Music Week:The Irony of Hip Hop, Gangster Rap, and Hollywood Success

 

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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. 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.” 

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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.

BB&G Presents: Music Week

Music is a huge part of my life.  I always said if I had to choose to be blind or deaf I would have to forfeit sight because my eyes only allow me to see the physical.  Through my ears I can hear words that have power and melodies that spark imagination which can create images as real as eternity itself.  Truly there is a song for every thought, feeling and emotion.  Music tells of the tragic, the triumphs, the dreams and the hopeful.  It takes the temperature of the times, tells of the past and projects towards the future.  Bob Dylan once said, “I don’t care who makes the laws, as long as I write the songs.”  This alone should tell you the power of music.  It can make you laugh, throw your hands up, dance, cry, reflect, and even go to sleep.  From R&B to Jazz, from bee bop to hip hop, country to pop, bossa nova, folk, classical and reggae – music to me reveals the soul of the world. 

This week I would like to share some of my perspectives of the music that helped shape my life.  As well as discuss with you some ideas of yours and mine regarding differing music subject matters.  I will start things off but invite you to join in and make this discussion as diversified as the music itself.  I figure we can start off with a week’s worth of subjects and see where it goes from there.  Lets kick it off with our first topic.

Big Time Freshman Debuts

You ever come across an album that you hear from a new artist, and the album is so good they darn near have to play every song on it before its past its prime?  Boy oh boy I can think of some, especially during the 80s and 90s that just jumped off the charts either mainstream or just in my own personal mix.  These are a list of 10 of some of my most significant debuts that rocked my earphones and are still classics today.  Agree or disagree with mine?  Tell me some of yours!  Remember it has the be the artist’s first album!  I started to put down Michal Jackson’s “Off The Wall.”  But not only did Michael have a full career with his brothers previously, he also had solo projects during those early years.  So that album didn’t qualify.  Lets get to it!

Mary J Blige, “Whats the 411”  July 28, 1992

Keith Sweat, “Make It Last Forever”  November 24, 1987 – Sweat has since had many very good projects and has successfully produced.  But none top this first stunna!

Whitney Houston, “Whitney Houston” 1985 – Produced by Kashif! Remember that dude? We will have a discussion about Whitney later in the week.  A pure R&B soul classic piece of work.  She has since made a lot of money, but hasn’t done anything to touch this one yet. 

Toni Braxton, “Toni Braxton” – I mean can you have a better debut than this? Everything on the album played on the radio extensively.  For a long time she lived off the reputation of this CD!

Teena Marie, “Wild And Peaceful” – A little old school for some of you.  But Teena broke out a flavor that was all her own, totally original a mixture of R&B grooves with classically technical vocals and a bossa nova jazz tempo. 

R Kelly, by Public Announcement “Born Into The 90s” – This Chicago native borrowed from the best of them.  But his sound is still a brand that is well respected.  R Kelly makes hits cause he simply knows what people want and he gives it to them.

Sade, “Diamond Life” 1984 – I don’t even need to elaborate on this.  You already know!

Amy Grant, 1977 – Ahh surprised huh?  You can’t sleep on Grant.  I used to call her Amy ‘Grammy’, as she has six of them.  Remember too that in her early career her music only sold in Christian bookstores.  She is a pioneer. 

TLC, “Ooh On The TLC Tip”  1992

LL Cool J, “Radio” 1985 – Probably the longest running career for a hip hop artist.  Ice Cube has to be the next in terms of relevant and currently influential performing hip hop artist for a quarter of a century.  Though the music is pre-historic by today’s standards, Def Jam was on a wing and a prayer back then, Radio still rocks today.

Ok – So I know there is a lot more out there and it’s impossible to cover close to all of the best debuts ever.  Tell us some more and bring some more to my rememberance!