Archive for June, 2008

Hip-Hop Elitism:
Why Soulja Boy is More Hip Hop Than You

By Adriel Luis

http://www. wiretapmag. org/arts/43585/
(This originally appeared on Chinaka Hodge¢s blog Thickwitness. )

A few months ago my group iLL-Literacy performed at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival in Hartford, CT. Although many of the folks we met during the festival were really dope, down to earth people, there was also a frighteningly large presence of people that you’d expect to see at something called an “international hip hop festival.” You know, the knit caps, the worn-out hoodies, and the noses staunchly pointed upward at anything that doesn’t fit into the mold of hump-Atmosphere-on-the-leg real hip-hop. As a result, we found ourselves dodgingHiero vs. Pharcyde debates and roaming through venues that spun A Tribe Called Quest and EPMD songs all day long, just to retreat to our hotel room, crack open some forties and unapologetically pump Lil Wayne into the weezy hours of the morning.

However, it wasn’t until we sat down for our interview that people started looking at us like the ugly ducklings of the day. It was at this moment that we were asked the fateful question that must be asked at all such hip-hop events: “How do you feel about how mainstream rappers like Soulja Boy are tarnishing real hip-hop?” Our response might or might not have been something that could be chiseled down to “Soulja Boy is real hip-hop, son!” Whatever it was that we actually said, we left many a jaw gaped open and I’m sure that rappers from at least three countries have it somewhere in their heads to email us a diss track soon. Regardless, as someone who once regularly wore a headwrap and memorized The RootsThings Fall Apart, I’d like to state my case for all the Soulja Boys out there:


There’s something so incredibly perverse about 30-year-old white suburbans assuming the role of Hip-Hop Fairy, dashing their microphone-shaped wands at black youth and delineating that they’re not speaking from the voice of real hip-hop. Can one of you hip-hop purists please tell me, how many Sage Francis albums do you have to memorize before you get to reach “hip-hop enlightenment” and start seeing the real/fake hip-hop binary like Neo? As you stand outside your local divebar’s open mic nite and declare with angst that you’re going to “take things back to hip-hop’s foundation,” I’d like to point out that when the Get Fresh Crew first started cyphering in the Bronx, the last thing they were thinking about was your leprechaun ass. If hip-hop is dying, it’s more than likely that your 1993-jocking emo rap is only making its death more annoyingly painful.

Anyway, back to Soulja Boy. Yes, his rhyme scheme is basic. And yes, the implications of “Crank That” are pretty vulgar–as were the “I’m gonna rip off your epidermis and feed it to your mother” battle rhymes of underground legends like CanibusJedi Mind Tricks, and early Eminem. But just not liking someone or not thinking someone is skilled or constructive isn’t really a basis to decide that it’s not real. In fact, basing validity on skill is pretty elitist of you, and despite what you might claim on Track 3 on your demo, you did not bust out of your mom’s womb ripping mics. Like all other art forms, hip-hop should be allowed the freedom and versatility to include the good (Dilla, some would argue), the bad (Soulja Boy, some would argue), and the ugly (Jermaine Dupri, everyone agrees).

See, you agree.

Next, have you forgotten that Soulja Boy is probably younger than your grimy ass Walk This Way t-shirt? The guy is 17 and is probably doing more artistically at his age than you were, working at the mall serving Icees in the name of hip-hop. To judge the validity of any artist based on their first record, not to mention first single, ignores the growth and depth that are instrumental in the foundation of hall-of-famers like TupacOutKast, and Jay-Z. Now I’m definitely not saying that souljaboytellem. com (yes that’s the album name) is equivalent to Reasonable Doubt, but when it comes to “upliftment” one has to question if gaining momentum through a raunchy online video is really that much more detrimental to society than moving to Virginia to sell enough crack to start a record label. And lets not forget about Mr. Weezy FBaby b.k.a. Lil Wayne, who many continue to dismiss based on their perception of him as the teenaged King of Bling. Ten years later, while the purists have had their heads up the Grouch‘s ass all this time, Weezy has put New Orleans back on the music map, been featured on your favorite rapper’s latest album, and is blueballing the world with the most highly anticipated music album of the day. Lick on that lollipop, suckers.

