Thursday, January 21, 2010

On a Hip Hop Trip

i'll be honest: i don't know that much about hip hop. for that matter, i don't know much about much of anything. but i do know that de la soul is dead is one of my favorite albums to listen to. it's a piece of art. it's hilarious and witty and smart. it's so creative.

so searching for old de la videos on youtube (where there aren't that many) i come across this jewel of de la soul performing "buddy":

ok, well uhhhhh, hey, excuse me, but is that girl rapping at 3:00 queen latifah?! so then i'm searching google images for old pictures of queen latifah, from the 90's, from her rapping days... i probably went 25 pages back but they were all of her glitzed and glamoured up - her hurr did, all golden pressed, makeup caked, bosom-full dress or skin-tight shirt - and i realized the makeover, the total transformation that she has undergone. her image now is so... "refined," or "dignified." she became so easy, breezy, beautiful covergirl. how sad.

anyway, i finally found her in this rolling stone gallery of images from janette beckman's book of photographs of "the golden age of hip-hop," the breaks: stylin' and profilin' 1982-1990. the gallery's increeeedible, featuring pictures of run-dmc, eazy e, grandmaster flash, salt n peppa n the likes from back in the day. to really get the "glory days" feel peep the picture of rick rubin totin a pistol and then look at this picture here. (oh, and uhhh, who's rick rubin, you might ask, as i did, this random white fool? only the original dj of the beastie boys, co-founder of def jam records with russel simmons, and co-head of columbia records, the "oldest surviving brand name in pre-recorded sound" and corporate music giant - his glory days never ended... oh. ok. err, kinda...). anyway, here's queen latifah:

now, i'm obviously not familiar with lots of the artists featured in this gallery, including 2 live crew, so i look them up on wikipedia... who knew, these fools were involved with hellllllllll of controversies! dude in canada was going to jail for selling their album (according to wikipedia, "he would later gain fame as a marijuana activist")as nasty as they wanna be, and some guy "in alexander city, alabama was cited for selling a copy to an undercover police officer in 1988." no joke! the selling of this "obscene music" was taken so seriously that there were undercover cops! now, this whole thing is especially interesting because "it was the first time in the United States that a record store owner was held liable for obscenity over music." ok, but, AND the american family association took 2 live crew to court!!! for their obscene music, especially their RIDICULOUS song "me so horny":

this is even more interesting because esteemed critic, Harvard professor, and luminary African-American intellectual Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "was an expert witness on behalf of the defendants. he argued that the material that the county alleged was profane actually had important roots in African-American vernacular, games, and literary traditions and should be protected." hmmmm, now that's super interesting... i'd like to chat with you about that, good sir. the icing on the cake with 2 live crew's 3rd album as nasty as they wanna be is that their clean version was titled as clean as they wanna be. ha!

ok, but... that's not all with 2 live crew. remember how i said they were "helllllll of" controversial? well all of this publicity regarding their controversial cd led to them selling over 2 million copies and making #29 on the billboard 200 and #3 on the top r&b/hip-hop albums chart. well, van halen caught wind of their album and guess what - they sued 2 live crew for an uncleared sample of one of their songs. THEN, yes there's a THEN, george lucas sues the record producer/manager/lead vocalist luther "luke" campbell "for appropriating the name 'skywalker' for his record label, luke skywalker records."

wow, so all of that led to their 1990 banned in the usa (and they did get permission to use an interpolation of Bruce Springsteen's born in the usa, ha!):

yeeeeeeesh! whew! anyway, sucks for them...

this does raise a ton of interesting questions regarding our rights, though - should there be limits to free speech? who is to judge what is "obscene"? or, i suppose, should censorship of "obscenity" ever trump our right to individual expression and free speech? is enforcing said censorship (undercover cops... really?) a misuse of social funds, or too firm of a hand of the government by limiting our speech? and in terms of all of the lawsuits, i'm suuuuuper fascinated by the notion of intellectual property, especially in terms of music - sampling may be "theft," except for the fact that you're taking someone else's music and turning it into your own so that it becomes a new, different being... and just this idea of so removing music from its creative element and turning it into this object, this thing that you own, this thing that is yours, goddamnit, it belongs to you, and you will make the money for it that you deserved because it was yours first! ....y'know? and then there's the whole race thing - white people stealing black people's music while they get no credit for it (come on, let's all just be people!) whereas, dare i say, here black people are gettin sued before they even get the chance to do it to white people. and this may or not be related, and it may or may not be a huuuuuuge stereotype, but what is the cultural phenomena of overprotective, suburban white parents creating an "association" to combat the presence of this obscene, oversexualized filth and keep it away from their children? what is the cultural phenomena of overprotected, suburban white kids idolizing that obscene, oversexualized filth? what is the intersection of power of influence and cultural/individual expression when it supports negative or misrepresentations of that culture - as in, sure, 2 live crew, go ahead and write and rap those songs, but what stereotype is is it filling, what skewed image will it convey to those suburban folks? what is a cultural identity and what is the danger of cultural appropriation, or bastardization, or genocide? and professor gates, is "me so horny" truly a representation of african american culture, or is that not a bit of a stretch given, not the sexual matter of the content, but the representation of women?

1 comment:

  1. The first time I ever saw Rick Rubin outside of his work with the Beastie Boys was about 6 or so years ago when he produced the beat for Jay-Z's 99 Problems and then featured in the music video. That's about the time when I started to realize that all these people who are on their game do a lot more work in other areas aside from what they're known for. R.I.P. "Def"