as segregated in demographics as it once was. Politically, a lot more is at stake now given the looming specter of the social security debacle, the so-called wars in the Middle East and a crumbling foreign policy. We have serious things to ponder for serious times and we need leaders in the trenches of all generations, backgrounds and hues to put aside the differences for the advancement of the ideas that truly help the people. The question is how do we put everyone on notice?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Hip Hop: The Thinking Man's Sport?

Those of us who are proponents of Hip Hop culture and enjoy everything that has stemmed from that root understand the difficulty we face trying to extol the good virtues of that culture. Then there are the academics and philosophers over thinking Hip Hop’s place in the world – and I’ve been guilty of it myself. So this leads me to the first item to get my goat for this week. At a recent Emory University panel discussion , a few notable academics got together to discuss Hip Hop’s impact for their fifth annual State of Race forum. Michael Eric Dyson was present, probably butchering Hip Hop thinking he’s helping it.

But what’s annoying is that why are Jazz men like Stanley Crouch and professor Dwight Andrews weighing in on what Hip Hop is to them? It’s apparent their worlds naturally collide by the association of their backgrounds alone. I’m sure he’s a brilliant man and all, but this is becoming a tiresome trend. You need experts in the field you wish to discuss and dissect. Professor Dyson, for what it’s worth, is not someone I consider an expert, proponent or champion of Hip Hop. Plus, many of his views are stuck on 3 artists at best. I don’t see Dyson going to Fat Beats NYC digging for the next hot record. But that’s another topic for another day.
I just wish the day will come that universities that hold these forums recognize that not all the great minds of the culture are teachers and professors rehashing what they think is right. The best minds are the people who have shaped and are shaping continually what the worth of the culture is today. As the professors from that forum noted, there are glaring problems within Hip Hop yet the problems are only made so when you do not focus on the other side. If we’re to just embrace this one-sided view from these so-called academics, then Hip Hop is doomed to an eternity of scrutiny by people who don’t even know it.

But then again, I can’t blame the less informed for having narrow views since much of popular Hip Hop isn’t advancing anyone mentally or socially. The message-driven music of the 70s and 80s only truly had a similar phase in Hip Hop during the mid 80s to mid 90s – of course with various exceptions to that rule. Many people could easily say I’m foolish in my hopes that the music will return to those nearly archaic roots. And I say nearly only because of this experience recently at the barbershop I attend. They had an Old School Hip Hop video block on one of the cable stations (I assume MTV Jams?) and we’re all watching. Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power‿ video came on and all of the age 25 and over guys in the shop are pumping our fists and grinning ear to ear – remembering where we were in our lives when we first heard it.

Almost every young person in the shop looked at the screen blankly and looked at us as if we were aliens. They couldn’t even fathom why it made us so happy to see that. I have to remind myself all the time that because these kids are just as tall as I am, they weren’t around when I had my vocation and that I should allow them to have their experiences with Jay-Z, Nas and all the mundane rappers with typically dope beats (not to say all of what's currently hot is bad). They don’t even care about lyrics the way I did when I was kid – MCs nowadays are phoning it in with the rhymes (and the messages too) because ultimately nobody’s listening. It’s not the end of the world, however. For every Chingy (who I don’t think is necessarily wack but definitely under whelming) that fits a person’s listening lifestyle, we’ll have rappers like Mr. Lif who can deliver a message without it beating you over the head.

There has to be a delicate balance between sounding dope and saying something meaningful. Those few rappers who can achieve that are dwindling but let’s not give up on Hip Hop just yet.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Have Speechwriter, Will Fool You b/w RUSSELL RUSH IS BACK!

While watching the president's State of The Union address on television Wednesday evening, I kept hearing the chorus from Definitive Jux recording group S.A. Smash’s song, “I’m A Robot‿ (an album I named as one of the best in 2003 for the magazine – all while looking at the eerie Laura Bush with her Stepford Wife hand waving. That was my own personal Twilight Zone moment but let’s really think about the meat of his message.

It’s known that I write for those of the so-called Hip Hop generation and this is a group I’m hoping stays just as informed as I strive to be. I’d like to think that some of you who read my words looking for jewels might find a few here and there.

But I challenge you all to pay attention to what’s going on in Congress and listen to the political talk shows and pundits. Much of what was discussed during the SOTU was about your future and the ability you’ll have to care for yourself in retirement age. Ask any parent, those retirement planning years now seem so far off but it will go by quickly. For every little bit you don’t do now, it will just be a larger hurdle to climb later. Realistically speaking, Social Security shouldn’t be the only retirement fund you rely on. Now if Puffy and the rest of the Hip Hop political hopefuls want to get behind something, I’d like to see them launch a campaign to empower young people to learn more about their finances and the laws behind them. They’re pretty quiet these days and this is just the type of hot button issue that will draw big time partisan battle lines –jumpstarting the necessary discussions to be had.

One of the most important Hip Hop albums of all time is Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back‿. According to’s Nolan Strong, there will be a discussion about the legendary LP held at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU. For me, this album notes the very first time I decided to be active in my community. I hope to travel up and witness this discussion as it meant so much to me as youth. I can still remember hearing cuts like “Bring The Noise‿ and “Rebel Without A Pause‿. That first line, “Yes, The Rhythm The Rebel/Without A Pause, I’m Lowering My Level‿ will forever be burned into my mind. Seventeen years later and this LP's worth is still clearly superior to a lot of today’s so-called classics.

A little news item that I almost overlooked was Mr. Russell Simmons rubbing elbows and slapping high-fives to Republican Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich. Simmons, as you can read in this article , seems to be moving a bit to the right with his support of Governor Ehrlich’s seemingly kind gestures. Truth be told, Ehrlich’s doesn’t seem to tow the party line when it comes to fixing problems in the state so I can actually get behind what he’s doing as well. It’s just a little interesting after how quiet Simmons has been on the political front that we see him resurface at a time such as this; He’s been active in other causes as of late. This isn’t a judgment of the man’s character – I will always maintain that however critical I may have been about Mr. Simmons, I never once didn’t have high hopes for his mission. That said I hope he makes a more vocal return to the political realm because things are certainly stalling right now and the politically minded Hip Hop movement needs a jumpstart.