Hip Hop, Bloggers, and The Voice of a Generation (Remix)
by Will Carroll
I find myself hitting button four on my XM a lot lately. That's the present for The Rhyme. I seem to go in phases with rap, alternately enjoying it and ignoring it, depending on mood and when an artist strikes some chord with me. I'm a white guy from the suburbs, so my chords are hardly the target market.
Listening to rap from the 80's and 90's reminds me of when I was more of the target demo and how a group of guys over the better part of a decade and a half took their low-fi, street-level brand of communication and art and turned it into something that a suburban white kid would turn up in his Fiero.
At least some of it. Two white kids in the 90's lamented "the day hip-hop became hit-pop" in "Pop Goes The Weasel," the classic 3rd Bass song. Hip Hop branched out, became mainstream, absorbed the money and soul-crushing commerce of popular music and ceased in many places to be the vital voice of their generation. Ice Cube called rap the "CNN of the ghetto." There's still some of that, especially when rap finds a new genre or niche within itself or even expands and escapes as it seems to do once every couple of years. (Outkast's last album was three years ago; we're due.)
For every KRS-One, there was a Run-DMC. For every Beastie Boys, there was a Marky Mark. For every Jay-Z, there's a Ludacris. The accessible art form gave young black men a voice, a say, a chance, and many used the opening to move not only out of the ghetto, but into the mainstream. I'm not sure who the first rapper-actor was -- and "Krush Groove" doesn't count -- but I'm willing to bet few saw The Fresh Prince and thought "box office gold." (Whatever happened to Jazzy Jeff, btw?)
As rap expanded, what it left behind was the social contract it had with the street. NWA took the bragging from gold chains to guns, from rhymes to drugs, and rap never recovered. There are still isolated pockets, but there's no room for Public Enemy in today's rap world. Chuck D's now on talk radio.
Then what we see is a new medium and a chance for those who had to voice to have one, not rapping or scratching, but writing and linking. It's hard to wrap your head around Andrew Sullivan having something in common with Eazy E, but the comparison is right there. Sullivan's actually a bad example. To keep it in the baseball world, let's use the example of Aaron Gleeman. He's gone from a kid in a dorm room to someone read by hundreds, written a book, and developing a following. Is Gleeman the blog to rap equivalent of LL Cool J? (Solid, not groundbreaking, but mass appeal.)
Is Baseball Toaster the Wu-Tang? Is someone ready to be MC Hammer, the first complete sell-out? Will corporations co-opt blogging and render it mostly safe, the way the did with hip-hop?
If you don't see Alex Belth and Jay-Z and see similarities, you won't be able to dance to the remix.