So when it comes to understanding what real hip-hop encompasses, it’s inescapable to consider the foundation of it being about turning nothing into something. In the way that cats in the late 70s took their parents’ records, wrote rhymes over them, and turned that concept into a worldwide phenomenon. Or in the way that NWA understood that the media virtually ignored life in the ghetto, and used rap to bring their point of view into popular consciousness. And yes, even in the way that a 17-year-old from Mississippi posted a YouTube video one day, gained enough momentum to independently release a record, and ended up topping the Billboard charts and getting a Grammy nomination. Ultimately, Soulja Boy did exactly what you’ve been trying to do in your mom’s basement since you were 14. Don’t get your cargo shorts in a bunch just because you’ve been competing at Scribble Jam for the past three years and still don’t have any Myspace friends.

Many of the hip-hop purists who would call Soulja Boy a “mainstream clown” would agree that Slug is a real emcee.

Speaking of foundation, the state of hip-hop is best demonstrated by what urban youth of color find relevant, not what backpackers from Walnut Creek are nodding their beanie hats to. For better or worse, Soulja Boy is globally appearing on kids’ iPods more frequently than, say, Brother Ali. Regardless of what you think of Soulja Boy’s message, it speaks to the youth that hip-hop has sought to speak to since it was first born. If the youth are in a position where the songs that they can relate to depict “supersoaking hos,” there’s a much larger issue at hand than just the song or the artist that composed it. If you feel like Soulja Boy isn’t real hip-hop because of his graphic and negative songs, find a way to educate the kid or at least the kids that are bumping his shit. But plugging your ears and saying “Well that’s not real hip-hop”…that would be like living in a neighborhood and seeing some kids from down the block stealing an old lady’s purse and being like “Oh that’s not very positive…those must not be real neighbors.” Simply pushing it all outside of your consciousness, deeming it irrelevant, or disowning it from your utopian and fluffy concept of reality won’t solve anything. Instead, it will continue to alienate the voices and preferences of oppressed youth, and toss hip-hop into the cesspool of musical genres that have become dominated by flannel-wearing goose hunters from Providence.

Real vs. Fake Hip-Hop?

We have found ourselves in a Twilight Zone of a situation in which hip-hop–a music form whose history has been paved with the struggle of being validated as “real music”–is now experiencing a micro version of its own peril, in the form of the internal strife over which part of itself can be validated as “real hip-hop.” Hip-hop is deeply rooted in opposing the elitism that barred it from shelves in record stores, stages in music halls, and definitely the uppity approval of music intellectuals. In fact, in this whole scheme of things, it seems that the only thing that is truly, defiantly not hip-hop, is to claim to have the phantom certification to say what is and isn’t.

We can only wait and see what happens with Soulja BoyHurricane ChrisShawty-Lo, and all the other rappers du jour. Maybe like most others, they’ll fade away after the first couple of singles. Or maybe they’re reinvent themselves like the gun-toting diamond-studded pre-Food & Liquor Lupe Fiasco did. Regardless, it’s evident that whether or not you like these rappers there something to be said about the fact that a large portion of our youth gravitate towards them as the the spokespeople of their generation.

So the next time you hear music from someone, particularly a young person of color who is obviously rapping, and who has obviously captured the attention of urban youth–and still somehow find in yourself the audacity to preside over why it is or isn’t hip-hop, as yourself: “Am I exhibiting the elitist attitude that has been the primary plague of hip-hop culture and its participants for all these decades?” The answer is most likely: “Yahh, trick, yahh!”

Adriel Luis is a Bay Area native and a lover of all things weird. In 2002 he founded iLL-Literacy, a four-person spoken word collective that has since toured worldwide and received high acclaim in the spoken word, music, and theater scenes alike. In 2005 the video for his poem “Slip of the Tongue” received an EMMY Award and was featured in over 75 film festivals throughout the world. His new music project, Pretty Buoyant Society, is set to debut in the summer of 2008. He also blogs at Adrizzle.

View this story online at: http://www. wiretapmag. org/arts/43585/

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner


7 Reasons Why The Roots are Truly Legendary

by Jahi

A music review- Oakland June 9th, 2008-
Venue-The Paramount

“Oakland’s Paramount Theatre is one of the finest remaining examples of Art Deco design in the United States. Designed by renowned San Francisco architect Timothy L. Pflueger and completed in late 1931, it was one of the first Depression-era buildings to incorporate and integrate the work of numerous creative artists into its architecture and is particularly noteworthy for its successful orchestration of the various artistic disciplines into an original and harmonious whole. “…- Official Website

I arrived at the Paramount on time at 7:30pm to receive my wristband for all access. Shouts out to my inside connect, and NO- I’ll never tell.The Roots were already on stage as the beautiful mix of Bay Area Hiphoppas and Soul children made their way to their seats. It was a wonderful site outside to see folks coming out to support. I’m sure this night was sold out, even though you could still get a ticket if you went to either 19th and Broadway, or 20th in Broadway. (FYI across the street is where Tupac got beat up by the cops years back- just thought I’d throw that in)

