If there is one kind of music that my friends ridicule me for liking (and i'm not the biggest fan by any means) is hip hop. When i say things like "Hey, that new Missy Elliott tune is ace!" or "Really like that Hey Ya tune! Really catchy huh?" they look at me with a blank stare and then say things like "Apparently buying all those records hasn't really helped improve your taste in music much, huh?" or even more eloquently, MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
It can get frustrating, believe me...but i mostly choose to ignore it. And forget about saying sth like "Paid In Full is a classic album and so is It Takes A Nation Of Millions...". Much laughter ensues, believe me. So, if you think you have it bad then think again.
Regarding the music itself, i don't really have that much to say cause my limited collection of rap albums stops me from having a well-rounded opinion on the matter, but i'll throw in my twopence nonetheless.
My first encounters with rap albums weren't all that successful. I tried the classics, like the Public Enemy records, or some Eric B & Rakim for example but, although i had managed to escape my "hip hop is only good for the radio and the charts" line of thinking, it still didn't click with me for some reason. I liked it but i couldn't connect to what i heard and the skits on some of the albums annoyed me and generally i was able to find a couple of reasons (excuses really) why i shouldn't investigate any further. Then one day, i think it was Owen, who sent me the first NERD album. That was it for me! Later on i discovered The Roots, Common, Outkast etc but what did it for me, what convinced me there was something to like about this music (and more specifically the albums, cause as i said i didn't mind some of the rap singles that frequented the airwaves) were those dirty funky grooves, memorable lines and the delivery of those lines, which wasn't really rapping of course but what matters to me is that it was my gateway album to the genre.
After playing that about 2 dozen times i was able to appreciate the classics even better and also recognise a good hip hop tune when i heard it, even if it was heavy with rapping and scratching and stuff. Stuff like DJ Shadow suddenly seemed very accessible and i could recognise the genuine talent behind such records and artists.
Admittedly, i'm not really into the very popular rap artists, like Tupac, Biggie, DMX and the rest of the gangsta rap crowd but mainly because i think that most often than not they're over the top. Take Eminem for example. The guy has talent, i don't doubt that for a minute. But can i stand listening to whole albums worth of his songs? No. And i have tried, believe me. Some great singles have his name printed on them and i'm sure he might even surprise me and come up with sth even better in the future (although i have my doubts mainly due to the fact that the stuff he does lately kinda suck IMO) but i have difficulty thinking of him as an auteur
. A funny word to pop up in a discussion about rap and i realise that, but why not? Why shouldn't people like Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, Talib Kewli, Mos Def, Common, KRS-One and groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and the Wu-Tang Clan be as widely respected for their songwriting skills as rock songwriters?
It's not just a rhetorical question though. What is it that holds a lot of people back from praising this music, even though they might actually enjoy it? What is the basis for this elitism i hear all of you talking about? Is it the hip hop culture and how most white audiences can't relate to it? In some countries perhaps, but i don't think that point can be generalised. Is it the delivery? Sure, i can understand that actually because to many people if a composition doesn't involve actual "singing" then how can i compare it to "proper songs". It's similar to someone not liking jazz music because a lot of it doesn't sound as structured as "proper music" i guess. And both points have more to do with personal opinion and taste rather than a solid fact. Is it the presentation and the fact that some people find it offensive and tasteless? Again, it's quite possible, but is there such a huge difference between the Isley Brothers' pimpsuits and Outkast's pimpsuits or between The Rolling Stones' misogynistic lyrics and Eminem's misogynistic lyrics?
Surely, it is possible that many music lovers don't feel that the genre had a chance to grow and mature enough to suit their tastes. But a lot of them are also forgetting that DJing/MCing has been around since the late 70s and that it has grown and matured a lot since then. Not all of the rappers/DJs were born with a gun in one hand and a needle in the other but even if they were it still doesn't mean they can't write a good tune. And, essentially, that's what it's all about, right? Being able to write good tunes. It doesn't matter about your social background or how you wanna project yourself through a manufactured image to attract a larger audience, all that's important is being able to deliver the goods.
I admit that if you're over a certain age this music is very difficult to grow on you. If someone was a music fan back when a song was sung (instead of rapped) then will he be able to accept it as a form of music and appreciate it as much as a guy my age (26) who heard hip hop regularly on the radio at an impressionable age (adolescence)? Sounds difficult to me, but i'm not saying there aren't exceptions of course.
I guess my main point is that it's all down to individual taste. There's no right or wrong. If you have genuinely tried to acquaint yourself with hip hop and failed then you haven't lost anything (except perhaps your time but what's new?). If you've tried and succeded then you have definitely benefited from the process. So, what i'm saying is don't stop at some of the songs you hear on the radio or on the chart shows. Dig deeper and go further, ask longtime fans what they think you'd like and take their advice, explore, download, buy, whatever...but don't sit back at a safe distance and be nothing but critical. I'm not saying anyone on this forum is guilty of such a thing of course, i'm just expressing a point about a music style as i would about any music style. Sample first (and in our case we should be ready to sample much more than the average joe) and pass a judgement later. Be as open to new things as you were the first time you delved into jazz, or soul, or country, or classical music or any kind of music that's outside or neighbouring the rock canon.
I don't mean to pontificate nor do i have the misconception that i'm educating anyone here. Sorry if my post read as such, much of it being written in the second person and all but i'm actually talking to myself in the second person i guess (to borrow sth from my sig). I'm mostly saying these things i guess because i need to hear them or see them typed in front of me to realise that i mean them. I'm attacking and questioning myself cause i feel i should be more open to this music than i actually am. In my case it's more of a case of whether or not i am going to spend my limited funds on sth as risky as rap music. Why should i try to investigate into sth i'm not sure about instead of going deeper into genres that i know i like. Why is it necessary
to broaden my fuckin horizons? Well, it's not but i used to feel the same about prog and now i'm ordering stuff like Hawkwind, UFO and King Crimson, i used to think the same about jazz and now i'm buying stuff like Mingus, Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, i used to think the same about country and now i'm a fan of people like Cash, Van Zandt, Haggard and Hank Williams, i used to think the same about soul and now i'm knee-deep in Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Otis and Al Green records and so on and so on...
It's all about exploring. If you find a New World then you're lucky, if you find a desert then at least you will have learned from the experience and stay away from that course in the future. And don't forget, there's always an Atlantis waiting to be discovered. It might not be there but it's worth going after.
I'm not a Geography teacher by the way, but the shite puns are all mine
I don't think i've been particularly helpful to any of you (i'll leave that job to Iam, Owen and co.) but i actually feel that thinking this through and writing down my thoughts has helped me put some things into perspective. So at least i haven't wasted my time. Sorry about yours though.