Growing up during the origins of rap music and what we now call hip hop, I witnessed an art which themes started with, dancing and bragging about personal likes and lighthearted fun. Later, it expanded as some artist got into heavier subjects dealing with poverty, crime and life in the streets. “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash comes to mind. Then along came the soap opera kind of rap like UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne” and Roxanne’s own response. By the late 80’s, groups like Public Enemy were schooling us about politics and NWA brought a whole new change to the game by bringing gang life rhetoric and storytelling from Compton, California to the world. I would say to some degree this was hip hop at its heights. Perhaps I’m a bit aged though. We still have an element of ghetto life and gangster rap out there, but it lacks the charisma and style of people like Mr. Scarface and The Ghetto Boys.
Hip hop has taken its share of hits from the public and some of it very valid. From Tipper Gore to many parents, church goers, and culture critics, the lyrics and messages within the music has been widely critiqued and criticized. Many blame hip hop for the ills of the black community and often in the world. Sometimes it can be so ridiculous, as Ice Cube said on one of the songs from his new CD, “Raw Footage”, “If I shoot up the college, ain’t nothing to it – gangster rap made me do it.” Cube is one of my favorite rappers because he speaks truth to power. And even when he’s hard, narcissistic, or brutish he is still creative and entertaining.
The ironic thing about the rap game now, is its being disdained by a large part of mainstream society when it comes to the content of the music – while on the other hand many artist are being embraced by that same society when it comes to rappers being portrayed in television and cinema.
You got 50 Cent making a movie about his life and getting shot. Ice-T did a song called, “Cop Killers,” that had almost the whole fraternity of law enforcement officers up in arms. Now he has played an undercover narcotic officer, transferred to the Special Victims Unit on Law and Order SVU since 2000. His character is even a Republican. Maybe John McCain will use Ice’s character to appeal to the black audience. SIKE! I don’t know that McCain knows black people exist in this country. But I digress.
The MOST ironic figure in all of this is the above mentioned Ice Cube. One of the founding members of the group NWA and one of it’s primary writers, Cube doled out other American and law enforcement favorites, “F*ck The Police.” After the NWA days, Cube did his own solo projects and none of them have softened up in the least. The lyrics are still sharp and the language is just as gritty. Regardless not only has he done the “Friday” and “Barbershop” series, he done the films, “Are We There Yet?’ and “Are We Done Yet?” These are family favorites. Cube has directed, written or produced 16 films, and after next years, “Welcome Back, Kotter,” where he will play Gabe Kaplan’s teaching character from the 70s sitcom and B.A. Baracus on the film The A-Team, he will have acted in 27. His current film is another feel good family project, “The Longshots.”
This proves that America hates and love’s its hip hop stars. They are intrigued at their talent but only appreciate it most when it fits their level of comfort.