After weaving thru the drink line in the front lobby, I opted not to sit on the floor, and went to get a birds eye view of the Legendary Roots Crew. I’ve always liked to sit in the balcony because I like to observe how the music hits the people, and that’s exactly what The Roots did. From doing a medley of songs from “Do You Want More?” to songs from the “Things Fall Apart” album, The Roots once again prove why they are the best band in music- Not just in Hip Hop circles. They can stand with, and possibly outshine, any band now with their flawless breaks, changes, chords, improvisation, and chemistry. Okay (player)- that’s the set up, now here’s the reason why this review is called- 7 Reasons Why The Roots are Truly Legendary.

1)- Black Thought– If he’s not on your top 10 list of greatest emcees of all time, then you should slap yourself twice and think again. Breath control, stamina, styles, and the ability to remix his lyrics to create new sounds within their set is truly amazing. And to top it all off, doing “Men At Work” by Kool G Rap, better than the original, at the end of the show, sped up even faster than the original is like that Visa commercial-Priceless. Backstage, Black Thought was as cool as ever, approachable, and even had something positive to say about someone on a whole other end of his musical spectrum, Lil Wayne.

Tariq says, “Lil Wayne has a good work ethic, and folks should look at him from that perspective. ”

People need to really take a look at Black Thought’s work ethic, especially live on stage. He’s light years ahead of most emcees.

2)- Questlove- Our modern day Max Roach. Timekeeper, arranger, and now we should include singer, as Quest croons on Rising Upfeat. Wale and Chrisete Michelle. Questlove stands on a platform of his own because of his amazing ability to transform live instrumentation into serious BOOM BAP. It’s a site to see the spontaneity in his form, the bang in his kick, and his history making ability to keep everyone in sync. And as a side note, if you haven’t picked up Lay It Down, the newest album by Al Green, produced by Questlove, then you are missing out.

3)- Kamal Gray– Our I should call him “The Steady Hand. ” Kamal, who is also one of the original members still holding it down on the keys, could be described and the person who keeps the harmony. With all the musical controlled chaos happening, Kamal’s chords, moods, and sounds coming from all his keyboards is the backbone of the soul you hear in The Roots repertoire. When they did “Hip Hop- You The Love of My Life” the chords at the beginning were butter smooth and permeated throughout the walls of the Paramount.

4)- F. Knuckles- If Quest is the BOOM, F Knuckles is the BAP. If you’ve ever been to a Go-Go in DC, you know that percussions are important. Since The Roots have added this new blend of drums to their camp and set, it gives the music a new layer of sounds that touches the African-ness of Hip Hop. Anyone who would dare to keep up with Quest, and F Knuckles does it with no problem, must be the next wave of Legendary.

5)- Captain Kirk Douglas- Also should be called “The Show Stealer” because that’s what he did at The Paramount with his rendition of “You Got Me. ” You almost forget that Erykah was backstage, and was originally on this song. Not only was the singing on point, dude on guitar is like the Jimi Hendrix/George Bensen of our time. I literally saw the crowd jump to their feet in applause after his solo, and I personally got goose bumps from the guitar licks he displayed on stage. The best part of the show by far.

6)- Owen Biddle and Tuba Gooding Jr. – The new editions to The Roots do not disappoint. Owen has the bass player, cool and quiet swagger, while holding down all the never-ending changes in the music. There will only be one “Hub,” but Own is a solid replacement. Tuba Gooding Jr. plays the Tuba like an emcee rhymes, and the boom in the Tuba is a good look for a Hip Hop landscape.

7)- My last reason why The Roots are truly Legendary is because they are our Hip Hop champions. They received a standing ovation at The Paramount. The reason- people over 30 (who could afford those high ass tickets) still over and appreciate Hip Hop. In a world where adults are acting like children in the music, and everything seems to be youth music, The Roots came with it. It’s nights like this that can restore your faith in this fickle music world. More importantly, after having a chance to vibe with the whole crew afterwards, they are good people. No airs. Good vibes all the way thru. I didn’t stay to see Erykah. 3 quick reasons- I wasn’t on a date, I get caught up in the green eyes, and I saw her show this year already, but the word is out that she ripped it too. Out


Peep the Breakdown FM Interview w/ Questlove: pt1 pt2


Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner